Sunday, January 30, 2011

G - d created Good and Evil


It is not the first time that I am explaining that G – d created Good and Evil in this world. The simple reason for Him creating the two is that His intension was providing humankind with a “Free Will” and thus, the logical conclusion is that men needs to have a choice in life. If the world was only good, we would not have a choice but choosing good. Therefore G – d had to create a negative side in order to give us the free will choosing between right and wrong.

In Judaism, the “evil side” doesn’t consist of a guy with a long tail called “devil”, as in Christianity. There simply is no independent entity besides G – d but only G – d. The “evil side” is defined as our own “Yetzer HaRah” trying to convince us to go against G – d’s will. Before creation, there was only good. In fact, there is a rabbinic discussion whether Adam HaRishon already had the ability of a free choice in life but first didn’t use it. Everything was going smoothly in Gan Eden until Eve (Chava) and Adam discovered their free choice and nothing bad really happened to them until G – d through them out.

It is unclear what kind of sin Adam and Eve had done, as the Torah basically uses the Etz HaDa’at and its apple mainly as a metaphor for something else. Already the Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin teaches us that the two first humans (with a soul) didn’t eat an apple but other types of fruit. A date, for instance. 

Until today, our task is to fix the world and return the perfect level from the time before Adam and Eve were thrown out of Gan Eden. There is an opinion that only then Meshiach is going to come.

How do we elevate the world back into its perfection ?

Jews by fulfilling the Torah Mitzvot and Gentiles by following the Seven Noachide Laws, for instance. We have to choose good and not the negative urge inside of us.
Talmud Bava Batra mentions the “Leviathan”. Probably a gigantic fish or whale. It says that when Meshiach comes, G – d is going to slaughter the Leviathan and will feed the Zaddikim (Righteous). However, the Talmud here uses metaphors and what it really means is that the “Leviathan” symbolizes our own “Yetzer HaRah” which will be “slaughtered” by G – d in the times of Meshiach. Meaning, then there won’t be a “Yetzer HaRah” anymore but only good.

The "Aron HaKodesh" inside the Ashkenazi Synagogue of the medieval Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534 - 1572) in Zfat shows us a clear example of the Bava Batra teaching: Look at the very left side of the Aron where a grey snake is making its way up. This is a further metaphor for our own "Yetzer HaRah (the negative side in us which we have to fight). 

The below photo shows a Leviathan on the bottom of the design eating the snake (our YETZER). Meaning:G - d is going to eliminate the negative side as soon as Meshiach comes. 

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Rain & Meshiach in Tel Aviv

Pouring rain in downtown Tel Aviv about an hour ago.

And who, early in the morning, is crossing the junction (Ibn Gavirol / Shaul Hamelech) on the above photo ? A Chabad Meshichistim van playing chassidic music.:-)

Photos: Miriam Woelke

Saturday, January 29, 2011



The ZOHAR (Book of Splendor), Parashat Mishpatim, teaches some very deep insights into the secrets of the human souls. In particular, about the Jewish soul. Kabbalah and Chassidut teach that a Jew has a very different soul from a Gentile soul, the task of the Jew is different from those ones of the other nations. The Jewish soul contains a G – dly spark and only a Jewish soul is able to do Tikunim (rectifications) in this world (see the Ramchal in “Adir ba’Marom). Example: When a Gentile keeps Shabbat (a Gentile is forbidden to keep all Shabbat laws) or eats kosher food, he doesn’t cause anything whereas a Jew causes a rectification in this world.

Quote from the ZOHAR:

It is a great humiliation for the holy soul to enter into a “stranger” namely into a convert to Judaism, for then she has to fly from Paradise into a habitation built from an uncircumcised and unclean source.

The ZOHAR here talks about a reincarnated soul into the body of a convert. Kabbalah teaches that those Jewish souls are being reincarnated who missed reaching their goal in this world. Thus, they have to come back in order to reach it.

At a different place, the ZOHAR teaches that the souls are kept in in the upper spiritual worlds before entering a human body. G – d alone decides who is getting which soul and when the soul finally enters the body, it is upset because it wanted to stay with G – d in the upper worlds and not coming down to earth and entering a strange body whose owner is doing all kinds of strange things. The main goal of the soul is returning to G – d into the upper worlds but its worldly owner may damage it with his negative actions.

The ZOHAR continues:

When the souls which converts have obtained from Paradise pass away from this world, to where do they return ? According to the traditional law, he who first seizes the possessions of a convert at the time of the latter’s death becomes their rightful owner. In the same way, all holy supernatural souls which G – d has appointed for those that are below go out at certain times and seasons from their bodily owners and ascend to their first home in order to enjoy the delights of Paradise. There they encounter the souls of the converts, and whichever of them seizes on one claims it as its own. Each soul then clothes herself with that convert soul which she has claimed, and stands thus in Paradise, for there the souls must be all clothed.

The Month of ADAR is coming

"Mi she nichnas Adar" and the "Riots in Egypt"

 Photo: Miriam Woelke


My Shabbat was full of sportive activities. Mainly walking around in Tel Aviv. Sunny and warm weather, I met some new people and I also got a good portion of spirituality, as I went to the Synagogue. 

No doubt, Chabad invested lots of money renovating its Chabad House near Shenkin Street. The entrance doors are surrounded by silver shining metal with a rather posh design. 

What I forgot to mention before Shabbat: 
Shabbat Mishpatim was a "Shabbat Mevarchin" where we blessed the new upcoming month of Adar. This time ADAR 1 because we are adding a second month of Adar to the first one due to this year's leap year. 

One of the Chabad Rabbis started off his Drasha by mentioning the riots in Egypt. Israel is being more and more surrounded by its enemies and whether there is a reason for us to be afraid. The answer was no, as all events are just taking us closer to the time of Meshiach and it is all G - d's plan. 

Not only because of the Drasha but rather due to the nice prayer service I have to say that I really enjoyed the Shabbat service (Parashat Mishpatim). 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thoughts on Parashat Mishpatim

Photo: Miriam Woelke


This week's Parasha is called Parashat MISHPATIM (see Book of Exodus - Shemot).
Mischpatim are "rational" civil laws; meaning we are able to understand them. Later G - d gave us irrational laws as well and our limited human mind is not able to grasp them. One of the most famous examples is probably the "Red Hefer - Parah Adumah" where it says that not even King Salomon (Shlomo HaMelech) was able to find an explanation for this totally paradox Mitzvah. Parashat Mischpatim lists us 53 of our 613 Mitzvot !

In this article, I only want to refer to the very first sentence of Parashat Mishpatim and its interpretations. 

"These are the laws (judgements) …"

The Ramban (Nachmanides, 1194 - 1270) commentates:
G - d gave these rational laws to the Israelites and the irrational laws were given later. Those 53 Mitzvot follow directly the Ten Commandments (Aseret HaDibrot) - see the previous Parashat Yitro. Furthermore, those Mishpatim are additions to certain subjects mentioned in the Ten Commandments: e.g. parents, murder or adultery. 

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote a very long commentary on the first sentence of Mishpatim:
Our relationship with G - d depends on the laws (Mitzvot). They enable us to establish a moral and human society. 

Sometimes I just wonder how people, who constantly criticize G - d can have a relationship with Him. They seem to know everything better and thus think that they are superior.

The famous Talmud - and Torah commentator Rashi considered the 53 laws as more detailed additions to the Ten Commandments. 

The kabbalistic ZOHAR (published in 1290) regards those 53 laws in Mishpatim as a special way / order in how G - d is going to judge our souls. The second sentence of the Parasha tells us about the years of duty a slave has to fulfill. The hidden Torah message would be a description of how a soul is transforming within a certain period of time (here: six years). A soul is able to grow by fulfilling Mitzvot its "owner" is doing.
However, the explanation of the Zohar provides us with a totally new and deeper perspective and understanding of the first sentences of Parashat Mishpatim. It is us being responsible for the growth of our soul and if we don't do anything to its advantage, we will be judged by G - d himself. The famous Zohar commentator, Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag, 1885 - 1954, interpreted: The Zohar sees the laws from the Parasha as laws being used by G - d in order to judge our souls. Every soul has its task and if it doesn't fulfill it, reincarnation is going to be the punishment.

The Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522 - 1570) from Safed in northern Israel commentated on the Zohar (see his book "Or Yakar): The lowest soul level (Nefesh) is being planted into a body and has the task to advance to higher levels ("Ruach" and "Neshama"). If is misses the goal, the Nefesh is going to be reincarnated into another body. If necessary, it has to undergo more than only one reincarnation.

Shabbat Shalom

Breslover Chassidim in Downtown Tel Aviv.

Photo: Miriam Woelke


Sometimes I need the feeling that I am still alive ! Besides religion, creativity is giving me this feeling and where in Israel do you find more creativity than in Tel Aviv ? Not always in a positive way, as Mea Shearim faints as soon as the word "Tel Aviv" appears. Argghhh, sin city. Nevertheless, anyone looking for positive actions will also find them here.

I have noticed that I still have many hits on my articles about the Gerrer runaway Sarah Einfeld and I have been thinking about calling her up in order to ask her for an update. Last night, I was checking my e - mails on Gmail and suddenly I found Sarah chatting with me. She said she is fine and still alive. Hopefully we will meet some time next week or, at least soon. It is not that I feel the urge writing about her, as I do understand her. She used her free choice and is happy with it. When we meet next time it is probably more talking about private matters than the intention of preparing an article. However, I am going to write a short follow up on her. 

"Shabbat Shalom - Gut Schabbes" to everyone !


I have never promised you a rose garden

Sarah Einfeld, a former Gerrer Chassidah

Meeting Sarah Einfeld

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Google and the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum YAD VASHEM

Photo: Yoni Kempinski


Google is supporting the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum "Yad va'Shem" by publishing its photo gallery and thus make is more accessible to a wider public.

HERE you can have a look at the photo gallery !

"The Three Riders" - A Baal Shem Tov Story


This Shabbat is "Shabbat Mishpatim" and one of the topics of this Parasha is giving the laws regarding a slave. A slave has to work for six years and in the seventh year, he can walk away as a free man. Kabbalistic and chassidic literature, however, see a much deeper meaning in the here mentioned number six. The six years are seen as a metaphor for the six transformations a soul has to undergo.

The Baal Shem Tov told the following story in his comment on Parashat Mishpatim:

The three Riders

Once the Maggid von Mezritch asked the Baal Shem Tov to explain him the verse "And these are the verdicts I am giving you" from the kabbalistic "Zohar". The Baal Shem Tov told the Maggid to go to the nearby forest where he should sit down under a tree for a few hours. After the Maggid would be coming back, he should tell the Baal Shem Tov what he had seen.

The Maggid went into the forest, sat down under a tree and started asking himself what this has to do with an answer to his question. Suddenly a rider came on his horse, stopped right in front of the Maggid but didn't see him. The rider drank some water out of the river right across and also his horse drank. While the rider was drinking, he lost his purse but didn't notice it. Instead, he went back to his horse and continued his way.

A few minutes later, a second rider came along. He also got off his horse and he also walked over to the river in order to drink. He found the purse, looked inside, was happy and rode away.

Then a third rider came along who, again, stopped and drank from the river. In the meantime, the first rider had noticed the disappearance of his purse and came back. He found the third rider at the very place where he had lost the purse and accused him that he must have taken it. The rider denied and said that there was nothing. No purse.
The first rider got really upset and killed the third rider believing that he had stolen his money.

Meaning: In this life, the first rider paid his debt, the judge was punished for making the wrong decision and the second rider received his money back.
And this is what the "Zohar" means by "And these are the verdicts I am giving you !"

The Baal Shem Tov on Parashat Mishpatim

Picture of the Day

Art or Commercial ?

Photo: The Hebrew edition of 
"The Jerusalem Post"

Chassidim during the Holocaust

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

If Hitler could see that ...


Tomorrow, 27th January, we commemorate the liberation of the German death camp Auschwitz.

Israeli Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv.

Breslover Chassidim in downtown Tel Aviv.

 Busy life in Tel Aviv.

Photos: Miriam Woelke


Already the Torah teaches us that Jews will never totally disappear. Some Jews will always be around and this is what keeps the world going: G - d and Torah observant Jews.

Haredim against Buddha statue in Jerusalem


Thanks to haredi protests, the planned Buddha statue is not being put up in Jerusalem. Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat was planning to put a Buddha statue in the Talpiot neighbourhood. Not due to idol - worship but because a certain Buddhist direction is very friendly towards the State of Israel. Now it looks like Jerusalem's Municipality has cancelled the project due to the massive protests from haredi Rabbis.

Buddhism is considered as pure idol - worship, as people bow down before a statue, pray to it and sacrifizing incense. I read a justification article on a Buddhist site where the followers claim that Chabad is setting up its Chanukkah candles all over the world and if anyone went against their procedure, this would be called anti - Semitism.

Of course, Buddhists don't see their religion as pure idol - worship but Judaism does. When this particular Buddhist direction wants to be so friendly with Israel, it should respect its religion and not insist on setting up an idol - worship statue, as the Romans used to do.

The Kever of the Amshinover Rebbe in Tiberias


One of my blog readers asked me about the grave of the Amshinover Rebbe buried in Tiberias (Tveryia). I must admit that I don't know much about Chassidut Amshinov and would love to hear more details. When I lived in Jerusalem, I never made it to Bait Vagan where the present Rebbe lives. A while ago I was ready to go to his Tish but an Amshinover Chassid told me that the Rebbe was sick. 

Here are the photos from the Amshinover Rebbe buried on the Tiberias cemetery. His Kever is fenced and not too far away from the entrance. However, the grave is, at least, 100m far away from the section where some Baal Shem Tov students as well as Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk is buried.

Two women are buried right next to the Rebbe's grave. However, outside the fence to the left. I am mentioning this as the blog reader was interested in "Who is buried next to the Rebbe ?"

Rabbanit Ayala Shechtel buried near the Amshinover Rebbe. I have never heard about her and the location of her grave doesn't mean that she must be somehow related to the Rebbe.

Copyright / Photos: Miriam Woelke

Club "ALLENBY 40" and its haredi History

Photo: Miriam Woelke


Club "Allenby 40" in downtown Tel Aviv has a history. I took the
photo yesterday while passing and the place obviously looks run down
and neglected. Until a few years ago, however, it was a famous
IN place for Haredim who wanted to escape their daily routine and, once a week, 
having a great time dancing, relaxing and drinking.

Every Thursday evening, various Haredim from Bnei Brak or Jerusalem put on "civil"
clothes, traveled to ALLENBY 40 and danced or spoke together. Males and
females who didn't necessarily know each other. The Rabbi from Bnei Brak
with a married housewife from Jerusalem, so to speak. No sex but just 
talking, enjoying and, for a few hours, forgetting about haredi rules.

I have no clue whether the Chabadnik Mendy still ownes the place because
he and his haredi customers moved to a different spot a few years ago.
I think I know the new spot. Located far away from "Allenby 40" but I haven't been there yet. I usually don't like going to bars and Mendy may have a selection at the door. Should I look haredi in order to get in on Thursdays ? Furthermore, I wouldn't want to take any pictures, as I don't intend stealing anyone's privacy.

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m
Last update - 15:29 03/03/2005
Good-time guy
Mendy Katan, owner of one of the wildest and most successful nightclubs in Tel Aviv, comes from an ultra-Orthodox family from Kfar Chabad, wears a black skullcap and observes the religious commandments. How does he resolve the contradiction?
By Asaf Carmel

Five and a half years ago, Mendy [Menachem Mendel] Katan tried and failed to pass the selection at the entrance to a club at Allenby 40 in Tel Aviv. "There was a small nightclub there called Dream Dance," says Katan, "and Omer Efrat, who is now a partner, was working there as a DJ and had invited me to come. The guard at the entrance looked me up and down and saw a guy with a white shirt, black pants and a black kippa [skullcap]. He said to me, `Sorry, but you don't belong here. You can't come in.' At the same time he passed a hand over my head and caressed the kippa. I explained to him that I had only come to visit a friend, but he didn't even bother to throw another glance in my direction. He only said, `This isn't the place for you, get a move on.'

"Meanwhile, everyone was looking at me, and I felt as though I had horns. In the end I asked somebody who did go in to approach the DJ and tell him that a guy from Kfar Chabad named Mendy was standing at the door, and they weren't letting him in. Only after Omer intervened did the guard deign to let me in." (Kfar Chabad is a village founded by members of the Lubavitch Hasidic sect).

This humiliating experience outside the nightclub had a profound effect on Katan. "I then got it into my head that I had to do something significant in the area of night life. It created a strong drive in me; I felt as though it was me against all of Tel Aviv. Probably if I had removed my kippa they would have let me into the nightclub without any problem, but I swore to myself that I would not take off the kippa just for a beer. The kippa is a value on which I grew up and was educated, and I won't sell my values in order to enter any bar in the world."

Now, Mendy Katan and Omer Efrat, the owners of the Allenby 40 nightclub, are among the most influential figures on the Tel Aviv night scene. Recently the magazine Time Out described their club as "the sleaziest in town," and it wasn't far off. Every night, this wild and hallucinatory nightclub hosts hundreds of partygoers of all kinds. The party begins after midnight and doesn't end before 9 A.M., when the street outside has long been about its daily business.

Last week, at 4:30 on Friday morning, Katan gave a guided tour of his crowded kingdom. "That one over there is a senior officer in the most important Tel Aviv police unit," he boasted, "and beyond the bar are yeshiva students who are resting at the moment from their labors. Do you see that girl? A former call girl. Here's S., he's very nice even though he's a transvestite."

We go outside. Katan knows almost every one of the guests who continue to stream in without interruption. "That one is an important businessman, and the friend who's with him works in the Shin Bet security services," says the king of the night, surveying his subjects. "Look how the guard is politely asking him for the magazine from his pistol. Here's a senior broker and his girlfriend, a chemist at Kupat Holim. The one who came in right after them makes his living as a Chippendale, and the three who just left are Haredi girls from Beitar Illit."

Katan goes back inside to mingle with his guests. He dances with them, generously
distributing smiles and drinks. At 6 A.M., when there is a momentary drop in the tension in the air, the DJ begins to play Mizrahi-style tapes (music of North African and Middle Eastern Jews). The audience responds with enthusiasm. One, a lawyer with a gleaming bald pate and an elegant suit, is dancing close with girls who are a few sizes too small for him. It's a celebration that's out of this world.

Meanwhile Katan is outside again, dealing from a new angle with a problem that is very familiar to him. A Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) without a kippa asks to be allowed in, but is refused. "In other nightclubs you can do what you want," the owner of Allenby 40 makes clear to him. "If you want to come in here, put the kippa back on your head." But in the end, they are reconciled somehow and Katan allows the guest to enter. "This is the last time," he warns. Another Haredi who was standing nearby says, "Me, even when I went to a striptease show in Spain I didn't take off my kippa."

Katan says that party-going Haredim feel like "fish in water" at his place, and he really doesn't feel any responsibility for ruining the young people. "I have great respect for the [Haredi] sector," he says, "and I have never advertised myself there. People who come to places like this in any case, come here as well, but I don't bring anyone. We're in Tel Aviv, and there's freedom of choice. These are adults, who got out of bed, got into the car, and made their way here of their own free will."

A party on the lawn

Katan, 28, grew up in Kfar Chabad. His father, a materials engineer who until recently served in the regular army, returned to religion in his youth and married a woman from a well-connected Chabad family. Katan has two older brothers, one of whom serves as a rabbi in a yeshiva, and two younger brothers. He studied in Kfar Chabad in the regular ultra-Orthodox educational system - heder (a traditional religious school for young children) and then a yeshiva elementary school, and at the age of 18 he went to study at a yeshiva in Safed, but he never felt comfortable in the high-pressured Haredi framework.

"Already at an early age," says Katan, "I wanted to break out, but I didn't have the courage. I studied in the heder and I felt as if I were in a bubble. I wanted everything that was happening outside, but I couldn't leave. Something stopped me. Afterward, when I studied in Safed, I used to travel to the yeshiva by bus and every time I looked through the window and saw people in cafes. I said to myself, `Wow, what fun for those people who are sitting at noontime and enjoying themselves, while I'm traveling to the yeshiva."

Katan didn't last too long in the Safed yeshiva; at the age of 19 he headed for New York. He studied a little, but mainly worked in all kinds of small businesses. After a year he returned to Israel, but didn't enlist in the army, for medical reasons. He found work at a textile company in south Tel Aviv. "First I was a porter," he recalls, "but after less than two years I was already No. 2 in the company."

At work Katan was happy to get to know more and more secular people. "When I had a birthday," he says, "I understood that if I didn't organize a party for myself, nobody else would do it. Spontaneously, I invited all my friends to a party on the lawn in Hayarkon Park. I put up microphones, bought some beers and some snacks, and 40 people came, half of them religious and half secular. Only for the sake of politeness, I made introductions all around."

But the event was more successful than expected. "When Purim came," says Katan, "people came to me and asked me to organize a party like on my birthday. Every one of the original 40 guests brought another friend, and we were already up to 80 people. On Lag b'Omer [a minor Jewish holiday a few weeks after Pesach] it was the same story. I eventually found myself organizing parties for groups of 200 people, religious and secular, and I even rented a hall in the Florentine neighborhood [in south Tel Aviv]."

At the same time, Katan began to visit pubs in the big city. "I was looking for a DJ for my parties," he says, "and in one of the places the DJ was a guy named Omer Efrat, who was playing music in a style I really liked, something between hip-hop and punk. I approached him, introduced myself, and invited him to play at my religious-secular parties. I still looked like an average yeshiva boy at the time, and Omer didn't really understand where I was coming from. He demanded a stiff price, but I agreed immediately without bargaining. I think that he finally agreed to come mainly out of curiosity. At the party he was supposed to play until 3 A.M., but suddenly I saw that it was already 7 and he was still playing. I approached him and asked him what was doing, and he told me that he had never seen an audience as good and unpretentious as mine."

Efrat became Katan's in-house DJ, and continued to perform in other places, such as the failing club at Allenby 40. "That club was operating only two days a week," says Efrat, "and when the owner gave up, I decided to take up the challenge. I set up a meeting with Mendy and said to him, `Come, let's open the craziest nightclub in town together.'"

Iron discipline

Efrat, 32, is the opposite of Katan. He grew up in Moshav Nahalal in the Galilee, and served in an elite unit in the army. Before coming to Tel Aviv in 1998, he had already managed to run two nightclubs in the Jezreel Valley, Amstaff and In Sane. He had also broadcast music on the Kol Rega and 99BU radio stations. "Mendy," he says, "took only a few minutes to consider my suggestion to open a nightclub. After all, he was dying to do it. But already at the start he told me that he wouldn't work on Fridays, and asked if that was all right with me. Five years have passed since then, during which I have worked almost every weekend without anyone replacing me. It's not easy, but we do a lot for one another."

During the first months, Katan and Efrat's new business had a hard time getting off the ground. "We employed only one person aside from ourselves," says Katan. "Omer was the DJ and I was both the barman and the doorman." After a while, the pair managed to come up with a winning formula. "We invested a great deal in the audience of night workers," says Efrat, "barmen, cooks, nightclub owners, strippers, etc. In Tel Aviv there are at least 300 places that are open every night, and each one of them employs an average of five workers. So it works out that from 2 A.M. on we have an audience of 1,500-2,000 people from the industry, who want to have a good time after work, know how to have a good time, come with cash and most important - don't have to get up in the morning."

Katan and Efrat are reluctant to volunteer too many statistics on their finances. Katan is willing to say that "we took a failing business and raised its value by hundreds of percentage points. Up until five years ago I studied only gemara (Talmud), but since then I have done a degree in business administration in the university of life."

Last Tuesday, Efrat was sitting in his Bat Yam apartment, which overlooks the sea. With one eye he was watching a Champions League game between Real Madrid and Juventus; with the other he was constantly supervising what was going on in the club. There are no fewer than 15 cameras placed all over the building, and they all broadcast their pictures straight into the laptop sitting on his living room table. "We're control freaks," he explains. "We have 30 employees, 16 of whom are barmen, every one of whom is a super-demagogue. They usually have three answers for every question, so that we have to be two steps ahead of them all the time."

Efrat and Katan have established an iron military rule in their institution. "Everything is exactly on time," explains Efrat, "and fuckups that are repeated are punished by fines. It's enough to come late twice, to speak rudely to customers or to bring in people who shouldn't be allowed to enter. Nor do we allow our barmen to drink or smoke behind the bar. Do you think it's logical for someone with a cigarette to handle your drink?"

The barmen wear black uniforms, and during an eight-hour shift get only two 12-minute breaks. "Believe me," says Efrat, immediately rejecting any hint of criticism, "for the sums that they earn, you would also be willing to get a break of only 24 minutes in eight hours. It's true that the work isn't easy, and that's why all our barmen are muscular guys, and there are no barwomen. We have only one female worker, and she's the cleaning woman."

Katan, who didn't serve in the army, and Efrat, who isn't very tall, employ almost exclusively men who have served in combat units, and who are at least 1.80 meters tall. "We have three barmen who served in elite commando units," boasts Efrat, "and another three officers who serve as deputy company commanders in the reserves. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a world that sells good looks rather than character, so our barmen have to be handsome and impressive. That's more or less the idea, and also to have people with backbone behind the bar."

A visit from the modesty patrol

The former moshavnik and the former yeshiva student have a wonderful friendship. They have even managed to introduce their parents to each other. "A while ago," says Efrat, "my parents visited Mendy's parents in Kfar Chabad. They came with a house plant, and we felt as though we were getting married. It was quite amusing."

Katan says that his parents have been aware of his colorful profession from the start. "It's true that I didn't run down the street shouting `I bought a nightclub, I bought a nightclub,'" he says. "But my parents knew. They let me lead my own life, and only said `Mendy, don't forget where you come from.' I'm sure that my father would be happier if I were involved in real estate or high-tech or whatever, but he's a wise man who understands me, and knows that at the moment there is a given situation."

Katan took his parents to see the club one day when it was empty. Four years ago, Katan said he had unwanted visitor - men from Bnei Brak's "modesty patrol," a group of militant religious men who take it upon themselves to enforce - sometimes using violence - strict standards of morals, dress and ettiquette. "I was sitting in my office and suddenly one of my workers told me that an SUV was parked outside with four Haredim in it, staking us out. I went outside and out of the car jumps this giant gorilla, and blocks my way. `Finally, we meet,' he says. He explained that in Bnei Brak, it's known that Haredim hang out here, and that if this continues, I'll feel the consequences. To reinforce his threat, he wrapped his hands around my neck."

At this point, Katan says, there was an unexpected turn of events: "All of sudden, a bunch of bodyguards from all the clubs in the neighborhood jumped on them. For each Haredi, there were four bodyguards who just shoved them into the car. They hit the gas and got out of there fast, and they've never been seen again. Since then, the number of Haredi customers has only gone up."

Katan and Efrat's office is in a little niche behind the bar. They affectionately call it "the lair." On the wall they proudly display a certificate of appreciation awarded to the "Allenby 40 family" for a nice contribution earmarked for establishing a Chabad House in Cyprus. On the table stands a big picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as well as a box for charity donations. "Every week on pay day," says Katan, "I circulate among the employees with the box. At first everyone gave a shekel, but now they give generously, because I explained to them that [giving to charity] ensures a long life."

Last Saturday night he submitted an announcement to one of the newspapers about the nightclub's fifth anniversary celebration. "Please don't forget to write `with God's help' on the top of the page," Katan told the printer.

The holy Shabbat

"The only thing that bothers me about the business is Shabbat," admits Katan, "although I don't take a penny from that day's profits."

Nobody is forcing you to open on Shabbat.

"If the business were entirely in my hands, I would close on Friday, but I'm not alone. I'm tied here to all kinds of contracts and commitments. Besides, who am I to tell my partners what to do on Friday night?"

And maybe you also know that in Tel Aviv there's no point in having a nightclub that's closed on Friday night?

"The fact is that I make a good living from six days a week, and even from five. There's one day a year, Tisha b'Av [the fast of the 9th of Av, in July], when I insist on closing the nightclub at a time when all of Tel Aviv is open. I had an argument about that with Omer, but two years ago I managed to convince him. There's a limit. Too many places are open on that day only in order to prove a point."

A few months from now, God willing, Katan and Efrat will dedicate their new business initiative - a strictly kosher Tel Aviv bistro-bar. "That place will be closed on Shabbat," promises Katan, "and I'll have a clear conscience."

Violating the Sabbath is of course not the only sin that takes place within the walls of Allenby 40. Once every few months there's a hormone-saturated contest held there, which is called "the wet shirt." One after another, the female contestants get up on the bar, have jets of water sprayed on them by the barmen, and try to move sensually in front of the yearning eyes of 200 men. On the way to the coveted prize, usually a plane ticket to Turkey or something of the sort, the contestants remove their wet shirts and every other item of clothing as well.

When Katan is asked about this issue, he lights a cigarette and fidgets in his seat, visibly uncomfortable. "All the publicity surrounding this contest," he says finally, "is my partner's idea. I wasn't even present at the contest that took place two months ago; I was on a tour in South Africa."

That wasn't the first time the contest took place, and you are also responsible for what your partner does.

"That's true. It wasn't the first time, but I very much hope that it was the last. I've told Omer several times that I have a problem with it, but he replied with a smile that night life has a price."

Nu, and are you willing to pay the price?

"Listen, I understand that I'm in Tel Aviv and not in Bnei Brak" [an ultra-Orthodox city].

A tourist in Tel Aviv

Occasionally, Katan invites friends from Tel Aviv for an evening of tradition in Kfar Chabad. "I feel a need to show people what I grew up on," he says. "I invite friends from my club, from other clubs, and celebrities, too." Katan conducts a guided tour for his guests in the house of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (a replica of the original house in Brooklyn), and afterward they gather in his parents' backyard in order to hear his father play the violin and give a short Torah lesson.

And of course, one cannot leave Kfar Chabad without putting on tefillin (phylacteries). "I really don't force anything on people," says Katan. "Last time my friends asked to put on tefillin without anyone suggesting it to them, and these are people who were still eating shrimps an hour earlier."

Katan hasn't looked like a member of Chabad for a long time. He is dressed fashionably and wears a knitted black kippa. He lives in Tel Aviv in an apartment opposite the sea, not far from the club, prays three times a day, and tries to observe all the other mitzvot (religious commandments). He has never tried, nor is he trying now, to flaunt his defiance of the Chabad sect; he simply lives his life. Every Friday morning he reigns over the kingdom of sin on Allenby Street, but only 10 hours later he sits at the Shabbat table in his parents' home, and spends the holy day with his family. In Kfar Chabad he doesn't arouse antagonism; on the contrary - the attitude toward him is forgiving and sympathetic. "People like him," says a member of his class. "They see that in spite of the lifestyle he has chosen for himself, he has a very strong tie to the place that he came from."

Katan doesn't feel that he is living with a split personality. "I live in one world that sometimes comes to visit another world," he says. "My base is Kfar Chabad, and in Tel Aviv I'm a tourist. I like to visit here, I feel very comfortable, but I know that it's all temporary. The night is a bubble that will eventually burst."

Katan claims that Allenby 40 is only a way station. It turns out that the prince of Tel Aviv nightlife is dreaming of something else entirely. "Very soon," he promises, "I'm going to abandon nightlife and begin the most meaningful thing in life, which is to raise a family." So far he hasn't found a partner. "I'm very well connected, I go to all the most important launchings and get freebies everywhere," he says, summing up his accomplishments. "I have succeeded in fitting in despite the kippa, but that doesn't mean that I belong here. I belong somewhere else."

Why do I find it hard to believe you that you don't feel you belong to the Tel Aviv bubble?

"If I thought I belonged, I would have taken off my kippa long ago. Look at the results: The fact is that I am continuing to observe what I do, and to be what I am."

Maybe you're only trying to broadcast a sophisticated and wiseguy facade?

"Do you think it's easy to get up every morning and put on tefillin? One can pretend for a month or two, but not for five years."

Do you set aside time to study Torah?

"I study Hasidism once a week in my apartment, or I go to Kfar Chabad. One needs food for the soul too, and everything in the right dosage."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Picture of the Day

Daily life in Bnei Brak from a different secular point of view.

Photo: Miriam Woelke

216,000 Unemployed in Israel


Israel's daily MAARIV is mentioning a new increase in the unemployment rate within the next three months. At the moment, 216,000 Israelis are without a job and it is expected that another 10,000 Israelis will join the lines in front of the unemployment offices and welfare. The unemployment rate now is 6,8% but expected to rise up to 8% until 2008.

We are always being told that Israel's economy is blossoming but it depends on whom you ask. Which field and where in the country those companies are located. The north and south definitely have a much bigger problem and less jobs than the coastal line or Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Jerusalem with an unemployment rate of 8,2% is the forerunner of the country. Haifa has an unemployment rate of 6,7% and Tel Aviv suffers from 5,4% unemployment.

Begging near Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Future predictions don't seem so great and sometimes it looks as if more and more Israelis should start using their creativity and start their own business. Not everybody is able to do that but in some areas people just don't seem to have another choice.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Christian Missionaries hate YAD LE'ACHIM


Israel's counter missionary organization YAD LE'ACHIM is quite successful in fighting missionaries and therefore hated by Christian missionary organizations. 

Jews are not allowed to consume any Blood


Until today, various Christians still follow the medieval anti - Semitic ideas of the church. For instance that Jews would kill Christian children in order to use their blood for the Mazzot baking before Pessach. As a matter of fact, the Torah prohibits any blood consumption and the Jews have been keeping those laws for thousands of years. Sources may be found in the Book of Leviticus (Sefer Vayikra) 3:17; 7:26; 7:27; 17:12; and further.

Those of you who know the Kashrut regulations are very much aware of the Halacha of not consuming any blood. Just look how carefully Jews kasher their meat by using special salt before consumption. These particular Kashrut laws as well the the laws for the Shechitah (ritual slaughter) are extremely complex and it is not easy to study them.

The Grave of Rabbi Mordechai of Bilgoraj

Rabbi Mordechai of Bilgoraj


Rabbi Mordechai Rokeach (1902 - 1949) was the father of the present Belzer Rebbe Yissachar Dov Rokeach. By the way, Rebbe Yissachar Dov looks very similar to his father.

The half brother of Rabbi Mordechai was the famous Belzer Rebbe Aharon Rokeach who escaped had escaped the Nazis and finally made it to Israel. When he died, Rabbi Mordechai's son Yissachar Dov was the only one in line to become the next Rebbe. All other close family members were killed during the Holocaust. 
Rebbe Yissachar Dov only became Rebbe years later, as he was still a child when his uncle Aharon passed away. He, later on, married the daughter of the Vishnitzer Rebbe from Bnei Brak. 

Rabbi Mordechai of Bilgoraj is buried in Tiberias and here are a few photos of his Kever. I took these pictures today

Copyright / Photos: Miriam Woelke

Jerusalem, Machane Yehudah Market

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rat Hole for Rent


Should I give up looking for an apartment in Safed (Zfat) ?
I have looked at various available places and I could have found something if I hadn't been that "picky". 

At the moment, American as well as Israeli landlords in Zfat try renting out their last storage room / rat hole for lots of money. All over the country, the rents are on the rise and now there is a high demand for apartments in the northern part of the country. Haredim are coming from Bnei Brak and Jerusalem in order to find a cheaper place to live and maybe some fresh air as well. What the Haredim don't take into consideration: This way, they are destroying the prices. As soon as landlords sniff a higher demand, they raise the prices. 

Furthermore, the Americans have been destroying many low rent prices in Zfat. They come on Aliyah from the US. Some come with money and start buying anything they see. The Israeli population in Zfat has less money and for those people it has got much harder finding an affordable place to live.

Just recently I looked a two - room apartment. Rent was relatively reasonable but there was no window inside. The apartment itself wasn't bad but without a window I felt like entering a cave.  The landlady was anything but ashamed offering such a place: "What do you want ? Most places in the old city look like that". 
The worst is that she is right, as I have seen other places looking exactly the same. 

There are no jobs in Zfat and thus, the local population has started either renting out guest rooms or small apartments in order to earn a living. So called "apartments", as most of those places consist of one room. The real estate market has become a total rip off and the locals simply don't get it that Zfat is not Tel Aviv. Renting out a rat hole in Tel Aviv can bring a profit but the same won't work in a place like Zfat. However, the landlords don't give up and hope that someone stupid may come along and rent the place. At least a new immigrant who has no idea anyway and can be cheated easily.

This building is not in Zfat but in Tel Aviv.
However, I thought it fits the topic !

Photo: Miriam Woelke

I gave up on Zfat. Not because of this reason but due to a few demands for my work. I have to be more flexible and travel a lot. Zfat is too far away from everything and the buses don't travel too often. At the moment I am busy coordinating my schedules anew. Thinking of where I have to go and the best way of getting there.