Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Beauty of Working Together

Over the past few days of Passover preparations, I had the good fortune to participate in a sequence of events which share a common denominator - the beauty of working together.

Monday - Lema'an Achai's Kimche Depischa
Tuesday - Beyachad's Kimche Depischa with Shaalei Torah
Wednesday - Matzo baking with Ohr Shalom and Lev hatorah

On Monday, Lema'an Achai, a leading charity in Beit Shemesh & Ramat Beit Shemesh, organized and handed out well-stocked food packages for the festival to around three hundred local families in financial crisis.

The organization of the distribution was meticulous, and respectful for the families who received. The project required the assistance of so many donors (still needed! Click here to give your Kimche Depischa donation), volunteers and professional staff; I found it moving to see this epitome of community chesed in action.

Lema'an Achai's CEO R.Avrohom Leventhal helps distribute frozen chickens

Lema'an Achai Financial Counselor Motti Weisner and volunteer Yael Morris (my daughter!) with matzos and cleaning supplies

Lema'an Achai volunteers handing out wine for the Four Cups!

Dr Zev Frankel, head of Lema'an Achai Social Services Dept, and Office Manager Elisheva Rose 

Cleaning & kitchen supplies distributed for Passover
On Tuesday evening, Shaalei Torah Yeshiva (where my son Ariel learns) in Ramat Beit Shemesh, joined forces with the Beyachad Garin Torani in Beit Shemesh, to pull off an amazing two hour project of packaging up food for distribution to needy families in Beit Shemesh.

Shaalei Torah kids sorting and packaging staple foods for needy families

While the food is being schlepped (here by R.Yonatan Bart), packages are being distributed by volunteers

Shaalei Torah kids and parents working side by side, loading up the boxes with food

Rosh Yeshiva of Shaalei Torah's Beit Medrash Program,  Rav Tzachi, closing up the boxes 

Boxes of fruits and vegetables, ready to go out

Basic foods for the festival - essential for needy families
On Wednesday evening, I participated in hand baking matzot for Passover. This was at Lev Hatorah Yeshiva in the Ramat Shilo neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh. The event was organized by Rav Chaim Soloveichik's Ohr Shalom community.
Betzalel Silverman of Ohr Shalom and R.Mordechai Kaplan of Lev Hatorah mixing the flour and water into dough  

Young members of Ohr Shalom roll out the dough

R.Avi Silverman pounds the dough 

It's tough going, and Ophir Chernin takes over

My son Ariel Morris and Baruch Weismon roll holes into the dough, while shul gabbai Richie Servinsky prepares the matzot for the oven

Rav Chaim Soloveichik, community rabbi of Ohr Shalom, keeps a close eye on the kashrut and the timing

Final stage - into the fiery oven for baking

In all these three events, everyone worked together, as a close knit dynamic team, doing whatever needed to be done, leshem shemayim!

Ashreichem Yisrael!!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Demands to Cancel Eyal Golan Performance in Beit Shemesh

Eyal Golan is a leading "Mizrachi" pop artist in Israel, but Golan is no longer best known for his singing, but rather for his allegedly unsavory private life.

Eyal Golan was arrested, along with six other men, in November 2013, due to allegations that he had engaged in relations with under-aged girls.

The other men included Dani Biton, Golan's father, who is still facing charges of statutory rape.

Biton, 61, is suspected of exploiting his proximity to his son’s fame to lure underage girls and then having sexual relations with them. He and Asulin are also suspected of giving the girls money and gifts to sleep with them.

Although the criminal case was dropped in February 2014 against Golan, due to lack of evidence, the scandal has drastically impacted his reputation and slashed the demand for Golan's concerts.

Haifa Municipality cancelled Golan's planned concert in their city, due to protests; the front-line small town of Sderot is still continuing with their plans for a concert.

Against this background, the Beit Shemesh municipality has stepped forward to sign up Eyal Golan to perform on Israel's Independence Day in the city's official celebrations.

The Municipality are reported to have paid the singer 200,000 NIS for the concert.

This was viewed by the newly re-elected Beit Shemesh Hareidi-dominated municipality as an important step towards rebuilding community relations, across the deepened hareidi vs Zionist fissure, by providing top-name entertainment for the Zionist population of the city.

However, many of the non-Hareidim view it as only making an acrimonious situation in the city even worse.

Why should Beit Shemesh, a traditional and orthodox city, be the only city in Israel to offer the disgraced singer this prestigious (and expensive) performance engagement?

There is concern that hosting this concert will broadcast a regressive message to victims of abuse - and to their perpetrators; as well as further tarnishing Beit Shemesh's battered national reputation.

A protest petition has been set up, demanding the concert be cancelled, and there are rumblings in the town to boycott the event.

At least two national radio stations have covered the story today. I heard one such interview on Galei Yisrael this morning, and could barely make out the words, due to the shouting match which was broadcast.

Dr David Pelcovitz Apologises

Dr David Pelcovitz, the child protection advocate, has published a letter of apology.

This followed the publication last week of a letter written by Dr David Pelcovitz which was submitted to the judge prior to the sentencing of convicted child sex abuser Even Zauder. The publication of that letter resulted in a series of articles (including on this blog, asking for an apology from Dr Pelcovitz) & public outcry, particularly from members of the child protection lobby and activists.

These articles leveled criticism at Dr Pelcovitz and at the many leading Modern Orthodox rabbis who had "lined up" to support the convicted pedophile and child abuser, Evan Zauder, apparently while ignoring the plight of Zauder's victims.

An article in Yeshiva University's student paper The Commentator included an excerpt from an interview with Dr Pelcovitz, who claimed he had understood that "the only charge he was aware of against Zauder was child pornography use".

The actual crimes which Zauder had pleaded guilty to were sexual contact with a minor, a 14 year old boy (over a period of seven months); distribution of hard-core child pornography; and the lesser charge of possession of child pornography.

These crimes were widely publicised officially by the US Government, and in the mainstream and informal media, even reaching Haaretz in Israel, on the day Zauder pleaded guilty.

Dr Pelcovitz' position is that he was unaware of all this when he wrote his letter.

Dr Pelcovitz then seemed to jump out of the figurative pot and into the fire, by saying “I would never have done this if there was a direct victim involved,” thereby implying that child pornography possession is a victimless crime.

This would be a controversial stand to take at the best of times, and should not have been an area of debate which Dr Pelcovitz, already under fire, would chose to launch last week.

Dr Pelcovitz therefore published a brief letter of apology over the weekend on Rabbi Yanky Horowitz' website:

To Whom It May Concern:

I sincerely apologize to the abuse survivors who were upset by the submission of my letter to the judge in the Evan Zauder case.

Having spent my career researching the impact of abuse, working on developing educational, therapeutic and community prevention programs and treating survivors of abuse, I am deeply saddened that a letter I wrote added to their pain.

In no way does the letter I wrote reflect a belief on my part that possession of child pornography is a trivial or victimless crime and, once again, I profoundly regret the pain that my letter has caused abuse survivors.

David Pelcovitz

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Victims' Advocate Defends Dangerous Perpetrator

Dr David Pelcovitz at a Child Protection Event
[For the purposes of full disclosure, I am a fan of Dr David Pelcovitz. Dr Pelcovitz was instrumental in encouraging me to establish the "Magen" child protection organization in Beit Shemesh, and has been highly supportive of the organization, presenting at Magen awareness evenings, impacting the lives of hundreds of adults - and countless children].

A few years ago, I was asked to write a letter of reference to the court for a man convicted of shooting and seriously injuring three young men in a park. The man had shot at these kids, at close range, while under the influence of alcohol, and the three young men could easily have been killed.

I agreed to write that letter, which basically consisted of my introducing myself to the judge, acknowledging the serious nature of the crimes the man had been convicted of - and bringing to the judge's notice (truly) admirable characteristics I knew first hand about the man.

Out of the many letters submitted on the man's behalf, my letter was the one apparently selected to be read to the court. I don't know if the judge was influenced to be lenient in sentencing, in light of my letter, but that was the purpose.

Convicted criminals are entitled to obtain and submit such letters of reference, addressed to the judge, requesting clemency in sentencing.

For example, I am sure that Ehud Olmert and his convicted colleagues, will obtain hundreds of VIP letters, presenting the many (genuine!) achievements of the illustrious convicts.

This process is entirely legitimate.

Furthermore, in itself, writing such a letter of character reference does not imply any support or defence whatsoever of the crimes the convicted man has done.

It has recently come to light (big hat-tip to "Frum Follies") that Dr David Pelcovitz, a leading child protection advocate, writer and educator, wrote and submitted such a letter of reference (full text here), pleading clemency in sentencing for one Evan Zauder.

Evan Zauder was a charismatic and successful youth worker & educator, Zauder worked as a sixth-grade teacher at the Yeshivat Noam school in Paramus, N.J. and various Jewish community programs.
Unfortunately, Evan Zauder was also sexually attracted to children.

Zauder was arrested in May 2012, when the police found large quantities of child pornography on his home PC.

A few days later, Zauder was released under a $2 million bail deal, which included requirements that he live with his aunt and uncle, and that he use a PC monitored by the pre-trial supervision services. It even had a screen which told/reminded Zauder that the computer was being monitored.

During his bail period, Zauder used that computer to download even more child porn. Which was, of course, discovered.

His bail was annulled, and a search warrant issued.

During the search, police found more computers, even worse child pornography ("pre-pubescent, sadism and masochism") and records of sexual chats Zauder had held with minors, prior to his initial arrest. Furthermore, Zauder had distributed these videos and images to others, which is a more severe crime than solely possession.

Following an investigation, one of the boys who Zauder solicited online, disclosed to police that he had met up with Zauder and had sexual contact with him. The boy was 14.

Faced with this plethora of incriminating evidence, on 22nd January, 2013, Zauder pleaded guilty to three charges of: sexual contact with a minor; distributing child pornography; possessing child pornography.

Once the guilty verdict was accepted by the judge, and Zauder was convicted, many letters were written and submitted to the court by family, rabbis, and others who vouched for Zauder's good side.

Had Dr Pelcovitz asked my advice, I would have recommended NOT writing any such a letter for Zauder.

I wouldn't have a problem with him writing such a letter for, say, a car thief, tax evader or, heh, for Ehud Olmert.

However, writing such a letter for a convicted and dangerous pedophile undermines Dr Pelcovitz' well earned international reputation as a pioneer in educating the Jewish community about child protection and advocating for victims.

If Dr Pelcovitz had insisted on writing such a letter anyway, which is his right, he ought to have been very clear in what capacity he wrote it, and to only write in that capacity.

Indeed, in the letter Dr Pelcovitz wrote that he offers it "in my capacity as a former teacher of Evan Zauder's in a Pastoral Psychology course he took with me."

In such a capacity, Dr Pelcovitz could have written (for example) that Zauder was a hard working student, who did well in exams and that he was good to his mother. Whatever. Fine.

However, Dr Pelcovitz also introduced himself as "a clinical psychologist in practice for the past thirty years... I spent most of my career treating victims of child sexual abuse...I have had the opportunity to treat many individuals with issues in the area of controlling sexuality".

Dr Pelcovitz, having stated his professional credentials, reported that when he met with Zauder after his arrest "he wasn't the least bit defensive about his actions. He expressed sincere regret and remorse."

Remember, Zauder was arrested for possessing child porn. So presumably that was what he was expressing remorse for.

What about the even more serious offenses which were unknown to the police, which Zauder had committed by that time, and which he was covering up?

Dr Pelcovitz made a misjudgement claiming that Zauder showed remorse. Perhaps remorse for being caught, and relief at not having been caught, at that stage, for the worse offenses. But there was nothing sincere about Zauder's show of regret for his crimes.

Dr Pelcovitz then continues in his letter to Judge Kaplan:

"As you know, the prognosis for sustained change is often guarded [DM: This is code, I believe for the high rates of pedophile recidivism]. In the case of Evan, however, I believe that he possesses many of the ingredients that I have come to associate with sustained change and potential to be a valuable member of society. A combination of an unusually supportive family coupled with Evan's advanced capacity for self-awareness and empathy should serve to improve prognosis for becoming a valued member of his family and community".

Here again, Dr Pelcovitz is taking on the persona of the mental health professional, giving a quasi-prognosis for a man who was not Dr Pelcovitz's therapy client - but a student in his class.

And again, Dr Pelcovitz gets his stab at a prognosis seriously wrong.

In the Sentencing Memorandum, by Preet Bharara, United States Attorney, Southern District of New York:

"Dr Shoshanna Must, the Probation Office’s evaluator, scored Zauder’s risk of reoffense as
Moderate-High based on the conjunction of the Static-99R and the Stable-2007 instrument, a
result statistically correlated with a 5-year recidivism rate for sexual reoffenses of 16.8%.

"Beyond this quantitative metric, Dr. Must also qualitatively found that Zauder has “a strong sexual interest in underage males, pro-offending attitudes, and a sense of intellectual superiority that allowed him to believe he could break societal rules without being detected.”

"Moreover, any account of Zauder’s risk of recidivism must take account of his violation of his terms of pretrial release by using a computer he knew was monitored by Pretrial Services to access inappropriate sexual images of children. This extraordinarily flagrant and reckless conduct—after he had just been arrested and placed on home detention with relatives, and had started his course of therapy—gives great reason to question his confidence that he poses no future risk.

"Indeed, given the risk of recidivism, the Government harbors serious concerns that a sentence at or near the mandatory minimum will not adequately protect the public from further crimes by the defendant."

In conclusion, while I am an ardent admirer of the career of achievements of Dr Pelcovitz, I believe Dr David Pelcovitz made various disappointing errors in judgement.

1. Writing a letter for Evan Zauder in the first place.
2. Mixing up Dr Pelcovitz's two capacities - Zauder's past teacher (legitimate, I guess) and a renowned clinical psychologist (blunder).

Given the negative publicity, and even outrage, which has now been generated by Dr Pelcovitz's letter for Evan Zauder, and the knock to his professional prestige, I suggest it would be appropriate for Dr Pelcovitz to issue a retraction of the letter and apologise.

And for the sake of our children, I hope Judge Lewis A.Kaplan had the good sense to ignore Dr Pelcovitz' ill-considered letter and plea for leniency, when he sentenced Zauder this week to 13 years imprisonment.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Cleaning Up Corruption - One City At a Time

The historic conviction of Ehud Olmert, the Mayor of Jerusalem at the time of the offenses, and subsequently Israel's Prime Minister, together with eight other officials in Tel Aviv District Court, by Judge David Rozen, is a landmark for the rule of law in Israel.

The message, which also came through clearly in the conviction of the ex-President Moshe Katzav on rape charges, in the very same court-room in 2011, is that no-one is above the law in the State of Israel.

The cleaning up of corruption in Jerusalem, where the Holyland development is located, which was the building project which generated millions of dollars in bribery payments, is an important step in cleaning up that municipality which Judge Rozen described as "deeply corrupt and corrupting".

This message is especially important, including in other municipalities around the country where city leadership can see themselves as immune to the rule of law.

Unfortunately, contempt by the leadership for the law has been enhanced by the electorate which, for example, in 2013 municipal elections in Ramat Hasharon, Bat Yam Mayor and Upper Nazareth, all returned mayors to office, in spite of corruption charges they were each facing.

Here in Beit Shemesh, in spite of the electoral fraud and campaigning irregularities in the October 2013 elections, the incumbent mayor and his cronies were successfully re-elected to office in March 2014.

As in many of Israel's cities, corruption, kickbacks and bribes in Beit Shemesh are rumoured to be widespread in the machinations of running the city. 

If you have experienced such corruption first hand, or can offer information, call the police! If for whatever reason you don't feel up to that, feel free to contact me offline (

It is now time for Beit Shemesh to follow Jerusalem's lead.   

Friday, 28 March 2014

Should convicted sex offender be entertaining children?

David Bruckner, known as David Hachakian/The Impersonator

Kikar Shabbat has reported that popular children's entertainer David Bruckner, better know by his stage name "David Hachakian" ("David The Impersonator") is struggling to continue performing for children.

Bruckner was convicted in 2012 of a series of indecent acts against a 12 year old boy, and sentenced to 7 months imprisonment. On at least two occasions, Bruckner paid off the boy, after molesting him, with gifts and cash.

As is usual with such sex offenses, Bruckner underwent a clinical risk assessment, and he was found to be medium-to-high risk to the public. The judge who tried him highlighted the extra risk that, as a children's performer, Bruckner has access to numerous children.

Now Bruckner has completed his sentence, he is working again as a children's performer.

This has been permitted by the court, with certain conditions, such as that his performances must always be in the presence of an adult. This is being appealed by the prosecution services, who are seeking to get Bruckner banned from giving performances to children, due to his "dangerous character".

Kikar Shabbat interviewed Bruckner, who claimed that the prosecution services are harassing him because he "made a laughing stock of them". Bruckner also says that the Regional Court, where his case is being heard, "is not Hareidi territory" and therefore will not give him a fair hearing.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Allegations Against Minister Raise Dilemmas

Should Subject of Crime Allegations be Named? 
Update: Since the time I wrote this article (on the morning of 24th March), Silvan Shalom has been revealed to be the previously unnamed "important Minister", then subject to a gag-order. The various issues raised in this article about such gag-orders are still of interest.  

Allegations against an unnamed "important Minister" have generated debate in Israel.

The unnamed Government Minister is apparently the target of allegations of sexual misconduct, brought by the alleged victim, reportedly who was an employee of the Minister. These events are alleged to have taken place around 15 years ago.

This case has raised several issues:

1. Statute of Limitations - if the events took place 15 years ago, this would be beyond the statute of limitations, which in Israel is 10 years for such offenses. On the face of it - it's not an open-and-shut-case. It's simply shut.

Even if it is beyond the statute of limitations,  that itself has raised an issue as to whether the law needs to be changed. It is well documented that such offenses can take decades for victims to come forward. Some countries have very long, or even no time limitation for reporting certain types of sex offenses, for this very reason.

In Israel, there are already longer periods of time a victim of child abuse can come forward to report. For these offenses, the statute of limitations clock starts ticking when the victim reaches 18 and runs for a further 10 or 20 years, depending on the nature of the offense.

2. Naming Names - the unnamed "Important Minister" is protected by law from being named at this point in the inquiry.

It is eminently correct that people should not be publicly shamed on the basis of (potentially) scurrilous or vacuous allegations. Israeli law protects all citizens from such treatment, including Important Ministers.

The argument against such protection is that, potentially, the law increases the shame brought by such allegations, from one named suspect, to many totally innocent people who sound similar to the terse descriptions which are permitted for the press to use. For example, "A male teacher in his thirties from Beit Shemesh was arrested today on suspicion of XYZ" places all 30-something male teachers in Beit Shemesh on the public suspect list. Perhaps it would be better to specifically identify one, rather than implicate many?

In the case of the Important Minister, all other Important Ministers are now required to defend their reputations, perhaps to their staff, their families, to the press - "not me!"

3. Encouraging other victims to step forward - one of the reasons that the police may wish to publicize a specific case, is to encourage other victims to step forward. Even if a specific complaint would not be strong enough to withstand the judicial process, the police may have reason to believe that the suspect is a serial offender. Publicizing the allegation, can attract other victims to step forward, building a stronger case to bring a criminal to justice and protect the public.

This positive motive for publicizing a case, still needs to be balanced against damaging the reputation of the assumed-innocent suspect, and casting aspersions on those individuals who could be wrongly assumed to be the suspect.

These issues and genuine dilemmas become public discourse when VIPs are involved; however, the same issues are faced daily by the criminal justice system.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Why Child Abuse Victims Don't "Just Get Over It"

By kind permission of Bracha Goetz

It is hard for many at our seder tables to imagine what it must have felt like to experience the abuse perpetrated on the slaves in Egypt.  And it is hard for many others at the very same seder tables to imagine what it must feel like to be set free - because they do not remember how freedom tastes.  That’s because childhood abuse can have an unfathomable power over people so that they remain enslaved throughout their lives.

Adults who have been abused as children usually find it much harder than others to trust in God.  They feel like G-D abandoned them, in addition to all the other adults who didn’t protect them.  It’s impossible to understand the big picture of why the agony of abuse ends up in so many people’s lives, just as it is impossible to understand the abuse suffered when we were slaves in Egypt.  What is not impossible, though?  Helping our family members and friends who are survivors of abuse to not feel abandoned by us as well.

Recent sociological research has corroborated what seems fairly evident: people who are suicidal feel isolated and not understood in their deepest struggles.  The trauma of childhood abuse is a common cause of suicidal ideation.  It often involves carrying within the deepest kind of struggle, one that has been widely misunderstood. 

Until now.

It isn’t an accident that at the same time that reports of childhood abuse are just beginning to come forth more readily, we are also witnessing the beginning of research coming forth in the area of neuroscience that is of great assistance in comprehending how trauma changes people.  Functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain (f-MRI) is demonstrating why traumatic events can leave such a dramatic impact on people’s lives.

We’ve learned that the subcortical (the lower and dorsal) region of our brain has a negative bias.  It is the more primitive part of our brain designed to aid in our protection, so it seems that the dangerous experiences we’ve had tend to leave a deeper impression on our brains than the pleasant ones. 

The neurons that fire frantically during a traumatic experience cause an actual rewiring of the brain.  This means that neuroscientists now have the technology to observe the physiological changes that can take place in the brain as a result of childhood abuse.   Through imaging, researchers also recently achieved the ability to detect the effects of triggers on the brain – circumstances which lead the survivor to respond with somatic reactions as if the abuse is still actively continuing.

Trauma survivors are generally finding it extremely valuable to learn about the new insights from psychobiology that are emerging, and it is also vital for those who want to aid survivors in the healing process.  Recent knowledge helps to explain why cognitive therapies, while important, are limited in their healing capabilities, as the cerebral cortex (the higher and frontal part of the brain) is only of limited assistance in processing trauma.   

Thinking one’s way out of “past” trauma can only get a survivor so far, and this is very useful to understand.  Since triggering events cause the same re-wired neural pathways to fire, eliciting the same primal reactions in the survivor’s body, it truly is as if the abuse is still continuing, and not an event from the past.   That’s why expecting a survivor of trauma to “just get over it already” actually makes no logical sense, as the survivor can be re-experiencing the trauma frequently.

New information is gained daily from previously unelucidated areas of neuroscience, right along with daily new information from dark closets filled with physical, emotional and sexual childhood abuse.   It turns out that the neuroplasticity of our brains causes traumatic experiences to become embedded in our bodies, but this knowledge about the resilient qualities of our brains is, at the same time, shining light on effective methods of healing.  Greater awareness of the mind-body interaction helps clinicians, as well as survivors and those who want to support them, uncover clues to an individual’s trauma history as well as his or her specific recovery process. 

As the way we view survivors of trauma, and, more importantly, as the way survivors view themselves, changes,  the added layer of frustration and blame over what has been seen as a lack of progress in “moving forward” is removed.  Psychobiological advances are translating into sensori-motor training, somatic therapy, movement therapy, and a wide variety of mindfulness techniques - utilizing the diverse and specialized capabilities of the “full mind” so the brain-body integration can be optimized. 

Understanding where and how memories are processed and stored leads to maximizing the interrelationship between the cortical and subcortical regions of the brain, as well as the right and left hemispheres of the brain, to actually change the way the abuse is stored in the body.  Measurably significant differences become manifest as new vertical and lateral connections are forged.

We are living in a time when there is an explosion of disclosures of an as yet untold number of cases of abuse, and there is an explosion of neurobiological knowledge, as well, that can help the survivors seeking relief.  In both realms, we are only now getting to see the very tip of what is vastly bigger than we ever realized.   

Both types of breakthroughs offer trauma sufferers the chance to finally be released from their abuse and their abusers.  Trained professionals are needed to help a survivor safely override the electromagnetic circuitry of the nervous system that has become frayed and torn, if it has led to the extremes of hyper-vigilance or dissociative numbness.  It is as if certain fuses became overwhelmed and blew, but now that they can more accurately be identified, survivors can gradually be empowered to learn mind-body techniques that help reset them to a balanced level of relaxed alertness.

With increased awareness, we can reach out with more appropriate and compassionate support to the survivors who sit with us at our seder tables –as well as to all those who cannot yet face being there this year.  Social engagement with an empathetic supporter is essential, as they have felt alone in their deepest struggle.  Simply by offering patience and understanding, we help survivors in their courageous exodus from Egypt, from that constricted place where one is stuck reliving one’s personal enslavement again and again. 

When we reach out with tenderness, we can reach across every level of consciousness in the brain, until we reach the fiber that connects to another’s heart.  No longer alone, our caring helps raise each other’s dignity, as we trek toward redemption together.

This article appeared in last week's Jewish Press
BIO: Bracha Goetz studied at Harvard University and the Medical College of Virginia.  She is the author of over 20 Jewish children's books which can be found on her Amazon Page, including Let's Stay Safe!Let’s Stay Pure, and The Invisible Book.  It is possible to reach her at

Monday, 17 March 2014

Will Good Fences Make Good Neighbors in Beit Shemesh?

The idea of splitting Beit Shemesh into two municipalities is gaining traction.

Richard Peres, the Beit Shemesh city councilor, has been an outspoken advocate for splitting Beit Shemesh, for at least ten years.

When I first heard the idea from Richard, I felt that this otherwise grounded veteran politician, was losing his touch with reality.

The idea seemed far too fetched to have any practical application.

The highly contentious re-called municipal election campaign is now over, and Moshe Abutbul the incumbent mayor, has been re-elected, if by a wafer-thin majority. Furthermore, the mayor now has a workable majority coalition, with 10 of the 19 councilors firmly allied with Abutbul.

Rather than licking their wounds, and taking time off to recuperate from the double-campaigns in October 2013 and March 2014, the zionist camp, now in opposition, are directing their energies to reviving the dusty plans to split the municipality into two.

The plans proponents are claiming that the time has come to formally recognise the "unsuccessful" relationship between the chareidi and zionist populations. They are calling for a peaceful divorce.

Gideon Saar, the Interior Minister has been reported to be reviewing the possibility of splitting Beit Shemesh for several months, along with a parallel proposal from the city of Sefad.

Several MK's are reported to be promoting the concept at Government level, probably including Beit Shemesh MK Rabbi Dov Lipman - who has the ear of his Yesh Atid colleagues, including Yair Lapid.

This week, a petition was posted to split the city, with 'only' 1556 votes in favour (as of writing this article):
This Tuesday night, a demonstration has been called by activists in Beit Shemesh to promote the partition plan.

The idea will certainly need a huge amount of details working out, even if it were to be universally accepted in principle. Which it isn't.

For example, I live in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, in the sole area coloured purple on the (inaccurate) election results map above, indicating a mix of Eli Cohen (zionist) and Moshe Abutbul (Chareidi) supporters.

Would me and my neighbors be in the local equivalent of West Berlin, in the new plan?

Or, as I am National Religious, would I be encouraged to move house into the zionist Beit Shemesh?

Friday, 14 March 2014

Give Your Matanot Le'evionim Even In The Rain! Now Updated for the Sun!!


Purim: Since my posting at the end of last week - the Sun Has Come Out in Israel!

And you can STILL conveniently donate online to Lema'an Achai's Matanot Le'evionim campaign!
Click Here to Do Your Part
fill in the details
Apply my donation to this project:
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chose either:
Smart Matanot Le'evionim - half of your donation goes out on the day of Purim, while half is used to rehabilitate needy families.
Regular Matanot Le'evionim - 100% is distributed "bo bayom" to over Two Hundred needy families on Purim Day. Until 3pm Israel time, you are yotzei by all the deot. After 3pm you are still yotzei by "breira". 

Any hitches - feel free to email me at

Israel is blessed with some long awaited rain!

This makes it more challenging to prepare for Purim...

So you can make your life easier and "mehudar" by giving Matanot Le'evinim to aiding and rehabilitating families in financial crisis, from the comfort, warmth and dryness of your home!

You can give generously, right now, from your computer or smart phone to Lema'an Achai's 2014 Matanot Le'evionim project; Lema'an Achai, the home of 'Smart Chesed":

Photo: How to best keep the mitzva of "Matanot Le'Evionim" - gifts for the poor - for Purim.
Give generously to Lema’an Achai Purim Campaign.
Conveniently on-line:

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Of Course I'm Disappointed!

Shas candidate celebrates his victory in Beit Shemesh in the do-over elections.

In the universal contest between the blues and the reds, one side will invariably win, the other lose.

When the reds win, it's not easy or comfortable for the blues.

It's a phenomenon known to us all - being on the losing side.

After the most arduous, contentious, long running and unusual municipal election campaign in Beit Shemesh, the chips fell where they did last night - and the incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul was re-elected, if by a wafer-thin margin of several hundred votes.

My man, Eli Cohen, called Moshe Abutbul to congratulate him on his victory, and Eli acknowledged his defeat with dignity.

I also congratulate Moshe Abutbul and his many many supporters in Beit Shemesh on their victory.

They worked hard, played hard, and they should enjoy their victory!

I feel like the morning-after-the-night-before - a bit dazed, tired and yes, of course, disappointed.

Someone who experiences defeat without any pain (sadness, dismay, disappointment) is simply not human.

As long as these feelings are temporary and not channeled in a negative way, for example, to feed antipathy against the winning side, pointing fingers at one's colleagues, etc, these feelings are entirely legitimate and healthy.

A defeat should involve a process of autopsy, analysis, to work out what went wrong, what could or should have been better or different, and hopefully work out an improved game-plan for next time one is involved in a contest or competition.

There's a balance between picking oneself up, dusting oneself off, determinedly moving on with other day to day challenges - while nevertheless taking the time to do the internal accounting process.

What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first step to something better.Wendell Phillips (1811 - 1884)

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Does The Body Language Tell The Story?

Both candidates in today's re-called mayoral election in Beit Shemesh have voted.

Their body language seems to tell the story.

This is Eli Cohen's moment of pride and hope;

Eli Cohen, mayoral candidate voting today
 While incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul looks like he really, really, doesn't want to be doing this...

Incumbent mayor, Moshe Abutbul voting in today's election

Monday, 10 March 2014

Rav Chaim Soloveichik on the Beit Shemesh Elections

Rav Soloveichik
Rav Chaim Soloveichik

I am not expressing my thoughts in order to let people know for whom I intend to vote. I believe that for whom one vote’s is a personal decision. I signed a letter in support of a specific candidate merely in order to convey that one may feel free to vote for the candidate whom one sees as being the better one. This is not my personal chiddush, but the Mesorah that I received from my father, HaRav Aharon Soloveichik, a Gadol who had the respect of the Gedolim from the previous generation.
I am dismayed by the behavior of the perceived Torah community. Let me be clear. this election campaign did not become a religious conflict as a result of the actions of non-observant Jews. A war has indeed been waged by the same people who tout the values of Torah and Shabbos. The current campaign started with signs about להקהל ולעמד על נפשם  , implying that the elections in Bet Shemesh are similar to the war against Haman and his cohorts from the days of Mordechai.
We also heard slander about a plan to have buses run in Bet Shemesh on Shabbos. Besides the fact such an intention never existed, it was and is completely absurd to imagine that a company would send buses even to the older parts of Bet Shemesh on Shabbos. As an aside, on Nachal HaYarkon street all the residents suffered on Shabbos over the years, hearing construction in R.B.S. Gimmel. All complaints to city officials did not succeed in stopping the construction until someone was able to speak to the Chief Rabbi about the Shabbos construction which brought merely a temporary reprieve. This happened during the previous administration. I am mentioning this for the purpose of pointing out that those who speak arrogantly and imperiously in the name of Torah need to be more introspective and speak with greater modesty when deeming to decide for all of our fine community which candidate so clearly better serves the cause of frumkeit.
I also have heard that there are plans for music to be played in R.B.S. on Shabbos That’s right, I guess it must be reasonable to suppose that unless one particular candidate wins, then a band will be hired to play at every park in the Ramah for two hours on a Friday night, just as a payback against religious Jews. What kind of a person could believe such an accusation, and even worse, what type of person could invent such an accusation.
Why am I writing today? Because, when I was out, I saw the latest election poster: “I love G-d and therefore I won’t vote for people who hate G-d.” What can I say? If a group of Torah Jews acts in such a fashion  then I can only say: תורה תורה חגרי שק.  I think that some people in our community are for some reason so afraid of the outcome of the elections that they have accepted the notion that “the ends justify the means”. This means that one may do anything one wants: lie, cheat ,denigrate as long as the Torah tzibur will get what it needs. I was raised differently. My mother, Rebbetzin Ella Soloveichik, obm, who came from forty nine generations of Rabbonim, taught me that you cannot build Torah by destroying it first . My father, zt’l in very strong terms always taught that we must learn and practice Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof. As the Targum Yonasan explains: one should pursue justice with justice. We should never resort to unjust ways in order to pursue justice because the idea of the ends justifying the means is repugnant to Torah.
I hope that with Purim approaching all the Jews of Bet Shemesh will allow the Torah to influence all of their actions, not just how they learn or keep Shabbos. May all of our other actions be sanctified as well with the spirit of the Torah and may we be zocheh to bring a true Kiddush Hashem in our community.

Chayim Soloveichik

Why I'm Switching My Vote

The Beit Shemesh Re-Called Election which will be held this Tuesday is unique.

It the first time ever that an election has been overturned and recalled in Israel. This was on the grounds of widespread and systematic election fraud in the October 2013 Municipal Elections.

It is therefore the only election in Israel's history where voters have the (legal) possibility of voting, changing their mind - and then voting again differently.

And that's precisely what I'm planning to do.

In October, I voted for Eli Cohen for mayor, and the TOV party for city council.

I am a fan of TOV, because I admire their courage in pushing a moderate chareidi agenda, in a field dominated by fundamentalists.  Encouraging chareidi participation in the workforce, the army and Israeli society - and in local terms, "the pursuit of quality of life" - sounds like a healthy vote in favour of progress.

However, what finally clinched my vote in October for TOV was their number two candidate, Rav Avrohom Leventhal.

I know Rav Leventhal from close up, in our relationship as Chairman (me) and Executive Director (R.Leventhal) of Lema'an Achai, working in partnership for the past seven years.

I am an unapologetic diehard admirer of Rav Leventhal - his integrity, humanity and wisdom.

Having Rav Leventhal on the city council would enable the whole city to benefit from his personal qualities.

However, even TOV's number one candidate, Aaron Solomon, failed (narrowly) to win a seat in October's election.

Frankly, voting for TOV this time, so as to help get their number two, Rav Leventhal, on city council, now sounds like a mis-spent vote.

Furthermore, TOV's inability to garner a seat, showed that, however admirable their agenda, their natural constituency of working-chareidim are not listening or interested in pursuing a path of moderation.

Instead, I'll be hoping that my vote will make a significant difference by helping Rena Hollander into city council.

I have known Rena for over a decade, and can attest to her quiet, industrious and compassionate assistance to helping hundreds of families in our community.

Rena is number four on the Beit Shemesh Returns list - in October, they won three seats on city council, just shy of Rena winning a seat.

The Beit Shemesh Returns Party is a progressive coalition including Jewish Home/Bayit Yehudi, which is my natural habitat as a national religious stalwart.

I'll therefore be voting for "Beit Shemesh Returns" (טב) - Eli Cohen's united zionist party.

So, for me, it's TOV out, and טב in!

For the mayor, in the October municipal election I voted for the Zionist candidate, Eli Cohen.

This was because Eli promised a new professionalism and fairness in a city which has become a byword around the world for extremism and corruption.

Eli's upper management experience at the Jewish Agency and Mekorot Water Company showed solid competence, without frills & shtikim/trickery.

Eli's lack of political experience raised a question-mark - and his bungled party leadership contest against Aliza Bloch, also smacked of a political novice.

However, given the choice between a good manager, and a seasoned politician, in October, I was willing to risk the former.

This time, just five months later, we are looking at a very different Eli Cohen.

There has been mumbled criticism that Eli Cohen's election campaign was lackluster and negative.

What these critics were missing, is that Eli Cohen this time didn't need a slick, expensive campaign to introduce himself and what he stands for to the Beit Shemesh voters.

This time, Eli Cohen has already proven his steel.

The feat he accomplished, against all odds, of courageously fighting the systematic corruption and fraud of the October election, through the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court - and winning an unprecedented victory for clean democratic process, taking a firm stand against cheats and fraudsters - has changed Eli Cohen's status.

Today, Eli Cohen's credentials are not that he has held senior management positions in this or that organization or company.

Eli Cohen's most compelling credential... is this recalled election itself!!

Eli Cohen is now the nationally-known face of electoral integrity and honesty in Israel.

Eli Cohen has proven he has the personal courage, resources and talents to take on even the most fanatical & cheating kanoim, who for the past decade had brought our whole city into international disrepute  - and Eli Cohen won.

Last time, I voted for Eli Cohen, Deputy CEO of Mekorot Water Company.

This time I'm switching.

I've had enough of being given 'the face' when I mention I'm from Beit Shemesh to people from out of town and even abroad - it is time to restore the battered reputation of Beit Shemesh.

It is time to turn the page on the past, and move on to ethical, tolerant, reliable, equitable and efficient government.

This time, I'm voting for the nationally recognised hero of lawful democracy in Israel, a man who has already accomplished the unprecedented.

I will vote for the new Eli Cohen.

The next mayor of Beit Shemesh - a city we will all be proud of!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Global Response to Child Abuse in the Jewish Community

Magen picture remastered
By Yonatan Schechter
February 27, 2014

Beit Shemesh, Israel - On March 3, professionals and lay leaders from around the world will gather in Jerusalem for a historic 3-day conference.  They will be convening for the First International Congress for Child Protection Organizations in the Jewish Community at the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University.  The conference will include professors, mental health workers and policy makers who represent an array of governmental authorities and NGOs from all over the globe, with representation expected from organizations in the US, UK, Argentina, South Africa, France, Switzerland and Australia.

The purpose of this unprecedented effort is to draw community organizations together to share ideas, resources and information for the sake of improving their capabilities in addressing the scourge of child abuse in their respective communities.  Among the topics planned for discussion are school-based child safety curriculums, Jewish law as it relates to child abuse and communal responses to abusers. 

The event will be sponsored by two organizations that have shed light on the enshrouded topic of abused children, particularly sexually abused, within Jewish communities.  The Haruv Institute, founded in 2007 and based in Hebrew University, advances research into abuse and neglect of children and implements that research by devising educational programs and by offering advanced training to professionals.  The Institute has become an internationally recognized authority on child abuse and neglect.  The other sponsor, Magen, is a community-based organization that was born out of one man’s discovery of a glaring need within his community. 

As David Morris tells the story, in 2010 he was serving as chairman of a social service organization in Beit Shemesh, when he was approached to assist in a case of a sexually abused child.  Mr. Morris was astonished to find a gross lack of professional resources to respond to the child’s case.   Upon further inquiry, he observed widespread suspicion of authority among many Orthodox communities along with insufficient cultural awareness among authorities charged with providing services to those communities.  The result was an inept system of child protection and law enforcement.  And the victims, he further discovered, were hundreds of abused children without protection and tens of child abusers without accountability to the law.  Mr.  Morris then laid the foundation for Magen, whose mission was to supplement the authorities already in place for the sake of providing robust and responsive services on behalf of the community’s children.

Over the next three years, Mr. Morris noted other grassroots organization, with stories and missions similar to Magen’s, which were mushrooming in Jewish communities around the globe.  Instead of watching from afar as each organization endeavored in isolation  to “re-invent the wheel” of confronting sexual and physical abuse, Magen teamed up with the Haruv Institute to create a forum for collaboration between the various organizations. “We’re trying to create a community of community organizations,” said Morriss, now the CEO of Magen.  He said that the primary aim of this new international community is to form a “macrosystem” that will   “make sure that children in Jewish communities will be safer from abuse today than they were in the past.”

Community Rabbis Supporting Eli Cohen

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Beyond The Odds

Descendants of Jacob and David Kestenbaum gather at Beit Kenesset Hanasi, Jerusalem 
As family re-unions go, this has got to be unique.

I had the privilege of attending a presentation at the Beit Kenesset Hanasi in Rechavia, Jerusalem by

Bonnie Gurewitsch who is the curator of the exhibition, Against the Odds: American Jews and the Rescue of Europe's Refugees 1933-1941, now on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage - a living Memorial to the Holocaust, in New York City.

Bonnie opened her presentation with an explanation of the astounding obstacle of bureaucracy which stood as a wall between European Jewry, and safe haven in the USA.

Strict quotas were in place, which severely restricted the total potential emigration to just tens of thousand each year.

Furthermore, these quotas were reinforced and then supplemented with draconian bureaucratic requirements - on the pretext that immigrants should not become a burden on the public purse in the USA.

Bonnie observed that these additional impediments were sometimes fueled by blatant antisemitism by US officials.

It is not known how many were rejected by US Consulates, for various reasons, whether technical or substantive, but it is estimated that 90% of applications were immediately rejected, at first review, and these rejections were not even recorded.

The idiosyncrasies and arbitrariness of these requirements meant that there were impossibly low chances of someone successfully applying for a visa to the USA without expert guidance, money and a well resourced advocate in the USA.

Bonnie gave several examples of such advocates,such as William B. Thalhimer Sr., who established a working farm project, initially to accept hundreds of Jewish agricultural students from Germany - and eventually succeeded in bringing over around 35 young German Jews, and Herman Stern, who used personal and political connections to enlist the assistance of influential figures.

"American Jews had to be resourceful and persistent in order to save those in danger, usually committing their own funds not only to guarantee that the refugees would not become “public charges” in the United States, and also to help them establish themselves once they arrived."

Bonnie also presented the experiences of the many members of the extended Lehman family, and Adolf Lorch, who helped hundreds of people reach the United States.

From a personal angle, the highlight was Bonnie's explanation of the herculean efforts of Jacob and David Kestenbaum, who worked with organizations in their Orthodox community to bring hundreds of Jews out of Europe before and after the Holocaust.

"New York fur dealers, Jacob and David Kestenbaum, earned a reputation for responding to every request they received from refugees looking for sponsorship or assistance. The brothers issued hundreds of affidavits to extended family, friends and total strangers and encouraged others to serve as sponsors."

The brothers were aided by two full time secretaries, who organized their overseas 'client' families into over 700 case files - and each case file could include a whole family.

When the Kestenbaum brothers were blacklisted by the US authorities for "having too many cousins", they used their friends and neighbours to help; furthermore, the brothers developed new routes of escape, including from Europe to Palestine, and they participated in the evacuation of the Mir and Chabad yeshivot.

The Beit Kenesset HaNassi was filled to overflowing, and around 50 of the attendees were proud descendents of Jacob and David Kestenbaum, including Jacob's son Sandy, and David's son Rav Ephraim (my father-in-law).

Although the individual heroic Jews detailed in the presentation, and others around the USA, worked tirelessly, their efforts did not always succeed.

For example, it is not known how many of the Kestenbaum brothers' 700 files, actually succeeded in reaching safety in the USA (this is currently being researched).

The grim facts were that there were only around 300,000 visas available during the whole war years for all immigrants to the USA from around the world. Out of this, due to the almost impossible bureaucracy, which only got worse as the USA entered the war in 1942, only 92,000 visas were actually issued. According to Bonnie, the majority of these were probably to Jews.

What was clear from Bonnie's presentation is that the US Government did the minimum to help Jews in peril in Europe during the pre- and War years.

In spite of the heroic and creative efforts individual Jews, like the Kestenbaum brothers and others, in part as a result of blind or hateful US Government policy, many millions of European Jews were left to their tragic fate.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Is TOV Good Enough for Beit Shemesh?

With the chareidi political forces now girding their loins to strongly oppose the proposed new IDF enlistment law, the voice of the middle ground is more important than ever, yet perhaps too soft to be heard at all.

TOV ("good")  is a relatively young political party, led by Chanoch Verdiger, the son of the late long-standing MK Avraham Verdiger. TOV claims to represent "working chareidim".

A Tov Facebook page states:

TOV is the modern successor to Poalei Agudath Yisrael. TOV aims to assist the Haredi community face the social and economic challenges it faces today enabling community members to earn an honorable living, educate their children in excellent school systems while enjoying a good quality of life as other citizens of Israel.

TOV stood in five cities for local council in the October 2013 municipal elections - Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Beitar, Emanuel and Elad.

However, the results were disappointing, as TOV did not succeed to win a seat in any of these elections. 

In Beit Shemesh, where they were widely projected to increase their one seat representation at city hall to win two seats, the party garnered 1299 votes - shy of the 1355 needed for local party leader Aharon Solomon to win a single seat. 

TOV's stand together with Zionist candidate Eli Cohen, rather than the Chareidi mayor Moshe Abutbul, together with voter confusion at the ballots (TOV's voting slip said עד, whereas Eli Cohen's party, confusingly had טב), may have resulted in losing several hundred votes on election day. 

However, with the overturning of the October 2013 election results, due to widespread and systematic fraud, by the Jerusalem District and then Supreme Court, TOV will now have a second chance to reach city hall in the new elections on 11th March.

Since the announcement of new elections, TOV have zig-zagged.

Initially Solomon publicly announced he would not be running; his number two, Rav Avrohom Leventhal, would therefore automatically take the number one slot on the party list. 

Solomon then back-tracked, and retained his place at the head of the local list. 

There was much back-and-forth about whether TOV should continue to support mayoral contender Eli Cohen, or the Shas Party incumbent Mayor, Moshe Abutbul. 

This week, the party leadership decided the most pragmatic place for TOV to be, regarding endorsement of the mayor, is firmly on the fence, announcing:

Tov has chosen to refrain from endorsing a specific candidate for mayor and encourages its voters to choose whom they wish for mayor of Bet Shemesh. 
The Tov party has the unique position to be a bridge between the diverse communities in our city who yearn for achdut and harmony.

Furthermore, TOV have pushed that their voting slip is עד, not טב, hoping to avoid TOV supporters inadvertently voting for another party.

..the party members chose to run again for Bet Shemesh city council under the letters עד....
Remember that Tov's letters on the ballot are עד

I wish TOV the best of luck in the new elections - the TOV middle path between the two power blocks of the Chareidim, backing Moshe Abutbul, and Zionists, backing Eli Cohen, in the contentious Beit Shemesh - is admirable. 

Particularly against the backdrop of the gathering storm clouds over the Enlistment Bill, and the increased polarization between the Chareidi establishment, and the rest of the country. 

TOV's voice of moderation, particularly in Beit Shemesh, and particularly now, is important. 

Even if it is apparently not so popular with the voters.   

The Groomer - A Profile of a Child Abuser

This was written by the parents of a child who was abused by the local grandfatherly neighbor, who was amazingly friendly to everyone else's children.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

This Time, The Dead Won't Vote!

Counting ballots of soldiers and absentees, January 24, 2013.

The Ministry of the Interior has announced special directives to make sure that the fraud and irregularities of last October's Municipal Elections, will not be repeated at the re-votes taking place in Beit Shemesh and Nazareth.

The Jerusalem and Supreme courts ordered new elections in Beit Shemesh and Nazareth, overturning the municipal election result of 20th October 2013, due to "widespread and systematic acts of fraud which was intended to change the election results".

Whereas the ballots are usually supervised by local residents and political parties, in the new elections only government employees "professionals with experience in managing the election process, from outside the city" will be used to supervise the balloting process. Furthermore, the Ministry has ordered massive police presence, to ensure that the new elections will be law-abiding.

Some of the allegations following the previous elections in Beit Shemesh were regarding the supervisors at balloting stations who may have participated in fraud and irregularities, such as by collaborating with the voter-fraud, or taking matters into their own hands by invalidating voting slips for rival candidates.

Furthermore, the Beit Shemesh electoral lists were so inaccurate and out-of-date, that many non-residents and even dead people were still registered as voters - leaving the door wide open for the voter fraud and scams.

Following the last election, residents joked that special arrangements had been made in some balloting stations so that Cohanim had solely voted in the morning, as the dead people were voting in the afternoon.

Eli Cohen, the challenging candidate for mayor, recently announced at a campaign meeting in Beit Shemesh that "this time, the dead won't vote!".

The Ministry of the Interior seems to agree.