Breaking news: Bennett In and Bibi out in vote and Wardrobe Malfunction! By Vic Rosenthal and Kaddish in the Time of COVID-19 by BY DAVID EISNER and BILL MAHER RIPS APART THE YOUNGER GENERATION FOR SUPPORTING HAMAS
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
The new government passed with the support of 60 MKs, while 59 opposed it. Ra'am (United Arab List) MK Sa'eed Alharomi and five Joint List MKs absented themselves from the vote.
The long and divisive reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, the dominant Israeli politician of the past generation officially ended on Sunday, at least for the time being, as the country's Parliament gave its vote of confidence to a precarious coalition government stitched together by widely disparate anti-Netanyahu forces.
Naftali Bennett, a former aide to Mr. Netanyahu who opposes a Palestinian state and is considered to the right of his former ally, formally replaces him as prime minister. Yair Lapid, a centrist leader, is set to take Mr. Bennett's place after two years, if their government can hold together that long.
They lead an eight-party alliance ranging from left to right, from secular to religious, that agrees on little but a desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu, the longest-serving leader in the country's history, and to end Israel's lengthy political gridlock.
In a speech made before the confidence vote, Mr. Bennett hailed his unlikely coalition as an essential antidote to an intractable stalemate.
"We stopped the train before the abyss," Mr. Bennett said. "The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the people, to stop, to stop this madness."
Before and after the fragile new government was announced on June 2, Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing allies labored hard to break it before it could take office. They applied intense pressure on right-wing opposition lawmakers, urging them to peel away from their leaders and refuse to support a coalition that includes centrists, leftists, and even a small Arab Islamist party.
Israel's Parliament, the Knesset, voted by a slim majority to install the new government.
It was a watershed moment for politics in Israel, where Mr. Netanyahu, 71, had served as prime minister for a total of 15 years, including the last 12 years uninterrupted. But given Mr. Netanyahu's record as a shrewd political operator who has defied many previous predictions of his political demise, few Israelis are writing off his career.
Even out of government and standing trial on corruption charges, he remains a formidable force who will likely try to drive wedges between the coalition parties. He remains the leader of the parliamentary opposition and a cagey tactician, with a sizable following and powerful allies.
Israel has held four inconclusive elections in two years and has gone much of that time without a state budget, fueling disgust among voters with the nation's politics. No one was able to cobble together a Knesset majority after the first two contests, and the third produced an unwieldy right-center coalition that collapsed after months in recriminations.
The new coalition proposes to set aside some of the toughest issues and focus on rebuilding the economy. But it remains to be seen whether the new government will avoid another gridlock or crumble under its own contradictions.
Some of its factions hope to see a movement away from the social policies that favored the ultra-Orthodox minority, whose parties were allied with Mr. Netanyahu. But Mr. Bennett's party, which has a partly religious base, is wary of alienating the Haredim, as the ultra-Orthodox are known in Hebrew.
Supporters also hope for a return to a long tradition of Israel cultivating bipartisan support in the United States. Mr. Netanyahu has grown more aligned with Republicans and was embraced by Donald J. Trump, the former president. It was uncertain where relations would go under President Biden.
The Three Musketeers at the Kotel
Kaddish in the Time of COVID-19 by BY DAVID EISNER
after my father died, my synagogue struggled to fulfill my spiritual needs—and its own mission
Jan. 26, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States, and on March 13, most states ordered the shutdown of most "nonessential" activity. Synagogues around the country canceled services for that Shabbat, and closed their doors indefinitely.
My father, a longtime, passionate Jewish communal leader in his beloved Pittsburgh, passed away on June 10, 2020, and I began the 11-month period in which traditional Jews who have lost a parent attend daily services with a minyan to recite the ancient Kaddish prayer. While Dad himself did not observe every religious obligation, community and Kaddish were sacrosanct to him. If they awarded "frequent shiva" points, my parents would be Executive Platinum Members. He instilled in my brother Ken and me that, if someone in the community needs us for a minyan, we go. Dad also kept a list of family yahrzeits, including aunts and uncles for three generations, and made a point to be in shul on those days to recite Kaddish for them.
Ken and I said Kaddish for the first time at Dad's grave in Pittsburgh. I closed my eyes and recited the words, "Yitgadal V'Yitkadash …" slowly and intensely. I realized, in that moment, that, in a week or so, I would be returning to my work and my life—and that it would be very hard to think about Dad most of the time. While I knew that Kaddish would become part of my daily routine, I decided that for at least those five or six minutes each day that I would say Kaddish for the next year, I would try to make it nonroutine. I would close my eyes, really concentrate deeply, and try to picture Dad during some happy moment over my past 62 years.
Like most shivas during the pandemic, ours—which we held on the outdoor deck of my mother's apartment building—was sparsely attended; however, we were able to assemble 10-15 men for every minyan.
I spent the final two days of shiva back in Washington, D.C., where I was serving as assistant secretary for management of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Like most other shuls around the country, my shul downtown had closed its doors in mid-March, so before returning, I surveyed a dozen or so friends about their willingness to help us make a minyan; my apartment at the Watergate had a large roof terrace. I was truly uplifted when 15 friends volunteered.
On the afternoon in which my shiva ended I returned to work at the Treasury Department, where, among my other duties, I was tasked with protecting the health and safety of our employees, while ensuring that the department could continue to deliver on mission critical activities and services. I was proud that even during the pandemic, I had been able to say Kaddish at all 21 services during the seven days of shiva, but dreading how I would be able to continue in the post-shiva era, with COVID-19 still raging. I decided to try to keep the Mincha-Maariv (afternoon and evening) minyans going on my roof, but what would I do for the morning Shacharit minyan?
I learned that several respected Orthodox rabbis had determined that, during the pandemic, one could say Kaddish via Zoom if there was a full live minyan being held on the Zoom call. A lifesaver for me. Because my job required me to be at the office earlier than the two local Shacharit minyanim ended, for the next 10 months and three weeks, these live Zoom minyanim (held in D.C. and around the globe) would become my go-to Shacharit minyanim.
Mincha and Maariv services continued 11 or 12 strong; the core group of friends quickly dissipated, but was replaced by younger men whom I had seen at shul over the past two years. I was struck by an irony: Synagogues everywhere (and not just Orthodox synagogues) are amazing in their efforts and abilities to arrange minyans for mourners who—by definition—are homebound for seven days after the loss of a close relative. It makes sense: The mourner requires a minyan to say Kaddish, but cannot go to shul, so the shul goes to the mourner, at home. It was disappointing to me—actually, I was kind of hurt—that it never occurred to good men, and a good shul (not sure it would have occurred to me), that, during the pandemic, the same mourners who needed to say Kaddish for close relatives after their shivas also could not go to shul (since there was no shul), and left the mourners to fend for themselves. In fact, even as we were holding our own outdoor minyan on my roof, the shul refused to do anything to promote or encourage—or even to inform—members about it.
The Watergate rooftop minyanim continued for another three weeks, but began to dwindle and ended in mid-July, shortly after my shloshim.
On June 22, D.C. moved into phase 2 of its coronavirus recovery plan; under phase 2, a host of activities resumed, including the opening of houses of worship. Our shul did not hold its first minyan until mid-July, and did not begin a full minyan schedule until August. Like most shuls, ours appointed a COVID Task Force (composed primarily of doctors) to determine and implement its policies for the pandemic. The task force adopted a series of widely accepted protocols to provide a safe environment: open windows, masks, social distancing, and abbreviated services.
Minyanim at the shul from July until Sukkot were sparse (10-12 men, usually one or two women) but fairly steady. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur drew almost 200 attendees at three locations, including one that was outdoors. I was encouraged that there was a larger pool of potential participants for our daily minyanim. But this was not to be the case. As the health situation ebbed and flowed, our shul's restrictions were always more restrictive than the public health experts', making it even more difficult for the shul to hold a consistent minyan. Not only did the task force make it harder for members to attend, the shul did little to inform the congregation of the difficulty we were having to get a nightly minyan for which at least two Kaddish-reciting members were dependent. A relatively small number of volunteers, who might have agreed to come to one minyan a week had they been made aware of the difficulty we were having, could have made all the difference. The rabbi tried diligently every day to assemble at least 10 men; we squeaked by with a minyan most evenings, but failed to have a minyan about one-third of the time.
In November, I suggested that we hold the shul's evening minyanim outdoors; a month or so later, we began this practice and continued it through the winter. I hoped that the shul would "promote" this innovation beyond a mention in its weekly bulletin but, alas, it did not. That said, in addition to the High Holidays, over 100 congregants attended both the Megillah reading on Purim and a picnic on Yom Ha'Atzmaut, and many members showed up a few times for their yahrzeits. While seeing so many congregants back together again was uplifting, and respecting the fact that everyone had their own personal fears, sensitivities and approaches to COVID-19, the seeming communal indifference as to whether or not we had a regular minyan for those who needed to say Kaddish saddened me.
I finished my 11 months of Kaddish on April 26, and marked the first yahrzeit on May 29. I did not nearly have a perfect record, but I am pretty sure that, under the circumstances, Dad would have been satisfied. In addition to saying Kaddish for Dad, I inherited his "Kaddish list," so I will also continue to carry his torch (or, at least, his yahrzeit candle) for these ancestors.
In addition to what seemed like communal apathy, as the year went on, it occurred to me that the problem with decision-making at our shul—and, I understand, many others—during the pandemic was similar to a problem I feel has become endemic to Orthodoxy in the past 50 years. For 2,000 years, Halacha was promulgated by communal rabbis—great rabbis who had responsibilities for communities of Jews. In my lifetime, these were men like Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe—giants of Torah, but rabbis who also had to see and feel on a daily basis the impact their decisions had on their people. In the past 50 years, Halacha has largely been promulgated by roshei yeshiva (heads of yeshivas)—great scholars for sure, but not men with accountability to communities who would bear the consequences of their decisions. It turns out that at my shul, and many others, the "Halacha of COVID" was being made by doctors (well-meaning, I am sure), only one of whom ever came to minyan, and none of whom had to face firsthand the consequences (in many cases, the pain) that their decisions were causing others. After the pandemic, they might take satisfaction in having "kept COVID out of the shul." Unfortunately, they also (often) kept the minyan out of the shul.
My charge from Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the beginning of the pandemic had been: "The following are our core missions … We must achieve them, while protecting our employees as much as we possibly can." I am proud to say we succeeded at both.
Might the result at many shuls have been different if the charge to COVID committees had similarly been: "We are a synagogue. Our core mission is to provide a minyan (especially if we have mourners). We must do everything we can to maintain a minyan, while minimizing the risk of spread of COVID in our shul." Might the result have been different if the shul had composed the COVID committee of members who attended minyan regularly—or at all?
The most fundamental value in Judaism is the obligation to protect human life. No ritual obligation takes precedence. Thus, the pandemic presented a major challenge to synagogues. Local health authorities in most states greatly restricted the size of assemblies of worshippers. As restrictions were relieved, synagogue leaders were charged with the difficult task of balancing the obligation to preserve life with the spiritual, communal and other human needs of their congregations.
I believe that many Jewish communities largely failed at this balance. Most non-Orthodox synagogues largely ceased to be communities; they closed their doors last March, and have still not reopened. They have become exclusively Zoom groups. Many ultra-Orthodox communities, while dedicated to supporting their members' spiritual needs, ignored local health mandates and operated openly and recklessly; in the process, many thousands of their members got sick and died. Many other Orthodox synagogues, like mine, which teemed with energy and overflowing pews before the pandemic, even though technically reopened, became shadows of their former selves.
I pray that we never have another pandemic, or any other event that disrupts Jewish life—let alone American life—as COVID-19 has. Moreover, I hope, with the experience of the past year, that Jewish communities have learned lessons from this experience that, next time, will allow us to better balance health concerns with spiritual and other human needs
Bill Maher on Israel
BILL MAHER RIPS APART THE YOUNGER GENERATION FOR SUPPORTING HAMAS
Bill Maher is a liberal. He says it loud and clear, and is not apologetic about it. There used to be many liberals who had the same opinions as Bill Maher, and were clearly pro-Israel. But, amazingly, in less than a decade or so, to be a pro-Israel liberal has fallen out of style. Why is that? How can a true liberal explain that they actually support a terrorist organization that rains down thousands of missiles on the State of Israel? How can a true liberal support – in any way – an organization that has a declared aim of destroying the State of Israel?
The answer is that true liberal people are fast becoming an endangered species. Nearly every young person who espouses seemingly liberal values is not liberal at all. If cancelling free speech is a lofty value, that is as anti-liberal a value as can be. If supporting an organization that declares openly that they believe in indiscriminate killing of civilians in order to accomplish political aims, that is as anti-liberal a value as can be. Alan Dershowitz, Bill Maher, and a smattering of other genuine liberals understand this. But their voices are cancelled by so many who think that supporting Israel is an anti-liberal value. After all, what about the feelings of the poor Palestinian children?
Clarity of mind has become a rare asset in the world dominated by tik-tok and instagram. Bill Maher is spot-on in saying that you can't learn history via super-short video clips. The closing of the American mind has not happened due to television half as much as it has due to social media. What is ironic is that social media has brought hundreds of millions into a more aware mindset of world values. But nonetheless, more damage than good has come from the superficial understanding that so many people have on so many issues. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Recently, Jews in the West who thought themselves safe have found themselves facing the same form of antisemitism that is common in the Arab and wider Muslim world, much of it imported along with immigrants from the Middle East. In the US, Canada, Continental Europe, and Britain, Muslim Jew-hatred become cross-fertilized with the native brand, bringing along the extreme violence that characterized it at home. Ironically, traditional Islamic antisemitism itself became more radical with the injection of vicious eliminationism from Nazi Germany, starting before the war, continuing through the employment of Amin al-Husseini as propagandist for Hitler, and concluding with the arrival in Arab countries of fleeing Nazi war criminals afterwards. Now it is coming back to the post-Christian West.
Red lines are being crossed at a nauseating pace as the violence that was first directed at Jews in European countries where there was massive Muslim immigration moves westward. What American would have expected, even one year ago, that a gang of pogromists would invade a restaurant, ask who among the patrons were Jewish, and beat them? That is something that happened in Berlin in 1938 or Baghdad in 1941; but it ought to be unthinkable in Los Angeles today. And yet it happened.
For some time it has become dangerous for Orthodox Jews to walk the streets in their own neighborhoods in New York City. The perpetrators of this violence are young black and Hispanic males. The targets are often women and elderly people. All over the West, Jewish institutions, synagogues, schools, even graveyards, are targets for vandalism. Such attacks were rare in the US until recently, but they have become commonplace now. And interestingly, the vandalism often includes graffiti of slogans like "free Palestine."
When anti-Israel demonstrators in London called for "Jewish blood" and the rape of Jewish women (in earshot of police, who did nothing), it somewhat diminished the strength of the arguments that "anti-Zionism isn't antisemitism." Anyone who honestly believes that today didn't get the message.
It's often said that every time there is a flare-up of Israel's long war to survive in the region, it is reflected in worldwide antisemitic violence. That supposedly explains the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews (and the theft of their property) by virtually every Arab country after 1948. This action was against the national interests of these countries, since Jews were among the educational, financial, medical, and technical elites (their loss was our gain, since most of the expelled Jews came to Israel). But anti-Jewish beliefs have always been irrational, extreme, and obsessive.
For the Jew-hater, everything bad, personal and political, can be explained with reference to the Jews. Facts and logical reasoning are irrelevant; indeed, the more unbelievable antisemitic beliefs may appear, the more this confirms their truth in the mind of the believer. Unsurprisingly, anti-Israelism, or misoziony, follows the same pattern: irrational, extreme, obsessive.
And this leads me to believe that the chain of causality is reversed in the traditional historical account. It makes more sense to see both the violent (but unsuccessful) attempt to dislodge the Jews from Palestine and the more successful effort of the Arab nations to rid themselves of their own Jews as stemming from the same kind of antisemitic impulse.
One of the interesting things about Jew-hatred is that it is a powerful motivator, especially of violent actions. In the past there was nothing shameful about it, so it could be used openly. Hitler and company found it a useful tool to focus public anger and create support for his party, which promised a solution. But in the case of Hitler himself, like the Arab nations after 1948, antisemitism became the motive rather than the tool, and his obsession may have lost Germany the war. After the war, the sheer horror of the Holocaust caused it to be discredited. So the KGB clothed the Jew-hating Palestinian movement with the up-to-date ideas of national liberation, anti-colonialism, and socialism. But the costume slipped from time to time, as when the Entebbe hijackers separated the Jews (Jews, not Israelis!) from the rest of the hostages. Something is exposed that should have been hidden; I call it a "wardrobe malfunction" like those that bedevil female celebrities.
More recently, Jew-hatred has adopted an even more up-to-date uniform as a movement for racial justice. And what success it has had! Colleges and universities in the West turn out dedicated pro-Palestinian activists by the tens of thousands every year. Organizations in support of racial minorities like Black Lives Matter routinely include the Palestinian Arabs as one of the oppressed groups they want to liberate. And the Palestinian cause is pursued obsessively, irrationally, and often with extremism.
That gives us a clue, especially when we consider that it's rare to hear even the most fanatical "anti-racists" mention the fact that there is race-based slavery in some parts of the world. Not "microaggressions," actual slavery. But of course we know what is behind their enthusiasm. These modern proponents of human rights (for some humans), the ones in the universities, the ones on the European Commission and in the New York Times, may say, or even believe, that they are motivated to be righteously angry at Israel because of her alleged denial of Palestinian rights, but we know where the emotional drive comes from. And like Hitler and the Arab nations, their obsession eats them up, and sometimes there is a wardrobe malfunction, like those folks in London promoting the rape of Jewish women. Because of Palestine, of course.
This is upsetting to some. Michelle Goldberg published a piece in the NY Times which was originally titled "Attacks on Jews Over Israel Are a Gift to the Right," but after numerous observers noted its implication that violent attacks on Jews were bad primarily because of the political fallout, the NYT changed its headline to "The Crisis of Antisemitic Violence." Max Blumenthal went all-out and argued that the explosion of antisemitism was "manufactured … to turn the media's gaze away from dead children in Gaza" (no link, google it if you really want to swim in his sewer). Wardrobe malfunctions.
Unfortunately, while the IDF was moderately successful in its Gaza campaign (although it was cut short by a command from Washington), Israel has been decisively beaten in its information campaign.
The war was started by Hamas with heavy barrages of deadly rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities, from civilian areas, a double war crime. Some 4,350 rockets were launched by Hamas, of which 600-700 of them fell on their own people in Gaza. Israel's response was very carefully targeted, using various techniques to warn civilians in areas where there were military targets. Final casualty figures are not available, but as of now the number of deaths in Gaza is reported as about 250. The IDF estimates that about half of these are civilians. Considering the number of shortfalls, it is likely that most of them were killed by Hamas' own rockets. The IDF's performance in destroying Hamas' military infrastructure while sparing civilians is unmatched in the annals of urban warfare.
And yet, media opinion in the West continues to overwhelmingly blame Israel for the war, as well as to accuse her of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, deliberately targeting civilians, and more. PM Netanyahu, a centrist who many Israelis believe to be too soft on terrorism, is called a "hardline right-wing extremist," who has presided over "massive settlement expansion" although the area occupied by Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria has barely changed since the 1990s.
There is a reason for this, and it's not just Israeli ineptness at hasbara. It is a consequence of the blossoming of the seeds of Jew-hatred that can lie dormant for years, waiting for the right stimulus to wake them up.
If you think I'm wrong, just pay attention. Sooner or later there will be a wardrobe malfunction.