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Commentary:Tisha B’Av feels more auspicious in Jerusalem than elsewhere

July 20, 2010 Leave a comment

 By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM — I’ve never been in Tel Aviv or Haifa for Tisha B’Av, but my guess is that it probably doesn’t feel too much different than Tisha B’Av in Seattle–a few hardy souls sitting on the floor of their synagogues in the evening and then spending the day itself struggling to keep awake through some talks and appropriate films, while the rest of the city goes about its usual business oblivious to the significance of the day.

That’s not how Tisha B’Av is observed in Jerusalem–the focal point of much of the mourning. Here,as restaurants and places of entertainment close down, thousands take to the streets leading to the Old City and the remnants of the Temple. New traditions mingle with the ancient as Israelis commemorate the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people on and around the 9th of Av.

In recent years, much like Tikun Layl Shavuot, the all-nighter of learning that marks the eve of the Shavuot holiday, Tisha B’Av has turned into an opportunity for dialogue and reflection on the rifts that continue to tear at the seams of our peoplehood.

For the first time in many years I chose to forego the traditional walk around the walls of the Old City in favor of a new initiative organized by the Jerusalem Challenge. Oblivious to the fact that this was a group targeting 20 & 30-somethings, I found myself quite possibly the oldest participant in another meaningful observance of Tisha B’Av opposite the Old City walls.

The Challenge folks chose to hold their megilla reading and panel discussions in the courtyard of one of Jerusalem’s staunchly secular institutions–the Cinematheque, which was one of the first places in Jerusalem to stay open on Shabbat.

After having spent most of the last 10 days running in and out of the Cinematheque to catch films at the Jerusalem Film Festival, it was a little strange to be sitting on the ground in the forecourt listening to the mournful tones of the prophet Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem. [Click here for video}

After the reading, English-speakers went off to listen to a panel that included Jewlicious blog founder, David Abitbol; Amotz Asa-El of the Jerusalem Post and Aharon Horowitz, Co-Director of Presentense. I stayed outside to catch the Hebrew panel that included a Modern Orthodox professor, Moshe Meir; a black-hat rabbi, Eliyahu Linker; an Ethiopian woman who works in immigrant absorption and Dr Ilan Ezrahi, a secular educator and former head of the MASA program.

Against the dramatic backdrop of Mt Zion and the Jerusalem walls and overlooking the Gehinom Valley, the discussion was fairly predictable, but interesting, nevertheless. Dr. Ezrahi recounted how he was completely unaware of Tisha B’Av as he was growing up, and only learned about the day while serving as a staff member at an American summer camp.

For Moshe Meir, whose father had fought and died fighting for the liberation of Jerusalem in the Six Day War, the day has a different significance.

Following the panel, groups set out for walking tours of the Old City, joining the throngs that swarmed the Kotel plaza all night long.

Meanwhile, at the tent set up by the family of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in front of the prime minister’s residence in Rehavia, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger read Lamentations for Gilad’s parents, Noam and Aviva and dozens of others who came to show solidarity.

As I walked home through the quiet streets away from the Old City,along an uncharacteristically silent Emek Refaim, the street lights along a stretch of the Greek and German Colony were all dark. Had some city or electric company official flipped the switch to create the gloomy Tisha B’Av mood, or was it a fluke? In Jerusalem you never know.

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Judy Lash Balint is a freelance writer and blogger on the to Jerusalem Diaries:In Tense Times  website

Remembering Entebbe, 34 years later

July 4, 2010 Leave a comment

By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM, July 4–Today marks the 34th anniversary of Operation Yonatan, Israel’s dramatic rescue of 103 hostages that took place on July 4, 1976 at Entebbe, Uganda.

As a college student in the US, I vividly remember watching events unfold as most of the rest of the nation was focused on the celebration of America’s bi-centennial.

Jews around the world held their breath as the terrorist incident ended with a relatively minimal loss of life. Pride and admiration for the daring and courage of Israel’s decision-makers and generals was the order of the day.

In Israel, the anniversary of the operation was marked for years by public official commemoration ceremonies. This year, it appears that the only remembrance will be for Yoni Netanyahu, commander of the operation and the only Israeli soldier killed at Entebbe. The Netanyahu family placed a newspaper ad announcing the annual pilgrimage to the grave of Yoni, older brother of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Back in July 2001, during the height of the terrorist war that followed the Camp David talks, things were different and an official state commemoration of the 25th anniversary took place at the Binyanei Hauma Convention Center in Jerusalem.

In a masterful, moving event that was at once entertaining and educational, the state of Israel marked the passage of a quarter of a century since the dramatic hostage rescue. If the event were to be translated and exported, Israel ‘s image problems could be improved dramatically, and Jews the world over might even begin to regain pride in the Jewish state.

In the week leading up to the anniversary, Israel’s media focused on the unprecedented operation that took dozens of soldiers from Israel’s elite brigades on a daring and dangerous mission to rescue Jews thousands of miles away.

A TV documentary focused on Yoni Netanyahu’s career, featuring extensive photos, film clips and interviews with his brothers and former girlfriend.

True to form, a post-Zionist columnist in Haaretz said the program, “Seems more like a propaganda film,” and opined “the Yoni that emerges from the film is not a flesh and blood character, but something closer to a modern day Bar Kochba.”

A few years after his death, the Netanyahu family published a book of Yoni’s letters written over a 13-year period between 1963-1976.

Entitled ‘Self Portrait of a Hero,’ the letters paint a picture of a passionate Zionist as they chronicle Yoni’s passage through the army and his participation as a paratrooper in two of the most crucial battles of the Six Day War.

The 25th anniversary event was attended by the nation’s leading politicians; those who took part in the Entebbe operation, former hostages and their rescuers; and thousands of soldiers from Sayeret Matkal, Tzanchanim and Golani, the brigades that carried out the rescue 25 years ago.

On film, we watched as the political leaders of 1976 debated what to do about the Jewish hostages who had been sitting under Ugandan dictator Idi Amin ‘s guard for days. The familiar faces of Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Allon, Yitzhak Navon and Shimon Peres flitted across the screen.

Interspersed with film clips, the accomplished singing troupes of several army and air force divisions belted out some of the old rousing Israeli anthems.

President Moshe Katzav thanked those who had liberated the hostages. “We say to the terrorists of today: we did it then and we can do it now if we want.”

Following Katzav ‘s speech, several minutes of film of former hostages describing their ordeal were screened. The hostages tell of their disbelief that the IDF had sent their forces across the African continent to rescue them. In excruciating detail they calmly recount the selection procedure that separated the Jews and Israelis from the non-Jewish passengers on the Air France flight.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres rose to speak and chose to address himself to the assembled young soldiers who filled the hall. He urged them not to think of the Entebbe fighters as legendary heroes. “Each of you has the potential to do the same thing,” he said. “You represent the best hope for the people.”

Next on film was a short clip of an interview with a handsome middle-aged civilian who was a pilot of one of the Hercules planes that left the Sirkin air force base for the seven -hour trip to Entebbe. “We were so afraid of failure,” he says, his dark eyes looking unflinchingly at the camera. “But on the way back, I felt like it was Pesach. I recalled the words of the Hagaddah: ‘I and no angel: I and no messenger brought you out of the land of Egypt,’ concluded the pilot who wore no kippa on his silver hair. “If they told me now, 25 years later to go on such a mission, I’d go without hesitation. Ayn Lanu Eretz Acheret! We have no other country,” he said, in a theme that was to echo throughout the evening.

Film interviews with others involved in the rescue followed. Almost all those who played significant roles in Entebbe went on to illustrious military and political careers. We watched as Ehud Barak, Matan Vilnai, Dan Shomron and Ephraim Sneh spoke of their recollections twenty-five years on.

Shomron, the overall planner of the operation told the former hostages: “We knew we were endangering you too. No one had any idea how many would fall.

You were part of the campaign, you’re part of the fight against terror.”

Two of the paratroopers came on stage to read short statements in their own words about their feelings on the anniversary of the operation.

One tall, balding man with a gray mustache said he was disappointed that his teenage son ‘s classmates knew nothing about Operation Yonatan. “We’re facing the same things today, they need more than virtual Zionism, ” he said.

Benny, a younger man who was only 13 years old when he was taken hostage by the terrorists, told the audience in a trembling voice that he remembers every moment of the torment. “I was a kid who saw death in front of him.”

Tzipi Cohen was only 8 years old when she witnessed her father Pasco bleeding to death as he was accidentally shot by Israeli soldiers in the confusion of the rescue. Pasco Cohen lifted his head to look for his son when the shooting started and became one of four Jewish hostages who perished in Uganda. His daughter ended her brief remarks by reiterating her gratitude to the IDF for saving all the hostages, despite her personal tragedy.

The final segment of the two-hour program was entitled ‘The Price.’ Besides the loss of Yoni Netanyahu and the four hostages, one soldier, Surin Hershko, became a quadriplegic as a result of the injuries he sustained at Entebbe. We watched on screen as Surin used his computer at home. He uses an elongated straw manipulated by his mouth to write on the keyboard.

Hershko is completely paralyzed, but rolled to the front of the auditorium in his wheelchair to reminisce about the last time he ran or walked. “I remember what it was to be a fighter,” he recalled.

After presenting Hershko with a special medal commemorating Entebbe, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivered a speech that tied Israel’s efforts to combat terror in the 1970s to today’s struggle against the same enemy:

“In these confusing times, when there are those who question our capabilities or the justness of our cause, we return to those few hours when Israel stood up and in the face of the entire community of nations, waged a battle against violence and terrorism, proving that we can win.

These days, when we are in the midst of an ongoing battle against terrorism, violence and incitement, and when we are making a joint national effort to return to political negotiations without fire, we must rekindle the spirit of that operation. The secret of our strength lies in such spirit and faith, and if we learn how to renew it we will be able to meet all the challenges that still lie ahead.”

Nine years after those words, how little has changed…

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Balint is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem.  Her column appears on the website, Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times

An Oklahoma friend tells of her efforts in behalf of Israel

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM–Margy Pezdirtz lives in Oklahoma.  Margy Pezdirtz loves Israel. Margy Pezdirtz is willing to stand up for Israel.  Here’s how Margy describes events in Oklahoma City last Friday afternoon:

” It was a quiet Friday, one in which I wanted to study and prepare for the coming Shabbat, when my phone rang. Renee said, “Did you get the flyer? The  one about the anti-Israel rally this afternoon at 4:30? I thought you   might want to do something about it.”     “No, I didn’t get the flyer. What’s happening.”

And thus began the end of a   quiet afternoon.   CAIR – The Council on American-Islamic Relations – was sponsoring a rally from 4:30 p.m to 6:00 p.m to “to decry Israel’s attack on humanitarian aid ship …”

  Probably the last thing in the world I wanted to do on this very hot June  afternoon was to stand on a street corner and protest the protestors. I thought about it for a moment. Could I, in all honesty and integrity, sit back in my comfortable, air conditioned home and do nothing? And what about my ten-year-old granddaughter who was with me until her parents got off work. Should I take her to a rally like this that could conceivably turn   dangerous?  I thought about it for a moment and knew I had to act. If not me, then who?   If not now, then when?

I quickly forwarded the article on to my email list asking anyone and everyone that could to join me at 4:00 p.m at the   intersection. I called people whom I knew wouldn’t receive the e-mail prior to getting home and told them of our intentions and asked them to call as many people as they could and to please join us.   

 My sister was across town with her daughter who is due to have a baby any day now. I called her and said, “Is the baby coming?” “No,” she responded.   “Then I have something more important for you to do.” I gave her instructions and was happy when she said, “OK.” I wasn’t sure I would leave my daughter in that situation, but she is as committed to Israel as I am and she knew I wouldn’t be calling if it wasn’t significant.   

I grabbed a box of Israeli window flags from my garage and threw them in the car along with a generous supply of ice water.  I donned white pants and my blue tee that showed crossed Israeli and America flags and said, “United We Stand…Divided We Fall” and backed out of the driveway. My heart and head were racing, and I wondered if I was walking into trouble. My granddaughter and I prayed as we drove towards the site of the rally where my son would pick her up. Rushing toward the freeway, I explained words to her like ‘flotilla’, ‘humanitarian’ and once again, “God’s love for the land and people of Israel.”   

In the beginning, my friend Renee and I were the only ones at the intersection where the rally was supposed to be held. We took our stand across the street from the anti-Israel bunch and began waving Israeli flags at passers by.

At her suggestion, I called the local talk radio show, a conservative station, and told host Lee Matthews what we were doing. He put it on the air and soon, cars were passing by and honking in agreement with the two of us. I had told Lee that I had Israeli flags I would give out to anyone who pulled over and asked for one.   

A man in a white pickup truck was stopped at the traffic light going in the   opposite direction. He sat watching us as he waited for the light and I  hollered, “Would you like a flag?” He nodded yes and I ran one across two traffic lanes to him. He took the flag and said, “I’m going to park and come help you.” His name was David.   

Every fifteen minutes, the radio station called for a report on what was happening. I was delighted to tell them people were listening and responding to us. He wanted to know how many there were at the CAIR site and I told him I could see seven, which later turned to eleven. As we talked on the radio, I continued to wave flags and smile at people.   

Others came and joined us. One couple, Mike and Betty, said they were   sitting on their porch in El Reno – a town approximately thirty miles away, when they heard on the radio about the anti-anti-Israel rally. Mike looked at his wife and said, “We better get down there.”     Another couple heard about it on the radio as they were driving home from work and they detoured to our location to join us.

A beautifully dressed young woman who lives in Northwest Oklahoma City heard about it on the radio, pulled into the Walgreen’s parking lot across the  street and waited for the very long light to change so she could literally run across the street to join us. She grabbed a flag and began standing watch with us.   And they continued to come. They were individuals. They were couples. Some were on their way home from work. Some were just driving by. Others heard about it on the radio and were moved to action.

They were Christians and they knew this was late on a Friday afternoon when Jews were preparing for Shabbat and most likely wouldn’t be able to come join in the rally, so they responded to the invitation and stood on the hot corner, waving flags and   shouting “support Israel.”

My spirits were lifted. I was thrilled to see the response and to hear the conversations of the people who joined us. They cheerfully pulled flags out of the bag and started waving them and giving them out and when we ran out, I ran back to the car and brought all I had.   

 We had a sign that said, “Honk for Israel” and people put the flags on their  car windows and drove around the block two, three and four times honking for Israel. When the anti-Israel CAIR bunch mimicked our sign with one that said, “honk for Islam,” people on our side of the street honked even louder and longer.   

 Our group had grown considerably. There were suddenly twelve and then twenty and more came as some left. One woman,riding on a large motorbike flying an American flag pulled into the intersection, parked the bike and said, “I came to join you.” I laughed and said, “Welcome, Biker Babe” and we continued to wave flags, hold up signs supporting Israel. I couldn’t help but give praise to God that the response from those joining us and those passing by with honking horns, were so supportive.    

The CAIR group watched us and even sent someone over, dressed in intimidating black, with a camera to take our pictures from all angles.  I made sure he got excellent pictures of us – what his rationale was didn’t   matter. What mattered was that they, the CAIR people, saw that not everyone bought their story of Israel’s unfairness to so-called humanitarian ships.   

 The hour and a half passed quickly and our spirits continued in spite of the hot sun. We were tired and thirsty but we shouted with the greatest of joy when one of Oklahoma City’s beautiful, large fire engines drove by and tapped out a tune of support to us on their air horn. We heard it loud and clear and I’m sure the CAIR people did as well, but there was no doubt whom the firefighters were supporting.   

The rally was supposed to be over at 6:00 p.m. The hour came and went and the CAIR people stayed on. We were determined that we would win this  demonstration by sheer will power, if nothing else, and we continued to  stand on the corner, waving flags, shouting for Israel and laughing.

Finally, at 6:30, the CAIR crowd had diminished to one person against our dozen or so remaining. We waited and watched as they packed up their last   person, their signs and flags into a vehicle and drove off. Only then, did we call an end to our rally. One person in our group was determined to stay  on the corner until he had given out his last flag and we left him there waving his flag and showing determination to all, reaffirming his – and our – solidarity with Israel.”
 

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Balint is a freelance journalist and columnist in Israel.  She can be read on the website Jerusalem Diary-In Tense Times

Israel intercepts Gaza flotilla; violence leaves 10 dead, 4 wounded

May 31, 2010 Leave a comment



By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM–Four Israeli soldiers were wounded in this morning’s operation against the Gaza flotilla and ten activists reportedly were killed in the violent confrontation. Exactly the kind of escalation many of us predicted after the Rachel Corrie tragedy in 2003, when the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) sent Corrie into a military zone and she suffered the consequences.

I was not surprised to discover that one of the ISM founders, Huwaida Arraf, is now a spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement aboard one of the ships. Yesterday, Arraf told the New York Times: “We communicated to them clearly that we are unarmed civilians. We asked them not to use violence.”

Uh-huh…

 First IDF official reports from this morning’s “humanitarian flotilla” attempting to reach Gaza give a chilling picture of ongoing pro-terrorist activities against Israel.

As the six vessels sailed from Turkey via Cyprus with 700 people aboard, Israeli diplomatic efforts to avoid a confrontation continued into the night.  All were rebuffed.  As the boats approached Israel, further warnings were given to the captains and those on board–these were relayed in English and played repeatedly on Israeli radio this morning.  The Israel navy spokesman stated clearly: Israel welcomes humanitarian aid.  Gaza waters are closed to all sea traffic. You are invited to land in Israel, deliver the material that will then be sent through the land crossings with your supervision, and then you may return to your countries on the vessels you arrived in.

The response was clear and immediate: “Negative, negative,” replied the captain of the Marmara.

At that point, Israeli navy commandos boarded the ships and encountered violent resistance.

Passengers  were armed with knives, bats and metal pipes. Israeli commandos tried to used non-lethal measures to disperse the crowd. Activists succeeded in stealing the weapon from one of the IDF’s soldiers and reportedly opened fire, leading to an escalation in violence.

 “It was like a well-planned lynch,” one IDF officer said. “These people were anything but peace activists.”

  Despite all that, the IDF said that the ships would be taken to the Ashdod Port where the cargo will be inspected and then transferred to the Gaza Strip via land crossings. Israeli Navy commander Vice-Admiral Eliezer Marom was commanding over the operation from sea.

This morning, efforts are still underway to bring the flotilla under control and into Israeli ports to deal with the “humanitarian activists.”

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Balint is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem. She blogs reuglarly on Jerusalem Diary: In Tense Times

Jerusalemites crowd the Old City for Shavuot

May 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Scene at Birkat Cohanim on another holiday, Sukkot

By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM–It’s 5:00 a.m on Shavuot morning and I’m having trouble finding an empty seat at any shul in Jerusalem’s Old City. Every synagogue is already packed as I make the mistake of lingering a few minutes too long at the Kotel amongst the tens of thousands who have made their way there after a night of learning.

The atmosphere is light, almost light-headed you could say from lack of sleep, as young and old congratulate each other for making it through the night. Only the young yeshiva boys puffing away on cigarettes spoil the atmosphere. Small groups of secular Israelis wander through the crowd. “This is amazing,” mutters one woman.

After dropping in at three shuls, I finally find a spot in the hallway of the Ramban synagogue near the Cardo.

After Hallel and the reading of the Ten Commandments, a swift Haftarah reading brings us to the Yizkor memorial prayer. Only a few women are left inside as the young girls who filled the place and have not yet lost parents file out. It’s about the same proportion down at the Kotel—it seems that at least two thirds of the masses thronging the Kotel plaza are under 30.

Coming barely a week after Jerusalem Day, when similar numbers of mostly young people fill the area to celebrate the reunification of the city, the Shavuot early morning spectacle   is another affirmation of the strength of the connection of the people to its roots.

In the blessedly cool air of the pre-dawn, it’s as if the Kotel is a giant magnet pulling in the multitudes from every direction. Flooding down Agron Street in front of the U.S Consulate building and its sleepy guards, the crowd gathers force and takes over the Mamilla area. The Tower of David and Jaffa Gate rise in front of us, outlined by spotlights.

It’s 4:40 a.m as we surge forward and down the steps of the David Street shuk only to encounter a human traffic jam as we make the turn from the Street of the Chain into the approach to the Kotel. A few groups of Arabs heading to work are walking up in the opposite direction. No one bothers them as they make their way out of the Old City through Jaffa Gate.  On the way down, I follow Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger who is surrounded by a 4-person security entourage as he walks along holding hands with his grandson.

There are only four entryways into the Kotel plaza and they’re all completely overwhelmed by the numbers of people pressing to get in.   There’s barely room to move as more and more people surge in from each of the four entry points. I head up to the stairway in front of the Aish building and take up a position at the railing just in front of the gold menorah overlooking the Kotel plaza adjacent to the last flight of steps leading down to the plaza. It’s the best place to take in the majestic transformation from night to dawn over the Temple Mount.

Within a few minutes, a thirty-something bearded man draped in a tallit approaches and asks me to move because he and his minyan are about to start davening. A young boy brings over their sefer Torah and unceremoniously places it next to me on the metal shelf that’s a diagram of the view in front of us.  Since when is this a designated davening spot? There are other women coming and going, and the men have obviously seen that I was there before they decided to set up. I tell them that they didn’t disturb me and I wouldn’t disturb them, and I left in my own good time.  Their insistence that the rest of us have to move just so they can daven wherever they want is another small example of the creeping takeover of so many of our national holy sites.

Unlike other years, when the bright sun peeks over the Mt of Olives, this morning’s sunrise is masked by clouds. The bright green lights adorning the two mosques behind the Temple Mount shine in the semi-darkness. As the sky begins to change color and turn slowly from a midnight blue to a steely grey, the garish lights vanish. Exactly at sunrise, chattering starlings swoop down, and the voices of the throng rise in prayer.

On this holiday of Shavuot that commemorates the giving of the Torah, the symbolic wedding between God and the Jewish people, most of the women are wearing white and the centuries-old Kabbalistic custom of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a night dedicated to Torah study is observed by hundreds of thousands of Israelis. On the eve of the holiday, commentators on Israel Radio remark on the phenomenon of secular Jews eager to take part in some kind of Torah learning on Shavuot. Daily papers feature tightly packed full pages of venues where learning of all kinds is taking place all over the city. Many places are forced to turn people away for lack of space at their study sessions.

A few years ago, a May 18 2007 editorial in the American Jewish weekly newspaper, The Forward, noted, “…the proportion of Jews that turns out for the festival (Shavuot) will not be great…Shavuot simply hasn’t caught on with recent generations of Jews.” Perhaps things have changed this year, otherwise Shavuot could be another sign of the widening gap between Israel and the Diaspora.

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Judy Lash Balint is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem.  Her stories appear on her website,  Jerusalem Diaries:In Tense Times

20 ways to know Pesach is coming to Israel

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM–For the past several years I’ve been putting out a light-hearted ’18 Ways You Know Pesach is Coming In Israel’ piece to describe the frenetic days leading up to Pesach in the holy city.

This year, there are a few additional notable events that are driving the news cycles over here.

Citizens of southern Israel face the prospect of a Passover under fire for the ninth year running. The barrage of Kassam and Katyusha rockets toward our southern cities and surrounding western Negev kibbutzim is almost taken for granted by the international community as they prefer to focus on whether a few hundred more apartments are being built in Jerusalem.

As if that weren’t bad enough, almost all the former Gush Katif residents are still in temporary housing almost five years since their eviction. Many who moved into the vast and dismal caravilla camp of Nitzan, near Ashkelon are still unemployed and dealing with the emotional and psychological effects of displacement.

On the religious front, Haaretz revealed in a poll that 68 percent of the population answers ‘no’ when asked if they are planning on eating chametz during Pesach and 75 percent of Israelis will take part in a seder.

Meantime, on Pesach the extent of the dire poverty of hundreds of thousands of Israelis is exposed. Latest figures indicate that roughly 20.5% of Israeli families live below the poverty line. Moreover, 24.7% of Israel’s residents and 35.9% of its children live in impoverished families. Families and the elderly form almost endless lines in every city around the food banks and soup kitchens that do their best to provide the basics necessary to celebrate the holiday. The Mesamche Lev group distributed 46,278 pairs of shoes to 10,200 needy families last week, while all the other voluntary social welfare organizations report unprecedented demand for their services this Pesach.

In every Charedi neighborhood during the week before Pesach, men and boys block the narrow streets with handtrucks piled high with sacks of carrots, potatoes, oranges and cartons of eggs–all courtesy of the Kimcha D’Pischa funds that funnel donations from abroad to the Charedi communities, specifically for Pesach food.

The tourists, largely oblivious to our problems are expected to descend on us with a vengeance. Most visible are the busloads of pilgrims from eastern Europe, Nigeria and an assortment of Asian countries–the Jews arrive in much smaller family groups, excited to be in Israel for one of the three pilgrimage festivals.

So, as the popular Israeli expression goes, “We overcame Pharoah, we’ll overcome this too…” This year, as always, we’ll celebrate Pesach, the festival of our liberation and the birth of the Jewish people as a nation in the hope that we’ll soon merit a saner reality.

Meanwhile, for those who have read this far, here’s an updated version of the 18 (now 20) Ways You Know Pesach is Coming To Israel:

1. The Israeli Army presses into service some 200 IDF chaplains including reservists, to commence the massive task of kashering the hundreds of kitchens, mess halls and eating corners used by soldiers all over the country.

2. Street scenes in Israel change every day before Passover according to what’s halachically necessary: In the days before the holiday, yeshiva students wielding blow torches preside over huge vats of boiling water stationed every few blocks on the street and in the courtyard of every mikveh. The lines to dunk cutlery, kiddush cups and the like start to grow every day, and, at the last minute, blow torches are at the ready to cleanse every last gram of chametz from
oven racks and stove tops lugged through the streets.

3. No alarm clock needed here–the clanging garbage trucks do the trick as they roll through the neighborhood every morning during the two weeks before Pesach to accommodate all the refuse from the furious cleaning going on in every household. Two days before the Seder there’s the annual pick-up of oversized items and appliances. Dozens of antiquated computer monitors and old toaster ovens stand forlornly next to the garbage bins on their way to the dump.

4. The day before Passover, families replace the yeshiva students, using empty lots to burn the remainder of their chametz gleaned from the previous night’s meticulous search. In vain, the Jerusalem municipality sets up official chametz burning locations and issues strict orders banning burning in any other areas. Yeah, right!

5. Most flower shops stay open all night for the two days before Pesach, working feverishly to complete the orders that will grace the nation’s Seder tables.

6. Meah Shearim and Geula merchants generally run out of heavy plastic early in the week before Pesach. In a panic, I make an early morning run to the Machane Yehuda market to successfully snap up a few meters of the handy counter-covering material.

7. No holiday in Israel is complete without a strike or two. In years past the Histadrut Labor Union threatened to launch a general strike 10 days before the holiday to protest planned economic cuts. Ben Gurion Airport was included. This year, it’s electric company workers who are out on strike…

8. Observant Jews mark the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot by carrying out some of the laws of mourning–one of these is the prohibition against cutting hair.

Good luck if you haven’t scheduled an appointment for a pre-Pesach/Omer haircut. You can’t get in the door at most barber and beauty shops.

9. Mailboxes are full of Pesach appeals from the myriad of organizations helping the poor celebrate Pesach. Newspapers are replete with articles about selfless Israelis who volunteer by the hundreds in the weeks before the holiday to collect, package and distribute Pesach supplies to the needy.

This year, Hazon Yeshaya Soup Kitchens plan on serving 7,000 meals per day during Passover. More than 15,000 food parcels will be distributed before the holiday, just by this one organization.

10. The biggest food challenge to those of us ashkenazic, non-kitniyot (legume) eaters is finding cookies, margarine etc. made without kitniyot, but an increasing number of ashkenazic rabbis are coming out with lenient rulings regarding legumes.

11. Since most of the country is on vacation for the entire week of Pesach, all kinds of entertainment and trips are on offer. Ads appear for everything from the annual Boombamela beach festival, kid’s activities at the Bloomfield Science Museum, concerts in Hebron, the City of David, Sderot and the Dead Sea.

12. Pesach with its theme of freedom and exodus always evokes news stories about recent olim. This year, general immigration numbers are significantly down, but American aliya has enjoyed a mini-boom. For a couple of thousand new Israeli-Americans, it’ll be their first Seder at home in Israel. Israel Radio announces that 700 prisoners will get a furlough to spend the holiday with family.

13. This just in: According to Israel’s Brandman Research Institute study, 43 million people hours will be spent nationwide in Israel’s cleaning preparations for Passover this year. How does that break down? Of those cleaning hours, 29 million are done by women and 11 million by men. Persons paid to clean do the remaining 3 million hours at a cost of NIS 64 million ($15.6 million).

14. Israel’s chief rabbis sell the nation’s chametz to one Hussein Jabar, a Moslem Arab resident of Abu Ghosh and manager at Jerusalem’s Renaissance Hotel. Estimated worth: $150 billion secured by a down payment of NIS 20,000. Jabar tool over the task some 14 years ago, after the previous buyer, also from Abu Ghosh, was fired when it was discovered his maternal grandmother was Jewish.

15. Radio commercials for all sorts of products and services are set to Seder melodies. Last year, Volkswagen used the Mah Nishtana tune to advertise its cars. Another favorite is “Echad Mi Yodeya?–Who Knows One?” that has become a jingle for one brand of coffee. “Four mothers, three fathers, two sugars, one cup of coffee!”

16. For those of us too lazy to go to our rabbis to sell chametz, one Israeli website offers the possibility of performing this ritual in cyberspace: For those of you out there with Hebrew enabled computers,
take a look at http://www.kipa.co.il/passover/sell.asp

17. Sign of the times? A few years ago, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu issued a ruling that Viagra may be taken on Pesach provided the pill is encased in a special empty capsule so that the drug itself is not in direct contact with the body.

18. At the Kotel last week, I watched as workers performed the twice-yearly ritual (pre-Pesach and pre-Rosh hashanah) of removing thousands of personal notes from the crevices of the Kotel to bury them on the Mt of Olives.

19. Guess Who’s Buying Matza? According to Iyad Sharbaji, the manager of Gadaban Supermarket at the entrance to the the Galilee Arab town of Umm al Fahm, his Matza is consumed entirely by local Arabs. Sharbaji told Haaretz that he generally stocks up on Matza for Passover and has to replenish stock before the end of the holiday, due to keen demand by locals.

It turns out the avid consumption of matza is not a new trend in Arab towns and villages, whose inhabitants view the traditional Jewish food as nothing more or less than a welcome and refreshing change in the menu. “It’s not a religious issue, and certainly not a political one,” Sharbaji explains.

20. A sign of our economic times–supermarkets entice shoppers with a promise to allow us to settle up the bill in six equal monthly payments on the credit card. Yes, many of us will still be paying for the Seder come Rosh Hashana!

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Balint is a Jerusalem-based columnist, whose website may be found at http://jerusalemdiaries.blogspot.com

Corrie trial brings more inconsistencies

March 16, 2010 Leave a comment

By Judy Lash-Balint

JERUSALEM–A news release from the Corrie family after yesterday’s (Sunday’s) court session in Haifa notes testimony that Rachel Corrie “arrived dead at the hospital.”

If she was already dead, why were doctors at An Najah Hospital “treating” her ?

 Here’s the caption from the ISM: Rachel in Najjar hostpital, Rafah, Occupied Gaza. Rachel arrived in the emergency room at 5:05PM and doctors scrambled to save her. By 5:20PM, she was gone. Ha’aretz newspaper reported that Dr. Ali Musa, a doctor at Al-Najjar, stated that the cause of death was “skull and chest fractures”. (Mohammad Al-Moghair)

As I have reported before, ISM Media Coordinator in 2003, Michael Shaik stated definitively both to me and in other media:” An ambulance rushed her to A-Najar hospital where she died.”

So–let’s get this straight. Your daughter repeatedly kneels in front of an Israeli military bulldozer on a demolition mission; she gets injured and taken to an Arab hospital where doctors testify that she’s dead but make a show of treating her anyway and have a propaganda field day with their new martyr.

 So, whom do you sue? Why, the Israelis–of course!

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Balint is a freelance writer and author based in Jerusalem