Whatever circles about us, here we are, in the midst of the High Holiday season. Rosh Hashana just past, Yom Kippur immediately before us.
If ever there was a time to ask what it is all about, it is now.
We are called upon, first, to look inward. For if there is to be a better world, it must begin with individuals who are prepared to account for themselves, living lives of integrity and love.
The message of this season is that – as much as it is near impossible for us to see it – there is meaning to what is unfolding, and there is a God who calls for justice in the world.
Each of us, in his or her own way, stands responsible. There is no looking away.
That the state of the world is appalling is beyond question. But it is not all horrible by any means and, now especially, I am eager to look at the good.
Last week, in a twelve-hour surgery, doctors at Soroka Hospital, in Be’ersheva, successfully separated year-old twin girls who were co-joined at the back of their heads. This operation has been only been done twenty times worldwide, and this is the first time it was done in Israel. The procedure has been declared a success and the girls are expected to live normal lives.
Here the sisters see each other for the first time:
Israel reaches out regularly to provide technological and humanitarian assistance to various nations in the world.
Advice from Israel is now going to be provided to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos via the Mekong River Commission. Severe reduction in Mekong River flow has been caused by Chinese dams upstream of these countries, and there is a great need for upgrading of irrigation.
“Israel has become a world leader in the field of water management, and its assistance in this area is in great demand.”
This is just one instance of many. Israel truly is a light unto the nations, offering technological and medical assistance around the globe, as well as critical expertise in combatting terrorism. With a reduced US role in the Middle East, moderate Sunni states are looking for leadership from Israel.
In August, the first anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords was celebrated. First it was the UAE that came on board, and then Bahrain.
Shortly after, it was Sudan that agreed to normalization with Israel, and after that Morocco, which agreed to a diplomatic rapprochement with Israel.
Israel is no longer a pariah state in the Middle East, and it has been made clear that diplomatic relations between moderate Arab/Muslim states need not be predicated on a “two-state solution.” A host of bilateral agreements have been signed, and this is just the beginning.
And here at home? In 2012, Israel Almasi (pictured below) started a volunteer organization that operates with beepers to assist with such crises as people stranded in cars that have broken down. He called it Yedidim (Friends), and today there are 36,000 volunteers ready to respond to non-medical emergencies.
“We extricate five to eight children from locked cars a day on average. In the past three years, we’ve rescued more than 5,000 kids…
“We have volunteers all across the country who know how to respond and also be wonderfully flexible regarding sudden projects, such as the coronavirus crisis.
“In 2020, we had more than 400,000 Covid-related events, such as the transport of tens of thousands of food baskets, medicines and games. We gave the people of Israel some routine amid the emergency.”
This past Shabbat marked the 20th anniversary of the horrendous terror attack of 9/11. Multiple memorial events have been held – speeches given, videos shown. Israel’s recognition of the horror of that time merits note: Israel is the only country outside of the US that has a memorial that marks the names of the almost 3,000 victims of the Twin Towers destruction.
Established in 2009 by Keren Kayemet LeYisrael and Jewish National Fund on a hilltop in Jerusalem Park just outside of Jerusalem, it features a tall bronze sculpture in the shape of the American flag, with its upper part in flames. In a glass window at the base of the statue is a metal shard from one of the fallen Twin Towers. Memorial plaques on the wall surrounding the plaza commemorate the names of all those lost.
The lessons to be learned from 9/11 are many, and they are stark. We cannot ignore those lessons or let down our guard, especially with the resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Marking 9/11, Al-Qaeda released a video in which leader Ayman al-Zawahiri – who replaced Osama Bin Laden after his assassination in 2011 – attacks Arab states that cooperate with Israel and vows that “Jerusalem will not be Judaized.” (Yup, that again.)
But it is also internally within Jewish community that we must be on guard, to be strong. I believe that internal weakness is more worrisome than threats from the outside, for we cannot face down those external threats unless we are strong within ourselves. And so in passing I feel I must mention this:
“The ADL’s apology for its former director’s opposition to a Ground Zero mosque is one more way the anniversary is being used to change the narrative about the attack.”
Left-leaning ADL Director Jonathan Greenblatt, who emerged from the Obama administration, is bad news and a sign of the weakening of the resolve of American Jewish leadership. His apology smacks of appeasement and is seriously pathetic.
Here in Israel last week, as many of my readers undoubtedly know, there was a security lapse with serious implications: Early on Monday morning, September 6, it was discovered that six convicts housed in the Gilboa high-security prison in the north had managed to escape. They dug a tunnel that began in a drain within a cell and extended beyond the prison walls.
Five were Islamic Jihad terrorists, and one, the most notorious, was Zakaria Zubeidi who had been a commander in Fatah’s Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade. He had been convicted of several terror offenses, including his supervision of an attack in 2002 in Beit Shean that killed six. It was speculated that the group had split up, with some remaining in Israel and some running to PA territory.
There were varying reports on precisely how this could have happened, lax prison checks, a guard in the watchtower who had fallen asleep, etc.
By this past Saturday, the situation had been redeemed to a considerable extent: First on Friday night two of the escapees were apprehended in Nazareth, a predominantly Arab city in the north. And then two more, including Zubeidi, were caught hours later in a nearby village.
The search for the remaining two will continue until they are caught. There is reason to believe that one is in PA territory, possibly near Jenin, and the other still inside of northern Israel. That they will be apprehended is a given. Security officials are predicting it is not likely to take long. Relatives of at least one of those still at large have been taken into custody.
The recapture of the four was redemptive in several ways: First because Palestinian Arabs, in Judea & Samaria and Gaza, were celebrating the escapees as heroes. Militants encouraged rioting and unrest inside the prisons, in solidarity with the escapees.
By the time they were captured, however, it was obvious that their condition was not good, and there was nothing heroic about them.
The escapees had anticipated being hidden and fed by Israeli Arabs. But that is not what happened.
Said Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, “Everywhere they turned, Arab citizens refused them and called police. Much respect to all the responsible citizens!”
Israel Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry reported today that she has established a team to inspect the engineering and design of every prison in the country. In the past decade, she said, some 300 escape attempts have been foiled. Inmates have been moved around to forestall further problems, and security policy for the prisons is under review. In the end, we will come out all right.
There has been an upswing in violence in recent days – some, but not all, of which I would attribute to the search for and recapture of the escapees. Today, there was a foiled attempt to knife soldiers in Gush Etzion, and then an attack in Jerusalem near the Central Bus Station that caused moderate injury to two people.
We are on the edge of major hostilities with Gaza, but we’ve been there several times in recent weeks only to see the situation cool down. It’s been a roller coaster. In the last three days there have been three rockets launched from Gaza and Israel has warned of “very violent” retaliation if this continues.
However, today Prime Minister Bennett met with Egyptian President Sissi in Sharm el-Sheikh, in the first visit of an Israeli premiere to Egypt in over a decade, when Netanyahu met with Mubarak. As Egypt has played a fairly consistent role of late in attempting to broker a ceasefire of some sort between Israel and Hamas, it is a likely that Sissi will work to forestall a further escalation.
It has already been announced that EgyptAir will initiate direct Cairo-to-Tel Aviv flights beginning next month, which indicates a warming in Israeli-Egypt relations.
However, Sissi’s office also announced that Sissi will offer to host an international “peace summit.” The mere thought of this gives me a major stomachache. I have scant confidence that Bennett, who sits precariously at the head of a government with major left-wing elements, will have the courage or the will to say no when he should.
International? That means a whole lot of countries telling us what concessions we should make.
There will be a great deal more to say about this and other “peace process” initiatives. Now I close with one more good news item:
“Some 25,500 Jews prayed on the Temple Mount in the past Jewish year of 5771, an increase of 13% compared to the previous year.
“The Temple Mount Administration stated that it ‘concluded a fruitful year with positive progress’ at the Jewish holy site
“’The number of Jews visiting the place for prayers has increased again this year, new rabbis have joined the circle of visitors to the Temple Mount this year, thousands have been added and ascended for the first time in their lives, entry hours have been extended, prayers in public were revealed, and the police allowed the entry of groups in parallel almost throughout the year,’ it noted.”
A mark of hope as we go into Yom Kippur.
Jews praying openly on Har Habayit [the Temple Mount]. Something that should have been permitted throughout, but at long last is:
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.