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      by Tamar Yonah
      A biting & sometimes humorous analysis of current events, Israeli politics & the Jewish World.
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      Tamar Yonah is one of Israel's most popular English-speaking radio show hosts. She made Aliyah from Southern California and after serving in the Israeli army began a prolific career in radio, including production, news and program development. She was the original creator and producer of 'The Aliyah Show' and still works whenever she can in that field. Tamar is a political activist, wife and mother residing in Judea and Samaria and currently hosts the top-rated shows of The Weekend Edition & The Tamar Yonah Show. Her award winning blog covers current events, religion, politics and anything else that's on her mind.

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      Tishrei 6, 5768, 9/18/2007

      Why Does Yom Kippur Scare Me More Than Kassam Rockets?

      by Tamar Yonah

      Yesterday I went with my husband to visit someone in the Ashkelon prison.  Well, actually, I went shopping at a nearby strip mall.  My husband went into the prison itself.  I wasn't allowed to go in and see Jeffrey, the Hillbilly I interviewed once on my radio show, who made aliyah.  (He's in prison for bringing his gun he had in the USA, into Israel, without first registering it and getting permission.) For some reason, according to Jeffrey, the Shabak(Israel's Security Service), has barred me from visiting Jeffrey.  Only my husband can go in. 

      Am I such a dangerous person that the Shabak won't let me see Jeffrey?  Hmmm.  Anyway, the drive to the prison is over an hour away from our home, so I continue to accompany my husband on the trip. 

      I feel bad about not being able to visit with Jeffrey.  However, I have to admit, I always feel so dirty after going to the prison.  The police frisk you, and I mean, they really feeeeeeeeeeel you out.  Even though they are female cops, it is extremely uncomfortable and icky as they rub their hands all over your body in places you would normally slap a person if they touched you there.  So, I got to miss 'that part' yesterday.  It was ok with me.  More than ok.  Yeech!   Instead, my husband dropped me off just before the turn off to the prison, and I looked around at some shops.  I figured I could visit the Ace Hardware store and see if they had any plastic chairs to purchase for our Sukkah.
      After my husband finished his visit with Jeffrey (he has maximum another year and a half more to serve) he picked me up and away we headed back for home via  Jerusalem.  On the trip back, we passed a road sign for Sderot.  You know Sderot. That's the city in the news because they have thousands of Kassam rockets slamming into their homes, schools, and places all over their pockmarked city. 


      A school with a protective covering over it to protect it from Kassam rockets.
      I had been to Sderot a few times already in the recent past, but my husband suggested we detour and take a ride there, do some shopping (I didn't buy any plastic chairs in Ashkelon) and help support them in their time of need.
      And so, away we went, about a 15 minute detour, but the roads were beautiful country/farm land roads. Here's a short clip I took with my cell phone for you. 

      I looked at my husband and told him, I AM NOT scared, but you know that we both can die if a kassam missile is shot at us.  (When I went to Sderot the last few times, I went with the A-7 crew, not my other half, so I knew my kids would have one parent left if anything were to happen, but this time we were a 'two for one' kassam bargain).  He said he knows, but he wants to go and support them.
      We ended up shopping in a few stores, and dropped a little over $50.  Not a lot, but it was a spur of the moment shopping, and they didn't have the plastic chairs I was looking for.

      We ran into a wonderful shop keeper where we dropped most of our money.  He was a 70 year old man, a war veteran of the 6 Day War, and won a very special award for his brave and heroic service in defending us from the Egyptian army.  He has a small hardware and 'chachka' store.  He told us, that when he bought the store way back when, he purchased it for 13 lirot.  You have to be an old time Israeli to appreciate that.
      Scattered chaotically around Sderot are newly placed portable bomb shelters to shield against missile attacks.  This one (above) is near the entrance to Sderot.   
      And this one here closer to the center says, "We are not 'soog bet' (second rate)."  And, "Is our blood different than yours?"
      Now, back home, the holiday of Yom Kippur, The Day Of Atonement, is looming ahead.  I know this is a holiday which shows us how much G-d loves us, that he will forgive our sins against him if we fast and approach Him with true, sincere repentance, then why I am still so scared and dreading the day?  It?s not just the fast, it?s the standing and standing in shul (synagogue), with nothing to distract me like a movie, or a good book, or just working at the computer, to make the fast pass quicker.  It is a time of intense prayer, deep introspection, and much soul work.  It is exhausting physically as well as emotionally.  We beat our chests as we confess all the sins we have committed.  We know that the gates of Heaven are closing as we recite the Neila prayer.  We realize that Hashem, G-d, is writing in the book of life, who will live, who will die?  It's actually very daunting.  I am speaking from the point of view of a simple Jew, not a great mystic. 

      For us peon Jews, even though Yom Kippur is a gift to us from G-d, and we come away from it feeling relieved, hopeful, and strengthened, the ordeal is just so scary.  And it doesn't matter how old I get.  At 47, I should know better, and I actually do. But the child-like fear I probably will forever harbor is still eating at me, and scares me more than the Kassams.
      Yes, I am being unbelievably vulnerable.  I admit it.  Yom Kippur scares the eebie-geebies out of me. But this is the time of year to be truthful, confess, tackle the truth of our lives, and overcome the hurdles.  Am I alone on this, or are some of you reading this feeling the same thing? We know intellectually that Yom Kippur is a wonderful and loving gesture from G-d.  But still.... I shudder.

      This year, I shall overcome my hurdles.  I shall fast like I always do.  I shall stand in synagogue as my legs are killing me <grin>, I shall face my sins, pray to G-d that He forgive me, and pray that He gives me the tools and the strength to serve Him better in the future.  And like usual, I shall come out of Yom Kippur, a better person, having lived and learned, and refined myself.  I will be happy that I lasted the whole time, I will feel hopeful and clean spiritually. I will realize that the fast really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and I will be happy.
      And then I will think to myself, "My brothers and sisters in Sderot had to fast, stand in shul, pray all day, AND have the threat of Kassam missiles crash into them."  
      You know, we really don't have it so bad.

      Elul 28, 5767, 9/11/2007

      From Buddhist Priest to Haredi Rabbi

      by Tamar Yonah

      Yitzhak Fanger was a typical secular Israeli guy.  His story though, is anything but.

      Yitzchak grew up in the center of the country and after graduating from high school, he went to serve in the IDF.  His life took a very interesting turn a few years later, and I was interviewing him as he shared his story with me and my listeners on my radio show.

      Rav Yitzchak Fanger

      After finishing his army service, Yitzchak was going to make his way out in the world. He decided to learn Reiki (a Japanese technique for healing administered by ‘laying on hands’).  After taking courses and  excelling in his new trade, his Reiki teacher urged him to go to the Far East to learn to be a
      Reiki  Master and return to be the top teacher in Israel. 

      Fanger listened to his teacher and traveled to India. There he pursued more learning and became heavily involved in Buddhism.  He became a Buddhist priest and was encouraged to go for an extended stay at a type of monastery or solitary retreat for Buddhist priests up in the mountains.  There, one was forbidden to speak, their task was to concentrate on mediation, yoga, and to try to reach nirvana.  The only work they had to do at the retreat was gardening.  Gardening was very important, as they grew their own food.

      A few months went by and Yitzchak was well into his daily routine of meditation, yoga, gardening, - and not talking.  One might imagine that it would be difficult not to speak for months on end, especially for a Jew from Israel. Yitzchak was getting antsy. He had an urge to talk, to hear his own voice, and the feeling was bubbling up inside him that he felt he was going to burst.  The urge got so strong, that Yitzchak ran away, far from ear shot of the retreat and the other Buddhist monks.  He arrived at a brook a distance away, and all of a sudden, words came pouring out of his mouth.  He couldn’t stop rambling off speech.  The amazing thing was, that the first words that he had spoken after months of silence, ---was his Bar Mitzvah portion from the Torah.
                Yitzchak was shocked. Why did THOSE words come out of him?  He didn’t identify with his Judaism, in fact, he hated the religious people, especially those from the near by city where he grew up, Bnei Brak.  Bnei Brak was full of religious Jews and he had a prejudice towards ‘them’ and that place.

      Yitzchak  was now 26 years old, he had carved out a path for himself, and was happy about his experiencing this new spirituality.  Judaism was a long way away, and had not thought about his Bar Mitzvah since he was 13.  He was stunned that the words he read from the Torah on his Bar Mitzvah should be the first words out of his mouth after his long silence.  

      Yitzchak released the built up pressure from within him after his outburst near the brook.  He headed back for camp, and decided to put the incident behind him.

      One evening, a few days after the occurrence at the brook, Yitzchak was ready to retire for the night and crawl into his sleeping bag in the small room he was given.  But he kept having a feeling that someone or ‘something’, was in his room.  It was a bad feeling, and being an Israeli, he decided to himself, “Mishane makom, mishane mazal” – “change the place you are at, and you will change your luck/destiny”.  And so, Yitzchak decided to take his sleeping bag from his room, and sleep underneath the stars that night.  As he reached for his sleeping bag, a scorpion jumped out from the part of the sleeping bag where his head was supposed to be.  He realized then, that he could have been killed by that scorpion, and that his instinct not to sleep in his room where his bag lie, was not just a fortunate premonition, but that someone, or something, was watching over him.
      About a week later, in the evening, after practicing his meditation, the candle in Yitzchak's room went out. He went to search for more candles in his bag, when he found a card with Hebrew print on it.  It was then that Yitzchak remembered that when he was at Tel Aviv’s (Lod) Ben Gurion Airport, a Hassidic Jewish man was passing out cards to people, and handed Yitzchak one as well. The card had some type of prayer, or text from the Torah on it. Yitzchak asked the man what he should do with it, and the man said, just keep it with you, it will protect you.  So Yitzchak shrugged his shoulders and then stuffed it in his bag, quickly forgetting about it.
      After finding the card in his bag, Yitzchak got an itchy feeling.  It was then that a small still voice came from within him and said, “Why don’t you meditate on something in Hebrew, all the time you have been meditating on words in Japanese, try concentrating on the words on this card in Hebrew.” 
      He thought, "Ok, let's see what happens".  He held the card and read one of the lines written there.  “Shemah Yisrael, Hashem Elokaynu, Hashem Echad”.  It was the 'Shemah' prayer (Hear oh Israel, The Lord our G-d, The Lord is One).
      Meditating on this line, Yitzchak repeated it over and over again like a mantra.  “Shemah Yisrael, Hashem Elokaynu, Hashem Echad”.    ...Suddenly, he started to tremble, and a light bulb went off in his head.  No, - it was more like an inner explosion.  Yitzchak had a burst of spiritual enlightenment. He had found a treasure!  “Yes, of course!” he said.  “Yes, The Lord is our G-d, the Lord is one.  YES! YES! YES!  I want to know more about this. This is truth!"
                Yitzchak looked at his surroundings, the bare wooden hut where he had spent so many months, the foreign looking landscape and geography. It was not where he was supposed to be. No one here, not one of these monks, could teach him about G-d. He decided that the very next morning, he was going to pack his things and leave immediately for Israel.  Home.

      After arriving in Israel and  back at his parent’s house, Yitzchak was hungry to learn about Judaism and what the Torah said.  He saw an advertisement in the paper that there would be a lecture given on Judaism, with ample time for questions and answers. 

       Almost immediately after his return from India, he found himself listening to a rabbi explaining basic Jewish concepts and a little bit of Jewish mysticism. But Yitzchak’s hunger wasn’t satisfied.   He went the following weekend to a Shabbat  program held at a hotel, for Jews who wanted to learn more about G-d.  Yitzchak was a person who needed logic and scientific explanations.  He liked the way in which the rabbis were explaining and proving through intellectual discourse, the existence of G-d. 

      The lecture schedule went from first proving that G-d existed, to the revelation at Sinai, and then to the conclusion that if A was true, and B was true, then C was also true, and that we must observe the Torah and mitzvoth (commandments) that G-d gave us.

      Yitzchak  made a decision after that weekend, and his past quest for truth and enlightenment… that he was going to become a ‘baal tshuva’, a returnee to Judaism, a religious Jew.

      When he broke the news to his parents, his mother went ballistic.  “You’re going to be religious and then you are going to leave me”, she cried.  “How can you do this to me”, she sobbed.  Yitzchak reassured her that there was no reason to cut himself off from his family just because he wanted to be religious, and that she was imagining things and should calm down.  Ironically, the fact that he came off the plane in orange pajamas with a bald head didn’t seem to phase anyone, but the fact that he would start wearing a Yarmulke on his head put people into a stir. <grin>

      Soon after, Yitzchak rolled up his sleeves and went to work.  He opened up his own Reiki center and school for Reiki.  He taught students, lectured around Israel, and took in private patients.  He was indeed THE rieki master of Israel, and he was doing very well financially. He bought a nice car, a beautiful home, and one day, his mother, who was doing his bookkeeping, called Yitzchak on the phone and told him that according to her latest calculations, Yitzchak was a millionaire!  Things were going very well for Yitzchak.  He was keeping the Sabbath, wearing a kippah,  keeping more and more mitzvoth, and he was content.  Things were wonderful, and his business was thriving.

      One day, after lecturing to a  group of Haredi women about Reiki, and hoping that they would want to sign up for his courses he gave, he ran into trouble.  After his presentation, one of the women from the audience came up to him and asked him if this ‘reiki’ was ‘kosher’.  Yitzchak, answered her that of course it was kosher.  After all, one doesn’t eat reiki.  What could be wrong with it?
      The woman said, just to be sure, if you want us to sign up for your courses, please go to our rabbi and ask him to give you a letter that this ‘reiki’ is kosher, then we’ll be willing to do it.
      Yitzchak did as the woman asked.  He made an appointment with the well respected rabbi and asked him for a letter saying that reiki was ‘kosher’.  The rabbi wanted to know exactly what reiki was.  Yitzchak explained that reiki was based on the idea of an unseen "life force energy".  This energy force would flow through him to his patient, as he concentrated on the word – ‘Rei’ which means "God's Wisdom or the Higher Power" and Ki which is "life force energy". So Reiki is actually "spiritually guided life force energy."   The rabbi, understanding that many of the eastern and oriental healing methods were based on avodah zarah, -calling on foreign gods, and therefore 'reiki' was ‘unclean’.  He told Yitzchak that he was unable to give him a letter saying that this was kosher.

      Yitzchak did a double take, then leaned towards the rabbi and said,  “But rabbi, you don’t understand, this reiki is my profession, it’s how I make my living.  You HAVE to give me a letter saying this is kosher.  The rabbi repeated that he was unable to give a stamp of approval for this, as it stemmed from avodah zarah, (idol worship) and thus was  not kosher.

      Yitzchak was floored.  He was stunned beyond belief.  He went home in a daze.  His world was spinning out of control, and he was feeling sick to his stomach.  As he opened up the door to his home, he threw himself on his couch and started to cry like a baby.  He was heaving sobs from the depths of his soul.  He was broken.  He was bewildered, and he did not know what he was going to do.  On one hand, he was the reiki master of Israel, a millionaire, and his years of learning and practicing reiki had become his identity.  It was WHO HE WAS.  Yitzchak was a reiki master.  What would he be without it? 
      On the other hand, Yitzchak had a deep belief in G-d now.  He had discovered the truth and he wanted to cling to G-d, Torah and the commandments. What should he do?

      After his sobs subsided, Yitzchak Fanger lifted his eyes towards the heaven, and said to G-d, “My G-d, I have never asked you for anything.  But I am asking you for something now.  I am telling you with firm conviction, I WILL GIVE UP my reiki.  But I want a promise from You, that YOU WILL NOT GIVE UP on me!”

      With that, Yitzhcak picked up the phone, and dialed his mother.  “Ima”, he said, “Right now, I want you to cancel all my appointments, cancel all my lectures, cancel all my courses, and all my patients.  I am closing down my reiki center.”

      A scream came on from the other end of the phone.  “Yitzchak, are you mad?  You are a millionaire!  You are so successful! You cannot mean it!”  But Yitzchak stood firm.

      I broke into Yitzchak’s story, because I told him his mother may have been upset as well, because in essence, he was firing her.  He laughed and said that everything had worked out for the best.

      I asked Yitzchak how he was doing now, years later. He told me, “Tamar, I am a millionaire today.  I have six children, each worth more than millions to me.  I have a wonderful loving wife, we live a religious life and we are so very happy.  And do you know what, Tamar?  My parents are very happy now as well.  They see how well I treat my wife, how wonderful she treats me and the children, and they are so happy.  In fact, my own children do not know that my parents are not religious.  Whenever my parents come to visit us, my mother comes with her hair covered, and my father puts on a kippah.  In addition, my parents had their kitchen kashered,  (made their kitchen kosher) so that whenever we go to visit them, we can eat there.  Yitzchak added to me as an aside, “And you know what?  My beautiful wife just happens to be from Bnei Brak, the city that I had so much hatred for.”  Things are looking up, and Yitzchak’s younger brother has also now returned to Torah and mitzvoth as well.  His parents couldn’t be happier.

      Yitzchak Fanger learned much from his experiences.  Today, he is a Haredi rabbi.  He is now trying to develop a system that uses some of the basics of reiki, and yet does not call for concentrating on foreign names of god. 
      I was very impressed and touched by Yitzchak Fanger,, and how everything turned out for his family.  What made the biggest impression on me was his sacrifice for his beliefs.  This man, who was a self made millionaire through his expertise and hard work, gave it all up for Hashem (G-d).

      What strength that took, because it wasn’t only the money he gave up, but his identity, how he defined himself. What strength and commitment that took, what utter faith in G-d.  And I ask myself, and ask all of you who are reading this….
      What are we willing to give up for G-d? What do we have in our lives that needs changing, or giving up, to help us serve G-d better?
      Are we partaking in bad habits  that hurt our health and service to Him?
      Are we engaged in frivolous activities that are taking us away from what we should be doing?
      Should we stop smoking, kick the TV out, stop visiting the pubs and night clubs?  What is it that we need to do this Rosh HaShana, from now on, to make ourselves at least as worthy as this once secular guy from Tel Aviv?

      What are WE willing to give up for G-d?

      Wishing you all a sweet, happy, and healthy new year!



      I just received the links to download or listen to this show.  Here they are below:

      From Buddhist Monk to Haredi Rabbi. Part 1
      To LISTEN: Copy and paste that address in a new browswer window.
      From Buddhist Monk to Haredi Rabbi. Part 2
      To LISTEN: Copy and paste that address in a new browswer window.

      Elul 26, 5767, 9/9/2007

      A Glimpse of Reality From Here

      by Tamar Yonah

      After my last blog entry regarding aliyah, I received an email from a couple who live in the Golan.  I thought it would be of interest to you to see what they have discovered after leaving the Exile and coming home.  See their email to me below, and then what they write of their experiences.       Dear Tamar,

      We just finished our fourth year in Eretz Yisrael. You and your program were very helpful to us, particularly while we were still in San Diego and looking for good sources of support. We exchanged some emails at that time but we never followed-up with you.
      After 3 years in Ramat Bet Shemesh we moved up to Hispin in Ramat HaGolan. It's been a fantastic adventure and things seem to be working-out well here.
      I sent out the enclosed piece and people seem to like it so I thought you might want to read it and/or post it.
      Shana Tovah,
      Steve and Marianne Sherr
      Hispin, Ramat HaGolan

      The Way of the Stork: A Rosh Hashanah Greeting

      Living now in The Golan, we really have the opportunity to think. It’s quiet in a very deep and healthy way, and there is abundant opportunity to reflect on life in The Jewish World as it filters down to us through the internet, newspapers, conversations, and events. I haven’t really been writing all that much – next to nothing, actually. In truth I’ve been taking a lot in and trying to get a better perspective on things. I find myself asking a lot more questions, particularly from Israelis or others with more of a history and more of a Torah background in an attempt to better understand the roots of what we seem to be witnesses at this particular junction of world history.

      I’ll ask things like how can someone with over traffic 200 violations still be on the road? Or why would they give-up land of strategic importance? And questions like these can often sound like complaints or criticisms, but, for me, it’s an attempt to better understand  Israeli culture, Jewish thought, and Jewish history. Not that I don’t complain or criticize!

      As Rosh Hashana fast approaches I thought it might be a good time to share a few things. Bear with me and eventually we’ll make it to the stork in the title of this piece:

      Our sages tell us that the very air of Eretz Yisrael can make one wise. And there really IS a certain sense of clarity to be had here despite the fact that people drive like maniacs, call each other hideous names, chomp at the bit to give away land to our sworn enemies, release terrorists, and give the label “moderate” a hitherto unknown meaning (as in “compared to Hamas anyone’s a moderate”). Our leaders proclaim that Jewish blood is not cheap and then they act as though it were as cheap as it can get. Ask the people from Gush Katif and Sderot.

      Ignoring thousands of years of history and recurring warnings by our prophets we still persist in playing to the wrong audience. We repeatedly turn to diplomacy and foreign alliances and act as though Israel and The Jewish People are really being governed by the same set of rules as the rest of the world (a non-Torah perspective). And this faulty view of how things really work in the universe is incredibly resistant to change. As a result we continually feel misunderstood, unappreciated, rejected, resentful and hurt. To us, at least, it seems clear that nobody has given-up more and still been so persona non-grata amongst the nations of the world. We rack our brains for explanations and figure that we need much better “PR”, but, ironically enough, whenever anyone else in the rest of world is looking for better PR they often look to hire a Jew.

      We also criticize our leaders even if, at some level, we understand that we, The Jewish People, always get the leaders we deserve.

      Rabin vilified the settlers and involved himself in secret alliances and wound-up getting assassinated. Sharon told us that we would be facing very difficult and painful decisions and now finds himself suspended between two worlds and not deciding much of anything. Olmert is willing to talk to anyone anytime and is open to giving away lands of strategic importance, not for the sake of a dubious peace, but rather for the sake of staying in power. This would be a questionable approach for a revered and respected leader but for someone with a popularity rating of 5% (with a 6% margin of error) this is really unsettling.

      As awful and agitating as this may feel on a day to day basis, I’m starting to sense some opportunity in all this, but it takes a lot of work and a lot of emunah to keep a positive perspective. In truth, the good news is that this entire cast of characters is part of a cosmic puppet show and they are really not as powerful as they or we would like to think they are. And, rather than being at their mercy, in truth, they are just consequences or reflections of how well we are doing as individuals and how are we doing as a people.

      Maybe, in a strange sort of a way, we are actually getting just we need. It’s difficult to appreciate that Hashem wants to be depended-on. And what better way to bring this about than by giving us one undependable leader after another. Philosophies and “Isms” haven’t been doing all that well either these days. We seem to be running-out of options to depend on and eventually we might even figure out the tshuvah might actually pay-off.

      And maybe the best thing we can do with all the so-called news that rams its way into our consciousness is to improve our learning and davening.

      Maybe people like Olmert and the little goofball from Iran can best be used as an impetus to improve the things we do have some control over – like our learning, davening, and behavior.

      I recently heard a story that may fit here:

      An Israeli rabbi passes away and goes up to heaven where he sees an Egged bus driver with a much nicer living quarters. The rabbi is mystified as to how this bus driver was, seemingly, given a much greater heavenly reward, and he just had to find-out.

      The bus driver explained to him that. During his life, when the rabbi spoke, he put a lot of people to sleep, but when the driver drove his Egged bus it caused a lot of people to daven.

      So maybe we need to focus less on our leaders and what they seem to be lacking and more on ourselves and just how well we are doing, individually and collectively? How well are we doing in terms of kindness, justice, learning, and the like? How will The Shepherd view us as we prepare to pass under his crook on Rosh Hashanah?. Will we continue to play for The Yankees or will be reassigned to another plane of existence where there is no baseball?

      So, for me anyway, I’m beginning to appreciate what Olmert and other failed leaders may offer us. It may be grasping for something one can control, but I really do believe that whatever happens to The Golan Heights, for example, will be more a reflection of our merit or lack of merit as a people and not just an ill-conceived political ploy by politicians wholeheartedly focusing on their survival. Story lines are everywhere, but the real ones can be hard to spot.

      And, speaking of The Golan, we’re extremely happy to be living here. We love our community and our home. Our house is fantastic and much more than we ever expected. And, perhaps most importantly, there is a sense of relief that we did the right thing and settled here. We went-out on some real intuitive limbs here, and, so far so good.

          The Sherr house, when it was being built one year ago. "The house is now completed and fantastic. We've been in it for five months."

      And, after breathing the air of Eretz Yisrael, I have come to better understand what doing the right thing really means. I now think of it to mean doing what we were supposed to do no matter what the consequences may prove to be. We could be nuked tomorrow or become a suburb of Damascus next month, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t do the right thing. We took a chance, left our comfort zone far behind, and built our lives here – surrounded by like-minded neighbors most of whom we can’t communicate with. But we fit-in and we fit-in miraculously well. So far so good.

      On Rosh Hashana another thing that gets scrutinized is “achdut”, our degree of togetherness and connectedness as a people. Historically it always seems to be a major problem for us. The more time we spend living in Eretz Yisrael, the more it strikes me as  an amazingly stratified and fractionalized society. Beyond the secular-religious divide we have a myriad of subsets within the Orthodox camp itself. It’s horrifying, but instead of emphasizing what we have in common in terms of ethics, beliefs, and practice, we seem to be magnifying our differences with an alarming degree of friction between groups that actually have a great deal in common.

      For many of us, it’s hard to know who we fit-in with or who will be the last group standing at The End of Days. Over the last few years I’ve come to believe that I’m a Religious Zionist with Hasidic and Secular overtones who still likes to shop at Marshalls. I marvel in horror when religious Jews of any persuasion think they have a monopoly on the truth. But I’m pretty sure that’s a red flag and we need to do more to bridge these divides within the religious camps and between the religious and the secular.

      My latest strategy with all this is to appreciate that every group may really be screwing-up in its own way. There are probably enough dropped balls to fill McCovey Cove.
      It may seem like a simple theory but it seems to help. Shortly after coming to this realization my theory was enhanced by a rabbi who added that if my theory was correct that really means that each group is also doing something right. And that sat even better. In any event it seems like a good idea to remind ourselves that we, The Jewish People, are a single organism, and we need to feel more appreciative of our collective parts.

      Oh yeah. I forgot to talk about the stork.  (photo: smoggy Los Angeles)

      As background I should mention that it’s always interesting and sometimes stressful when we visit California and people ask me how things are in Israel and how it is living in The Golan. Maybe I’m paranoid but it feels like they’re not real convinced about our sanity. Sometimes I’ll ask them if they’re nervous about living in L.A. since it’s such a dangerous place and all. And they think I’m kidding but I’m not.

      In truth we are one organism and One People and if Jews in the Golan seem in danger or Jews in Israel seem in danger, it could mean that we are all in danger. Why, we might ask ourselves, would G-d make things more hazardous for Jews who have chosen to live with Him in His Land and taken Him up on what is described as a gift and a great gift at that. And why would He make it any less hazardous for individuals who feel more secure and more attached to lands that are not our own? Adding the overlay of massive assimilation it’s hard to imagine how secure we can really feel these days in Chutsl’aretz.

      On the other hand, there do seem to be real dangers here in Eretz Yisrael. People get killed. There are wars. There is mushrooming Anti-Semitism and vilification of Israel. The Iranians are up to no good and we do seem to be surrounded by hostile terrorists who are hard at work in the nefarious plans.

      So, yes, it probably is dangerous here but it may also be the right place for us to be. As I said before, sometimes you have to do the right thing and don’t be overly concerned as to how it might play-out, even if it is an understandable worry.

      And that brings us to the stork.

      Shortly after moving into our new house in Hispin I was startled to see what looked to be a pterodactyl flying by our balcony. Turns out it was a stork – spectacular yet cartoon-like in appearance.

      We discovered that there are quite a few storks in the region including a family that was living atop a high voltage tower around the corner from our house. They had (and have) a rather large nest and they always seem to be flying-in with a few more twigs or supplies. Their chicks must have been getting enough food as they were some of the most zaftig chicks one can imagine. It was awesome to watch them go about their business every day.

      Turns-out that storks are monogamous and are really good parents. Given that they were also industrious and hard-working I thought they really had some excellent middos –  (character traits) particularly for birds.

      The one thing I kept puzzling about, however, was how they didn’t electrocute themselves. The electric tower was pretty menacing and warning signs were posted in three languages – Hebrew, Arabic and English. The warning included the phrase “Danger of Death” and I believed it.

      But as far as I know storks can’t read. And if they had learned to avoid electrocution by trial and error there would probably be one error and then exit stage left. So how did they know to avoid the high voltage wires?

      As time went on I never got a great answer to that question. And I also found myself wondering why I was pondering that question to such an extent. It then occurred to me that the stork family had a lot in common with us.

      We too were living in a very dangerous place and yet we too built a house and we too went about our business in a fairly normal way. There certainly seemed to be similarities.

      Steve and Marianne Sherr -  Bird watching at the Hula Valley

      So I decided to catch-up with Mr. Stork and ask him how they all managed to avoid getting killed and were able to carry-on business as usual in such a seemingly normal manner?

      His answer was struck me as utterly true.

      “All you have to do”, he said, “is to make sure you fly high enough and everything will be O.K.”

      He had a lot of wisdom for a stork and it seemed like a good message for the rest of us.

      Let us all strive to elevate our actions and focus on what we need to do – in terms of our own growth and character development.  Let’s make sure we fly high enough to avoid danger, and, hopefully, things will work-out for the best.

      May we all be inscribed and sealed for a Good Year – a year of “Good”  Steve and Marianne Sherr

      Elul 22, 5767, 9/5/2007

      Top 10 Reasons Jews DON'T Make Aliyah

      by Tamar Yonah

      I've heard it all.  Excuses, excuses, excuses. But in fact, it is your, "I'll make aliyah only under MY conditions...  not G-d's." - THAT is what it comes down to.  Every Jew without exception should be yearning to come home.

      Today I went to cover the Nefesh B'nefesh flight that came into Israel's Ben Gurion Airport this morning.  It was carrying  210 new immigrants from the US and Canada. They broke through their fears and material desires to take their place in history and join the millions of Jews already here in our homeland.  They have chosen to BUILD the land and nation of Israel, not stay behind in the dying Exile. 

      Watch this 17 second video below.  Sorry about the quality, it was taken with my cell phone.

      Almost 100 of the 210 new immigrants on the flight today were singles.  I also came when I was single, but I didn't have the Nefesh B'nefesh fan fare, and my aliyah was a lot more difficult.  I'm not complaining though.  Our ancestors had it a lot harder than any of us Jews today.  Swamps, malaria, British rule, Turkish-Ottoman rule, food rationing, third world standard of living.... I can go down memory lane with you if you like, listing all the hardships we have had to suffer in the past, but that's not what I want to write on this blog entry. 

      Today, hundreds of Jews attained their goal of coming home, and planting themselves in the Holy Land of Israel.  I don't say they made a dream come true, because in order to dream, one has to be asleep. I am talking about people who were determined to make aliyah a conscious goal. They yearned for Israel, and they came.  What our brothers and sisters did today was realize the aspirations of our ancestors for the last two thousand years.  They have left the Exile and are now going to start a dynasty of their family right here in our homeland. Their grandchildren will say, "I'm an Israeli today because my grandfather (fill in your name) and my grandmother (fill in your name) left the 'Old Country' and came to Israel.  You will be remembered for generations for changing the destiny of your family line.  Your future seed will now be Israeli because of the goal you set for yourself.  And it is not always easy to make aliyah. Though it is luxurious to live in this Land and have virtually all your neighbors be Jewish, with the country celebrating Jewish holidays and every Friday before the Sabbath the air takes on a  different feeling, you are coming as someone from a different culture, one that is NOT Jewish.  Here, you will learn what it really means to be a Jew.

      I often hear a lot of excuses from our brothers and sisters in the Western Exile how they don't want to come to Israel because of X, Y, or Z.

      Here are just a few of the examples I have been given by Jews who make excuses why they can't or won't make aliyah...

      1)  The government is not to their liking.
      2)  They won't come until there is peace.
      3)  They don't believe they are obligated to live here until the Moshiach comes (I think that Tzvi Fishman has proven that wrong with the Torah sources given on his blog.)
      4)   They won't come unless they know they have a job in their field waiting for them.
      5)   Their kids are too old
      6)   Their kids are too young
      7)   They're waiting until they retire
      8)   They're waiting until they are dead and need to be buried
      9)  Their furniture won't fit in these small apts.  - Honest to goodness, this was an excuse.  One American woman looked at my parent's dining room when they were here touring Jerusalem on a pilot trip and the woman said, "I can't make aliyah, I see that my dining room table would never fit into an Israeli apt. that I can afford".
      10)  I have old sick parents or I am divorced and I can't take my kids with me.

      Of the above 10 reasons why most Jews don't make aliyah today....  only number ten has any merit at all.  I personally sympathize with divorcees that want to be in their children's lives, and cannot do so if they are forced to leave them in the Old Country.  I also understand how someone who feels they cannot come because they are caring for their elderly parent who cannot be moved or travel such a long distance.  However, even these two excuses can be argued.

      The fact is, that most of our Jewish brothers and sisters who don't want to make aliyah is because they are prisoners.
      They are prisoners of their fear and prisoners of the golden cages they have bult for themselves.  They are attached to their materialistic life styles and cannot escape.  They THINK that they are free, but they are slaves.  Slaves to the American dream, wealth, success, materialism, and their THINGS.  Nice house, nice car(s), nice shopping.  They are living in affluence and they can't extricate themselves.

      We KNOW this to be true.  I will prove this to you right now. 

      When one doesn't make aliyah for idealistic reasons, it is for one of two other reasons... 
      1)  Anti-Semitism,
      2)  Their host country's economic situation is very bad, and it is better in Israel.

      When we look and see why we had aliyah from the Soviet Union back in the 1970's, it was because they were living under an anti-Semitic and Communist regime.  A Jew could not practice Judaism there under the anti-Semitic USSR, they couldn't get jobs they deserved because they were Jewish, and so they applied to emigrate and come to Israel (or the USA).
      They are prisoners in their golden cages.

      Today, Jews from France are making aliyah. Many other French Jews are buying homes here in Israel in preparation for a near-future aliyah. They are leaving France to escape their unsympathetic French government in denial about anti-Semitism, and the rising anti-semitic attacks on Jews from France's immigrant Moslem population.  It has convinced Jews that they have no future in France anymore.

      In the early 90's, we had a massive aliyah from Russia after the Soviet Union broke up.  This time it was because the Russian economy was so bad.  Israel offered a much better lifestyle and standard of living, and so they made aliyah.  (And what a blessing that was for us here in Israel.  It is always a blessing for us here in Israel when Jews make aliyah.)

      Later, we had a large aliyah from Argentina.  The Economy in Argentina suffered a crisis of enormous proportions, and thousands of Jews from that country chose to come on aliyah. 

      The largest Jewish population in the Exile is in the USA, but they don't want to come for the ten reasons listed above.  They are too comfortable.  Most Jews in the USA are pretty much removed from Torah.  They are Jews who belong to a Conservative or Reform synagogue and do not know their own mother tongue - Hebrew.  Most have never learned Torah and many want to shrug off the 'burden' of being a Jew. I want to address the religious Jews who should know better, and should want better. 

      Jews are weighted down like a heavy bird in the golden cages of the Exile.

      We KNOW that G-d gave us this land as our homeland.
      We KNOW that the future of the Jewish People is going to be here, in Israel, and not in New York, Monsey, Los Angeles, or London.
      We KNOW that we cannot do all the mitzvoth (commandments) unless we are living in Israel.
      We KNOW that we were punished in the desert because of the spies who rejected the land of Israel.
      We KNOW that G-d wants us to live here and that even today, He is gathering us from the four corners of the earth in line with what our prophets predicted.

      And, we KNOW that if anti-Semitism rose to a level that was uncomfortable and too dangerous for Jews in the USA, they would leave America.
      And we KNOW that if the economy in America would crash, or that things would be very bad, that these same Jews who are crying out the above 'ten excuses not to make aliyah', would all be converging on the aliyah offices in America and trying to get here.
      If you are not yearning for Israel, there is something FUNDAMENTALLY wrong with your Judaism.
      If you are not yearning for Israel, there is something FUNDAMENTALLY wrong with your Judaism.

      So, to my Jewish brothers and sisters in the West who are belly-aching about this reason or that why they can't or won't or don't HAVE to come on aliyah and return home, --some tough love here for yuh....  if things got bad there where you are, you WOULD come.  Because the minute that Israel would offer you better than what you have now, you'd be scratching your heads and saying to your spouses, "maybe we should move to Israel.  I hear they have it easier over there." Jews would be flocking to Israel from the West like all the other mass emigrations and aliyahs in history.  America will be no different. 

      No, you won't have the perfect government.  You will have to come here and build the nation with us and vote in a better government.

      No, you may not come to a country that has 'peace', but America is under threat of massive mega-terror as well.  Better to be in a country where almost all the Jews have a gun, know how to use it, and can defend themselves.

      No, you will most likely not have a guaranteed job waiting for you, calling your name.  You will have to come and interview for jobs just like our own families do here in Israel.

      No, your kids aren't too young or too old. This is our home.  We are your family.  Your kids will adjust. They'll make friends, pick up the language and you'll be asking THEM to help you with your Hebrew.

      Don't wait until retirement or until you are dead.  You needn't die for Israel.  LIVE (here) FOR ISRAEL.

      Let go of the weight that keeps you in the Exile. Get out of your slavery to comfort and materialism.  Open your golden cages that you have imprisoned yourselves in and come home.
      If you consider yourself a Torah believing Jew, then you should AT LEAST be YEARNING to come to Israel.  Maybe you feel you can't because of your fear, or your family obligations for elderly parents or lack of custody for your kids, but a Jew should at LEAST be YEARNING to make aliyah and move to Israel. You should at least be saying, "I'd LOVE to come to Israel, but alas, I cannot, I have to care for my sick, elderly mother who can't be moved".    ...And if you are not yearning for Israel, if you are not dreaming of the day when you can come home, and instead are very happy in the cage you live in, there is something FUNDAMENTALLY wrong with your Judaism.

      Elul 19, 5767, 9/2/2007

      The Religious Are Taking Over!

      by Tamar Yonah

      There he was, lying in the middle of the road, bloody and unconscious.  His bike was under the front left wheel of a white sedan.  The driver of the car was also bloodied and mangled in the front seat behind the steering wheel.

      About a week ago, I attended the goodbye party for the volunteers of the emergency medical ambulance organization called MaDA, Magen David Adom.

      My 18 year old daughter (left) is a volunteer there and has been riding in the ambulance and arriving on the scene to take care of those who needed emergency medical care.  The party's organizers which handed out certificates of thanks, and a small gift of appreciation to the many hours the volunteers worked that year, also had a simulation, a road accident involving a bicyclist and a car.  The re-enactment was  realistic.  A 'body' was lying on the pavement in the parking lot of the MaDA building, all bloodied up  with red paint make-up.  A bicycle was placed purposely under the front tire of the car and another 'actor' played an injured driver, with moaning sounds and all.   One of the head medic teachers announced a play by play, how their rescue crews arrive at the scene of an accident. He explained each step the paramedics and MaDA volunteers were performing to get the accident victims to the hospital as soon as possible, after administering the first aid that is given on the scene.

      Short video clip I took of the simulated accident at Jerusalem's Magen David Adom Emergency Ambulance end of year party for the volunteers.

      What struck me was the amount of kippot (yarmulkes) at the party.  At least half of the volunteers were religious.  Young men and women, Haredi as well as Knitted Kippah / National Religious.  My daughter was also among the number of religious girls, and me being a Jewish mother, well, I was very proud of her.

      Kippaot and Payot (sidelocks)

      I thought about the overflowing amount of religious people there and thought I would do some research.  In a country where only 20% - 30% of the population is religious (with around 40% identifying themselves as 'traditional' {meaning that they may light Shabbat candles and celebrate the holidays in some way} the religious are taking over many of the institutions in Israel.

      Knitted Kippah Jew with Haredi friend with sidelocks (payot) - MaDA volunteer.

      According to a report on the current birth rate in Israel, Haredi women are having three times as many children as their secular counterparts.  That's three Haredi children for every secular child born today.

      TzitTzit, the ritual fringes, here worn under the MaDA uniform shirt

      Another news item that came out reports that the IDF, Israel's army, has a representation which far outweigh's it's numbers in civilian life.  Approximately half of all officers in the IDF are religious.  "They are becoming the IDF's backbone" says Ben Caspit, the writer of the news story.  "Their presence in the army is several times larger than it is in the general population."

      The new branch instituted in the IDF, the Nachal Haredi, now has it's own place in the respected ranks of the Israeli army.  The Netzach Yehuda battalion ( Nachal Haredi) has just received their own 'sticker' proclaiming the merits of their branch.  Their slogan is "The most combatant, the most Hareidi."

      Posing with one of the actors who played an accident victim.

      The 'Hesder' program which combines Torah study and army service, is seeing a steady increase in it's numbers as well.  In the mean time, more and more secular Israelis are choosing NOT to serve in the IDF, even going so far as to submit fake marriage certificates to get them out of their service. Called, 'draft dodging', they are coming out of the closet more and more, ending the tale that only religious Jews don't serve.  Statistics today in this post-Zionist state scream something different.

      Religious soldiers in the Hesder program.

      In the field of education, it seems that secular teachers are opting OUT. Non-religious Israelis today are abandoning the teaching profession. This is the arm which shapes the minds of our children, into tomorrow's adults. 

      According to a survey from the prestigious Guttman Institute of Applied Social Research, published in 1993, more than half the Jews in Israel light Shabbat candles.  Approximately 70% keep a kosher home. Almost 80% celebrate the Passover Seder. Over 80% of Jewish males have a Bar Mitzvah, 92% have a brit milah (circumcision) and 98% go to the trouble of putting up a mezuzah on their front doors.

      The birth rate - three to one, the armed forces filled with relgious officers, the education branch filling with more religiously identifying Jews, are all now in the hands of the religious.  So, the Seculars, the Post Zionists, and the Self-hating Jews, can all go home. Perhaps they should open the Good Book and learn their history and the prophesies in store. The future is almost here, and it looks like it's going to be a Jewish one!