In Plain Language: Heroes and villains

Whenever I get depressed or disenchanted by the state of Jewish affairs, I throw some cold water over my face and look in the direction of some of the amazing people within our Jewish community.

Lone soldiers who study at Yeshivat Hakotel take a break from training at their base. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lone soldiers who study at Yeshivat Hakotel take a break from training at their base.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Opening the newspaper or turning on a computer or television these days is a surefire way of catching “headline hysteria,” a phenomenon somewhat akin to “sticker shock,” the jolt to the system we experience when inquiring as to the cost of a new car or the price of a seaside Tel Aviv apartment.
There is so much negativity surrounding us, so many villains lurking in our midst, that many of us wish we lived in a time when news didn’t travel so fast, when ignorance was indeed bliss.
We can start our litany of low-lifes with Mahmoud Abbas, the octogenarian Palestinian leader – “dictator” might actually be a better title, since his term of office officially expired years ago – who has graduated from Holocaust denier to existence-of-Israel denier.
He has consistently repudiated the Jewish connection to this land, demonizing Israel at every opportunity and in every forum.
His latest diatribe – in typical Palestinian fashion, turning reality on its head and exchanging victim for victimizer – is telling the American government that Israeli actions threaten to “explode the situation in Jerusalem.”
This, while hundreds of Palestinians are incited on a daily basis to attack Jewish residents with stones, Molotov cocktails and knives, and just days after another Palestinian murderer – using his car as a deadly weapon – drove into a crowd and killed a baby and a young recent convert to Judaism.
Abbas’s actions reinforce to all of us who recognize it that a Palestinian state would be a colossal, tragic blunder, one that would bring not peace, but rather infinitely more violence. They also make a mockery of former president Shimon Peres, who chose to lavish high praise on Abbas, calling him on international TV “the best partner Israel has ever had for peace.” In the fantasy world of Peres’s “New Middle East” that may be true, but in the real world – the one in which we actually live – it is the most dangerous form of wishful thinking.
And then there is Haneen Zoabi, the traitorous MK from the Balad gang. The Jew-baiting, terror-boat-riding Mouth That Roared has made a career of spreading the most vile and vicious calumnies against Israel.
Her worst outbursts are directed at our holy men and women in uniform, calling IDF soldiers “the real terrorists” whose actions are “worse than those of Islamic State.”
Numerous politicians have called for Zoabi to be punished, evicted from the Knesset or even have her citizenship revoked, and deported.
Yet so far this is not happening, and many MKs are even happy to defend her, in the name of “freedom of speech.”
But, I ask you, where were those same liberal hypocrites back in 1988 when Rabbi Meir Kahane was banned from the Knesset – by virtue of a law that was written specifically to disqualify his Kach party from elections – for proposing ideas considered “racist” and “anti- democratic”? Ideas like that of “transfer,” or annexation of the West Bank, which were later adopted by numerous MKs, including the late Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi. Why does Zoabi the anti-Semite get a free pass? Speaking of “freedom of speech,” the opening of the “opera” The Death of Klinghoffer – as boring as it is bold, say the critics – has sparked a major controversy in New York. This terrorist-glorifying piece of moral relativism takes artistic expression to a new low. What’s next: fashion statements by Yasser Arafat, or Hitler’s favorite aphorisms?! Sadly, the play is being hosted by the Metropolitan – an institution led by a Jew and supported by a great deal of Jewish money – with many Jews attending the performance.
They unashamedly defend the right of free expression, and dismiss the protesters. But I wonder what their reaction will be to the new production being planned: Muhammad and Porky: A Love Story.
Whenever I start to get depressed or disenchanted by the state of Jewish affairs, I throw some cold water on my face and look in the direction of some of the amazing people within our Jewish community. People who are devoted to decency, humanity, the Jewish state and the Jewish way of life. And that revitalizes me and brings back hope.
I recently attended a Succot dinner at Yeshivat Hakotel, honoring the more than 120 lone soldiers from around the world who have chosen to study at Hakotel and volunteer in the IDF. These enthusiastic participants in the Mahal program leave their family, their friends and their “normal” routine to come to Israel and put their lives on the line for the state. Almost all of them end up becoming citizens, marrying here and staying in Israel, and many of them “drag” their families after them.
I asked one of the boys, Barak Klammer from Woodmere, how his parents felt about him serving in a combat unit in the Givati Brigade. “A little nervous,” he said, “but a lot proud.” Nati Wind of Teaneck told me: “All the questions Americans ask – ‘Why are you here? Are you scared? Are you coming back?’ – don’t even register with me. This is where I belong.”
Another young man, Ami Younger from Montreal, was one of 100 Hakotel students who fought in the recent Gaza war and is now married and studying economics at Bar-Ilan University. “I was raised in Canada,” he said with a smile, “but I grew up in Israel.”
Hakotel is a fascinating institution. In the days following the Six Day War, the government was determined to establish a firm Jewish presence in the Old City. The Jordanians, during their 19-year occupation of Jerusalem, had demolished the synagogues and desecrated the Western Wall, dumping garbage and grazing their animals there. An institution needed to be built that would restore and reflect the spiritual intensity of the Holy City, and fill its ancient streets with the sound of Torah study. Yeshivat Hakotel was born, and has become famous for the hundreds of boys who march down to the Kotel each Friday night, leading the entire plaza in song and dance.
Rav Chaim Yeshayahu Hadari, one of the original founders of Hakotel and still a teacher there, recounts how archeologists discovered a large mound of ashes beneath a home (known today as “the Burnt House”) in the Old City, ashes dating from the destruction of the Temple. “When a Jewish boy marries,” says the rabbi, “there is a custom to place ashes on his forehead in memory of the Temple. I take some of these same ashes and place it on our students, not just to remember the tragedy, but to also celebrate the triumph of the Jewish people, who have returned forever to Jerusalem.”
I must also tell you about Anne Bernstein.
This remarkable woman is 99 years old, and has come to Jerusalem this week for her 40th visit to Israel. One of the leaders of the Los Angeles Jewish community, she has helped build day schools and synagogues, been honored by Amit Women and Bar-Ilan University, and is known as “Super Bubby” by her family and friends. She lives alone – she refuses to have anyone take care of her – and exudes optimism and vitality.
“My best friend is Estee – Estee Lauder!” she laughs, and sums up her personality by saying, “I’m a teenager in a century-old body!” I ask her why she hasn’t made aliya, why she keeps commuting between LA and Israel.
“My greatest thrill is coming back, time and time again, and being amazed at how remarkably this country has grown and developed.”
The young men of Hakotel, and Super Bubby Anne – you should live to 120 and come back many more times! – are the best response to our defamers and detractors: We are here to stay, and no force on earth can ever dislodge us.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; [email protected]