Friday, August 31, 2007

Distance is important


It is still summer in Israel and another heat wave is ahead. This year we have been terribly suffering from several heat waves and had more than 35 degrees Celsius.
One might think that it is cooling down at night but this is not always the case. Even at night you can walk around wearing only a short sleeve shirt.

This makes it very hard for me visiting haredi neighbourhoods on Shabbat. Especially in Mea Shearim a woman should wear long sleeves. After a few meters, I am so exhausted, sweaty and thirsty that I desperately start looking for an air condition.

However, tonight my friend and me don't have to worry about a proper air condition, as we are again going to the Toldot Aharon Tish run by Rebbe David Kahn. And they have the best air condition.
It is very hard to explain why but we got attached to them very much. Maybe it is simply attraction or fascination. Could be.
Last Friday night, we were really overwhelmed by the friendliness of the members. I do enjoy their Tish very much but to me is is also important keeping my distance during the week.

I am not able having such a tense religious life and caring about Halachot in such a strict way. I am definitely not made for Takanot, as Toldot Aharon calls their code of law.

Nevertheless, we are going to their Tish tonight and hope to have a great time.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem to all of you !!!

If anyone is interested in the news from Toldot Avraham Yitzchak, the split - off:
This week, a grandchild of Rabbi Meir Brandsdorfer (Avraham Yitzchak and a member of the Badatz of the Edah), got married but I haven't heard so far to whom she got married to.

Here are the two Rebbes of Toldot Aharon and of Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. At the far right, you see Rebbe Yaakov Shmuel Kahn of Avraham Yitzchak and the Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn, is standing in the middle.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef continues upsetting people


One of the previous Sephardi chief rabbis, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, is very famous for his statements. Many times his statements, which he usually makes on Mozzaei Shabbat, seem to be completely out of place.

I remember that in July 2000 he declared that Holocaust victims had to die because they were certain souls created from HaShem whose task was to rectify themselves.
I am sure that Rabbi Yosef was referring to the Erev Rav. However, he never mentioned any reason how he came to his conclusion and what his sources or ideas are. But just claiming something out of the blue is dangerous and, of course, Holocaust survivors were upset and offended. Afterwards, he kind of apologized and then the subject was forgotten. A few weeks later, he made another upsetting statement about a different subject and the whole discussion started again.

Two weeks ago he declared that it is inappropriate that Jews go to Uman on Rosh HaShana. However, Breslover Chassidim are allowed to go to the grave of Rabbi Nachman, as Rabbi Nachman has told them to do so. But everybody else should be sitting at home and celebrating Rosh HaShana with his family. There is no point in living in Israel, let alone in Jerusalem, and going to Uman on such a high holiday. Israel is the Holy Land and not the Ukraine.

Actually this time I do agree with him. During the past years it has become a real cult for anybody male traveling to Uman on Rosh HaShana. Religious, non - religious, Breslover Chassidim or others, everybody is just flying to Uman. Israel's Ben Gurion Airport is busy with all the Uman people and adds many planes to the flight schedule. Thousands of Israelis are flying to Uman, even the husband of a colleague of mine. They are a Breslov couple and for her it goes without saying that her husband is going to spend Rosh HaShana in Uman although they are short of money.
Those Breslovers who don't go to Uman are going to dance in front of the Kotel on Erev Rosh HaShana. I really enjoy their show. But also in my opinion, a husband should be with his family on the holidays.

Some friends of mine told me that it is not as I might think. The wives are not sitting at home alone with the kids. Instead, the wives are going to Meron, to the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. There they are having their own great party.

Last Mozzaei Shabbat, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef made another really upsetting statement and the Israelis were devastated. Afterwards, his followers, such as Knesset member Eli Yishai, tried to calm down everything. The Rabbi didn't say it like this, he didn't mean it or people just got it wrong. In any case, he said it.
Another colleague of mine said that although the Rabbi upset people, he succeeded in getting the attention of the whole country.

What Rabbi Yosef said was that the fallen Israeli soldiers of the Second Lebanon War didn't keep Shabbat and therefore deserved to die.

What the Rabbi forgot to take into any consideration was that also religious soldiers lost their lives. The Israeli press jumped on this subject and interviewed some parents of the fallen soldiers. Well, not too many people in this country are too surprised any more about Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef's statements. The parents just said that Rabbi Yosef has obviously forgotten that we are in the month of Elul and he will have many reasons to ask G - d for forgiveness on Yom Kippur.

Today, his statements is not in the headlines any more and this Mozzaei Shabbat he might offend someone else. Personally, I don't take Rabbi Yosef seriously but what bothers me is that he destroys the reputation of religious people because the non - religious might get the idea that all the religious think like the Rabbi.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

When non – religious Journalists start writing about Chassidim…..

then we mostly have a disaster.

I cannot remember how many times I have emphasized that someone writing about Jewish religion, haredi society or Chassidim should know the subject. Preferably be religious himself and therefore know the society very well.
It is always a catastrophe when non – religious Jews or those who only know half but claim to know everything start writing.

The best example gives us the Israeli daily HAARETZ. In today's edition the journalist Tamar Rotem writes an article about the Satmarer Rebbe's (Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum) visit to Jerusalem about two weeks ago. Obviously Tamar Rotem doesn’t know what she is writing about because if she had only bothered reading a haredi paper, she would have written something else. But writing bad about Satmar sells much better.

Two weeks ago, I went to the Tish of the Satmarer Rebbe in Jerusalem. Not too successfully, as there were thousands of people and hardly any space in his tent. However, it was a great event in Mea Shearim.

Tamar Rotem makes the following claims:

Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum was completely ignored in Mea Shearim due to his dispute with his brother Rebbe Zalman Leib Teitelbaum. Not even the Edah HaCharedit came to his Tish and the Rebbes of Toldot Aharon as well as Toldot Avraham Yitzchak claimed to be out of town.

Well, Tamar Rotem, as you apparently have neither an idea about Mea Shearim nor have you been to Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum's Tish in Jerusalem, here some detailed information for you. Next time please find some time to go to a Tish yourself and speak to Chassidim instead of listening to rumours and making up your own mind.

1. Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum was not ignored by Mea Shearim. Just the opposite as thousands of Chassidim where in the streets and going to his Tish that Friday night. Everybody was there, Chassidei Gur, the members of Avraham Yitzchak and Toldot Aharon, etc.

2. The two Rebbes of Toldot Aharon and Toldot Avraham Yitzchak had been out of town for a few weeks. They were abroad due to their summer vacation. Had you ever bothered asking around in Mea Shearim, you would have found out very easily.

3. The Edah HaCharedit didn't ignore Rebbe Teitelbaum at all. Again, just the opposite, as Rabbi Meir Brandsdorfer participated in the Tish. And as we all know, except yourself of course, Meir Brandsdorfer is a member of Toldot Avraham Yitzchak as well as of the Beit Din Zedek of the Edah.

4. Other Rebbes usually don't participate in other Tishes, as they are busy with their own group. However, the Rebbes sent representatives to the Tish of the Satmarer Rebbe. Even Chassidut Belz, and as we all know, except yourself of course, Belz and the Edah are not best buddies.

5. Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum has followers in Mea Shearim but, compared to New York, there are no fights between the Chassidim. This information we got from a Chassidic woman in Mea Shearim.

As I said before, one should at least know the subject, speak to people and be inside society before he starts writing articles. Maybe I should send my complaint directly to HAARETZ but it might be just thrown into the trash can, as gossip sells much better.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Channah's Prayer


The Talmud Tractate Berachot is one of the most easiest Talmudic Tractates to learn. Not only easy to study but it is also one of the most interesting ones. At least for me.

Among other things, Talmud Berachot 30b teaches us that before we start praying, we should get rid of all kinds of strange thoughts in our mind. Already the former great Zaddikim meditated before prayer. Later on, the Baal Shem Tov reintroduced this method and until today, meditation plays an important role in chassidut.

The Talmud continues by telling us the story about Channah which, by the way, we read in the Haftarah on the first day of Rosh HaShana. It says in the first Book of Shmuel that Channah was the wife of Elkanah as well as the mother of the famous prophet Shmuel. Elkanah had two wives. The first one was Channah and the second one was Pnina. Channah was sad and bitter because only Pnina was blessed with having children, and Channah herself was barren.

One day Channah went to pray to the Mishkan in Shilo in order to ask G - d for being able of having children. Eli, the Cohen HaGadol, was inside the Mishkan and watched her praying. In the first Book of Shmuel, 1:10, it says literally: "And she was bitter of spirit and she prayed to HaShem".
Channah was just like our fore mothers Sarah and Rachel who were also barren but changed their destinies through emotional prayers.

Channah actually said the words of her prayer and didn't only think them. She moved her lips and prayed from the depths of her heart. The Gemara in Berachot 31a says that Channah teaches us the right way of prayer. We should also direct our hearts towards G - d and move our lips. Only thinking Berachot or Tefilot is insufficient.
The Gemara continues that although Channah moved her lips, the actual words could not be heard. The Shulchan Aruch - Orach Chaim 101:2 says that it is Asur raising one's voice during prayer. Only the person praying should be able to hear her or his own words, and none of the people standing next to him should be bothered while they are praying.

Eli, the Cohen HaGadol, thought that Channah must be a drunk woman when she is praying like this. In those days, this kind of prayer was very uncommon. The Gemara explains that from here we learn that drunkards are forbidden to pray. Why ? According to the Etz Chaim drunkards are unable to concentrate on the prayer.
However, in my opinion it is totally inappropriate to speak to G - d when one is drunk.

Eli went up to Channah and asked her about her "drunkenness". Also from here the Gemara in Berachot 31b drew an interesting conclusion. We are obligated to rebuke a person when we see him doing something wrong.

But how did Eli got the idea that Channah might be drunk ? The Vilna Gaon comes up with the most famous commentary on this Passuk.
Eli had asked the Urim ve Turim before he went up to Channah. The Urim ve Turim is a parchment with G - d's Names on it and it is placed into the Choshen which the Cohen HaGadol wore. After inquiring something, letters would show up and only a Cohen HaGadol with a certain kind of Ruach HaKodesh was able to read the letter combination. In this place, Eli made a mistake by reading the letters "Heh, Chaf, Resh, Shin" wrong. Instead of reading it like: "K - Sarah - like Sarah", he read "Shikora - a drunk woman".
Channah explained Eli her situation and when she left, he blessed her that G - d should fulfill all her wishes. Some time later, she bore her famous son Shmuel HaNavi.

The Gemara in Berachot 31b makes it clear that if a person draws the wrong conclusions about us, we should go up to him and tell him the truth. It is not enough that G - d alone knows our true intentions but also other people should know them and not get suspicious (Chidushei HaRa'ah).

Channah's wish was, due to her emotional prayer, fulfilled just like Sarah's and Rachel's (see Talmud Rosh HaShana 11a).

Now, some people might ask what has all this to do with Rosh HaShana ? The answer is simple, as each of us is asking G - d for something on Rosh HaShana. We also want our wishes to be fulfilled. On Rosh HaShana, G - d sits in judgment over the entire world and not only over the Jews. Already in the month before the Chag, the month of Elul where we are now, we should go out and speak to G - d. Repent our sins and promise to make everything better. Or at least try to make it better.

The Baal Shem Tov said that Chodesh Elul is the perfect month for doing Teshuva and that at no other time, G - d is as close to us as in this month. "The King is in the Field" - G - d is near and we can approach Him very easily.

G - d judges a person on Rosh HaShana according to the intention of his prayer or Teshuva. He is judging at the very moment although He knows exactly that despite of all our promises, we will sin again. But He doesn't judge us according to future deeds but only at this very moment, as we learn from the incident with Keturah and Ishmael. When Ishmael was crying for water, G - d heard his voice and saved him although He knew too well that his successors want to destroy the Jewish people. But at that very moment G - d heard his voice and didn't think about the future.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

New Situations


Last Friday night we could hardly believe our eyes; after approx. six weeks, the Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn, had returned from Austria (Saalbach) and gave another Tish.

When my friend and me first arrived at the Toldot Aharon synagogue, the entrances seemed to be abandoned and we already thought that there won't be anything. I had already made up a new plan which was going home, get some sleep in order to get up early and go to the Shomrei Emunim shul the next morning. Nevertheless, I finally asked a Toldot Aharon woman who was walking along with her children and she said that there is a Tish and she is also going.

We came a little too early and Rebbe Kahn hadn't arrived yet. It turned out to be favourably for us, as we had the choice of the best seats. We chose a seat almost right behind the Rebbitzen who obviously seems to be a great woman. She was talking to many women and what I really like is that she is just like anyone else. She doesn’t have a special chair and doesn't want royal treatment. Just the same as her husband who also refers to all his Chassidim and shakes hands.

The synagogue was packed after a few more minutes and the Rebbe walked in. The two women's sides were full and people were climbing everywhere in order to get a good seat. Suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of almost a hundred Toldot Aharon women.
Well, it looked a little strange, as the married women, of course, wore their regular white Shabbat hair cover called Yasameh. My friend and I were the only women at our age having hair, as the Toldot Aharon women follow a Hungarian custom and shave it off one or two days after their wedding.

What really surprised us positively was how friendly they related to us. Honestly, we didn't expect them handing out their private mineral water to us. However, we were asked if we would like to have some, and as we agreed we were also told that we should include someone ill into the Beracha. They told us a name which I, unfortunately, forgot after a few hours.

All the women sitting next to us were extremely friendly and said "Gut Shabbes - Shabbat Shalom". My friend doesn’t speak Hebrew (only English) and as soon as they talk to us, each of them only talks to me and I have to translate. Fortunately, I understand lots of Yiddish as well but usually the women refer to me in Hebrew.

Before Rebbe David Kahn started his vacation, we had been to the Toldot Aharon Tish twice and several times to their split - off Toldot Avraham Yitzchak. We had spoken to some people but, due to the holidays, hadn't been able to create closer relations.

This is why we couldn't believe that many Toldot Aharon women still remembered us. One very young women came straight to me and asked if I still remember her. I looked into her eyes and didn't know what to say. Finally I said YES but this was a white lie. Well, later on I did remember her, I have to say.
She sat down beside me and I had the feeling that she wanted to talk to me. I have to admit that I was very tired that night and, therefore, wasn't really in my communication mood. However, I thought about how I could start a conversation with her.

Well, you might suggest now that I could have started with a simple question about the group but this is exactly what I tried to avoid. The young woman didn't look to happy. Actually she looked very depressed and didn't speak to anyone else. And no one spoke to her. It seems that she must have got married only recently because she looks so young. Not older than 19 or 20. I was wandering what she wanted to say but couldn't find a start of a conversation. Nothing came into my mind and so we didn't speak. Maybe next Friday, who knows.

My friend got exactly the same impression and we spoke about it after the Tish was finished at 2.30 am. When we started going to the Tishes we actually wanted to be, more or less, anonymous, and suddenly we realized that people start recognizing us. Another point we discussed is how far we want to attach ourselves to a group. First of all, we are not one of them and we both agreed that Toldot Aharon are too much for us. We could never join such a group and guessed for how long we could live like that. Probably not longer then a few weeks.

The Tishes have changed us and we already have attached ourselves to the groups. At least emotionally. So far, we would not join any group but enjoy very much going there. I do study Chassidut and learn much more about all the backgrounds. It might sound strange but personally I love it but, at the same time, I am too scared to become one of them. The problem is within myself and I haven't found a solution yet. But one thing I know for sure, I will continue going to the Tishes.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Back to Toldot Aharon


It's Friday today and, as usual, after Shabbat dinner, my friend and me are planning to go to another chassidic Tish in Mea Shearim.

As far as we heard, the Toldot Aharon Rebbe, Rabbi David Kahn, should be back from his vacation in Switzerland. Be' Ezrat HaShem, it is true and he is giving a Tish tonight.

Here some Toldot Aharon Chassidim in Mea Shearim:

Shabbat Shalom from the heat in Jerusalem to all of you !!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

זכור את אשר עשה לכם עמלק


Most Israelis still enjoy their summer vacation and like to travel around. Either abroad or in Israel. Jerusalemites like to go to the beach in Tel Aviv and the Tel Avivim come to us in order to see the Kotel or the Ben Yehudah Mall.

I am also rather lazy this week and feel like traveling and seeing something. First, I was planning to go to Hebron today but the terrible heat makes me just look for an air condition all the time. Who wants to walk around outside ?
Finally I decided to go to Yad Vashem where I haven't been for more than two years.

The entrance is rather complicated. Of course, there is security staff all over the place but we were asked to leave our bags in a cloakroom. Not even cell phones or cameras were allowed inside the museum. Only wallets and personal things.

The new building is huge and the exhibition is very personal. In every corner there is a screen with someone talking about his / her Holocaust experiences. The museum is overwhelming with all kinds of personal belongings from the victims: photos, toys and even cutlery and watches.

As a religious person, I am always very interested in religious matters during the Holocaust. A few weeks ago, ASimpleJew wrote an article about a wallet made by the Nazis from a Sefer Torah was offered on ebay.
When I went through the museum I remembered his article and particularly paid attention to any similar objects. It didn't take too long and I saw a Torah parchment given from a Nazi to a Jew in order to make him (the Nazi) a wallet. This happened in one of the camps.

Jews who had converted to Christianity were not saved from the Warsaw Ghetto. On the contrary, the Germans also arrested them although but kept them separately inside the Ghetto. In the end, those people also had to join fate with the Jews who didn't give up their religion. What a waste of effort running into idol - worship and gain nothing.

The most shocking thing to me was a clay model consisting of three parts. First the Jews went into the gas chamber, the second clay model showed how they died and the third part showed the "Sonderkommando" pushing the dead bodies into the ovens.
Everything was only made out of white clay but it was incredible real.
Each exhibition room in the museum shows a different time period. First, when Hitler came to power, then the restrictions for the German Jews, occupation, war, Final Solution and survival.

The exhibition about the Warsaw Ghetto is very detailed. You come in and think that you are standing in the middle of the Ghetto. There are real train tracks, street lamps and a movie is shown. You look at the movie and you really look inside the Ghetto. Into the daily life. People being squeezed in a small territory like animals are rushing through the streets; beggars, children, dead bodies and even the Rich. The museum visitors are standing on the tracks and think that all this is so real, that we are surrounded by those people.

The negative thing about Yad Vashem is that it is mostly far too crowded and people just jump from one exhibition to the next. However, it is always good to be reminded of how deep humanity can fall.

Especially one short movie frightened me. The Germans were destroying the Ghetto and shooting people. Not too far away, acrobats were entertaining the Polish population. It was a Sunday afternoon and the smoke from the Ghetto was rising over Warsaw. Neither the acrobats nor the Polish Gentiles cared and went on enjoying their lives in the middle of Warsaw. Only a few hundred meters away from the burning Ghetto.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sleeping with the Enemy


The worst thing you can do to Israeli society and to yourself is being a traitor. Apparently, it is very easy to become one and many times, people don't even realize how they got into this. Only when it is already too late they realize what they have done.

Male Palestinian teenagers are everywhere in Jerusalem. They sit in front of shopping malls, on park benches or right at the entrance to Ben Yehudah Street, and many of them have only one goal: Searching for an Israeli Jewish girl - friend. It is not uncommon at all to see Jewish - Muslim relationships or marriages. Mostly a Jewish woman is falling in love with a Palestinian guy and not vice versa.
However, this is the worst what can happen to you. Society, authorities and parents will hate you for this. Suddenly the Jewish woman is becoming an outlaw in Israeli society.

According to Israeli newspaper reports, many young teenagers fall in love with their Palestinian counterparts. The Jewish female Teenagers are around 18 years old and the majority comes from a family with social problems. So far, they have never got any attention from anyone let alone presents. And suddenly they meet someone in front of a shopping mall who is giving them attention. They receive presents such a cell phones or jewelry and the girls are impressed.

In many cases, the Jewish girls don't even know that their new lover is a Palestinian, because lots of those guys just change their names from Ibrahim into Avraham or from Mussa into Moshe and pretend to be Jewish. They hide their accents and lie. Quickly the young girl is so much in love with that guy that she doesn't care any more. The only thing she does is telling herself that it won't be too bad. Her new lover is definitely not a suicide bomber but a nice peaceful guy.

As soon as this happens the Palestinian will offer her marriage and to take her into his Arab village. Well, as we all know, love makes you blind and you stop thinking logically. The girl marries the guy and moves with him into his village. Surprise, surprise !!! There she might discover that she is not his only wife.
Even if Jewish women convert to Islam they are mostly not really accepted in the Muslim world. The new husband considers his wife as his property and she has no rights whatsoever. She is stuck in the village and not allowed to leave it or call her Israeli friends. Let alone the violence in the family. First her husband was a great nice guy and soon after the wedding he shows his real face; he beats his wife.

Israeli haredi organizations such as YAD LE' ACHIM and others try to help such women. With or without the help of the Israeli army, they go into the Arab villages and get the women and her children out. The first few weeks they keep them in hiding places and later find them a new home. Everything is kept a secret, as the Muslim husband could go after them and take revenge.

This Israeli society problem is so obvious and we hear a lot about it. Nevertheless, young Jewish women don't seem to care and ignore all the warnings. Now, former victims go out and talk about their experiences. I think that they should go to schools or youth centers and especially talk to the teenagers.
Receiving presents and recognition doesn't mean that you have to betray your own people. There are other and more positive solutions than getting beaten up.

Conversion and the Consequences


In case anyone of you is planning a blog in German, he should definitely write about the subject "Conversion to Judaism". As soon as you write people will just jump onto your blog.

No, seriously, in these days it seems that thousands of people want to convert to Judaism. Some weeks ago, I used one of the new Blogspot - polls and asked around in my German blog about how people would like to convert; reform, national religious or haredi. Honestly, I was a little surprised about the answers. Actually many people voted for a haredi conversion. Additionally, I am receiving many e - mails from people who are obviously fascinated by the haredi world and ask me about haredi conversions in Israel.

Well, conversions are not really the subject of my blogs but somehow more and more potential converts are davka interested in this subject, and I was just wondering why. Is it really a kind of fascination about a completely different world ? Is it so fascinating to start a totally new life ? I just wrote an article about this in my German blog and I am curiously awaiting the responses.

However, people converting to Judaism in a haredi way should take a few more things into consideration. It is not only that you have to keep kosher, wear modest clothes, keeping Shabbat and all the other Torah laws. What most people do forget is that especially a haredi conversion means changing your lives in a very drastic way.
Not everybody fits into the haredi society and, as a newcomer, you might hear certain negative remarks people make. It is anything but easy to get accepted by the haredi society. I am not only talking about the Shidduch subject where you probably will not get a marriage offer from someone being born haredi. Usually converts marry converts or divorcees. In most cases but not always.
It says in the Torah and in the Amidah - Prayer that Jews should honour converts. However, reality is often quite different even though people might be religious and know about the Mitzwot. Nevertheless, a convert remains a convert. But don't get too upset because born Jews becoming religious later in their lives are facing the same reality. Sometimes the haredi world can be a very racist world. Everybody is just human and has his faults, one could say. Another point is that especially the haredim should set an example about proper behaviour but, realistically speaking, many times they are not.

Unfortunately today, haredim - it doesn't matter if litvish or chassidic, think that Jews who are not exactly like them are worth less. I wonder what our forefathers (Avot) would say about this. If Avraham was walking through Mea Shearim today and proclaiming that he is a convert, would the inhabitants accept him ? Interesting question. Someone once answered me that they would just look into his soul and know. Interesting answer and maybe the person was right.

Today, Israel is confronted with a huge wave of converts. Thousands of people come here from all over the world and are looking for a conversion course. Rabbis and the ordinary population seem to be fed up, as there is too much misuse of the system. The majority of converts in Israel do not keep the Mitzwot after their conversion. And I am talking here about orthodox conversions.
They finish the Beit Din and, in most cases, this is it. Not that they go back to their former religions but they are simply not interested at all in keeping any Mitzwot. Many of them come from Third World countries and just convert in order to become citizens with Aliyah rights. This is what really upsets born Israelis.
Others come and convert in order to missionize or become Jews for J. Those are the vicious ones and you can usually spot them out right away.
Only a tiny percentage is interested in keeping the Mitzwot after their conversion. However, for the State of Israel it is becoming a serious problem, as those people apply for Aliyah and then get monetary benefits. Rules for conversions therefore do change monthly and it is getting harder and harder to pass the Beit Din.

Whatever you choose, if haredi or national religious, you should always make inquiries or better come to Israel and look around. Speak to people with the same experiences and check out the different societies.

Something Israeli


A friend of mine just opened a new blog in Hebrew and English. I would call the blog typical Israeli but worth reading.

Whoever reads English or Hebrew can enjoy it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum Superstar


If anyone in New York or elsewhere wants to know how Jerusalem received the Satmarer Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum won't be too surprised: Mea Shearim and Ge'ulah were celebrating and running wild to see him.

Of course, my friend and I wanted to see the Satmarer Tish as well. As we are not in Williamsburgh or Kiryat Yoel, we do not have any possibility to see a Satmarer Tish. So we ran to Mea Shearim at 11 pm last night. We entered Rehov Mea Shearim through Shivtei Israel. Toldot Aharon as well as Toldot Avraham Yitzchak are still on vacation. However, the street was packed with people.
The only thing we knew so far was that Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum had set up a huge tent at Kikar Supnik. But where was Supnik ? A look on the map didn't help and also other friends had no idea about the location.

We decided to follow the crowd and were right. People ran to Supnik which turned out to be a schoolyard I had known before. Right at Kikar Shabbat and in front of the offices of the Edah HaCharedit.
On our way we met a very nice lady with her three children. She was laughing when she heard that we are going to the Satmarer Rebbe. "Too crowded, no chance", so she said. She told us that 1000 Satmarer Chassidim came from New York and that Rebbe Aharon still hast lots of followers in Jerusalem. Although people say that most of his followers are in Bnei Brak and that his brother Zalman Leib rules about Jerusalem.

She was from Twerski and told us about other different chassidic groups which get along even if they are at war. When I asked her how the two Satmar groups get on in Jerusalem, she said "Mistadrim - they manage".
However, it was great of her taking us to Supnik where we were standing in front of a huge tent. Thousands of people were there from all kinds of chassidic groups. Even Chassidei Gur were there as well as litvishe haredim and the national religious.

The tent had a women's and a men's entrance and we were streaming into the women's entrance. It was unbelievable; people everywhere, everybody was pushing and squeezing himself inside. The rows where the Chassidim stood were packed. People even tried climbing up the poles of the tent. They were hanging down just to see the Rebbe.
Well, we gave up and walked out. But outside the same story. People, people, people. Mea Shearim was there and it turned into a social meeting. Especially the women were standing with their kids outside and talking to each other.
The men didn't give up and tried getting into the tent. Without any success. In the end the tried to lift up the tent cover in order to have a look inside. It didn't really work too well. Unfortunately,we didn't hear what was going on inside, as the generators for the air condition were too noisy.

Then we decided to move on to the Tish of Chassidut Dushinsky. We had just arrived and 15 minutes later, their Tish was finished. The Rebbe said "Gut Shabbes" to all his Chassidim and left.

Back to Satmar. In the meantime everything got much worse. More people had arrived. Same picture everywhere. Men trying to get into the tent and women socialising outside. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was great and people behaved well. No one got crazy or anything. More or less, everybody was very disciplined.
According to rumour, Rebbe Teitelbaum will be in Bnei Brak tomorrow.
Actually we will be also in Bnei Bral tomorrow. Not because of him but to get some further information about Shomrei Emunim, Vishnitz, Sadigora, etc.

To all the Satmarer Chassidim: Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum surely had a great time in Israel and was very much welcomed by the religious. He should come more often !!!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Time for my second life


It is Friday and slowly slowly I have to prepare myself for my second life.
During the week I am just an ordinary Jewish religious person. Reading daily papers, going out for a cup of coffee, working, whatever.

However, everything changes on Fridays. Well, I still go to the laundry in the morning but there is already a different feeling. As Shabbat is approaching, I am getting into a different mood.
Suddenly I take out nicer clothes and even a long skirt. You can say that I have two lives. Of course, each of us is different on Shabbat. But for me it is like entering a life which I actually do want but somehow I am still unable to make it real. And it does bother me, I have to admit. Nevertheless, having two days a week of chassidut is better than nothing. Positively speaking.

Shabbat Shalom

Tish with Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum

Satmar Tish in Jerusalem


The Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, invites thousands of people to his Tish. The event is taking place tonight and will last until tomorrow after Se'udat Shlishit. On Sunday he is due to return to New York.

This morning, I read in a haredi paper that the Satmarer Rebbe is giving a Tish in Jerusalem, and as everyone can surely imagine, I would really like to take a look at that. My friend and I will definitely go. I admit that I have no idea if there are at all women at a Satmarer Tish or not. However, even if we have to stay far away from the Rebbe's tent, we won't care. At least we can enjoy the atmosphere which, I am sure, will be incredible.

The Rebbe himself arrived at Ben Gurion airport on Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of Chassidim followed him from New York and took a plane via Frankfurt / Germany.
How can this happen ? Hundreds of Satmarer Chassidim prayed Shacharit at Frankfurt Airport and then continued flying to Israel. The Germans must have been shocked seeing so many Chassidim alive.

Okay, it is great that Chassidim davka pray at a German airport and chassidically speaking, maybe they elevated some nezizot. However, it is completely beyond my understanding how someone from Satmar, whose Chassidut suffered so much in the Holocaust, chooses to change planes at a German airport.

A great Shabbat to everyone and maybe someone can tell me more about a Satmarer Tish in New York. Either in Kiryat Yoel or Williamsburgh.

Shabbat Shalom - Git Shabbes - Gut Shabbes

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How Israelis see the new immigrants


Olim Chadashim - The meaning of these two Hebrew words is "new immigrants" to Israel. Making Aliyah and getting settled in Israel.

In many different blogs, especially Americans write about their experiences in their new home called Israel. Some take it seriously and others sarcastically or with a certain sense of humour. On a daily basis, I hear different stories from different immigrants about THE ISRAELIS. Obviously many Olim don't identify themselves with THE ISRAELIS. Either they still feel as a stranger in the country or they simply don't want to be like THE ISRAELIS.

THE ISRAELIS are soooo rude, so noisy, so middle - east, the streets are sooo dirty, nothing is organized and at the government offices they just scream at you. And the worst is that there English is too rude or awful or both.

This is just a brief list of what Olim and especially many Americans complain about. Well, the British have the same list and the French surprisingly adjust very fast, as they are also rude. For them it doesn't matter too much anyway. And have you ever seen parking cars in France ? The same chaos as Israel. For the French, Israel is just like home. The only difference is that if an Arab attacks them they can strike back without having the police against them.

Someone new in Israel can complain about whatever he likes but have you thought about what Israelis think about you ? By the way, I am a new immigrant as well. Not too new any more, as I have been here for more than seven years and I can tell about myself that I transformed from a boring German into a rude ISRAELI. I am one of THE ISRAELIS and don't even consider going back to Europe.

Israeli society is divided into endless different groups: Sepharadim, Ashkenazim, black, white, European, Moroccans, Russian, Jewish, non - Jewish, intelligent, no brain at all, religious, non - religious etc. The typical Israeli behaviour is that nothing bothers them. You can tell whatever you want but don't expect anyone to be impressed. Here you mostly start from scratch. You even have to learn again how to speak.

All the different society groups see you as something else. In general, Americans have the reputation of being stupid. Sorry, but this is what most locals think about you. What we see in Israel is an American behaviour like - the whole world belongs to Americans, the JAPS drive us nuts, young spoilt American kids come and deal with drugs, Americans have a hard time learning Hebrew and therefore think that everyone has to speak English, and Americans are too nice and just don't get it that Israelis society works different - . What really goes on our nerves is when Americans always tell us that the States are like this and that and that in the States everything is just better.

Russians have a crime reputation, Europeans are boring and the French.....well, the French have their own lives. They are the only ones who manage any situation. In Ashdod and other places, they opened their own restaurants, shops, etc. Just like in Paris. Israel has not many jobs to offer, so the French found their won way to get along. Americans and Europeans, on the other hand, give up too easily. If it doesn't work I am going back to wherever.

Another thing what Israelis not understand is why Jews make Aliyah at all. Jews from rich Europe and the States. Why are you coming here ? Well, if you are religious no one will ask you this question but if not, you will already hear it already at the airport. Thousands of Israelis just dream about living in Canada, Australia or the States. There, life is so much better. More money, more jobs, less terror, more fun…. How can anyone come here ?

Personally I know many American immigrants in Jerusalem. Some got adjusted and others didn't. The greatest danger is to stick to your own ghetto. Go out and look for Israeli friends or go and join the army, the biggest melting pot. Don't only read JERUSALEM POST but go out and learn about Israeli society by yourself.
As soon as you speak some Hebrew and get to know the locals you might become one of them, one of THE ISRAELIS.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Halachic and kabbalistic thought on Prayer


Many times it happens that I am collecting material for a certain article and suddenly I find some further interesting information. Again it happened and, this time, I found an interesting Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law).

In another few weeks time we will be celebrating Rosh HaShana when G - d judges the whole world. Especially for the holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur it is important to learn the right access to prayer. Here are some helpful ideas.

It says in the Tractate Orach Chaim 98:1 that someone should get rid of any negative thoughts and should only concentrate on the prayer itself. The person praying should imagine that he is standing in front of a king of flesh and blood whom he is telling personal matters.

Already the early Chassidim (even those before the chassidic movement) went into isolation in order to meditate. They used to meditate until they completely forgot about any earthly matters and almost reached the state of Nevuah. But only, if no strange thought slipped into their minds. The Shulchan Aruch 98:5 gives us instructions about how we can get rid of those strange thoughts. The person praying should only think about G - d's greatness.

Of course, I am not neglecting the chassidic opinions on this issue. One of the famous teachings of the Baal Shem Tov is that we have the power to change negative into positive thoughts and, thus, can elevate them.
How ?
As soon as a strange thought enters your mind, you should immediately think of something positive which pushes the negativity aside.

Especially the Chassidim of Chabad and Breslov meditate in two different ways before they start praying. Chabad has the Minhag to meditate on Torah concepts such as Creation of the World, and the Breslover Chassidim go into the famous Hitbodedut where they speak to G - d. Such kind of communication is seen as meditation. Generally, all Chassidim are known for their ecstatic prayers.

The Baal Shem Tov very much emphasized Kavanah (concentration). Kavanah was not such a new idea but the great chassidic master put it back into practice. Kavanah can only be reached when someone meditates before his prayer. The higher the Kavanah, the higher the Devekut.

The Mishna in Talmud Berachot 30b teaches us how to get to the optimal state of mind before we start praying. Again we hear about the early Chassidim who used to meditate an hour before their actual prayers. But as most Talmudic students know, the Talmud sometimes gives us figures or numbers which are meant to be metaphoric. There are very different opinions about this one hour but basically it means that someone can meditate less or more than an hour. Some even say that we should meditate less than an hour, as only the earlier Chassidim were worthy of meditating an hour before prayer.

It says in the Gemara in Talmud Eruvin 65a that someone whose mind isn't in such a good state should not pray. Especially those people who are unable to concentrate due to different reasons such as anger or worry. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 98:2) tells us that this particular Gemara doesn't apply today, as most prayers are being said without concentration anyway.
A general rule is that you should avoid praying when you are either in a bad or in an exaggerated good mood. A clear state of mind is very important for prayer. On the other hand, you are allowed to cry during prayer. Since we don't have a Temple, the heavenly gates are closed and only tears have the power to open them up.

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin writes an interesting thought in his famous book "Nefesh HaChaim". The Torah obligates us to love and serve G - d with all our heart and all our soul.
What does it mean with all your heart ?
Prayer is a Mitzwa coming from the heart, and all our hearts should only be filled with Kavanah.

The Baal Shem Tov taught his students the right access to prayer without telling them any particular details, but he taught them the importance of Kavanah (concentration). Every prayer and Mitzwa have to have the greatest possible Kavanah. The Besht himself reached the highest state of Kavanah by using his kabbalistic wisdom: The meditaion on G - d's Names. He acquired this kind of wisdom from the well - known book "Shaarei Ora" by the great early Kabbalist Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla. Rabbi Gikatilla taught the way of complete acceptance of all prayers in form of a metaphor:
Just imagine that you want to meet a King in his palace. In order to get to the King, you have to pass through many different rooms. The same applies to prayer. If you do not know the way, hence the right way of prayer, you can get lost in one of the rooms and never get to the King.

Basically Rabbi Gikatilla differentiates between two kinds of prayer. There are some people who only tell their private demands to G -d and want their wishes to be fulfilled. Mostly these people stay in the rooms but never reach the King's room.
And there are those who simply pray because they want to get closer to their Creator. These people can reach the King's room.

Chodesh Tov and my wishes to you that you might reach the King's room.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Chodesh Tov


Rosh Chodesh Elul is starting tonight and will last until Wednesday.
I wish all of you a great and successful month.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Beit Midrash of Belz in Jerusalem


Here is an interesting video about the Great Belz Synagoge in Jerusalem

Tish with Chassidut Belz in Jerusalem


Most Tishes we have been so far were different. In fact, each chassidic Tish and group is different but Belz is even more different. So far, we only went to Tishes in Mea Shearim and two of the groups are members of the anti - Zionist umbrella organization Edah HaCharedit. Except for the Slonim and Kretchnif where we were last.

However, Chassidut Belz is a member of the Agudat Israel whose Knesset party is called Yahadut HaTorah. More than twenty years ago, Belz used to be a member of the Edah but left due to financial reasons. After the Second World War, Belz was a small Chassidut. Most former members they had lost in the Holocaust and it was a miracle that the former Belzer rebbe (the father of the present rebbe) escaped and survived. When Belz left the Edah HaCharedit and joined the Agudah, they needed financial support from the Israeli government. Since, Belz and the Edah have been at war or let's put it this way: They are not best buddies any more.

Personally, I like Belz very much although I also write a lot about the Edah and its members. Since the two rebbes of Toldot Aharon and Toldot Avraham Yitzchak are still on holiday and not too many other Tishes are taking place in Mea Shearim this August, my friend and I went to the Belze Tish.

Chassidut Belz has its own neighbourhood in Jerusalem which is called Kiryat Belz and is located next to Kiryat Mattersdorf. After a more than an hour walk we finally arrived and were facing our usual problem: Finding the women's entrance. The Rebbe's Tish doesn't take place in the synagogue itself but next door in a cellar. We were asking our way through and, this time, also men answered us.
When we walked into the women's section everything was still empty. Downstairs were a few chassidim walking around. The only exciting thing was the air condition and we were very lucky that we brought some coats with us. The Tish was supposed to start at 11pm and only last for two hours. Well, if it had been for longer I definitely would have turned into an ice cube.

Within the next ten minutes, the whole building was packed. Hundreds of chassidim were downstairs and also the women's section became crowded. Suddenly we heard a "Schschsch" and the chassidim were running to their places. Never before I have seen people getting so excited. Rebbe Yissachar Dov Rokeach was on his way and it was silent. A few minutes later he entered the room through his private entrance. He wore the usual Belz clothes, a Streimel and a long Tallit. The Belzer Rebbe is not too tall but heavy. He stopped in front of the huge table and started praying. I have to say that he is very energetic and charismatic.
Everybody in the room was quiet and minutes later the Rebbe made Kiddush, Netillat Yadaim and then he sat down. The Challot were divided among his chassidim. Names were read from a list and the slices were handed to those people.

Five people were standing next to the Rebbe and helping him with anything. Someone even moved his chair. The helpers were constantly busy and I admired them for their energy. Rebbe Rokeach ate Gefillte Fish, chicken soup, chicken, sweet carrots and rice. The usual Tish food. After he finished eating, he started shaking hands of chassidim and children and said LeChaim to each row where people were sitting. It always makes a positive impression on me when a rebbe is addressing his chassidim personally. What I also liked were the songs they were singing. I can really recommend the Belze Tish and there is only one negative point. It is a little far away and a long walk. However, we will definitely go back.

Did he or did he not ?


Israel Wallas is back in the news. This is not exactly what he wants, as he is a member of the chassidic group Toldot Aharon. They want anything but being in the non - religious Zionist press.

More than a year ago, just before Pessach, Israel Wallas was subject of all the Israeli papers and TV. He was accused of having killed his baby boy who was only a few months old. The police said that Israel wanted to take an afternoon nap when the baby started crying and bothering him. He took the little boy and slammed his head against the wall. The baby died and Israel Wallas got arrested.
Toldot Aharon did not accept the arrest and instead, they wanted to deal with the matter alone. For them, there was no reason why the Zionist state should get involved. However, someone died and this makes it to a real important issue. Israel Wallas claimed that he did not kill or abuse his child. He simply said that the baby fell and died. A well - known Israeli doctor was asked to examine the dead body and he came to the same conclusion. There were not signs of abuse, whatsoever. Additional support for Wallas came from the litvishe Rabbis, Rabbi Eliyashiv and Rabbi Steinman, from Bnei Brak. The Edah HaCharedit in Mea Shearim started demonstrations; blocking roads and burning garbage cans. A few weeks later, Israel Wallas was released from jail.

Now, he is back in the news. Despite all his claims and other supporters, he has to go to court next month. I don' t know how the police is justifying the court. Apparently there are more proves that Israel Wallas did abuse his child. Next month, we will know more.

The second thing is that he became a father again, as another baby was born to him and his wife last week. The Brit is going to be this Wednesday. By the way, it is another baby boy. The municipality thought of taking away the child but relatives and friends see it as a new chance for Israel Wallas. Now, he has the opportunity to show the whole word that he is a good father and that all the accusations are nothing but Lashon HaRah.

What bothered me at this case is that we only read about Israel Wallas, and many times it seems that the baby is completely forgotten. And his wife just disappeared after it happened last year. As she is Toldot Aharon, I do not expect her running around in public and complaining about her husband. But she could have said something. Either if her husband is guilty or not and how she feels about the baby. But nothing. She was no subject at all.

I am not judging Israel Wallas, as it is not clear if he is guilty or not. However, my suggestion is that a social worker should go and see the Wallas family. At least once a month or so. Just in case…..

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Satmarer Rebbe is coming to Jerusalem


One of the Satmarer Rebbes, Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum, is coming to Jerusalem next Wednesday (Rosh Chodesh Elul, August 15).

He is going to lay the foundation stone for the Jerusalem located Kiryat Yoel, a 10 - floor apartment complex.

Further details you can find here:

Actually I thought that the Rebbe would ship many of his New Yorker Chassidim over to Israel but, nevertheless, I read in an Israeli haredi paper this morning that instead, 400 wealthy people will be on his plane. Whoever wants to fly with the Rebbe has to donate $ 10,000 for the new apartment complex in Jerusalem.

Most of the time he is going to spend in Jerusalem and his hotel is located in the Jerusalem hills. There will be also a special breakfast with the Rebbe in which I won't participate. Entrance fee is $ 50,000 and this amount is a little toooo much for my budget.

Unfortunately, everything just seems to depend on the money. Is Satmar always like this ? Toldot Aharon and a few other chassidic groups are completely different and I appreciate them much more.

Anyway, have a great Shabbat. With or without the Rebbe's breakfast.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Chassidim and Mitnagdim


In my German blog, I just started publishing some articles about the differences between Chassidim and Mitnagdim. Explaining the Vilna Gaon and why it came to a certain dispute between the two groups. Hopefully, some English readers will be also interested in this subject, as I am going to translate it.

Even if I do not exactly look chassidic, I do consider myself as something like chassidic. I keep certain customs and I study as much as I can about the subject. As I have mentioned before, I do have some litvishe Yeshiva background as well and, therefore, know about the livishe life as well.

My first steps into the chassidut I started with Chabad eleven years ago. Who does not somehow start with Chabad ? No, I did not become a Meshichist but just learned about chassidut. Actually I am very grateful to Chabad. However, when I later decided to learn in a more professional way about chassidut, I realized that there were great discrepancies between what we had learned at Chabad and what Kabbalists (the Arizal) and other chassidic rebbes or writes said.
Already in the early days of chassidut, different chassidim gave the Lurianic Kabbalah a slightly easier approach and, therefore, certain ideas were changed. I realized that Chabad does the same. Not everything what the Alter Rebbe wrote in his TANYA is really from the Lurianic Kabbalah but a Chabad idea, and it took me quite a while to differentiate between Chabad ideas, the Arizal, other Kabbalists and chassidic writers. I was definitely not the first person realizing this. Already the Vilna Gaon had his problems with Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and his writings.

Although I prefer being chassidic, I do understand the litvishe point of view about chassidim as well.
I am going to give further explanations in the next above mentioned article and hope that, thus, chassidim learn more about the Vilna Gaon, that the Litvaks learn more about the chassidim and that everybody else learns more about both sides.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Kuntres from Toldot Aharon 2


Written by Rebbe Aharon Roth in Shomrei Emunim:

די דריי מידות, ביישנים, רחמנים וגומלי חסדים. און דיא חכמים האבען געזאגת אין מסכת נדרים (דף 70א) סימן טוב פאר אמענטש וואס האט בושה, און ווער עם האט נישט קיין בושה איז איין סימן דאס זיינע עלטרין דאס הייסט זיין נשמה, איזט נישט געשטאנען אוף דעהם בארג סיני, אין זיין נשמה קומט נישט אהער מזרע ישראל, נאר פין דור המבול סדום ועמורה, אזוי וויא דיא הייליגע ספרים ברענדען, הגם די עלטערין זענען געוועזין ערליכע יודין, נאר די פריעריגע ספרים האבין נישט געברויכט אזוי מאריך צו זיין אין די זאכין ווייל עם האט נישט זייער געפעלט, ווייל יודישע קינדער זענען תמיד געוועזין געקריינט אין בושה וצניעות וקדושה, נאר איצט אין דיא לעצטע צייטען, האט זיך הענייט בעונותינו הרבים אנייא דור, וואס האבין אויף געברענגט דאס פינצטערניש חשכות ומרירות מיט הפקירות פריצות בעונותינו הרבים, וואס האבין ציריק בענייט דאס דור המבול, אוי ווייא נעביך דיא אויגין וואס ברוכין נעבעך דאס פינצטערניש ציקוקין.

Bored Chassidim in Mea Shearim


Friday nights in July and August seem to be rather boring in Mea Shearim. Many rebbes are on holiday and gone for the summer months. Their chassidim don't know much to do with themselves after Shabbat dinner and start looking for other chassidic Tishes.

The same with me and my friend. We were really hoping that our favourite groups Toldot Aharon as well as Toldot Avraham Yitzchak would be back but as soon as we came closer to the Toldot Aharon synagogue in Shivtei Israel Street, our hope was gone. There were hardly any people in the Toldot Aharon backyard which is always a bad sign. No Tish.

Very disappointed, we decided to go to chassidut Dushinsky which is a quite small chassidut but with a great influence in the Edah HaCharedit. Right before the State of Israel came into existence in 1948, the first Dushinsky - Rebbe went to the UN and tried to convince them not to agree to such a Zionist state without the coming of the Meschiach. However, as we all know, the State of Israel came into existence.

When we arrived at the Dushinsky synagogue, we faced our usual problem; finding the women's entrance. We only saw men in the street and could not ask anyone for details. Suddenly an American litvishe family approached us and asked if they can be of any assistance. They even asked some chassidei Dushinsky for us and we had go walk around the whole building in order to get to the women's entrance. When we finally got there, the door was closed. No women's participation today.

Well, we decided to go back to Kretchnif, as we did last week.
The men's section at the Kretchnif synagogue was packed. We also saw many Toldot Aharon chassidim there as well as some Litvaks. Even in the women's section were women from Toldot Aharon.
The Krechtnif Rebbe of Jerusalem was in a good mood and it is very obvious that he really likes to sing. He does eat a meal which, to him, doesn’t seem to be of great significance. He enjoys the songs and puts lots of emphasize on participation. It is not unusual that he is telling the chassidim to sing instead of walking around or studying the Parasha. What is really really nice of him is that whoever comes in, is being offered a seat at his table. He doesn't make a difference between his chassidim and others. He is waving his arms and offers seats.

When we arrived, fruit was handed out downstairs in the men's section. Especially dark grapes and grapefruits slices. And then, about twenty bottles of cool beer were being put on the table. This was the moment my friend and I did regret very much that we were not men. It is summer time in Israel and it was quite hot despite the air - condition. No wonder we dreamt about a cool beer. At least half a cup.
But, as everybody can imagine, we got nothing.

I turned around and saw two Toldot Aharon women leaving. Because I really wanted to know what is going on with their group and the rebbe, I ran after them and asked when they do have their next Tish. One of the women was so shocked that she almost forgot to answer me. She just kept on starring at me. I suppose that the reason, or at least one of the reasons, must have been that members of such a closed society do not expect outsiders to know who they are. Maybe she just couldn't grasp that I know that she is Toldot Aharon. After a while she said that it is going to take another few weeks until they have their next Tish.

On our way out we met a young American litvishe guy in the staircase who was stuttering that he is looking for the women's entrance. It turned out that he wanted to help his sister finding the right section. The whole situation was rather funny, as usually it is always us running around in chassidic synagogues and taking wrong entrances. We were glad to see someone else struggling as well. Anyway, we helped the sister and another friend finding the women's section and walked home.

It was a nice warm summer night and many people were walking in the streets. There is nothing greater than walking in Mea Shearim on a Friday night and seeing all those different kinds of people. It is a completely different atmosphere which we enjoy very much. People were still looking for Tishes although it was already after 2am. Some guys just opened the door to the Shomrei Emunim synagogue and shouted inside if there is a Tish. "No", came a scream back and the guys immediately closed the door.

So far, we have not yet decided what we are going to do next Friday. Our original plan was to go to Biale last Friday. However, a friend who had promised to take us, never showed up. We might go to Belz whose Tish starts at 11pm and already ends after two hours. We might go somewhere else, who knows.

Maybe someone of you knows any details about how we get to the Tish of the Rebbe of Strokov or the Karliner Rebbe.

Israeli Holocaust survivors in need


Today there are about 260,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel and many of them live below the poverty line. Their pension is just not enough to cover all expenses, let alone leading a good life. Instead, many survivors can hardly pay for rent and food.

Last April on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), people were demonstrating in front of the Knesset and the government promised to solve the problem. Long discussions took place and politicians came to the conclusion that most survivors who do live below the poverty line are new immigrants from Eastern European countries, especially from Russia. And those Russians already receive a higher pension than others. So, why raise the pension of Holocaust survivors at all ?

A week ago, the Knesset decided that every survivor is getting an additional 100 Shekels (25 US Dollar) per month. The survivors say that this sum is ridiculous and again see themselves as victims. They do not really have a lobby in Israel and sometimes feel completely forgotten.

Today, demonstrations are taking place in front of Prime Minister Olmert's office in Jerusalem, Kaplan Street. At 4.30pm (Jerusalem time) the survivors are going to start a "March of the Living" in the Rose Garden in Sacher Park, right across the government offices and the Knesset.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Parashat Ekev


Last week's Parasha Va' etchanan ended with the Shema. Now, Moshe is telling us that if we keep the Mitzwot then G - d will keep His covenant with us and make us a fruitful and successful nation.
Once I went to a Shiur where the Rabbi spoke about the Jews being a great nation, keeping Mitzwot and all the Gentile nations looked up on us. The Rabbi' s words were: "Believe it or not, once we were respected by the nations". The people in class were starring at him and couldn't believe his words. Wow, we were respected.
Historically, it is a fact that we were; especially at the times of Shlomo HaMelech.

Israel is the only country in the world being completely dependent upon G - d. If the Jews keep the Mitzwot then Israel will be successful, if not, then we have to face the consequences. For everything we need to pray and nothing should be taken for granted. In the Shema and the Amidah (during the winter), we even pray for rain. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote that our whole existence and well - being depends on the Mitzwot. Our mission is getting closer to G - d, as He and the Jews have a special eternal relationship with each other.

In Judaism, we always thank G - d for everything. Especially in the early morning prayer with all the Berachot. However, we do not even take food for granted. We say Berachot before and after the meal. Saying a special Bracha over food before a meal is very easy. You are hungry, you want to eat, so you say a quick Bracha. But afterwards when you are full, you also tend to forget G - d very easily and it is much harder saying a blessing when you do not have a desire any more.
The Talmud in Sotah 5a warns us to become arrogant. Never forget your Creator you depend on. In Sotah, a Mashal is given for the reward of not being arrogant. Why did G - d give the Torah to the Jews at the small mountain Har Sinai ? Why not at a impressive huge mountain somewhere else ?
The Gemara answers that before Matan Torah, all the mountains were arguing about which of them should be worthy enough of giving the Torah to the Jews. Har Sinai kept quiet and, therefore, received the big reward from G - d of being worthy.
Why does G - d hate arrogant people ? Because when they sin they do not regret anything. They even complain about the G - dly punishment and feel injustice.

For many outsiders or non - religious Jews it is disturbing that there is such a long halachic procedure for eating bread. First washing the hands in a certain way and afterwards saying the long Bircat HaMazon prayer. For them it seems like taking ages. According to my own experience I can tell you that once you start doing it, you just get used to it and it doesn't bother you any more.
The Bircat HaMazon you can find in any Sidur or Bensher and it can be said in any language (see Shulchan Aruch - Orach Chaim 185:1). It includes three Biblical blessings such as Birkat HaZan, Birkat HaAretz and Birkat Yerushalaim (Shulchan Aruch - Orach Chaim 192:1). In case that there are three men at the table, it is customary to say Bircat HaZimun first (Mishna in Berachot 51b).

In Judaism there is no meal without a Bracha. It doesn't matter if you eat an ice - cream or drink a coke. For everything there is a blessing. The Berachot are one of the first things you learn in Yeshiva and if you grew up frum, so you know them anyway. I am always amazed when I see three - year - old kids saying the Berachot.
In the blessings we always recognize G - d as the Creator of everything and thank Him for the Land.

How important the Land of Israel is showed me a chassidic story told by Rebbitzen Henny Machlis, the wife of Rabbi Mordechai Machlis from Jerusalem:
Once, a man who had just been to Eretz Israel came to a famous Rebbe. He told the Rebbe that in Israel the streets are of marble and that there are diamonds everywhere you look. The Rebbe was so impressed that he went to see the great beauty of the Land. But all he saw was just garbage in the streets and smelly gutters. Disappointed he went back to his country and complaint to the man who had told him the opposite. The man couldn't believe it and said: "What, you didn't see it" ?
The Rebbe was shocked and ran into his study to meditate for a few weeks. How could it be that a regular guy was able to see the spiritual beauty of Eretz Israel and he wasn't ?

This should teach us that we also have to look into things on a deeper basis and not just concentrate on the artificial surface. Hopefully we will all recognize the spiritual beauty of Israel and the whole world.

Shabbat Shalom