Monday, September 29, 2003

Person of the Year

September 29, 2003

The Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShana, is marked quite differently from January first. Whereas the latter is celebrated in Times Square, at gala parties, and the like, most of Rosh HaShana is spend in the synagogue. According to the Jewish calendar, a new ‘day’ begins at sunset, and so it is that we commenced our year on Friday night with evening prayers. Following the short service, each family returned to its home and began the first festive meal of 5764 (counting from the creation of the world), with the traditional ‘signs’ or symbols of the New Year, beginning with an apple and honey, while reciting the prayer ‘May it be G-d’s will that we should have a good and sweet year.’ The next morning, (and the following day too) many Jews spend between five to six hours at the synagogue, reciting numerous prayers, while looking back at the past year in retrospect and looking ahead to the new year with expectation.

I participated in early morning prayers at Ma’arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. It’s difficult to characterize one’s own prayer, but I found my worship to be troubled. Reflecting on the past year was very painful.  For many years, while living in Kiryat Arba before moving to Hebron, I prayed at the same synagogue with my friend Rabbi Eli Horowitz, sitting one row behind him. Year after year I would not only see his prayer, but in many cases actually sense it, especially during the High Holy days of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. I was only a few months ago that Rabbi Eli Horowitz and his dear wife Dina were cut down in their apartment, murdered while  eating their Sabbath meal on a Friday night. On Friday night and Saturday morning his image seemed to be constantly before my eyes.

One Saturday morning, during prayers, a friend of mine said something to me about the year starting off with a ‘bang.’ When I asked him what he was talking about he looked at me with surprise and asked, ‘what, you don’t know?” When I shrugged he added, ‘Negahot – a terrorist infiltrated last night, started shooting, and killed two people.”

Just as we were sitting down to eat on Friday night, so too, Eyal and Sarah Iberbaum, together with neighbors Shai and Shira Abraham, with some other guests, were dipping an apple in honey. The Iberbaums and Abrahams live in Negahot, about ten miles south-west of Hebron. A community of over thirty families, Negahot faced tremendous hurdles in the past few years as a result of the Oslo Accords because the main approach road to the community was transferred to Arafat and the PA. When the Oslo War began three years ago that road was cut off to Negahot’s families, who could then enter and leave their community only from the west. Hebron’s archivist, Shlomit Gadot could get to her office here in Hebron only after a two hour drive, as opposed to the twenty minutes it would take before the main road was closed.

Yet, despite the difficulties and terrorist activity in the area, the community continued to thrive. Not only didn’t people leave, rather, new families moved in. Negahot families began building permanent houses, allowing them to move out of temporary ‘caravan’ homes.

Eyal Iberbaum, 27 years old, had served in Negahot while still in the army, and after marrying a year ago, brought his bride to live in this beautifully scenic community. The Iberbaums, together with his neighbors, the Abrahams and some other guests, welcomed the New Year with hope and expectation for a happy, sweet, and good year.

It was just after nine o’clock when their dinner was interrupted by sharp knocking at the door. Eyal asked twice, ‘who’s there’ but received only a garbled, unclear answer. When he slowly opened the door, weapon in hand, a twenty-one year old terrorist from a nearby Arab village opened fire with an automatic rifle, killing Iberbaum. A guest in the house quickly shot at the terrorist, preventing him from entering the home. The terrorist, standing outside, started blasting his rifle at the ‘caravan’ home, whose walls are constructed of plasterboard. As a result of this shooting, seven month old Shaked Abraham, infant daughter of Shai and Shira, was hit in the chest. Her father, an ambulance driver, together with his wife attempted to resuscitate their daughter, to no avail. She died in their arms. Two other guests were slightly wounded.

Soldiers serving in Negahot quickly arrived at the site and within two minutes killed the Arab attacker. It was later learned that the murderer, Mahmoud Hamdan, was recently released from an Israeli prison after serving thirteen months because he planned to  blow himself up in a suicide attack against Israelis. An Arab gets a year in jail for attempted murder, is released, and then fulfills his wish by killing a baby and a 27 year old man on the eve of the New Year.

At the end of  every year, it is customary in certain circles to crown a ‘person of the year.’ I spent some time thinking about who is my ‘person of the year.’ In the end, I decided that my choice is not one particular person  - rather it is a collective – Am Yisrael, living in Eretz Yisrael – the people of Israel, living in the Land of Israel – they are my ‘person of the year.’ Sure, people like Rabbi Eli and Dina Horowitz, Shaked Abraham and Eyal Iberbaum. Not only them though – but also Eli and Dina’s children, Shaked’s parents, and so many others, who have been afflicted by Arab terror which has left hundreds and thousands of dead and wounded. These are the people who are continuing to live – who are not giving up, are not leaving their homes, and have not despaired of their dream. These are the people of the year – and they are not just in Yesha, - Judea, Samaria and Gaza. They are from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and Hadera and Haifa, Eilat and Shlomi – continuing to live – to dip an apple in honey, wishing each other a happy, sweet and good New Year, despite the difficulties, despite the pain. This is the real Am Yisrael which has returned home – to our eternal home, our only home, Eretz Yisrael.

With blessings from Hebron, with blessings for a happy and better New Year, from all of Hebron’s men, women and children.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Help Him Hear Shofar in Israel

Help Him Hear Shofar in Israel
September 18, 2003

[T]here is one shavui, a captive, who is not in the hands of the Syrians, the Hizballah, or any other Arab country, for that matter. He has been held by Israel’s ‘best friend.’ And he has been rotting in an American federal penitentiary for over eighteen-and-a-half years.
From David Wilder

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as the Rambam, is considered to be one of the greatest Jewish scholars who ever lived. His codification of Jewish law, called the Mishna Torah, written almost a thousand years ago, is a primary pillar upon which Torah-observant Jews live their lives today. 

What does the Rambam consider to be the most important of all
 mitzvot, the precepts by which we live’ Is it recital of Shema Yisrael twice a day, when we accept upon ourselves the rule of G-d’ Is it the weekly observance of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath’ Or perhaps the dietary laws of Kashrut, or laws pertaining to family purity’ 

The Rambam writes, ‘There is no greater
 mitzvah than the redemption of a captive,’ or as it is known in Hebrew,pidyon shvuyim. His ruling is based on the Talmud, where it is written, ‘And Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘The sword is worse than death, hunger is worse than the sword, and captivity is the worst, because it includes them all.’’ Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, a later compilation of law based upon the Rambam’s earlier work, adds, ‘Every moment that a captive is not redeemed, when redemption is possible, is as if one is spilling blood.’

Israel has always maintained a cardinal rule of redeeming captives, prisoners of war. Every Israeli who dons a uniform knows that should be fall into enemy hands, the state of Israel will do anything and everything possible to bring about his release and return home.

In the past, Israel released over one thousand Arab terrorists for the return of four soldiers. More than likely other deals, not always made public, have been implemented to bring Israeli captives home. For over twenty years, the government has attempted to find and bring about the release of soldiers missing in action from the War in Lebanon. Unfortunately, without success. Dealing with Syria and Hizballah is very close to impossible. Yet, Israel has not given up and surely, one day, their fate will be determined and they will be brought back home.

However, there is one
 shavui, a captive, who is not in the hands of the Syrians, the Hizballah, or any other Arab country, for that matter. He has been held by Israel’s ‘best friend.’ And he has been rotting in an American federal penitentiary for over eighteen-and-a-half years. 

Jonathan Pollard is no different from any other Israeli MIA or POW. He provided Israel with intelligence information vital to the survival of the state, information the United States neglected to turn over to Israel. The information withheld from Israel included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities - being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets. Israel was legally entitled to this vital security information according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries.

Jonathan Pollard never had a trial. At the request of both the U.S. and Israeli governments, he entered into a plea agreement, which spared both governments a long, difficult, expensive and potentially embarrassing trial. He fulfilled his end of the plea agreement, cooperating fully with the prosecution. Furthermore, Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States. He was never indicted for compromising codes, agents or war plans. He was never charged with treason. He was indicted on only one charge: one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. Yet, Pollard received a life sentence and a recommendation that he never be paroled - in complete violation of the plea agreement he had reached with the government.

A Court of Appeals, in a two to one ruling, rejected Pollard’s appeal, mostly on procedural grounds. In a dissenting opinion, Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Williams called the case "a fundamental miscarriage of justice," and wrote that he would have ordered that Pollard's sentence be vacated.

In October, 1998, the US President Bill Clinton promised to release Pollard as part of the Wye Accords, signed by Yasser Arafat and Binyamin Netanyahu. At the last minute, Clinton reneged, due to threats by CIA chief George Tenet to resign should Pollard be released. This is the same George Tenet who missed all signals leading to 9/11, and who recently fed President George W. Bush false information about Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium, which Bush mentioned in his now-famous State of the Union address.

Ehud Barak could have requested Pollard’s release by executive clemency on Clinton’s last day of office. But he didn’t.

It is now clear that many of the episodes Jonathan Pollard was thought to have a hand in, bringing about the deaths of American agents in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, had nothing to do with him. Rather, that was the work of American spies, former CIA employee Aldrich Ames and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen.

Yet, Pollard is still in jail.

Sunday, September 21, has been declared ‘International Solidarity Day for Jonathan Pollard’, when people around the world will demonstrate solidarity and support for the release of Jonathan Pollard.

Activities worldwide will consist of prayer vigils, studying the
 mitzvah of redeeming captives, learning about Jonathan Pollard, petition-signing for the release of Jonathan from prison, a letter-writing campaign to President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, demonstrations, marches, etc.

A major event is being planned at Independence Park, opposite the American Consulate in Jerusalem, consisting of speeches by rabbis, members of the Knesset and other well-known public figures and famous singers. Jonathan Pollard will also be presented with the Am Yisrael Medal of Honor in recognition for his tremendous self-sacrifice, which led to his saving, literally, hundreds of thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish lives during the Persian Gulf War. The day will culminate in a silent candle-light vigil/march to the Knesset.

I call on Jews and non-Jews worldwide to take an active role in organizing and participating in this most vital event. Remember, every day Jonathan Pollard sits in prison, it is as if we are allowing the spilling of his blood. Let’s assure that this coming
 Rosh Hashana, Jonathon Pollard will hear the Shofar, together with his wife Esther, in Jerusalem.