Friday, 25 July 2014

Dangerously Delusional Rabbis

Rabbi Meir Kahane
This plague is even more severe than I had imagined.

I am getting used to the idea that rabbonim in positions of trust and authority can abuse that trust and authority, including to sexually exploit their congregants, students, or other vulnerable parties.

Yes, each time, I am shocked, horrified, but I am no longer particularly surprised. My emotions are knocked each time, but my brain tells me it makes sense.
However, (even) I am surprised and shocked by a letter reportedly sent out to his alumni by Rabbi Meir Kahane, Minahel/Director of Chedvas seminary in Israel and a member of Aish Hatorah's faculty.

This letter brings to light a whole world of Orwellian thought-control and double-speak which is apparently endemic in seminaries - and has unfortunately been used to manipulate and take advantage of the girls.

The full letter is below and it's so (frankly) demented, it's hard to know where to start in analyzing it.

Here's a few examples:

1. Rabbi Kahane's opener, that he's "inspired to write to you a letter" - is against a background that the titular head of that seminary, Rabbi Meisels, has been found by the Chicago Beit Din to have molested female students. As a result, the institution's erstwhile good name is in tatters, and the seminary itself is now under threat of closure. "Inspired", indeed.

2. He then starts blathering about the soldier hostage Gilad Shalit and the three murdered boys.

He takes as a given that by encouraging girls to increased levels of modesty by wearing lower length skirts, this had succeeded in saving Gilad Shalit from the hands of Hamas.

However, the same (mad) defence strategy had somehow failed to save the three murdered boys, because God willed it.

3. Adding to this weird train of thought, Kahane refers to the alumini as "my army". "My"? "Army"? Which had "saved Gilad".

The perverse illogic is that because it's really the army who deal with Israel's security (and which Rav Kahane's world has its own anti - he doesn't "rely on the IDF") and Kahane is claiming the girls skirt lengths are the true power that protects Israel from Hamas attacks, then the girls must really be an "army".

And who is the Chief of Staff? - R.Kahane, of course.

Thus "my army".

If it is an army, and it belongs to someone, of course the actual leader was "General" Meisels.

And this rant is promoting the use of long skirts.

The same long skirts which, allegedly, proved no obstacle for R.Meisels "unwanted sexual contact" with these girls.

4. R.Kahane then raises and dismisses the idea of doing a Kinnus (assembly) to promote modesty (rejected due to the logistic impracticality). At which point he gets to the point.

Loshen hara - gossip.

Yesterday's military defense of Israel was girls wearing long skirts. Today's is apparently preventing pointless gossip. If Chedvas girls were stopped from pointlessly gossiping, Hamas will stop firing rockets at Israel's population centers.

5. Although Rabbi Kahane doesn't spell it out, the gossip he's referring to is the revelations by the young female victims of R.Meisels to the Chicago Beit Din.

And who knows what further pending revelations are scaring R.Kahane into an incoherent frenzy.

So, for goodness sake, girls, just shut up, will you.

6. The loshen hoara project (ie shut up any whistle blowers) is still apparently in planning phase, but it will include the use of "buddies" - ie peer monitors, or field officers. The implied threat is that these other alumini will inform on any girls breaking ranks, to General Kahane. These monitors will also be in a position to exert peer pressure and intimidation on any whistle blowers, to shut them up.

In the word where shiduchim are more important to these than any degree, this threat carries some weight.

7. The incentive being offered to drive this whole scheme, is that it will bring moshiach/Messiah.


If this had been written by a drunk, or the writer has been professionally certified with a serious personality disorder and is off his meds, then I would not be surprised by this gibbering nonsense.

However, Rabbi Meir Kahane is a respected teacher and is responsible for hundreds of female students.
This demented mind-set is considered acceptable, even honourable and admirable in respectable circles.

This letter only reinforces the Chicago Beit Din's findings that all of Rabbi Meisels' seminaries are currently unsafe for students. And it seriously undermines the Israeli ad-hoc Beit Din, under Rav Shafran, that these seminaries are run by "illustrious educators" who can be "fully entrusted" with their students well-being and safety.

The lunatics are running the mental asylum.

Worse, they're running our girls schools.

From: Meir Kahane <>
Date: July 17, 2014 at 7:03:09 PM EDT
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Dear Chedvas Graduates amus’h,
I am inspired to write you a letter. It was just recently that I was reminiscing about your year. When the three kdoshim were missing, I recalled our mission a few years ago to save Gilad Shalit. I recalled the the dedication with which you worked and the determination. I recalled that you were brave enough to fight a yetzer hara that so many fell prey to. When most girls were wearing skirts above their knees you made a kinnus to teach the world that it’s assur. While the kdoshim were missing, I kept asking myself, where is my army? We saved Gilad, we can save them as well. I have no doubt my army was doing their part. This time, Hashem said no.
But the death of three kdoshim led to war. When things started getting worse the nagging thought kept coming back. Is my army doing its job? While the rest of the world is relying on the IDF, I personally was relying on a different army- you, my Chedvas graduates.
The thought crossed my mind more than once over the past couple of weeks “can we do another kinnus?” Can we do one now to save us from the war? But scattered all over the world, it seemed quite impractical.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu has his ways. And he sent us a nisayon of colossal proportions. It’s as if Hakadosh Baruch is telling us that Klal Yisroel needs major zchuyos, gigantic zchuyos.You be the ones to do it.
All of us know that loshon hara without toeles is assur. At this stage of the very unfortunate situation our school finds itself in, there is no toeles in discussing the situation and its details. And even l’toeles the halacha is that it’s asur to believe it. My Chedvas students. Much of the world is talking about it and much of the world believes it. Do you hear Hashem speaking to us? Hashem is saying Chedvas you be the ones to stay quiet. Hashem is giving us another chance for a kinnus. He’s telling us that he listened to us last time, and wants to listen again. But this time the kinnus will not be on a stage, with signs all over Yerushalayim and a video. It will personal, and quiet, and extremely hard. My students, if we stay strong we can and will change the world.
I never thought we’d have a chance to do this again. Hashem believes in us, so let’s believe in ourselves. Let’s make chizuk projects to be michazek each other, let’s make buddy systems to see if we’re staying in check. I’m ready for volunteers to come up with a mehalach. I have a sinking feeling we’re going to bring Mashiach.
Sources tell us that before Mashiach there will be a big nisayon that will be very hard to pass. Those who do will merit Mashiach. Those who don’t…
I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas on how to initiate this program. I’m happy to make it worldwide.
With tefilos that Hashem should bring everyone back to His Torah, I remain,
Rabbi Kahane

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Precedent for Kicking Hamas Out of Gaza

The PLO evacuated from Beirut in 1982 

The stated Israeli objectives of this current war in Gaza are to find and destroy attack tunnels, and to neutralise the missile threat.

Neither the Israeli Government nor commentators (I have read) are mentioning regime change in Gaza as an operational objective.

There is a precedent to the idea that Israel's military force can be used to unseat terrorists from their position of entrenched power.

Back in 1982, under the national leadership of Menachem Begin and defense minister Ariel Sharon, Israeli troops retaliated against the PLO for the assassination attempt of Shlomo Argov, Israel's ambassador to London.

On 6th June 1982, under Sharon's military direction, Israeli troops invaded Lebanon and soon surrounded Beirut, bringing the city under siege.

The severe bombardments of the PLO's fallback positions in Beirut, resulted in Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, who was based in Beirut, agreeing (effectively surrender) to withdraw his "troops" and organization headquarters from Lebanon, relocating to Tripoli.

During August/September 1982, around 14,000 PLO combatants were evacuated from Beirut by sea.

Of course, there are numerous differences between Lebanon in 1982, and Gaza in 2014...

However, there is a precedent to the idea/objective that Hamas could be kicked out of Gaza by the Israel Army.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

PSA: War-Time Support Line in English

War-Time Support Line in English

If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed due to the current war in Israel, or are simply looking for practical information, you are warmly invited to contact the Israel War-Time Support Line in English.

This free & confidential service is offered 24/6 for English-speakers nationally.

The Israel War-Time Support Line is provided by an alliance of three leading non-profit counseling organizations: Magen (Child Protection), Lema'an Achai (Social Services) and Ligdol Vlifroach-Mercaz Rakefet (Child Development)

Telephone: 02-9999.678 (x1)


Friday, 18 July 2014

PSA: Magen Statement: Public concerns about Yosef Ederi

Since the recent publication* of information regarding a convicted child sex offender, (Gad) Yosef Ederi, there has been considerable concern in the Beit Shemesh community about the safety of our children.  

Magen confirms that Ederi was indeed convicted and served prison time, both in Israel and lately in the USA, for crimes against children. He was assessed by the US authorities as Sex Offender Risk Level 2 (of three levels) - ie moderate risk of repeat offense. 

Ederi was deported from the USA by the immigration authorities on 7th July 2014, into the hands of the Israeli authorities. 

When he lived in Israel, Ederi was a resident of Beit Shemesh.

According to the prison services sex offenders monitoring unit in Israel, Ederi is now in a town far from Beit Shemesh and is under 24/7 surveillance & monitoring. (Israel has one of the most advanced sex offender monitoring programs in the world).

In the event that Ederi returns to Beit Shemesh, the Beit Shemesh police would be informed by the prison services, and appropriate measures taken to protect the public.

There is therefore currently no cause for public concern in Beit Shemesh

Magen will update the community further as appropriate.

As always, Magen urges all adults to remain vigilant over our children, particularly during these summer months, and with the added concerns of recent kidnappings, rockets, etc...while avoiding undue stress or panic.  

Take care,

"Magen" - Creating a Safer Community for Kids

Tel:    02-9999.678
Cell:   050-8489001

Thursday, 17 July 2014

How Uri Closed Down Hamas' Facebook Page!

According to an article on Mida news site, Uri Perednik (my nephew) was so disgusted by the lies (eg showing archive pictures of Syria and Iraq, as if they were Gaza) and vitriol on the Hamas Facebook page that he sent a complaint to Facebook that it is inciting hatred and violence.

Sure enough, Facebook did their job - and closed down the Hamas page!

This remarkably effective initiative by an individual, gives encouragement to the rest of us.

We'll leave the front lines to the IDF - but we can back them up from our laptops and smartphones!!

Bennett on BBC: Hamas a coward. Killing its own children

Naftali Bennet is Israel's most talented spokesman & advocate to the international media.

Bibi just sacked Dani Dadon as Deputy Defense Minister, mainly because he saw him as a PR liability.

While he's reshuffling the cabinet, I suggest Netanyahu should move Lieberman from being Foreign Minister (I never understood what he's doing there anyway, aside from his peripheral connections with the Russians), and replace him with Naftali Bennet.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Rabbi Meisels: One Case, Three Letters

Yerachmiel Lopin's Frum Follies blog has again brought to light very credible allegations of sexual misconduct by a leading rabbinical figure, which has sent shockwaves through the American Chareidi establishment.

On 11th July, Lopin published a letter (dated 10th July) from a Special Bet Din in Chicago, consisting of Rabbis Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Shmuel Feurst and Zev Cohen, explaining that they had heard evidence from alleged victims and heard the accused Rav Elimelech (Eli) Meisels.
First Letter - Chicago Bet Din

The Bet Din had concluded in favour of the plaintiffs, that "unwanted sexual contact" had taken place, and the letter was issued to warn against sending students to any of Rav Meisels' four seminaries, being: Pninim, Binas Bais Yaakov, Chedvas Bais Yaakov and Keser Chaya.

The letter concludes that the case had been handed over to an Israeli (ad hoc) Bet Din, consisting of Rabbis Mendal Shafran, Chaim Malinowitz and Zvi Gertner.

My reading of this letter is that it was intended to be a quiet memo, perhaps issued specifically to feeder schools and others who were in a position to advise girls against attending the seminaries.

As a response to the now widely publicised letter, the Israeli rabbonim published a statement (dated 13th July) saying that they had indeed been asked by three parties (one of whom, Rabbi Zev Cohen, was a member of this Chicago Bet Din) to look into allegations against an unnamed party (aka R.Meisels).

Second Letter - Israeli Bet Din

However, they said that Rav Meisels had been terminated from having any connections with the seminaries, and therefore parents should continue to enroll their daughters in these outstanding institutions of learning.

In the letter, the rabbis commit to examine the complaints in a timely fashion, and to review safety precautions at the seminaries, in light of their findings.

The rabbonim then warn the public against paying heed to any anonymous or pseudonym sources - an apparently irresistible swipe at Yerachmiel Lopin (not his real name) and his Frum Follies blog, who had brought this whole issue into the open.

No less concerning than an allegedly abusive seminary head, apparently is their fear of losing rabbinical control of sensitive information.

Having attempted to close the door on the informal media, and having apparently succeeded in separating out Rav Meisels from his (yes, HIS, he owns all four seminaries) educational establishments, it's back to business as usual (indeed, at $25,000 fees a pop, these four seminaries constitute a huge multi-million dollar business).

Fire's out. Big relief.

Letter Three - The Seminaries

Today, an (undated) letter from the Pnimim and associated seminaries, was circulated to parents and feeder schools, confirming the publicised story; they added an important detail that Rav Meisels resigned under a cloud, and under instruction of the Israeli Bet Din, eight weeks ago.

The letter further says that the Israeli Bet Din has been working on this for a while, including meetings with key staff members at the seminaries.

Unfortunately, the letter raises more problems than it purports to resolve.

According to the Chicago letter, there were complaints from girls regarding all four seminaries.
According to them, as of 10th July, all four seminaries were unsafe.

Either they were unaware of developments over the past few weeks at the seminaries, with the intervention of the Israeli Bet Din, and dismissal of Rav Meisels "8 weeks ago" - or they clearly believed that whatever steps had been taken were insufficient to ensure the safety of the girls.

If the Israeli Bet Din hasn't even started hearing evidence (as they state in their letter), much less undertaken a review of (according to the Chicago Bet Din, failed) safety measures at the seminaries, how are these illustrious rabbonim in a position to declare all the seminaries now safe for the hundreds of young female students?

If the top man was able to operate unhindered, who was protecting him, and who else may be currently operating in a similar manner? Have their been similar abuses in the past? If so, how were these handled? What is to avoid the same thing happening in future?

And where is the law and the police in this picture?

The alleged offenses of Rabbi Meisels ("unwanted sexual contact" with his students) constitute crimes in Israel, even if the girls were over 18 at the time of the offenses.

Aside from regular laws governing sexual assault (eg by a stranger), there are additional severe laws in Israel which protect people from being sexually harassed or sexually taken advantage of by people in a position of control or influence over them.

Rabbis are in such a privileged position, and indeed a rabbi is specifically referred to as "Cohen Dat" in the Israeli penal code.

Furthermore, as an institute of higher learning, there are additional laws covering sexual behaviour by school staff to students.

If any of the girls were minors, then the level of severity increases under the law - and level of responsibility of the school or other aware adults, to immediately report it to the police. Failure to report such crimes may itself have constituted a crime under Israel's mandatory reporting laws.

Why did the three rabbis apparently not called in the police and handed over the (criminal) investigation, where feasible, to the law enforcement authorities?

The Israeli rabbis' letter to the public, rather than presenting a gruff "hakol beseder" business-as-usual facade, should instead have been a call upon victims to come forward and for these important rabbis to clear their paths, with encouragement, empathy, support and protection, and not intimidation (read their letter and imagine you are a victim), to the police station and emotional & communal support.

The school's letter is too-little-too-late.

They are now publicly addressing the situation - but only once it has already been publicised by third parties, pseudonymed to boot.

The school admits that they knew about the situation for at least several months. Maybe years?

There is not a word of regret, of support for their students who were victims, while under their care, or of any human compassion.

Instead, the letter promotes the case that whatever was, was, that lessons for the future will of course be learned, that daas torah is being followed, and there is no concern for the safety of the girls in the current circumstance.

It is true that such patch-over jobs by the Israeli Bet Din and by the seminaries themselves may put out some of the short-term fires, particularly the practical educational and business ones.

However, they are not going to address a glaring systemic problem.

Thousands of young ladies are packed off by their American, Canadian, British etc parents, for a year or more of religious studies in Israel.

They are often far younger than their years, from a secular perspective - often entirely ignorant of healthy vs dangerous sexuality.

Charismatic, learned, personable Rabbinical teachers and educational/business power-brokers, are going to charm and potentially take advantage of their positions, and of the starry-eyes girls under their care.

In a position of absolute trust, power-enhanced egos, and natural hormones - the results can be catastrophic.

In chareidi society, with the exception of one's nuclear family, gender separation is almost total.

This rule is with the gaping exception of the seminary business, where female-restricted/starved mature men are given free access to hundreds of naive and admiring girls, who are far from home, vulnerable and without recourse.

In my eyes, a solution looks like changing the whole system.

Rather than educating these girls solely to become good wives to talmidei chachamim, the girls education system should also aim to educate frum women to be leading Torah scholars, teachers and heads of seminaries.

Particularly in an otherwise fully segregated society, men should only teach boys; and women should teach girls.

We all know that more than enough women are fully capable of achieving the highest levels of scholarship and educational leadership.

So, rabbosei, please hand over the criminal investigation to the cops, and the seminaries over to the women. 

Coping Under Fire...

These are some examples of coping tools, in these stressful days under fire from Gaza (and Lebanon) (oh, and Syria...).

This is a kids' song, helping kids to learn what to do if the siren goes off...

And this is a parody of the well known Sesame Street song:

Here's a trance mix based on the Colour Red Alert:

Whatever it takes to get through all this physically safe and still sane....

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

View from Beit Shemesh

It's been a roller-coaster experience as a resident of Beit Shemesh, and as a citizen of Israel.

First, our country experienced the rare unity in our passionate two weeks of prayers for the welfare of kidnapped yeshiva students Naftali, Gilad and Yair.

The kidnapping reportedly took place just 20 minutes up the road from here, as the boys tried to hitch-hike from Gush Etzion in the direction of Beit Shemesh.

The tragic triple funeral for the boys was also just a 30 minute journey in the other direction from here, in Modein cemetery.

Along with many other Beit Shemesh residents, and thousands from around the country, I went to the funeral and also to the Frenkel shiva (Nof Ayalon).

The three graves were barely filled, when news came through of a grisly kidnap and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, an Arab boy from Shuafat in north Jerusalem, whose burned body was discovered in the Jerusalem forest.

While Arabs rioted throughout the country, in protest at the murder, the Israeli police quietly investigated the crime, "pursuing all options", which is to say, both the criminal (by Arabs) and nationalistic (by Jews).

The arrest of six Jewish boys, on suspicion of involvement in the murder, seems to settle the final direction of the police investigation - a vile revenge murder by Jews.

Two of the suspects are from Beit Shemesh; they are described as chareidi Sephardim. My neighbors, almost literally. The other suspects were apparently relatives of the boys from Jerusalem and Adam.

And then the war broke out.

Literally hundreds of rockets and missiles have been launched from Gaza by Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the whole of the "South" of Israel.

"South" has become a relative term, as the range of the rockets covers all of Israel until close to Haifa (so far).

Here in Beit Shemesh, sirens have sounded sending us rushing to protective rooms & bomb shelters. Missiles have landed close by - thankfully no direct hits on Beit Shemesh, nor indeed any injuries.

Indeed the number of missiles launched at Israel (around 200) and the amount of damage to property and persons (almost none, thank God) - is a startling and peculiarly Israeli combination of engineering genius and Heavenly Grace.

The world-first Israeli Iron Dome highly effective, low cost anti-missile missile system has shot many of the threatening incoming missiles out of the skies, while leaving others to fall harmlessly into open fields.

I can almost envisage the day that whole wars will be fought robotically in the skies, while residents beneath will calmly and safely continue their daily routines.

Last night I had the privilege of seeing such an intercept, seemingly close to Beit Shemesh (it may have been an optical illusion, and have been further away..). The flamey point of impact was dramatic and deeply impressive.

The hand of our protecting God, brandishing an Iron Dome, made in Israel.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Rabbi Eisenman: Please, Just Leave Me Be

The Short Vort
Today is Monday the 2nd of Tammuz 5774 and June 30, 2014

Please, Leave Me Be

If you are seeking from me words of comfort and consolation you will not find them.
If you are reading this in order for you gain some sort of insightful understanding of the tragic events then I advise you to stop reading.
This missive will not be one of comfort and consolation.
If you are looking at me as the rabbi who undoubtedly has the proper response and is able to theologically articulate and make sense out of the tragedy, then you will be utterly disappointed.
I have no words of comfort.
I offer no consolation.
I have no insight and no comprehension.
I am numbed and I am left wondering and wandering in my grief and my loneliness.
I cannot see the ‘good’ in this and I cannot comprehend the ways of the creator and certainly not of some of His creations.
I cannot and hope to never be able to understand how a human being can murder three innocent human beings with the justification that they are following the word of their (imaginary) ‘god’?
I cannot fathom the level of cruelty and savagery a person must lower themselves to in order to murder a child in cold-blood.
However, alas, it has occurred.
I am angry and I am confused.
I am pained and I am mourning.
I feel lost and alone and abandoned.
The only passuk which comes to my mind is the one said by Iyov (Job) so many years ago:
“If I have sinned, what have I done to You (why does it bother You so much)? 
You (Hashem) who have created me, why do you make me the target of your wrath?”
(Iyov 7:20)
I am sorry to disappoint those of you who were searching for answers and consolation in the words of the rabbi; however, I too am human and my heart aches just as yours.
Today I have no answers.
Today I have no comfort.
Today I have no comprehension or insight.
Today I just have tears;
Tears for Naftali, for Gilad and for Eyal
However, most of all I cry for their parents who as they attempt to sleep tonight, they now know that their lives will never be the same.
The laughter of their sons will never return.
All of us will thankfully eventually return back to our normal, mundane lives.
However, for the three parents of the boys they have reached a period of no return.
You may see them next month or next year; you may see them in fifty years; the pain will always be there; the emptiness will never be filled.
Please do not turn to me for answers today.
Please let me be as is; please don’t ask me any questions.
The only questions I feel I can relate to today are the ones asked many years ago by Dovid himself:
“How long, O Lord will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long will I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart by day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand over me?”
(Tehillim 13:2, 3)
When the answers to these questions become known there will be no more questions which need answering.
May that day arrive soon.

“If Not Now, Then When?”- Hillel
Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, Rabbi, Congregation Ahavas Israel, Passaic, NJ  

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Our Three Boys: Social Media in the Face of Censorship

Yesterday evening I was in a shopping mall, and shoppers were glued to their cellphones and mournfully discussing with their friends the pending tragic news.

We now know that the boys' bodies were discovered by both volunteers and the army at around 5:30pm yesterday evening.

From around 6pm, the social media was carrying reports that the boys' bodies had been found - initially one body, then the other two.  WhatsApp, Facebook, emails, sms messages...they all carried these rumours.

Meanwhile, the official media was stonily silent.

I think every Israeli was expecting this grimmest of news, by the time the official announcement of the tragic deaths of our three boys, Gilad, Naphtali and Yair was published around 8:30pm.

There was a similar pattern at the beginning of this tragic episode, when on Friday 13th June, the news spread throughout social media that three boys had been hitch-hiking and were missing, presumed kidnapped. There were even reports out about a phone call to the police by one of the boys, and a false report of a successful rescue mission.

This was during the period of a news blackout - which was reinforced by statements from military and political leaders who decried the spreading of rumours.

For the past two weeks, the social media carried less information, stories and a sort of  self-censorship imposed by a general feeling of civic-responsibility.

I don't know what the purpose was of the gag-orders, and leadership calls to quash the rumour-mill.

If it was to starve the Palestinians of information, then this must have had dubious results - seeing how the Palestinians have their own media, which is not controlled by Israel.

I don't see much sense in limiting the Israeli public's access to information - as this is increasingly impractical and only encourages the spread of wrong information, rather than concrete objective reports by appointed spokesmen and professional journalists.

The gag order did engender a common cause, and evoked civic responsibility along the lines of the 1st World War "Mum's The Word" secrecy campaigns.  

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Stunning IDF Attack on Terrorists

This sequence of videos purports to show the assassination by the IDF of two Gazan terrorists, Osama Has​sumi, 29, and Mohammad Fatzih, 24, in their vehicle on Friday 27th June.

Note the accuracy of the targeted attack on the car, with almost zero collateral damage, such as to the pedestrians near the car, who went right-on-walking, and the buildings nearby which appear undamaged.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The State of the State of Israel

Rotating Prime Ministers, Shamir & Peres in 1984

When you think things look grim in Israel, take heart from how the State has progressed since 1984

* From 1984 through 2013 Israel's population grew from 4.1mn to 8.2mn.
* annual inflation was reduced from 447% to 1.5%,
* foreign exchange reserves expanded from $3.3bn to $90bn,
* exports surged from $10bn to $90bn,
* budget deficit/GDP ratio was reduced from 17% to 2.5%,
* defense expenditures/GDP ratio was shrunk from 20% to 5.5%,
* GDP increased from $26bn to almost $300bn
* and GDP per capita catapulted from $7,000 to $39,000

(Sever Plocker, Yediot Achronot, via Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, "Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative").

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Luis Suarez - All Three Bites!!

Uruguay and Liverpool star striker, Luis Suarez, caused a rumpus yesterday by biting Italian opponent Giorgio Chiellini.

Take a look here at all three recorded bitings by Suarez.

It looks like a clear pattern to me.

This guy need professional help - off the pitch.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Did Army Enlistment of Hareidim Cause The Kidnapping?

There have been two controversies in recent days where the tragic kidnapping of the three teenage boys has been given a causative relationship to (rationally) unrelated issues.

The largest selling Hareidi newspaper Yated Neeman, in their lead editorial, blamed the kidnappings on the Government's attempts to enlist hareidim in the army.

Yated explained the theory thus:

“When the government tries to reduce the number of Torah students, when it passes draconian laws designed to reduce and criminalize those who sit on the benches of the study halls, it exposes the country to tragedies,” it went on, referring to the law for haredi conscription passed in March by the Knesset.

“Statistically, every time they try to harm Torah students, something in the local harmony is disturbed,” the paper said. “When the government tries to carry out an organized abduction of Torah students from their place of learning, when it tries to kidnap soldiers from their bases and to reduce the true and only army that [gives] protection, the bowels of the land are enraged and it requests to vomit us out.”

Meantime, a leading National Religious rabbi, Rav Dov Lior, reportedly placed the blame for the kidnapping on the erosion of Jewish identity, specifically the Government's proposed changes in conversion practices in Israel.

In the past, religious leaders have been slammed for stating that specific tragedies are due to extraneous factors, such as not being observant of shabbat or personal modesty, etc.

On a more rational approach, Benjamin Netanyau has squarely placed the blame for the kidnappings with Hamas, and therefore proceeded to wreck Hamas' political,cultural and terror infrastructure throughout Judea and Samaria, effectively destroying the detente between the PLO and Hamas  - although the public has yet to be presented with any linkage between Hamas and these kidnappings.

Whereas others have pointed to the lack of public transport between settlements, which has necessitated a culture of hitch-hiking....

There is more consensus about the route to returning the boys safely home.

Prayer, unity and good deeds have been called for by the families of the boys, and by religious and secular leaders.

Around 1000 people came together in Beit Shemesh to pray for the boys
This has been taken up by the National Religious and Hareidim (who issued a declaration to pray and to bring in shabbat early this past week) and massive prayer gatherings have taken place throughout the country.

Even arch-secularist Yair Lapid, is reported to have told the parents of the boys:
"I haven't prayed in six years. I haven't gone into a synagogue since my son's bar mitzvah. When I heard what had happened to your sons, I turned my house upside down to look for my grandfather's prayer book. I sat down and prayed."
An interesting conundrum to ponder is why we universally (even Yair Lapid) believe that religious observance can help resolve a tragedy, but we equally fervently believe (on rational grounds) that lack of observance had no hand in causing it.

Why is that?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

YU "Heading For Bankruptcy"

According to a report by Takepart and The Jewish Channel, Yeshiva University (YU)  has lost some $1.3 Billion over the past years, due to a potent mix of corruption and incompetence - and is heading to insolvency in a matter of months.

This is not just a story of Bernard Madoff - whose nefarious Ponzi scheme cost YU $110 million in 2008.

Nor the potential civil liability in the cases of alleged child abuse by two rabbis, at $380 million - which has recently been dismissed by the judge, John G. Koeltl of United States District Court in Manhattan - due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

This is instead a story of befuddled financial management, at best, and corrupt practices at worst.

According to Takepart, the story started with Rabbi Norman Lamm's appointment as President of YU in 1976. At that time YU was also facing financial disaster, and Rabbi Lamm appointed Gedale Bob Horowitz of Salomon, to serve on the school’s board and create an investment committee, under the VP Sheldon Socol.

Not only did this team turn around YU from the red, into the black - but under their careful management, the YU endowment reserves grew to the then staggering $1 Billion, up there with Ivy League and other leading universities.

With Rabbi Lamm's retirement in 2002, the old guard was replaced by Richard Joel and Morray Weiss who recruited a team of young investment savvy fund managers, such as Ezra Merkin of Ascot Partners, who was Chairman of the investments committee - while creaming away multi-million handling fees for placing YU's investments into his own fund.

"Indeed, it appears that the trustees could view conflicts of interest as a reason to bring someone onto the board or its investment committee. Redwood Capital’s Jonathan Kolatch joined the investment committee in 2003, after his fund proved a good investment for $20 million of Yeshiva’s money for the prior three years. Millennium Partners’ Israel Englander joined the board after years of managing at least $50 million of Yeshiva’s money going back to at least 2002. By January 2008, the investment committee had at least two more members who were hedge fund managers and had Yeshiva money invested in their funds: Daniel Schwartz of York Capital Management and Lonnie Steffans of Spring Mountain Capital."

The fat cats on the investment committee oversaw the divestment of YU's endowment fund, from low risk conservative Government bonds, to leveraged speculative investments in hedge funds.

In parallel to putting solid savings and government bonds into risky paper products, YU also spent themselves into debt - to the tune of some $100 million each year in spending deficit.  

When everything went grim in 2008 - the collapse of the markets and the emergence of Madoff's scam, YU continued to pursue high risk financial investments, which failed to ride on the wave of the rising stock markets, and kept running up deficits.

Today, Moody has written off YU's own bond as "junk" - and YU's losses, in both failed investments and ongoing budget deficits stands at a whopping $1.3 Billion.  

"Yeshiva ran its sixth consecutive multimillion-dollar deficit, $64 million in 2013. Since 2008, the school’s deficits have totaled $470 million. Yeshiva’s investment portfolio stands lower today than it did in 2003, before Lamm and Socol left; after adjusting for inflation, the school’s investment portfolio has lost 23.5 percent of its value under the new administration, or $324 million. The school is now $567 million in debt, according to Moody’s January 2014 report, with its bonds recently downgraded by Moody’s to junk status."

Bring Back Our Boys- Shmueli (#BRINGBACKOURBOYS)

Monday, 16 June 2014


Along with saying tehillim, davening, and showing solidarity with the three boys who have been kidnapped & their families, there is not much practical for regular Israelis to do during this appalling nightmare.

Meantime, the media is stretching every angle for topics to discuss. Some of it is fluff. Others include analysis and commentary.

One of the topics is hitch-hiking.

After all, the three kidnapped boys were captured while thumbing a ride home from their yeshivas (in Kfar Etzion and Hebron) to their homes.

Some of the discussions seem to even criticise the boys for hitch-hiking, and perhaps their parents for letting them, which is frankly in very bad taste; even if in other parts of Israel, hitch-hiking could be considered impractical or foolhardy - the fact is that, with almost no regular public transport services to and from these settlements & villages, hitching or "tremping" for those without their own cars, such as these teenagers, is a way of life.

With each of my own children, except my youngest (his time will come), we have thrashed out the issue of hitch-hiking.

Their friends and hobbies regularly take them to small or remote places, where they have no other travel option except hitch-hiking.

I am on thin ice to be very strict with my kids about hitch-hiking, as I spent many happy months myself, during my teens and student years, hitch-hiking around the world. My kids have heard some of my travel stories about hitch-hiking in Czechoslovakia, Hungary (during the Soviet days), criss-crossing Europe & Israel, and even in West Africa & trans-versing the Sahara.

Lest you say things were different in those days - they were not, as far as hitching-hiking was concerned. It was considered a risky enterprise even then, and my parents must have had sleepless nights.

Some basic safety rules are:

1.  Always sms/text to your parent/friend where you are and where your going, regularly, with updates about significant delays.

2. girls/women, if at all, should only hitch-hike in pairs; wherever practical boys should do also (the downside is it slows down the journey, as less people have space for two than they do for one passenger).

3. the hitch-hiker should ask the driver where he's going, not vice versa (which gives the hitch-hiker an opportunity to look the 'host' over; if he doesn't like what he sees, he simply says - "thanks, but that's not where I'm heading", or suchlike);

4. day-time is much better than night - so aim to arrive at your destination well before dark;

5. never be afraid to say, "please stop over there, I need to get out" (eg if the driver is reckless - statistically a far more dangerous problem than criminals);

6. A couple or a woman driver are safer to get rides with than solo or (worse) multiple guys.

7. Better to go in the back seat (women should ONLY go in the back seat), than the front passenger seat (so avoiding wandering hands, etc); on the other hand, back seat doors can be locked by the driver, whereas generally the front passenger seat door can't be.

8. to protect your stuff, if it is separate from you during the journey, when you get out of the car, open your door, keep it open, while you open the second door to retrieve the bag. Only then close both doors. This avoids the driver moving off with your stuff, intentionally or otherwise.

You should note that the three boys, Naftali, Gilad and Eyal would seem to have kept to safety rules - and even contacted the police when they realised their situation.

Let's not fool ourselves, the real issue here isn't hitchhiking, it's terrorists.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Buying Israeli Politicians Is So Cheap

When he was first elected an MK, Natan Sharansky quipped that he is unique in Israeli politics, in that Sharansky went to prison BEFORE he came to the Knesset.  

Here we go again.

The discovery of $600,000 cash in Presidential candidate Binyamin Faud Ben Eliezer's personal bank box, on top of the revelation that he received some $500,000 "loan" from billionaire Avraham Nanikashvil, has resulted in Ben Eliezer withdrawing his candidacy under a cloud.

Scandal-battered Israelis are getting used to this.

With the star-studded Holyland bribery scandal still in the headlines (ex-mayor of Jerusalem Uri Lupoliansky was facing sentencing today - postponed due to his ill health), memories of the imprisonment of previous President Moshe Katsav (for rape), and the resignation of another presidential candidate in this election Shilvan Shalom (allegations of sexual misdemeanors, which were beyond the statute of limitations) this adds up to a run of criminal and shameful behaviour from our erstwhile most respectable leadership.

Those with longer memories will recall President Ezer Weizman's resignation in disgrace, after revelations of financial shenanigans (which were also past the statute of limitations).

All in all, Israel's convicted criminals include

One ex-President,
One ex-Prime Minister
Ten Cabinet Ministers
Fourteen MK's.

I suggest that one of the reasons that some Israeli politicians are tempted into crime, is their low government salaries.

An MK earns 38,000 NIS/month. After tax they're taking home around 15,000 NIS.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously published his payslip, of 43,952.29 NIS, which left him a net 15,027.43 (they deduct 11,000 for his armored vehicle!).

These salaries are in line with a bank branch manager or a manager in a small company. 

According to the business newspaper Globes: The annual salary of the CEO of a company traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is now NIS 3.5 million (about a million dollars).

Which is to say, over 8 times as much as Israel's political leadership.

Remember that senior politicians are responsible for multi-billion shekel budgets of public money. Their influence can sway huge commercial decisions this way or that.

Senior politicians rub shoulders with other VIPS, such as other politicians, heads of state, Popes, etc, or Very Wealthy People (VWP).  We regular folks don't get a look in. 

The huge gulf between politicians' salaries and the standard of living of these VWPs leaves the politicians very prone to envy and temptation.

Olmert and his crowd of crooked cronies were found guilty of accepting bribes in return for building permits. These transfers were typically measured in 100,000's of NIS. 

That's cheap.

Profits on Government contracts can run into the tens or even hundreds of millions - so buying a positive result for a few 100K is a bargain.

Consider other respectable world leaders, such as Arafat, Mubarak, Gadaffi...who allegedly creamed off literally Billions of dollars of public funds into their personal off-shore bank accounts.

They charged a reasonable rate for their corrupt services.

For a few hundred K, those esteemed statesman wouldn't have blown their nose. Never mind award a contract or give a mega-bucks building or oil drilling licence. 

Any politician who is solely motivated by money, should not be serving in a position of influence over public funds.

However, it is apparently unrealistic to expect today's politicians to be satisfied with the humble living standards of David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir or Menachem Begin.

In order to reduce the likelihood of corruption, I vote we give MK's & Ministers several times their current salaries - to bring them into line with realistic salaries in the commercial world.  

That Woman of Kiryat Gat

The Israeli media is achatter about a 38 woman from Kiryat Gat (a town between Jerusalem and Beersheva), who is alleged to have had sexual relations with minor boys and with many others. In the words of the woman's lawyer "with anyone willing". The media is talking about "hundreds" of male partners.

The story was initially more dramatic, peppered with a rumour that the woman was carrying AIDS/HIV - and raising the specter of hundreds of boys and men (and their partners) who may also now be infected. The woman was subsequently checked and found not be a carrier.

Much of the discussion is about the level of knowledge that the authorities had of the woman's activities, such as the police and social services, which apparently stretches back up to five years. The authorities are defending their role by saying that "there was nothing they could do" to prevent the ongoing situation, without the woman's cooperation.

Other commentators are pointing to the absent parents - who either did not know (and presumably should have) or did know and did nothing. The case did finally get addressed by three parents, who filed criminal complaints.

Another angle being discussed is the fact that the victims were male of a female perpetrator. This is itself unusual - the overwhelming majority of sex offense perpetrators who are reported are males - according to research just between 5-10% are female perpetrators. These are often first degree relatives, particularly mothers; and women will mental health issues.

It also raises mixed feelings, particularly by men, as to the extent that a boy having relations with an older woman is actually abusive by the woman - as popular male culture paints such a relationship as titillating, rather than abusive. Whereas there is general consensus that where the victims are minor girls of an adult male, the offense is clear; however, there is ambiguity in the eyes of many when the victim is male of a female adult, even when he is a minor.

Indeed, this moral-blur factor has itself contributed to the very low reporting of female sex offenders globally - and probably in this case also, which went on 'unnoticed' in the small town of Kiryat Gat for over five years.