Sunday, November 30, 2008


Just read this on Janglo - local listserv that sells, tells and connects Eng speaking locals. Sort of gives you an eye in to the thoughts of those 'tzivos hashem' or messengers of g-d as the Rebbe liked to call his followers. I know that I read in the paper that the post held by the young couple murdered a few days ago, has already been filled by another Chabadnik shaliach. I like this Rabbi's message who reminds us to honor the memory of the Holzberg's with an act of kindness as they were known for in Mumbai to the Jewish travelers, old and young, together and messed up, who ended up at their center and knew they'd be helped - without question, without judgement. Gotta admire that kind of teaching.
May their memories be a blessing.

Posted by: ""

Sat Nov 29, 2008 11:11 pm (PST)

Dear Friends,

We once again find ourselves facing a terrible tragedy.

Our hearts go out to the families of all those people, created in G-d's image, who were murdered and wounded by those who have rejected all semblance of humanity and descended far below the level of the most vicious beast.

Within our own extended Chabad family, after three days of dread and tension, waiting for news, we learned of the fate of the many hostages killed in the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

The young couple Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg o.b.m. travelled far from their parents’ homes in Israel and Crown Heights. They journeyed to Mumbai not for themselves, but for the sake of others. They came to create a home and center of Jewish life for those Jews who live in, or travel to this corner of the world.

Running a Chabad House anywhere is a difficult task for any young rabbi and wife, but especially so in a place like India, far from every Jewish community. It is difficult to find kosher food, basic necessities of Jewish life, essentials that a young Chassidic couple needs. Nevertheless, they went to India, and managed to build a center and a community for Jewish life there.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe's words, relentlessly positive vision, and his personal example of leadership expressed in a selfless 24/7 dedication to the needs of the Jewish people's and the needs of many beyond the Jewish community - is what inspired these young people and gave them the strength to undertake the demanding task they devoted their lives to.

When events like this happen, we have no way of understanding G-d's thinking or plan. One thing we do need to learn from this is to fight evil, darkness and hatred with good, light and love

On this forum, there are good friends of mine from many backgrounds. To all whom I know: please do an extra act of goodness and kindness to help replace the myriad acts of good and that the Holtzbergs would have done had their lives not been cut so short.

To my fellow Jews on this forum, let us please strengthen our observance of the three pillars of Judaism - Torah, prayer and acts of kindness such as charity.

Suggestions: Each Friday before sundown, all women and girls should make an effort to light Shabbat candles. The power of those candles will light up our lives and hopes and our future.

Men should make an effort to accept the mitzvah of Tefillin. The Talmud teaches us that one of the special qualities of Tefillin is that it creates an awe of us in our enemies by demonstrating that G-d's power rests upon us.

At a time like this, we should also make sure that we have kosher mezuzot on all our doors, both at home and in our workplace. To have your mezuzot checked or to purchase new mezuzot you can be in contact with me.

When G-d sees the Jewish people and indeed - all decent, caring human beings, of all backgrounds translating this tragedy into an increase in spirituality, holiness and observance, we pray He will grant us protection, health, happiness and the era of ultimate redemption, when in the holy words of the Prophets Isaiah and Micah: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more".

May we only share good news from now on.

Shavuah tov,

Rabbi Aaron Hurwitz
052 564 6633

PS In the news I heard just after Shabbos from Mumbai, it appears that the levayas will take place Monday. I will post info as I get it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Notes from the Front

Natan has been inducted into the IDF. Actually, he's in basic training, I'm not sure the induction is official until after they've mustered him into shape for a few weeks.

Day One - Oct 22nd. We deliver Natan to Givat Hatachmoshet/Ammunition Hill in French Hill. After checking in and shouldering heavy backpack laden with all sorts of things from freshly baked cookies from local female friend to toiletries and stuff that seems critical to sustain life (i.e. copy of Anne of Avonlea, retainer - thank you Joy Hudecz, notebook to note experiences), we're told that Natan is missing some of his 'mismachim rifu'im'/doctor related papers. We know this because the holidays made it hard to get this kind of stuff done. Nobody was around, nobody was covering. Do not get sick during the holidays if at all possible.

We take Natan to the Induction Office in J'lem. He waits inside while we wait outside wondering what's next. He sees the Head Doctor. She shuffles through his papers, musing over his most recent asthma test which wasn't as great as the one's previously. She doesn't know what to do and the doctor who saw him (this was the 3rd doctor but who's counting) is away until the end of the month. She comments that it's not his fault that nobody's been around and after a few more head-scratching moments, says, 'okay, we'll lower the profile.' It's been a long haul of trying to work this all out and have Natan be at the 64 level based on vision and asthma issues. Now, he's a 'jobnik' with no 'kravi'/combat status. More jobs that might be of interest to him and that would offer better ways for the army to use Natan (in my opinion) are now open to him. Question is, can he get to them this late in the game? Don't know. May not know until after basic training. One huge step for us though.

Texts from Natan
1. Processing...bounced around some offices. Waiting to hear what I have to do. Told them that doctor is away, etc. Seems like I'm seeing head doctor, where are you?

We hug him again and leave him there for the next part of his journey, the trip to Tel Ha'shomer and 'Bakum'/בסיס קליטה ומיון. Natan later reported that he was escorted by an army guy, along with some other strays such as himself to Bakum and I'll leave him to one day tell the story of his walk through the various stations - you stop here, go there, get x-rayed here, sized up there. Arlo Guthrie puts it best...'you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.'

Some text messages from the day:
1. Moving through. At vaccinations. (Yes, yes, they shot him up. Let's not talk about it).
2. Ok, so I think I have 3 weeks in some course for olim and THEN basic training. I'll be in touch, phone off. (This order ended up being changed by the next 'קצין מיון'/Interview Officer that Natan saw who decided that his Hebrew was fine enough for him to go straight on to basic training.)
3. Done being processed. Wearing uniform. Waiting for something. I think a bus to a base. (In the end, he came home that night - the 2 lower indoor pics of him - and went back and finished processing on Thursday, came home again and hung around the house through Shabbat and went officially back in on Sunday.)
From Thursday, Day #2 at Bakum.
1. Been waiting all day, ugh.
2. Waiting for bus.
3. Still waiting for **** bus. (The life of a soldier.)

Sunday AM, he hauled himself out of bed early and nervously left the house. He met up with this nice Argentinean guy whom he had met the previous week at Bakum and they traveled together back to Bakum. Natan would otherwise still be lost looking for where he's going. He joined a group of guys at Bakum - 'פלוגת ממתינים,' translation, 'waiting group' and waited for some hourse (we're told this is normal for Bakum) until being put on a bus to his new base, Nitzanim, down near Ashkelon, right near the beach - one of our favorites, site of a lovely campfire and potato roast that Akiva still speaks of fondly, last fall.

Text Message.
1. Yes, but I won't need it. (In response to Ira's query if he had $. You ride for free in green in these parts.)
2. Haven't gone anywhere yet. Waiting.
3. Done waiting. On bus to Nitzanim. Phone off. Love you.

We continued to hear from him in bits and pieces over the week when he had a minute and permission to use the phone. He was kvetchy at the beginning of the week - the weather had turned cold and rainy and life in the tent was somewhat damp, to say the least. Natan is not in the 'asthmatics tent' as he said that it's too close to the smoking area and that wouldn't be fun. He does have a 'פטור/exemption from certain physical activities. He can be made to run around stupidly but not too quickly. They all stand very long periods of time in various formations, the favorite being in the shape of the letter 'ח'/U shape. He received his gun - no, Robert Henoch told us it's not a gun, it's a weapon or an M16. Regardless, it's just too big and too much 'gun' for me. He's had some firing practice which remarkably he's been good at. Thank you to Iris and Steve and target practice up in the country.

We find out he's not coming home for his first Shabbat. A blow. Friday at 10:40AM, he calls. He's allowed visitors today. Not sure when. He thinks in the afternoon. 'Natan,' we say gently, 'Shabbat starts in the afteroon.' He'll find out. He calls back and tells us that he's allowed visitors on Friday because we can't come on Shabbat - never mind the 1.25 hours it takes to drive back and forth and making Shabbat. The army isn't so mindful of these matters. Then it turns out he has guard duty from 12-2pm. That means about 30 minutes with him after 2. We run out and do our errands in record time. Buy food for the soldier - bagels (we are Americans after all, can't just buy bourekas), spreads, fruit, cookies (no time to home bake something). Cancel my Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat davening gig at Shira Hadasha. Leave Gabe in charge of Friday afternoon prep, Akiva and setting up shul (his week to do so). Drive to Ashkelon with Ira. A lovely drive starting with the West Bank Tunnels and out through Beitar Ilit but then back through the roadblock and past Tzur Hadassah and down through the Lachish valley, past the Beit Guvrin Caves and further, heading towards Kiryat Gat. We call Michael and get the most up-to-date directions - the fastest and most direct method. We cross over various roads and eventually approach the beach, passing a new community for evacuees from Gush Katif communities in 2007 - many still living in temporary communities. We find the base and park. Inquire how to enter - we can't. Must wait for our guy to come and get us. Our guy doesn't answer his phone. We wait in the shockingly delightful non-Jerusalem heat. We drink our water, chew our fingernails and read The New Yorker. Finally, he calls. He was delayed. We're escorted in to the 'פינת ביקור'/visiting area. We wait. Suddenly, we see him trotting towards us. Huzzah!
We hug - ah....sit and eat, laugh, take a few pics (the images outside) as he regales us with stories and tells us what the yells that we hear in the background are essentially all variations on Yessir/כן, המפקד!

Much like visiting someone in camp, within a short amount of time the visitee is done - ready to return to their life on the inside and you the outsider go wistfully away. In our case, we rushed home at a breakneak pace, making it home...barely.

As for observance in the army. It's a good thing. Allowed 45 min davening time in the AM, which all say is good for charging your phone in the shul building - no plugs in tent - and dozing off during ישתבח. Then there's the moments you get pulled into מנחה - Natan said everyone was a higher rank than he.

Natan's report on Shabbat.
5. Shabbat was nice. Going up north tomorrow. Will be in touch. (Gosh, we think, a trip. You always see recruits out and about, especially on Sundays which appears to be travel day. A little treat after being on the base during the weekend, Benjy tell us. Also, they do try to make Shabbat restful, with more pleasant meals, time for shul and a bit of rest time in between guard duties. No standing in formation.)
6. So, after being a guy who couldn't move his legs, I'm not lying on a stretcher in the middle of a hospital tent. Some targil/exercise up here. (Turns out Natan is part of a huge military exercise and being the raw newbie that he is, as well as being a good size, he's immediately useful as faux injured person. He claims that Gabe Ashkenazi, the רמתכ"ל/head of the army is there but hasn't seen him yet. He asks around for his coz Adam, as he sees lots of Tzanchanim/Paratroopers but nobody knows Adam. Then he remembers that if they're in basic training like him, they may not know the name of their מפקד - 'he who must not be named.')
7. Was just taken in helicopter. Really cool. ttyl. (Wow! Definitely fun.)

Haven't heard from him since but texted him about the election. He at least had moved on from his initial Libertarian stance and support of Ron Paul.

There you have it. Natan in the army. He'll be home this week. Let the cooking and laundry begin.

A New President

It's unbelievable. It's really unbelievable. Whether or not you're sure about your vote, sure about the world, sure about the economy or the war, or the future of the world in general, it was a thilling election. Even if your guy didn't win, there was something infectious going on - a feeling that everyone was excited to vote, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Ira and I watched the early return reports until some time after 12AM, with Gabe snoring next to us and then we woke up again at 3AM to check in (this with FOX News as our cable network doesn't currently have CNN) and as narcolepsy took over, waited until the alarm went off at 6AM to watch again.

I've never experienced an election from afar but then again, I've never campaigned or done anything to connect into the candidate during the course of the campaign. My first election was 1980 - Reagan, Carter, Anderson and I was so disheartened, I ended up not voting. That wasn't the answer though and I promised myself that I would never miss an election again. That I would cast my vote regardless of whether or not I loved the candidate or not - I would choose and exercise my right to vote, something that not everybody in the world enjoys. This time, despite the fear that absentee ballots wouldn't be counted or that the votes wouldn't get to the right place, I voted. Ira actually dropped off our ballots (Natan's first election!) at the OU the other night. They were having an election event where you could bring your ballots in and know they'd be shipped back to the US together - that seemed a good idea from a place where the mails aren't always perfect.

For me, 2000 and 2004 were not happy elections. That feeling that we, the voters, had been 'had,' wasn't an easy one. That sense that the president had no real feeling for many of the 'rank and file,' wasn't an easy one to shake. He (he should live and be well) seemed to live in some kind of bubble of financial security, emotional distance, family protection and governing doctrine that I never could connect to or understand and appreciate. Maybe there was no way to win in the age of 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan and the current climate of economic uncertainty. I'm not even sure that our new president will be able to govern as well as he'd like and move forward with new ideas that he set forth during his campaign when he is inheriting so many issues that will not go away easily. Indeed, we need to see his resolve with these basics - Iraq, Afghanistan, the deficit - before we can watch him move forward and set his goals on the Middle East, the US's relationship with the world at large, Universal health care and other important domestic issues.

But here's the thing. It's a great thing to have the US's first African American president. It's a great thing to feel that he's won with good numbers, a large turnout and a wave of emotion and good feelings that will surely help in this early period of adjusting to what's happened (for those who feel disenfranchised and disappointed by his win). Barack HUSSEIN Obama - I love saying that as here, in Israel, that makes people squirm...our new president. Mazal tov to us all. People are downright strange and scary about his election here. There is such fear that he represents an end of the good relationship and the good will of the US to Israel. Here's a good example of some of the rhetoric on this side of the pond and note, I will not quote from resident crazy, Caroline Glick of the J'lem Post who surely must not sleep at night for fear of Iran nukes. One local friend essentially agreed with her recent article that Iran will look to test Obama right away via some action against Israel. I don't know if it's useful to think this way - maybe I'm stupid, maybe I'm naive, I just can't live my life this way, certainly not here, in Israel.

Another piece that got my attention printed via a Facebook Friend who voted for the other guy. It's actually an interesting piece in terms of the writer's history but the conclusions he draws are, at least I think so, unfortunate.

Barack H. Obama and Fidel Castro. What is the difference between the two?
Want Change? (From Richmond Times-Dispatch, Monday, July 7, 2008)

Dear Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Each year I get to celebrate Independence Day twice. On June 30, I celebrate MY independence day and on July 4th, I celebrate America's.

This year is special, because it marks the 40th anniversary of my independence. On June 30, 1968, I escaped Communist Cuba and a few months later, I was in the U.S. to stay. That I happened to arrive in Richmond on Thanksgiving Day is just part of the story, but I digress.

I've thought a lot about the anniversary this year. The election year rhetoric has made me think a lot about Cuba and what transpired there.

In the late 1950s most Cubans thought Cuba needed a change, and they were right. So when a young leader came along, every Cuban was at least receptive.

When the young leader spoke eloquently and passionately and denounced the old system, the press fell in love with him. They never questioned who his friends were or what he really believed in..

When he said he would help the farmers and the poor and bring free medical care and education to all, everyone followed.

When he said he would bring justice and equality to all, everyone said, 'Praise the Lord!' And when the young leader said, "I will be for change and I'll bring you change," everyone yelled, "Viva Fidel!"

But nobody asked about the change, so by the time the executioner's guns went silent the people's guns had been taken away. By the time everyone was equal, they were equally poor, hungry, and oppressed.

By the time the press noticed, it was too late, because they were now working for him. By the time the change was finally implemented, Cuba had been knocked down a couple of notches to Third-World status.

By the time the change was over, more than a million people had taken to boats, rafts and inner tubes. You can call those who made it ashore anywhere else in the world the most fortunate Cubans. And now I'm back to the beginning of my story.

Luckily, we would never in America fall for a young leader who promised change without asking, WHAT change? How will you carry it out? What will it cost America? Would we?

Manuel Alvarez, Jr.


All I wish to express, as a former Cuban exile, is that Barack Obama and Fidel Castro share many personality traits, ie:

Both were abandoned by their fathers at an early age.

Both are charming, eloquent lawyers that say exactly what people want to hear at the right time and place.

One never led the nation to suspect he was a communist at heart, the other doesn't mention the word socialism when in reality this is exactly what his agenda stands for.

Both were virtually unknown until they began to use the word 'change' as their main political motto.

Both have egos as tall as the twin towers, yet they manage to present themselves humbly, one in soiled military fatigues and the other sweating and with an undone tie.

Both have the unique ability to distort truth and lies as if they were the same.

Both have the ability to hypnotize the ignorant and fool the wishful thinker and to divide a nation in classes, (divide and you shall win) In Fidel's case he divided the rich against the poor, the illiterate against the educated and the black against the white. In Obama's case even if by omission, he's de-facto dividing the races already.

And lastly I'll use the words of Jorge Santayana to finish my case in point: 'Those who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'

And in the words of Sir Winston Churchill: 'The inherent vice of Capitalism is the unequal distribution of blessings, the inherent vice of Socialism is the equal distribution of misery.'


Signed: Andrew J. Rodriguez, Author of 'Adios, Havana,' a memoir

By comparison, read this good piece by Donniel Hartman, son of Rabbi David Hartman and co-Director of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Perhaps this, with less fear and loathing, explains the hopes and fears for the next president.

Enough for now.
I'm happy. Hopefully some of you out there are too.
Here's to a new and different tomorrow.