Thursday, July 10, 2014

An Open Letter to the Palestinian People

Dear Palestinian,

I write this letter with the hope that humans can eventually live in peace. I am aware that perhaps this is a naive hope, one that will never come to fruition. It is looking less and less likely to come about in my lifetime. Yet, I will forever hope.

You see, dear friend, it is really quite possible for there to be genuine peace between all of mankind. Man simply needs to stop trying to kill, subjugate, or harm his fellow. Man needs to realize that just as he wants to be treated so he must treat others. This is really a very rational conclusion to come to, after all, it is in our own best interest to do so.

One need not be an anthropologist to recognize that a society of murderers, thieves, and rapists, will not last a very long time as a society. Conversely, a society of mutual respect will grow stronger and advance rapidly in all areas of  human life and general well being.

Before I begin, I must say, this is not a letter to the religious fundamentalists among your people. They will not hear my plea. They have a "divine mandate" to kill me and my family, or at the very least, banish me from the land of Israel. I do not see how an ideology that calls for the downfall of any non-Muslim could ever coexist with the rest of the human race. So it is not to them that I address this letter, but to you. You who want to live happily and keep your family safe. You, who though you may pray five times a day facing Mecca, understand that humans of all different beliefs must live together. It is to you, dear friend, that I write this plea.

We have both seen wars. We have both felt the fear of incoming rockets or missiles upon our neighborhoods. We have both feared for our family in this dark world. We both want peace. We both desire justice. So even though I am an Israeli Jew and you are a Palestinian Arab, we are really quite similar.

My heart breaks for the suffering you have no doubt felt in your life. I converse with other Palestinians, and I imagine your life has been similarly tragic. Do you live in poverty? Were you ever taught that you are a human being, an individual, and that you have rights? Do you live in constant fear of the terrorist regimes that run your cities? You don't have the same freedom of speech that I do. I know that if you speak out against Hamas or any other terrorist organization, you may be hunted down and killed. While I live in a democracy, you have been enslaved in tyranny. I am sorry for all the affliction you have had to endure.

Who is to blame for your suffering? I imagine you have been taught to think the Israeli government has been the source of your endless woes. If only the Israelis weren't in Israel, occupying "stolen" land, you would be free, happy, and fulfilled. Such lies have no doubt caused you to hate me, perhaps irreparably. But I beseech you to do your research! Since the beginning of the State of Israel, my government has offered to create a two-state solution, while the cruel terrorist organizations, who control your neighborhoods, have turned down every offer. I imagine you did not vote them into office, as I did my leaders, yet you must see how they have harmed you! The leaders who speak for you, dear friend, have done all they can to keep you from living peacefully with us, the Israelis.

I personally -- though some Jews are not of this opinion -- would gladly give you land, resources, and financial aid if it would truly bring peace to our two nations. We Jews should understand your plight more than most. We too, were a people without a land. We too, were wanderers being persecuted everywhere we went.

Though it is not your fault, you must understand why it is not wise for us to give you land, money or resources. You must see why Israel is not the enemy, and that the evil is actually among you. Every time the government of Israel has given you land, money, or resources, the terrorist regimes in your midst usurp it and use it to buy or create weapons with which they use to attack Israel. Israel has been under attack by terrorist regimes since it's inception in 1948. Hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Israeli civilians have been targeted and killed by Muslim terrorists fulfilling their Jihad. You must understand, this conflict has nothing to do with territory and everything to do with extremist Islam. You certainly know the evil of which these regimes are capable; are we to blame for defending ourselves and our children?

There is no hope for peace as long as these terrorists hide among you. Israel is trying to vanquish the enemy whilst doing everything humanly possible to refrain from harming the innocent. This task is nearly impossible since the terrorists do not don uniforms and they shield themselves with the innocent. The only way this tragic conflict will come to an end is if the guiltless among you, single out and help destroy the guilty. Without your help peace is nearly, if not completely unattainable; with your help, peace is imminent.

Please understand Israelis are dying, quite literally, for there to be peace in our region. I imagine you want there to be peace. I imagine, like me, you want your children to be fed, educated, and most of all safe. I want these things for you and your family as well. I say again: Please do your research. See how time and again the Israeli government has attempted to make peace with you, many times putting itself in greater risk. See how many times your leaders have rejected these offers. The evidence is clear: The Israeli people want peace, the Islamic terror regimes want war. You may want peace, but as you know, these regimes care not about what you think. You have been persecuted by your own race. Help us end the needless suffering. Help us destroy these cruel regimes. Stand up for yourself! Stand up for inalienable human rights! Stand up and be free!

We can destroy evil, if we work together. Though we are primarily loyal to our nations, we mustn't forget that beyond the waving flags, beyond our race, creed, and culture, we are humans. We are both links in mankind's glorious history; and we have a crucial part to play. Please understand that I want the best for you and yours. Please hear this message, help topple the terrorist groups, and let us join hands in creating a better tomorrow. Lastly, please understand I am not an exception, but the voice of a nation; the nation of Israel.


An Israeli Jew who just wants peace.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Advocating for the Terrorists

I wanted to wait longer to write this post. I respect the maxim that reads: "Do not appease your fellow in the time of his anger; do not console him while his dead lie before him." (Ethics of our Fathers 4:23) As the dirt which covers the bodies of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali is still quite fresh, I thought it best to keep my opinions to myself.

Reading the news this morning, however, made me realize that remaining silent may not be an option. Yesterday, the news said, there were attacks against Arabs by a Jewish "lynch mob" in Central Jerusalem. This morning, they found the body of an Arab boy in the Jerusalem forest, police are suspicious that it was a nationalistic vengeance killing.

I do not know if the stories in the news are true or false. Perhaps, as many stories in the media are, these accounts have been blown out of proportion so as to appear that both sides in the Middle Eastern "conflict" are equally culpable.

However, I must admit that if it turns out that the stories are true, sad as I may be, I would not be surprised. Only moments after the reports came in of the three boys' deaths, the Internet was filled with hate-fueled remarks calling for the downfall of all Arabs and the need for Jewish terrorism to emerge.

My Facebook wall erupted with comments like:

"Death to Arabs"

"As I know myself, and know I wont actually take a baseball bat and exact revenge on a lonely Arab boy walking down the empty desert road no matter how much I want to and think I should, I'm saddened by this fact greatly...Please, please, let someone braver, stronger, and more able and willing than I, to stand up, gather us as warriors, and help us take matters in to our own hands, and instill the fear among our opposition the way they've done to us."

"I want blood...and I want it NOW!"

There are many comments like this covering all social media sites. These remarks (the ones at least on my Facebook wall) were made by people of generally good character. They are rational people, whom I believe truly do want peace. Yet, they are broken; and broken people do not function well.

I understand their pain. They are tired of burying their dead without being able to avenge their blood. Their spirits are beaten down by almost 66 years of Jihad that has been waged against them by their Arab neighbors. "Enough! Enough!" They cry! They feel helpless and alone, and all the while the enemies hand out candies and rejoice. Whose blood did not boil at hearing the taunting remarks made by some Muslims in response to the kidnapping? An Arabic student studying at an Israeli college posted this on the Internet: "Record... 3 goals for the national team, despite his absence from the Palestinian World Cup." Such insensitive mockery is hard to even comprehend, more so when it is professed by a student benefiting from the very country he is arrogantly scoffing. 

However, my friends who have made, or believe, remarks like the ones I have cited above, should know: You are advocating for the terrorists. If one believes that out of vengeful rage it is permissible to attack innocent civilians, they are condoning the very acts of terrorism they are trying to condemn.

We must understand that the perpetrators of this heinous kidnapping, did so out of what they felt to be righteous vengeance. They wish to exact revenge from the infidels occupying their land and withholding the Islamic victory. They were probably also taught that Israeli soldiers rape and kill their Palestinian brothers and sisters. They have been fed hate towards the Jews since they were infants. They perceived their act as one of well-placed revenge and courage. Perhaps they even felt that the P.A. was working too slowly and that they had to take matters in their own hands. Does such righteous hate sound familiar?

If we advocate for the killing or harming of innocent civilians ever, we are acting as attorneys for the terrorists, Period! We are climbing aboard their boat of hate that calls for the slaughter of the guiltless. The lines between us and the terrorists will blur, and Israel, the oasis of democracy and reason in the Middle East, will be buried under the ashes of an Israeli-Arab bloodbath.

However deeply we may be hurting, however beaten down our souls may be, we must not advocate terrorism as a solution. Evil cannot be responded to by evil. As light battles darkness, good must battle evil.

Do not misunderstand me, evil must be destroyed. Pacifism is misplaced in this circumstance, or any other of the sort. I do not call for inaction, or appeasement. Terrorists must be brought to justice, using means of violence and aggression to apprehend them. Them, but not their children. Them, but not the innocent. We must separate the evil from the innocent, however difficult a task that may be. As soon as that is accomplished, brother, I will march into the fiery pits of hell with you to vanquish evil from our midst.

I know some people will be offended by this post; others will call me weak and spineless; others still, will give me history lessons depicting the cruelty that the Jews have endured. Yet, some people may be comforted by this piece. They may feel their humanity beckoning them to return. They will be reminded that they are the "good guys", and as such, must remain on the side of good. It is for these people that I voice my opinion even in this tumultuous time. I do not know if people will listen, but I will not -- I cannot -- remain silent in the face of injustice.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Gilad, Eyal and Naftali-Shaped Hole in my Heart

I try and try, and cannot seem to express the Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali-shaped hole in my heart. I still cannot even begin to fully feel the tragedy, I am too afraid. From the moment the kidnapping took place, I could feel my heart hiding behind a concrete wall, for I could not bear to feel the sorrow.

Only after seeing my dear mother's face this morning, was my concrete block shattered into all but dust. Her face was fallen, she was cooking some type of food, but she simply wasn't there. Her spirit seemed vanquished, the light had left her eyes. Upon seeing her, I felt all of it. All the pain, all the suffering slammed into me like a train roaring down the tracks.

Three children murdered in cold blood. Killed, not as soldiers in battle field, nor as heroes protecting others, but as children coming home from school. The murderers were not psychopaths or madmen. No, they were perfectly sane. Their minds were sharp and they knew exactly what they were doing -- the pain they were inflicting. With full intent they killed three unarmed children, leaving their parents to suffer the insufferable.

For 16 days the bodies were missing. For 16 days their parents sat and waited, imagining the horrors their sons might be enduring. For 16 days soldiers scoured the hills of Judea hoping with all their hearts to find three boys safe and alive. For 16 days men, women and children throughout the world prayed and rallied in hopes to bring the boys home, to us -- to their family.

The nightmare ended with the horrifying news that the boys had been killed. The nation as one, collapsed to its knees. The wind was knocked out of us, could anyone utter a word, even a prayer?

I want to lie on the ground and cry. Peace and hope are but fleeting dreams. My children, as I was, will be born into a world where humans kill one another over baseless hatred. A world which rational men slaughter children and are praised for it. Into a world of darkness and tragedy. Why would someone want to cause so much pain? How could man be so utterly evil?

And what am I to do? There are those calling for revenge against all Arabs to dissuade future attacks. There are those condemning the government for their inaction. Others are searching the sky for answers. Yet, here I sit, fumbling over my thoughts, useless.

I do not think that this post will help anything. Yet, I cannot stay silent. I feel compelled to profess in writing the feeling of uselessness that envelopes me. I have no answers, no calls for war, no condemnations, and no prayers, I have, nothing.

No matter how much I want peace, my enemies do not. No matter how much land I would give them for peace, they will not stop until we are all destroyed. We can talk and talk, dream and dream, but peace is no closer than it ever was.

Will there ever be peace? Will there ever be a time when mankind will join hands and builds a great future? Will there ever be a time when children will be able to wander the Earth without a fear of being kidnapped and killed by political or religious fanatics?

I am losing hope that there is any bright future ahead of our species.

Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali, I never met you, but I know you so well. I miss your presence in the world.

May all of Israel be comforted.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Lesson of the Departed -- In Loving Memory of "Litch."

Yesterday upon opening up Facebook, I discovered that one of my friends from highschool one "regular" morning just didn't get up. A soul yanked out of this world at 22 -- and we are left shell-shocked.
I haven’t been in touch with him for the last few years, but my heart is filled with many fond memories. He was a very special person. A man of strong character and a golden heart.

I looked, with growing sadness, at his Facebook wall, which is now covered in sweet words of consolation and stories revealing the greatness of the young man who is no longer in the world.

I sat with my eyes downcast. How unpredictable life can be, I thought. One day you're here, the next you are not. No guarantees, no promises.

It was quite the wake-up call before Rosh Hashana, when we proclaim that today we are all judged as to "who will live and who will die." We simply do not know what tomorrow will bring...

Many of us have dealt with loss; some have dealt with it very close to home. We all die -- that is the great curse of man. "For you are dust, and to dust shall you return." (Genesis 3:19)
We must never become complacent when we hear about death. To do that would be to disregard the last lesson the departed left us with: The preciousness of life, of living.

Yoni Netanyahu, after being injured in battle, writes with powerful articulation about the need to cling to every moment of life: "You want to embrace it [life] and go on with it, to escape from all the blood and death, to live, live, even without hands and feet, but breathing, thinking, feeling, seeing, and taking in sensation."

To breathe in some fresh air. To smell a newly-blossomed flower. To dance to new song. To hold a loved one. Life is made up of a limited number of moments whether we use them or not. Whether we are thankful for them or not.
This Rosh Hashana, let us remember to appreciate the countless kindnesses we have received and still receive. Let us be excited to be alive. Alive, to begin another year.

So, in honor of all the souls who are not with us this year, let us breathe some fresh air, appreciate a sunset, hug a loved one, end that stupid feud with our neighbor; and make this year a year of life!
May we all be written in the Book of Life. Amen.

This post is in memory of my dear friend David "The Boss" "Litch" Litchfield TZ"L (חיים דוד בן ר׳ יצחק מאיר הלוי) May his special soul rise to the highest heights of Heaven where he can dwell in the splendor of the One G-d. May his family and friends be comforted among the mourners of Israel.

Friday, August 16, 2013

From Fear to Freedom II -- Jump #4

(Note: There is no need to read the first one of this two-part post to enjoy this one. The first one explains however the whole detailed experience of my jump whereas this one focuses more on my personal emotional experience. If you are interested please check out: From Fear to Freedom.)
"Even as I walk through the valley overshadowed by death, I will fear no evil for you are with me." These powerful words of King David became my mantra as the plane took off and I was strapped with yet another parachute on my back. 
I was preparing for my fourth military jump, and everytime, it is absolutely terrifying. The idea of leaping into open space, placing your trust in the work of an eighteen-year-girl and her ability to pack a chute seems just about insane. The brain screams at you, repeating the undefiable laws of gravity. Your mind fills you with worry about the chance that the chute won't open and you will fall in an approximate twelve seconds to your death. Your heart pounds in your chest. You nervously laugh and chatter with your friends so as distract yourself from the reality that the plane is airborne. 
I didn't write about all my jumps. Each one was an experience in itself, but I felt it would become somewhat repetitive to write about each jump. (You can read about my first jump here.) 

However after yesterday, I feel what I experienced needs to be retold, even at the risk of being boring.

Since I haven't jumped in over year, I was a bit nerve-wracked. Our two-hour practice didn't make me feel much better. And in recent months, I have become somewhat more afraid of falling 1200 feet to my death... Hey, marriage will do that to a guy.

The next morning we woke up at 3:30 and began the tedious preparation that a military jump requires. Only at 7:00 AM did we finally board the plane. I -- after giving up on the hope of a canceled jump -- began psyching myself.

To double my fear, it "fell out" that I would be first to jump of my group. What that means essentially is that I must stand in the door for almost half a minute staring at the blurry earth passing beneath the mighty plane awaiting the order to jump. (After the first guy is out the rest follow,and are ordered out the door less than a second after reaching it.) It is a place coveted by the "life on the edge" crowd, and feared by the more "safety-first" oriented. I am of the latter.
I used the verse mentioned above as a mantra to prepare myself mentally. It was clear to me that this was a message from Hashem. I was to face my fear, stare him in his ugly red eye, wait until the eye turned green, and leap, like a young bird attempting his first luck at flight, into the open sky.

My group was ordered by the jump instructor to stand and approach the open door. The roar of the engine and the speeding winds made it almost impossible to hear, but his hand motions made his intentions clear. I found myself standing at the door, at first stricken with paralyzing terror, and then, if only for a moment’s time, I was cleansed from all my fears.

I stood invincible, on top of the world. I continued reciting my mantra but now with ease and absolute awareness of its truth. Though the jump instructor told me not to look down, I did, and with a smile pasted on my dry lips. The muscles in my legs twitched much like a panther preparing to pounce upon its prey. My prey was fear, and I was ready to tear him apart. In the climactic seconds before the light turned green, and I would be given the order to jump, I let out a scream. A roar from deep down in my soul thundered from my throat. I was free. Free from worry or doubt. Free from the fear of danger. It was a magnificent moment. A divine experience. One that I could only attempt to explain in these limited words.

And with that, out of the plane, and into uncertainty, I leapt...
As my body hit the sand below, I just lay there. It was a graceful landing due to the very light breeze. The sun beamed through the morning clouds, as if smiling at me. The sky was painted a light pink. I thanked G-d both for a safe landing and for allowing me such a spiritual experience. "Give thanks to G-d for He is good, the whole universe is His kindness."
Though it may be the last time I jump from a plane, I pray it's not the last time I feel that way again.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What the Heck is Baseless Love?

Speech after speech, blog after blog (including this one), and at the end of almost every d’var Torah around a Shabbat meal, the need for baseless love is repeatedly highlighted. Seemingly to no avail...

The expression is a play on the words that the chachamim used in the Talmud to explain the reason our Temple was destroyed and our subsequent exile from Israel. The rabbis teach: "It was because of sinat chinam (loosely translated as “baseless hatred”) that the Temple was destroyed. (Talmud Bavli: Tr. Yoma: 9)

So, at some time in history, an unknown great man (the expression is attributed to just about every rabbi imaginable) said that the obvious remedy to "baseless hatred" is baseless love. How clever! So clever was this line that, as mentioned above, it has become quite the Jewish colloquialism.

However, overtime the meaning of this powerful play on words has all but oozed out of it. People preach a certain "love of all Jews" that many times sounds like the creed of a 1970's hippie commune.
We “love” all Jews, as long as they agree with our understanding of the Torah. We "love" the Jewish nation, but abhor our Jewish neighbor. We "love" all types of Jews, so long as they don't hang out around our kids.

These glaring hypocrisies are a direct result of the misunderstanding of the true definition of love. (Attention: Possible marriage advice ahead.)

The true meaning of love is respect. To "baselessly" love someone then, is to respect who he is, and how he thinks, no matter what. His opinions are valid, just as I would like him to consider my opinions valid. Baseless love does not mean if he agrees with my prejudice or ideology. It means, regardless of what he believes, or the rituals he does or does not perform, he is a person just like me, and therefore he deserves his perspective to be respected.
I feel it important to note here, lest I be accused of liberal propaganda (Heaven forbid), I am in no way saying that we should allow people to harm others because that's what they feel is right! For if he deserves respect to live his way, you certainly deserve the respect to live yours.

Living with respect of one’s fellow is also the most logical approach to intellectual living. Socrates has been quoted many times as stating: "The only thing I know is that I know nothing." The brilliant Greek philosopher meant that the goggles with which we see the world were given to us at birth and were refined and tuned according to the surrounding ideologies. We therefore cannot claim to know the truth, since we are victim to countless outside influences. The best we can do is present the amount of research we have done on the subject. We can thus conclude that the only thing we know is that we know nothing at all.
By far the greatest way to search for truth is by gazing at it through the goggles of others -- a task only accomplished through healthy discourse between man and his fellow. Only by respecting, hearing and challenging our fellow's opinions or ideologies will we ever have a chance at finding the "right way." Perhaps this is what the Talmud meant: "Either [I should have] a study partner or [I should have] death. (Tr. Taanit 33)"
"Proper social conduct precedes Torah (Vakira Rabbah 9:3)" is a somewhat forgotten Jewish mantra. The verse can be explained: Without proper discourse with your fellow man, you will never stand a chance at reaching a true understanding of the Torah. Torah than, stands secondary to respect.

To love is to respect. Respect is what we need to strengthen between all of mankind. Respect will allow us, as a nation, to reach common ground and healthy compromises. Respect will build the third Temple.

It's really that simple...

Friday, July 19, 2013

From Sorrow to Strength

This past month three babies, in three different incidents, in three different parts of the Israel, died as a result of being forgotten by their parents in the cars. Each death came as a devastating blow to the heart of the Jewish people. Some blamed the parents, some sympathized, but everyone, everyone, felt the pain of three precious and innocent souls being taken out of the world before they were able to experience it. 

Almost instantly the Jewish people were in a frenzy. They asked: "How can we fix this? What technology doesn't exist that can prevent this from happening again?" 

And just like that, ideas began flying from mouth to mouth. Inventions and innovative new safety precautions were being posted all over the Internet. Israel, as a nation wiped the tears from these tragedies and decided to use these horrors to fuel movement to create new ways to protect our children in the future.
This is not new. This is how the Jews have always been. We get beaten, persecuted, and exiled, and yet as soon as we get to the next country, instead of wallowing in our plight, we rise from the ashes and become successful movers and shakers of the future. The nations have tried time and time again to destroy us; and every time, the Jew stands up, wipes the tears and blasts forth into the future with a renewed vigor. 
This is what the world saw in 1948 when a battered, bloodied and bruised nation crawled from the gas chambers and barracks of the concentration camps and became a respected and strong nation among the nations of the world. 

This is the Jews’ mantra: "Be strong and courageous!" Every time darkness swarms down upon us, somehow, someway, we rise from depths and create a better and brighter world.
John Adams, second President of the United States, highlighted this attribute when he remarked about the Jew: "I will insist the Hebrews have contributed more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations... They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern." (From a letter to F.A. Van Kemp Feb. 16, 1808) 

I am proud of you my people. Never give up. Never stop bettering the world. The spirit of the Jew is unbreakable, and with G-d's help, will always be. Be strong and courageous!

And as the darkness of the fast of Tisha B’Av concludes, we must renew our spirit. We mourned the destruction of our holy Temple, now let's begin planning its reconstruction.

"(נחמו, נחמו עמי יאמר אלקיכם. (ישעיה מ:א"