The Gilad Shalit deal does not make us that righteous

Three days ago Gilad Shalit came home. I think we’re all still collectively rubbing our eyes to make sure it isn’t a dream. Who wasn’t totally shocked to see him walking and in one piece after five years and four months in conditions we all rightfully assumed were very bad? And who can believe that Gilad really is now at his family’s home after celebrating Simchat Torah with them after so many years?

Of course the other thing we can scarcely believe is that this week we decided to equate one lone Jewish life with 1,027 Arab terrorist lives.

When I watch videos of Gilad on Israeli soil, I know we did the right thing, getting him home where he belongs.

But now we’ve gone and become all self-righteous and this, I believe, is not right. Do we really think that the exchange for Gilad proved that we’re a light unto the nations? Did it prove that we truly believe in the sanctity of life? And can we really feel comfortable quoting the Mishna that says that if you save one life, it’s as if you saved an entire world?

Anyone who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful

Yes, when I see the images of Gilad, finally in real time, I am deeply moved. When I see him reunite with his family and salute the prime minister, I’m so touched. But let’s consider some other typical Israeli scenes. Like those of people being blown to pieces in a pizza shop. A sick man hanging out a window, cheering and being cheered on by the crowds as he shows off his blood-stained hands after lynching a Jew in Ramallah.

We sanctify life? Where is the proof if we allow such a lowly person to live all these years? And worse, we invest in him by allowing him to live off the Jewish state (a state with many needy people). And since we grant him the privilege of life, he gets to dream that some day he’ll be free to lynch another Jew. He basks in his disgusting fame and we let it continue. And now, because he was sitting uselessly in an Israeli jail all these years, the day has indeed come. He’s been released and most definitely is ready for his next attack against Jews.

Now, capital punishment for the worst terrorists against Jews and Israel – that would show that we believe in the sanctity of life.

And what about the fact that 11 of the terrorists were released to East Jerusalem? Jerusalem, as in, the Israeli capital. Inside undisputed borders as far as we’re concerned (supposedly)? There were some great street parties there the day they were releasted, celebrating Israel’s decision to harbour terrorists in our own capital.

One person in another Israeli city was appalled when she had to see a group of Arab workers across the street from her house celebrate the release of one of the murderers. All these celebrations inside Israel. Why do we allow it?!

Yesterday, on October 20, the Israel Police’s official Facebook page had the following update (translated from the Hebrew):

Half an hour ago, a bus of 40 Israeli citizens from different towns arrived at the Hadarim Jail.

The passengers began a protest there, waved Palestinian flags and called for the abduction of more Israeli soldiers in order to ensure the release of all the security prisoners in Israel.

Israeli security forces arrived at the scene and requested of the protesters to clear the area since they were assembling there illegally. After requests by the police a few times, and after the protesters refused to leave, 12 of them who were carrying Palestinian flags and calling for the kidnapping of soldiers, were arrested.

Now the protesters have been removed to the bus and the event is over.

Why does this report only mention that the assembly was illegal? What about the fact they are calling for the kidnapping of soldiers? We allow people to express their obviously traitorous opinions in our country? There should be serious repercussions for people who choose to celebrate terrorism against Israel or support kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Until that happens, we have not truly proven our belief in the sanctity of life.

Of course this is not to mention other steps that should be taken in order to deter terrorism. For example we should not return the bodies of terrorists to their families. We should bury them ourselves, with pig skin (then there will be a great reason for growing pigs in Israel). And we should seriously consider returning to the policy of demolishing their homes. Again, these actions would prove our belief in the sanctity of life. They play on their ridiculous beliefs, deter future terrorist activity and show our important disrespect for their barbaric ways.

Because really this part of the world is way simpler than many people want to believe. Our neighbours don’t want us to exist and they believe it’s holy work getting rid of us. I think that this is the #1 rule of the region as far as Israel is concerned and all that’s left is for us to compile a set of rules around that.

Of course this is far from pleasant and so we usually complicate things with Western ideas some of which just don’t work with our very un-Western neighbours. They get us in trouble. Like when we worry about killing the (possibly) innocent bystander on our enemy’s side and, worst of all, when we worry what everyone else will think, we’re paralysing ourselves against the evils that face us.

So the same goes for Gilad Shalit. Are we sure there was no other viable way to get him home? Or did we complicate things with worries? I wonder how this ended up being the path chosen and wonder if there weren’t any other options that more truly would have expressed our belief in the sanctity of life. Like cutting off Gaza from Israel until they gave Shalit back and making it clear how much Gaza residents would suffer if Gilad were to be killed, God forbid.

It’s very hard for me to believe that there were no other options that may have been less popular with the international community (and many Israelis), but could have gotten Shalit back earlier and without having to release 1027 terrorists.

Meanwhile, whatever anyone thinks about the deal that was reached with Hamas for Gilad, it’s a relief to welcome him home. I have no idea how Gilad and his family survived such a nightmare and I thank God it’s finally over.

And now it’s time for us to really start proving to ourselves that we’re a light unto the nations by starting to implement serious steps towards deterring terrorism. That way we can know that we are truly cherishing the lives of Israeli citizens and prevent any future Sbarro, Dolphinarium or Park Hotel horrors.

The Google-China drama

Mykl Roventine
Can't imagine the Chinese government commissioned to have this sign made.

I always find it impressive when someone creates a really convincing knock-off. Well, besides the immoral issues behind it. Goojje is the recent knock-off of Google in China. You can read more about it in some slightly disturbing Chinese-style English here.

Goojje was created by a small Chinese group after Google recently announced it was considering withdrawing from China. Why? Well, according to a post by David Drummond published in the official Google blog on January 12, in mid-December 2009, they noticed that a very sophisticated hacking job was being pulled on Google. The attack originated in China and it resulted in intellectual theft from Google. Soon they realized the attack went much further than that.

At least 20 other large companies were attacked besides Google. It seems that Chinese human rights activists with Gmail accounts were specifically targeted as well. And, from the investigations being conducted since the attack, it has been discovered that Gmail users in the U.S., China and Europe have had third parties tapping into their accounts on a regular basis. All the accounts being violated belong to advocates of human rights in China.

Google strongly suspects that the culprit behind all of these attacks is the Chinese government. Oh, China, what a great country. All about human rights, right? Well, no.

I can definitely see how this just might be a huge straw that breaks the camel’s back. But the question is, which camel’s back is it breaking? The camel who cares too much about human rights to continue cooperating with such a problematic government? Or is it the camel who loves money and sees this as an opportunity to back away from a market which might be too difficult to navigate in this case. Maybe communist China ain’t no place for an American search engine. Of course that’s besides the fact that it is the country with the most internet users right now. I doubt Google CEO Eric Schmidt is getting much sleep when he thinks about that.

But here’s a little (or huge) catch. Those of us from the Western world automatically think Google when we think search engines. But actually, in China, there is a search engine that is a huge competitor against the Chinese Google. is a very large company which, as opposed to Google, originates in China. It provides a wide range of services to Chinese users online. In December 2007 Baidu became the first Chinese company to be included in the NASDAQ-100 index. Baidu, at least on the outside, seems to have an easier time accepting the censorship of the government than Google. So maybe Google isn’t all about the human rights issue but has something to gain monetarily from pulling out, or at least threatening to pull out, of China.

In January 2006, when Google launched, the Chinese version, it had to be a customized search engine for China which censors out politically sensitive topics and websites from the results. In the aforementioned Google blog post,  Drummond wrote:

We launched in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results.

Sounds almost convincing. They were willing to put up with the very problematic censorship because they felt the gain to the people of China outweighed the moral issues. But now it might be time to reevaluate.

This mega-attack has been the potential last straw of a certain camel’s back – we’re not sure which one yet. Right now we all just get to watch as an enormous U.S. company has a duel with a not too shabby country with, I will repeat, the highest number of internet users in the world.

Good luck to you both. And may the best man win.

Photo by Mykl Roventine on flickr.

Col. Richard Kemp on the U.N. Goldstone Report

I admit I was teary-eyed from watching this video. There are two things that are touching about it. First, what a feeling to actually have someone acting outwardly and proactively supportive of Israel. And, I feel so proud to be part of this country, the country that, according to Col. Richard Kemp, made more effort in the Operation Cast Iron in Gaza to protect the civilians of the other side than any other army ever has.

I hope you’ll watch this and pass it on so that maybe it could make a difference. Just in the last few hours it’s gotten thousands of views. Not too shabby.

Triplets for his three lost sons

(The facts in this post are taken from the Arutz 7 article which you can access here.)

You’ve gotta admit it blows your mind, at least a little, this story.

This poor man lost his wife and three of his seven kids when one of our crazy local terrorists came into their house in the Shomron yishuv (settlement) of Itamar and killed them. (Um, just btw, how in the world can a religion think that’s a good thing?)

The people killed in his family that day:

Rachel, his wife, 40

Neriah, 15

Tzvikah, 12

Avishai, 5

How heartbreaking. Since this horrid incident in June 2002, Boaz Shabo remarried. His new wife, Hila, and her five children moved in with Boaz and his two unmarried children.

Reminds me of the amazing movie, Yours Mine and Ours (the original, of course).

Anyway, on the second day of Sukkot (so, around a week ago), Hila gave birth to triplets! Two girls and a boy.

We can’t know what a person deserves in this world so I hesitate to say that Boaz deserves this blessing, but it just seems so fitting after he lost three sons that he should have triplets. He said, “Though it’s impossible to forget those who were killed, this is a very joyous occasion for all of us.”

Read the full article on the Arutz 7 website, including the story how, in 2004, he went to visit a man who lost his whole family – his pregnant wife and four children – in a terrorist attack.

Thinking about Gilad Shalit, the captive Israel soldier

It’s because of topics like this that I feel guilty for not keeping up more on the news. Is it not good, at least once a day, to stop by a news site and check the headline?

I say this because I don’t know exactly how things progressed to get to where they are today in regards to Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping over three years ago. But, I watched the video the terrorists took of him to prove to Israel that he is still alive. I’m sure there are many moral questions around the kidnapping by terrorists. But the most basic one is, in this case, do we exchange terrorists for his release? Israel already released 20 female terrorists just to get this video.

My opinion? You have to think about now. Right now we have a beloved Jew who is in danger. We must get him back. At any price? Maybe not. But considering there are so many terrorists amongst them, and such a large percentage of the “Palestinians” want us driven into the sea anyway, I’m not sure it’ll make the biggest difference to set some more of these haters free.

The fact that it sets a precedent, that is definitely a problem. If only we could act stronger so they knew that, on the one hand we’re willing to do whatever we need to in order to save a life, but on the other hand we won’t be pushed around.

There, I got political on blog midrash. How can I worry about being “too” political when Gilad Shalit has gone through hell for over three years? How selfish would that be?

What is the source of their contempt?

I wasn’t sure that “contempt” was the word that fit best to explain Shalom Achshav’s latest actions. So I looked it up and found it to be perfect:

“lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike”  (from here)

Shalom Achshav members fighting to get the home of a true Israeli hero destroyed. Golani Brigade Roi Klein died saving his fellow soldiers during the Second Lebanon War in summer 2006 by throwing himself on a grenade. So it’s his wife and two children that will be left homeless. Don’t even get me started. My blood boils every time I think of someone having the ability to go beyond any sensitivity, caring or appreciation.

And I do not want to hear it has to do with the law. It’s more complicated than that.

We need to know what’s going on (please read the jpost article here) and raise awareness by passing the information forward so that hopefully we can stop his wife’s house from being demolished. There was a petition online about this but it seems to have disappeared, not sure why.

Read the Jerusalem Post article about it here.

A bar mitzva 77 years late

Over the last few years, I keep hearing about people who have their bar or bat mitzvas once they’re older. Then I hear about people doing it when they’re much older. Today I read an article about a man who just had his bar mitzva at the age of 90.

Why is it so touching to us to see this happen? Is it proof that things we think we missed or lost, are not necessarily out or reach? Do we see that even after tens of years, the majority of your life, living one way, you can choose something else?

At my work with Jewish elderly we’ve lately been thinking about having a group bar/bat mitzva. Like the man in the article, some are hesitant and worried about being put on the spot or having to do things they don’t really know how to do (like read Hebrew), but imagine the gratification of such an accomplishment or even such a decision, at such an age.

*sniff sniff* (Really, btw, you should see me right now. I’m bawling from all the touching things I’ve seen and read this evening.)

Read the article here.

Sin’at chinam – baseless hatred

This morning I was so riled up by the events in Jerusalem. Very Charedi woman arrested for allegedly abusing her son. Major, extremely intense protests by her community (and beyond?) against her arrest. Threats. Burning garbage. Throwing stones. Really quite horrifying!

I cannot say that it’s easy for me to be understanding about their behavior. But there are a few things I am thinking about that at least put the whole thing a bit more in perspective:

  1. The media is not 100% trust-worthy. It is totally possible that we are not getting the whole story. More so, I read the letter that “the family” of the woman wrote and I don’t see why we should assume they are a bunch of liars. As someone only getting information from newspapers, I can’t know that.
  2. Neither the media’s nor the family’s story seems totally true. We must remember to take everything with a grain of salt. What doesn’t sit right with me? For example, in the media’s story, she’s been starving him for years but he’s also been in the hospital for a long time. How did she get away with this abuse if he was in the hospital, even if it was just on and off? In the family’s story, she’s made out to be the perfect, loving, committed mother. What about the footage (which I haven’t seen)? I’d be shocked (in the event that we ever find out the full truth about this) if that turns out to be true. You can read the family’s article here (in Hebrew).
  3. Human nature tends to push things aside if that helps prove the point we want to prove. So many people seem  quite excited to show how terrible the Charedim are that they/we might be blinding ourselves to inconsistencies or just things that aren’t very logical. (I believe that this is what happened with Madoff. I totally believe that things seemed sketchy to a lot of the investors but they swept the feelings under the rug because things were just too good to ruin.)
  4. The hate. Granted, the Charedim are putting the rest of us in an extremely difficult position. We are watching a large group of them act in a manner that is not at all respectful, let alone to Torah! And when they do things that are outright immoral like burning things, causing such destruction and disruption, and even stoning people, it’s the hardest thing in the world to give them the benefit of the doubt. But, and please bear with me, I know it’s infuriating, can we fully judge them? We know that we can only fully judge someone when we are in their shoes. I used to continue that by saying that, the way I see it, since we can never be in someone else’s shoes, we can never judge others. I don’t fully agree with that anymore. It’s important to pass some sort of judgement, I think. But we need to ask ourselves: Do we know what it’s like to be a Charedi person in a Chiloni (secular) country? Do we know for sure they’re wrong (not in their protesting behavior but in their beliefs regarding life, Israel and how they are treated)? We lack many details. Maybe we should keep that in mind in order to try, as hard as it is, to judge them at least a little more favourably.
  5. I have at least one person who I’m very close with, who is Charedi. Last time we spoke, she was convinced the mother is innocent and the Charedim are being treated really badly. How can I assume that this person who I respect very much is totally wrong? It’s definitely possible but I can’t know, at least not at this point. Also, I can tell you that, spending time with this person, I am almost certain that she gets different treatment when we’re out and about in Israel because of how she dresses. I have been appalled by it, especially since she is such a sweet person. How can people treat her like that just because she is wearing a scarf wrapped around her head? Yes, Charedim are treated differently. That is a painful way to live, especially if, like this person, you are a sweet, innocent person just living your life how you believe is best for yourself, your family and the world.

The Three Weeks

Finally, there is something that has really stuck out for me and even scared me. Right now it is a very important time in the Jewish calendar. It’s the “three weeks.” These weeks start with a fast and end with another fast. The ending fast, Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) is one of the two most important fasts in the Jewish calendar, along with Yom Kippur. It is considered the saddest day in our calendar, commemorating the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem. Tradition says that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sin’at chinam. Baseless hatred. It was destroyed because Jews hated Jews.

Tisha B’Av has been the day on which many calamities have befallen the Jews. It is actually scary. The three weeks and the nine days (which are the last nine days of the three weeks) are considered more dangerous times. Growing up in an Orthodox home, we didn’t swim during this period. We wouldn’t necessarily travel. It was best to stay away from danger. And in order to mourn, we wouldn’t listen to music, eat meat, go to movies, get our hair cut and probably other things too.

I look at what is happening in Jerusalem and I am frightened for the Jewish people. Call me superstitious but I do think that there is something extremely meaningful, in a very scary way, that this is happening specifically during the three weeks (just like the Jews were kicked out of Gush Katif in Gaza the day after Tisha B’Av). We need to think about that and remember that our unity is probably one of the most important things for us to work on. As Jews, each of us (I’m talking about the different groups) is so sure we hold the truth, we hold the key. The Charedim hold the truth, as far as they’re concerned. The Chilonim feel the same way about themselves. And many other groups act also as if they are the ones who know the real way to be a Jew or an Israeli.

At the same time, we’re terrified someone else, with their supposed truth, is going to force us to act in one way or another that doesn’t fit our beliefs.

I know all this because I feel the same way. But I also know that at the same time, many/most of us also question ourselves incessantly. We are often 100% sure and 100% not sure at the same time. And that is probably where the friction comes in. We cannot take the different opinions.

I believe it’s time for us all to get off our high horses (or make sure we’re all on high horses, if necessary, as long as we all realize we’re “begova einayim” (eye level) to each other) and realize that each of us “groups” obviously does not have all the answers. Each of us obviously does have something to contribute. And, most of all, we better get our act together and figure out a way not to feel such animosity towards each other because, I hate to say it, but I am scared that we will do ourselves in if we don’t work on this now.

A beautiful article about Charedim and Israel

This article by Jonathan Rosenblum really touched me. I happened to read two articles today that were, at least in part, about why one would live in Israel. Neither are telling anyone else to move there but just talking about their own feelings in living there. The interesting thing is that the second article is by someone who, from the feel of it, is not very religious. I hate those terms, not sure exactly how to say it but there is a “secular” feel to the article.

Actually, I read the “secular” article first, a few hours ago. Many of you know that I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I should move back to Israel after being away for over three years. But I have been unable to find the guts and strength to really do it, give it a try again. It’s terrifying to me for many reasons. But since I want to want to go back, when I read an article on this topic, I am always thinking, “Maybe this will give some strength to make the decision.”

So I read the article but found it totally uninspiring! She basically listed a “million” bad things about living there and then, at the end, listed some very nice things. Nope. No fuzzy happy feeling inside, that’s for sure!

Then I read the article that was written by a charedi man (I think) about the perception we have of charedim, especially right now with the protests that have been going on regarding the parking lot that will be opened in Jerusalem on Shabbatot. He wrote about how all we hear about is this fringe section of the charedi community that is acting totally inappropriately. He then went on to talk about the latest Israel Air Force/Charedi projects that have already recruited 250 charedi men (most married with children) to the army. A large percentage have applied for officer training, the highest training available in the army. A similar project is underway in the Intelligence section of the army.

The end of the article left me with tears in my eyes:

“…That happy thought led me to ask myself the question: Why are we staying here? My first answer to that question is always that offered by my father: I would not wish to remain alive in a world that was prepared to watch 6 million Jews destroyed once again. But a more positive thought occurred to me as well: Israel is the only country the majority of whose citizens are determined to confront evil rather than appease it. True, we have had some advantages in reaching this point. We have seen evil close up in the form of an entire society whipped into paroxysms of death-seeking fury. And our every experience since the heady days of Oslo has reinforced the recognition that we have no choice but to be prepared for war.

Finally, a ba’al teshuva in Brooklyn, who comments under the unlikely name Spengler, points out something remarkable about Israel. If one plots a graph of industrialized nations using birthrate as the vertical axis and suicide rate as the horizontal axis, Israel, with by far the highest birthrate and the second lowest suicide rate, occupies a quadrant of the graph all by itself, with no other nation remotely nearby.


A soldier prays at the Kotel.

A soldier prays at the Kotel.
Photo: (Ariel Jerozolimski

Something of the traditional, life-affirming Jewish faith in a better future still permeates the air of Eretz Yisrael.

All things considered, Israel is the best place to live.”

Weep. What a crazy country.