From Israel: “Israel’s Extraordinary Heart!!”

I am writing this on Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of the trees.  In terms of Jewish agricultural law it has significance for counting the age of trees. But in popular Israeli culture it is a time for planting trees and celebrating the produce of the trees – the fruits and nuts. And wine from the grapes.

It is still winter here – we are in the midst of a windy and rainy day – and most of the trees look bleak. There is one exception: the almond tree – a harbinger of spring that blooms earlier than other trees.

Credit: a letter from Israel

At a Tu B’Shvat seder I attended last night, the rabbi running it posed a question (a spiritual, not a legal question):  If we are celebrating trees, why not do it when they are all in their glory?

His answer was that inherent within the trees lies the potential for future blossoming.  What seems dead is not, and knowing this brings us hope.

I marked his words well and thought them a splendid introductory theme for this posting.

In a time of extraordinary ugliness, both here in Israel and abroad, we can find hope in stories about beauty of the spirit in Israel.  Following here is one such special story.


In the middle of last week, I received an urgent phone call from my 15-year-old grandson who attends a yeshiva high school. It is a small and modest yeshiva, built on the heights of a tiny yeshuv (settlement) in the western Binyamin region. But it is one with enormous spirit.

My grandson was asking me to make an immediate donation by Internet.  He had also called his parents.  All the other students had done the same. Why? The next day the students were going to visit the families of those who had been killed or injured in the horrendous terror attack of the previous Saturday night in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood of Jerusalem, and they would be bringing gifts of food.


I spoke to my grandson the following day, when he and his classmates were in Jerusalem.  They had brought 150 food packages with them, and visited not just the families of those who were victims of the attack, but their frightened and mourning neighbors as well.  They went to let them know they were not alone and to provide them with koach – strength.

They also brought Israel flags and danced with them in the streets of the neighborhood.

Credit: Israelibox


Nor was even this the end of the story.  “We are going to do a siyum now,” my grandson said.  A siyum is the celebratory completion of study of a unit of religious text (traditionally, gemorah). I asked him where they would be doing it, and his answer brought tears to my eyes: in the Ateret Avraham Synagogue in front of which the terror attack had taken place.  The people of the neighborhood had been invited and would be given treats of cookies and candies.

Credit: AFP


The spirit of these young students and their wonderful rav and teachers, is, I believe, the true spirit of Israel.  They came to give strength to others who were suffering. They exhibited Jewish pride.  And they brought lightness to a place that was filled with pain.  We must hold on to this in the darkness of these current days, and be inspired by it.


There is other good news to share here as well, of a different – but also hopeful – sort:  

After 40 years during which there had been no official diplomatic relationship between Israel and Chad — a Muslim-majority nation in north-central Africa with a significant Arab population — it was agreed in 2019 that diplomatic relations would be resumed.  

Last Thursday, Chad officially unveiled its embassy in Israel, in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Here you see Netanyahu with president of Chad, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno. I note that over the years Netanyahu has exhibited a notable strength in forging ties with African nations.

Credit: Haim Zach/GPO


And there is more to the story about Chad.  President Deby, with a delegation from his country, visited the Al Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount last Wednesday in order to pray. They were accompanied by Israeli police rather than members of the Wakf.  A significant nod in the direction of recognizing Israeli sovereignty on the Mount.  According to the organization Beyadenu, this was the first time a foreign leader had visited the mosque without being accompanied by the Wakf.  It has elicited an angry response from Hamas, while Jordan, which insists it controls the Mount, said that Deby’s visit was an “assault on the mosque.” The Jordanians had not been informed of the visit. (Emphasis added)


A video here:



A week and a half ago, Netanyahu had visited King Abdullah in Jordan. When the king asked for an increase in the Wakf presence on the Mount, the prime minister replied, according to one source, that “There will be no such thing.”



And then there is news about Sudan, which is a Muslim, predominantly Arab country in northeast Africa:

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced that a peace treaty between Israel and Sudan’s transitional government would be signed in Washington later this year.  Cohen had made an “historic diplomatic visit” to Khartoum earlier in the day, where he had met with General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, leader of Sudan’s transitional government.  

Credit: Sudan Transitional Sovereign Council Twitter


Yesterday, at the weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that arrangements were being finalized for a new community – Hanun – to be established near the border with Gaza.  Originally plans had been set in place during Netanyahu’s previous government and now budgeting would make this a reality.  Netanyahu called the decision to establish this new town a demonstration of “resilience” and determination to “build up the Land of Israel.”

Construction and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf (UTJ) has been promoting this and called the announcement “A joyous day for me and for all citizens of Israel.”

To be built near Kibbutz Sa’ad, it is projected to be a mixed religious and secular community of some 500 families. It will be administered by the Sdot Negev Regional Council.



Also on Sunday, a delegation of MKs within the coalition toured northern Jerusalem and the old Atorot airport in order to promote development of a new neighborhood.

Credit: Courtesy

The tour was organized and led by Im Eshkachech—Keep Jerusalem organization, founded and headed by Chaim Silberstein. The goal was to encourage the government to speed up the approval process for the neighborhood in the Jerusalem District Committee.

“A Jewish neighborhood was planned to be built [here] many years ago, but its construction was delayed due to foreign pressures. This is an area of first-rate strategic importance, where the establishment of a Jewish neighborhood will be an integral part of the city, will strengthen the northern side of Jerusalem and establish Israeli sovereignty in the capital,” said Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har Melech. “In front of the illegal construction in the neighboring village of Kfar Akab, a large Jewish neighborhood will soon be built.”  (Emphasis added)



And so, it’s apparent that there are good things happening and it’s important to stay focused on them.

The bad stuff is sufficiently awful to demoralize, if we allow ourselves to go in that direction.  The behavior of some individuals on the left here in Israel – including some in official positions – is vile and reprehensible. More, it is destructive and severely irresponsible.

I will undoubtedly have to return to this once again, but here share what Ruth Blum has to say about the matter.  

“Let’s start with opposition leader Yair Lapid. In a speech on Saturday night at a rally in Haifa, the Yesh Atid Party chairman declared that the protesters present, as well as those in Beersheva, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, ‘came to say that they don’t want to live in a country where people who work are less important than people who don’t work, and where people who serve in the army are less important than people who don’t serve in the army, and that people who don’t abide by the law are more important than people who do abide by the law.’


“Describing the demonstrators as ‘people trying to save their country,’ he assured the crowd that he and his supporters ‘won’t let that happen.’ Talk about Freudian slips.

“’We’ll fight here in the streets,’ he said. ‘We’ll fight in the Knesset. We’ll fight in the courts. We’ll rescue our country, because we’re not willing to live in an undemocratic [one].’”

And then there were “comments made three days earlier by commercial lawyer David Hodak, recipient of the illustrious Medal of Courage for his conduct as a tank commander in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“’I decided that I won’t live a single day in a dictatorship,’ he said on Wednesday at the Israel Bar Association’s annual conference in Eilat. ‘And if it becomes necessary to go to war over that, I’ll go to war. People are prepared to take up arms … And I’m telling you: If it comes to that, I’ll do it. … There might be a civil war here, unfortunately’…

“The good news is that the bulk of the Israeli populace—you know, the majority who ushered in the new Netanyahu government three months ago at the ballot box—isn’t buying the hysteria. On the contrary, thanks to the unthinkable behavior of the left in the face of political defeat, the voters are reminded why they made their choice. It’s the kind of sweet vindication that no megaphone can drown out.”


Horrendous.  And this hysteria is ostensibly over projected judicial reforms that aim to increase democracy in Israel and render the judicial system closer to what exists in the US.


Internationally, there seems to be one official after another who believes it is appropriate, nay, important, to tell Israel what to do.  

Last Thursday Netanyahu flew to Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.  His focus in going was Iran.  But that did not prevent Macron from assuming he had a right to tell the Israeli prime minister what to do with regard to legal reforms here in Israel.

According to a report in the JPost, Macron told Bibi that “If the reform were adopted as it stands, France would be forced to conclude that Israel has broken away from a common understanding of democracy.”

An Israeli official explained that “Macron had not fully understood the details of the reform process when he spoke.”


Where would he have gotten the wrong impression from?  May I suggest from Lapid and his ilk, who are doing Israel a vast and unconscionable disservice. But in any event, it’s none of Macron’s damn business.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.