Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Getting Back Into Photography

As a kid I was quite a keen photographer, and I have happy memories of many hours spent in my home dark-room, developing and printing my own photographs.

Each image took time to take (35mm film, SLR camera, tripod, external flash, light meter, etc) and one carefully selected from the best shots to make prints. The investment in time and materials for each photograph produced was substantial.

Now we all have cameras in our phones, and we can click away merrily whenever the wish or need arises. Furthermore, the idea of printing a photo is largely passe, as the idea is to get the image delivered to viewers quickly, usually across social/digital media.

My Galaxy 5 phone's camera is a remarkable piece of engineering. From the tiny lens, using some very sophisticated image processing, the resolution and quality of 'snaps' can be astounding.

I have taken up my phone/camera and, often using Instagram for enhancement, filters and effects, I am starting to enjoy my renaissance as an amateur photographer. I still have very far to go; I consider these some initial experiments with 2016 technology.

I'll share some of my recent photos here. Feel free to let me know what you think:


These are some pictures I took in Uberlingen, Germany, while on a business trip a couple of weeks ago:

Back in Beit Shemesh:

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Hacking Python

I have been spied upon by Python.

On a recent trip to China, where Google is banned (I bet you didn’t know that), I had to set up a temporary non-Gmail Chinese-friendly email address.

On advice from a local friend, I joined one of China’s largest free email providers and forwarded all my incoming gmail mail to that account, so I could continue to stay in communicado with the world outside of China during my visit.

I had heard of the problem of snoopers looking at one’s emails and other communications in China, whether by the big brother Chinese Government or by hackers. But frankly, I didn’t think it was likely to happen to me.

I was in a third country meeting with a colleague, on my way to China, and sent an email from my 163. email to him while I was sitting in his office, containing a link to a Google document we were jointly working on.

As we are both editing the document, simultaneously (the wonders of the Cloud), both of our identifying icons appeared on that document, as they do.

“OMG!” I declared.

“There’s a THIRD icon on the page!!”

Alongside my and my colleague’s icons, there was a third one, which called himself “Python”, apparently monitoring/spying on the two of us working on this document.

It seems that a hacker or Government spy, calling himself “Python”, had 'compromised' my 163 email, and used the link I had emailed to my colleague, and opened it to observe me/us.

After a few minutes of me and my colleague gawking, the icon disappeared.

Python had gone away.

I noticed some peculiar activities on my cellphone also, and suspected that Python, or another such fellow, had also accessed that.

I haven’t seen him since, so I guess he got bored of hacking me, and went on his merry way.

Or perhaps he just got more discrete, and Python is watching me still.

Friday, 15 January 2016

To Wear or Not to Wear A Kippa?

Following the assault with a machete upon an orthodox Jewish resident of Marseilles, France, by a 15 year old ISIS supporter, Zvi Ammar, head of the Israelite Consistory in Marseilles, called upon his fellow Jews in the city to remove their kippot and other religious identifiers for security reasons.

Many Rabbonim, including Israel's Chief Rabbi, Rabbi David Lau, and Paris Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Corsia have criticized Ammar.

Rabbi Lau urged European Jews not to remove their "kippot" in public despite the increase in violence against Jews on the continent. He also called on European governments to boost security for Jewish communities.

"We should not give an inch, we should continue wearing the kippah," Rabbi Corsia said, according to AFP.

Even France's Prime Minister Hollande gave his opinion, declaring "It is intolerable that in our country citizens should feel so upset and under assault because of their religious choice that they would conclude that they have to hide."

Most kippa wearers who either live in the diaspora or travel outside of Israel have been through this same dilemma. This is not a new issue.

On the one hand, there are real security risks out there and it is reasonable to assume that a kippa or other identifiers as being Jewish increase the risks of being a victim.

On the other hand, it is a central tenet of Western democracies that we will not be held ransom, nor change our fundamental values, due to fears of terrorist or other racial attacks. We will not buckle under pressure.

I often feel, particularly traveling in post-Holocaust Europe, that it is important to wear a kippa - the intrinsic message, I feel, is "Am Yisrael Chai" - The People of Israel Live!

However, this is a different evaluation for a visitor, than it is for a local. Practically, the chances of me, wearing my kippa, being victimised during a short visit to a different country is remote.

The mathematics work differently for local Jews, who live 24/7/52 in these at-risk locations.

In the same way that they may introduce police protection or private security guards at their synogogues and other community centers, and these do not constitute buckling under, so it is reasonable for locals to decide not to outwardly wear Jewish symbols, fearing these will atract attacks.

If this is what Zvi Ammar considers a reasonable security measure in the environment of Marseilles which he understands better than me, then it is a responsible position to take for himself personally and to advise his community.

Rabbi Lau is correct that it is the role of the French Government to make sure that Jews are safe, even when wearing a kippa.

However, demanding that the French Government make Jews FEEL safe in Marselles is a more ambitious project.

M. Hollande's declarations and gestures of French MP wearing kippot in Parliament, are important statements of solidarity and validation for France's Jews. These are steps in the right direction. "Je suis Juif" is an important campaign.

The bottom line is that Mr Ammar is right to advise his community about reasonable security steps; Rabbi Lau is right to lay responsibility for the security situation on the French Government.

But it is not our right, from here, to demand behaviour of Jews there, which can place them at increased personal risk.

Friday, 8 January 2016

National Religious Breaking The Glass Ceiling

In an era that a black American became President, glass ceilings are evaporating, also in Israel.

A central tenet of the National Religious world-view is full participation in the building of the State of Israel.

The National Religious (NR) have been a partner in Israeli Governments from the foundation of the State. This has entitled their representatives, chiefly the Mafdal NRP (in its various incarnations), to serve in Ministerial and other senior position in these Governments.

The NR population serves proudly in the IDF, with a preference for combat units; contributed through becoming leading scientists, industrialists and academics, established; and built exemplary communities, towns and institutions.

In short, the NR have made it their mission to be fully productive citizens of Israel.

However, as with many minority groups, there was always an understanding that certain positions in seniority and responsibility would be blocked to the NR.

A glass ceiling.

In recent months, that glass ceiling has been shattered several times.

The new head of the police (Roni Alsheich), the new head of the Mossad (Yossi Cohen), the State Prosecutor (Shai Nitzan); the head of Military Intelligence (Herzi Halevi), and the newly elected Attorney General (Avichai Mandelblit) are all kippa sruga wearing NR men.

There are still some closed doors, such as the Chief of Staff of the IDF, head of the Supreme Court and leading positions in academia....but the 'reserved' list is getting shorter.

Through a quiet and civil revolution, the National Religious are now responsible for running the most important offices and institutions of our Government & country.

Mission accomplished?

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Uri Lupoliansky's Celebration

This week Uri Lupolianski had his sentence dramatically reduced in a Supreme Court appeal, from six years in prison, to just six month of community service.

Lupolianski expressed joy and relief at this judgement - saying he will continue his good works at Yad Sarah; he headed to the kotel to celebrate & thank God.

Lupolianski emerged from the court session looking ebullient and told the gathered media that he “would continue to work for the good of the country.” (JPost)

According to Arutz 7:

MKs Moshe Gafni (UTJ) and Uri Maklev (UTJ) have expressed their pleasure with the reduced sentence, saying, "We are happy and congratulate him with wishes of good health. He should continue with the good deeds that he has been doing for decades, and should continue helping the Jewish People."

The reason for the huge reduction in sentence by the Supreme Court was that Lupolianski's health is apparently deteriorating due to cancer and the Court decided this would put the defendant at undue health risk in prison.

In contrast to Ehud Olmert's Holyland case, the conviction itself was not over-ruled by the Supreme Court. 

The main grounds for the sentencing appeal was that the bribery payments did not involve direct person benefit, as the 2 million NIS in bribery payments were made to Yad Sarah, the charity which Lupoliansky established, and not to Lupolianski personally. 

However, the court held this did still constitute bribery, as Lupolianski enjoyed prestige for bringing in these very large "donations". 

Rather, the Supreme Court's decision parallels the original sentencing by the lower court in the case of Lupolianski's fellow defendant Avraham Steiner, described at the time here:

Former city council member Avraham Feiner, who was convicted of accepting a 680,000 shekel bribe, will serve six months of community service work of six hours a day because of his severe medical condition. 

Rozen said that if not for Feiner’s serious medical condition, he would have been sentenced to at least five years in prison. In addition, Rozen said that because the lenient sentence was agreed upon as part of a plea deal between Feiner and the prosecution, the sentence in no way serves as a precedent.

There is no doubt that Lupolianski enjoys public respect, due to his achievements with Yad Sarah - a household name in Israel and familiar to many people who have chronic illnesses and require medical equipment.

While I appreciate that the remarkable sentence-slashing was a major and positive delight & surprise for Lupolianski personally, I suggest that a bigger kiddush Hashem could have been made if Lupolianski had, in his statements:

1. Admitted to and apologised for his serious crimes
2. Thanked the Supreme Court for their compassion
3. That's it.

As for Gafni and Maklev - their response that Lupolianski "should continue with the good deeds that he has been doing for decades", apparently without any reference to Lupolianski's criminal convictions being upheld, looks like a statement of derision for this court. 

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Wedding War Dance

Immediately following the claims that the Shabak (Internal Security Intelligence Forces) have used forms of torture on the Jewish suspects of the horrific Duma arson attack, a shocking video has now been released, showing a wedding dance with young men wielding knives, guns and even stabbing pictures of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh (who died shortly after the arson from his wounds).

I share the disgust which has been widely evoked by this video.

The music itself is a well known song "Zochreini Na", based on a verse in Judges 16:28, quoting Samson, blinded in Gaza, saying “let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes”

"זכרני נא וחזקני נא אך הפעם הזה האלוהים, ואינקמה נקם אחת משתי עיני מפלשתים"

The song was was written and popularised by Dov Shurin and it has since become a staple at many weddings. Here is Dov Shurin himself at the Chabad HQ 770:

On some occasions, the song is accompanied by "shtikim" (pranks) - with revelers waving either fictitious or actual knives (such as cutlery knives found on the tables at the wedding).
Here's Dov Shurin again, at a wedding. Note (approx 0:34-0:55) that some of the dancers wave one hand in the air.  At another point (1:41) someone is waving crutches.

Sometimes, real weapons, including firearms are brandished.
The first time I saw this dance with live weapons at a wedding, I guess five years ago, I was also horrified. It was at a wedding of a friend's son, who was a Hilltop Youth activist. 

I felt it had crossed a disturbing and potentially dangerous red line. While probably not criminal, it was certainly gross bad taste. 

Public knowledge of the existence of this 'war dance' is not particularly new - indeed Channel 2 News ran a report which featured clips of the 'Zochreini Na' dance, including real knives, at the wedding of Rabbi Bentzi Grupstein's daughter, back in 2013. 

See from 2:45 here:

You will also notice that not only was the press invited to that wedding, but also it is open knowledge there that the Shabbak were also in attendance (see 1:51). "I would be very surprised if the Shabbak wasn't here", the interviewee says.

The wedding dance which has been publicised this past week actually took place on the first night Chanuka, 6th December, some three weeks before it was broadcast. 

One of my kids was at this wedding. They told me that when the posters of Ali Dawabshe were distributed, it was obvious that they had been professionally prepared - with wooden supports and handles - not run off on someone's photocopier. At the time, it seemed clearly the work of Shabbak operatives.

According to YNet News:

The owner of the venue where the wedding was held told Ynet that police knew of the wedding and deployed undercover officers to the event.

"There are dozens of weddings like that every month," he said. "When the adults leave, the young guys always stay and start with these songs and dancing. These are teenagers. And police knew exactly what was going on here. To begin with, they flooded the venue with undercover cops and filmed and documented everything. In some of the cases, some of the teenagers were arrested outside the venue. My security guards asked the cops, who were in civilian clothes, who were they, and then they showed them their police ID."

So now we have the same disturbing war-dance, with knives, guns (both old news) and the photo of Ali Dawabshe. A new angle on an otherwise archived story.
The behaviour is indeed sickening. 

It is a wedding schtik which has got way out of order and the practice of singing "Zochreini Na" should be banned - if not by criminal law, then by simple decency and common sense.

For those who reel at the idea of such censorship, I would point out that, even those who hold the song is harmless and derived from the Holy Tanach, there is a precedence of Aleynu Leshabeach - the thrice-daily prayer, which was self-censored by Ashkenazi Jews, due to the heavy price we paid for the line "For they worship vanity and emptiness and pray to a god who cannot save" - which others (understandably) found offensive.

There is no doubt that today, the whole National Religious camp is licking its wounds from the "wedding of hate", as the press have labelled it.

And the shabbak have used the wedding clip to successfully turn the spotlight from the issue of allegations of torture of Jewish suspects, to the issue of  "violent extremist terrorist Jewish youth".

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

When Torture Is Legal

Details are emerging about the treatment of the young men arrested as suspects in the horrific Duma murder case.

According to the two suspects who have just been released, to the parents and to their lawyers, these suspects have been held for three weeks in isolation, prevented from seeing their lawyers, sexually abused, physically tortured (including being bound in a doubled-up posture), systematically deprived of sleep (itself a form of torture) and refused permission to practice religious requirements.

Reportedly, at least one of the men has attempted suicide by slitting his wrists and stated to the court that he's willing to sign any confession, to anything, if only they will let him out.

If true, this would not only be outrageous in itself, but would cast considerable doubt on any confessions extracted under these circumstances.

The response from Government Ministers, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, all procedures followed by the Shabak (Security Services) have been according to the law.

It is worthwhile noting that this Government recently passed new regulations into law to treat suspects of "Tag Mechir" (Jewish nationalistic) crimes as terrorists.

Which is to say, they can be incarcerated for up to six months without the prosecution being required to bring charges, be denied legal council, and be subject to severe interrogation techniques which would otherwise be illegal.

In these circumstances, both the stories of torture & abuse, and the politicians' claims that everything is legal, can be true. There's no contradiction.

And it brings shame on Israel's system of justice and upon the Ministers who support this.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Terrorists Using Primitive Methods

Palestinian woman pulling a knife out of her purse to stab a security guard at the entrance to Beitar Illit

Last night's Security Zone program on Army Radio, with Tali Lipkin Shachak, discussed the dual issues of nuclear and conventional threats to Israel's security.

At one point in the program they referred to the current horrors of knife and vehicle attacks by Palestinian terrorist as "primitive". Certainly when compared with the Iranian Nuclear Threat, etc.

Spontaneous attacks by people who, generally, do not have previous records of terror activities, or even training, armed with a kitchen knife (or even scissors) or simply aiming their car at a group of pedestrians and running them down, are methods which could have been practiced hundreds or even thousands of years ago (perhaps a horse instead of a car). Yes, they are primitive.

Additionally, they have tended to aim for 'hard' targets, such as soldiers, armed security guards and 'settlers' (many of whom are armed).

With promises of a direct path to heaven, these terrorists have a death-wish.

Not surprisingly therefore, their record for getting killed is high, and of 'successfully' murdering Jews is low.

This  rather irrational formula has the odds very much stacked against the terrorists.

So far over 90 Palestinians have died, mainly the terrorists, and 22 Jews were tragically murdered.

While this is horrific, compare this, for example, with the second intifada, where trained operatives armed with manufactured explosives, supported by organizations, money and infrastructure, would blow up restaurants and buses full of civilians - costing over 1000 Israeli lives.

While mourning for our tragic losses, stamping down decisively on inciters and killing/neutralising any would-be terrorists, we should bear in mind that things could be, and indeed have been, much worse.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Uziah Tzadok - Phenomenal!

This year's Music School (Beit Sefer Lemusika) TV contest was won by Uziah Tzadok.

This young boy is a phenomenal singer and also has poise and innate modesty - in short - Star Quality. It's also touching that he's a sidelocks/peot-wearing Yemenite boy from a large orthodox family.

I recommend watching the three clips:

1. Uziah singing Kesh'halev Boche
2. Uziah's mentor Yoram Gaon visits the Tzadok family
3. Having won the contest, Uziah Tzadok and Yoram Gaon sing a duet.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Trump's Blunder

Obama's administration and like-minded folks have been excessive in their apparent blindness to the exclusively Islamic relationship to terror.

The clear and current danger of such politically-correct values is that they hamper the US ability to counter terrorism, when they cannot even name it. It is essential that screening for terrorists and potential terrorists use statistics to their advantage, not to the advantage of the terrorists.

If (effectively) 100% of terrorists are Muslim, then failing to shortlist intelligence and security search criteria to include ethnicity and religion, is a nonsense.

Donald' Trump's controversial proposal for a blanket ban on all Muslim immigrants, until such a time as "the representatives of the US government know what's going on here", has stepped too far in the opposite direction.

Yes, practically, such a step would severely impede the entry of potential terrorists into the USA.

However, Trump's statement is SO politically incorrect, that he has provoked the ire of 'right minded' folks the world over.

I think the issue of ethnic & religious screening for security purposes is much more valid than the idea of a blanket ban on all Muslims.

Unfortunately, this real issue, which costs American lives, will now be lost in the storm of (justified) protest.


Shtar - Beit Shemesh Rock Group Excels at Eurovision Pre-Conetst

Local Beit Shemesh anglo-band "Shtar" scored top marks in the pre-qualifier contest for Eurovision.
They also came over as mentches - fine fun frum people.

I was proud!!