Friday, May 30, 2008

Salute to Israel Parade

This Sunday, June 1, 27 Iyar, is the Salute to Israel Parade. It will be held rain or shine, as always. It is important that everybody who is able to go goes. Especially in this political year, it shows all the candidates that we care about Israel. It also gives yeshivot an opportunity to showcase their students' artistry in costumes and floats. I usually stand near the starting point at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, where I and others can let the Arab counterdemonstrators and their Neturei Karta lapdogs know what we think of them.
As people giving aid and comfort to our enemies, aka traitors, each and every one of these black-hatted bastards deserves to hang from the lamppost. Lacking the power to carry out the appropriate punishment, we can and must ostracise them socially. Do not attend their functions or invite them to ours. Do not do business with them, and so forth. As long as man is a social animal, social ostracism is a potent weapon against these creeps.
The parade is followed by a concert in Central Park. Security will be tight (of course), bags are checked and lines are long. But as far as I know there is mixed seating so you can bring your girl/boyfriend. The next day, of course, is Yom Yerushalayim, celebrating 41 years of a unified capital despite the efforts of our enemies and defeatists among us to redivide it. Hag Sameah!

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Yom Ha-zikron and Yom Ha'atzma'ut

Since 5 Iyar comes on Shabbat this year and the Israeli government does not want holiday observances to engender hillul Shabbat (they don't give a damn about Torah, right?), Yom Ha'atzma'ut is celebrated tomorrow. That makes today Yom Ha-zikaron, Israel's Memorial Day. As with Yom Ha-shoah last week, air raid sirens wail and everybody stands still in mourning. Even drivers on the road stop their cars, get out and stand. The whole country is stock still for a minute, except in haredi neighborhoods; what do they care for our national observances? But there is a difference between last week and today. Last week resembled Tisha B'Av - kulo maror. Today is bittersweet - matza and maror mixed and eaten together. We mourn our losses, since to us but not to our enemies every life is a precious gift from God. But at the same time we rejoice in having children (male and female) who are strong, brave and willing to fight. There is a qualitative difference between walking helplessly into a gas chamber and falling in battle - dying on one's feet so that the rest of us won't have to live on our knees. They are the guarantors of "Never Again" and I thank God for the privilege of raising a son who heard the call from across the ocean, went over and served in Zahal during the second intifada, when he could have been enjoying the party scene at college.
Tonight the sirens will wail again, and we will begin to celebrate Yom Ha'atzma'ut. Ma'ariv with the Yom Tov niggun, Hallel at night and again tomorrow morning, the haftara of Od Hayom B'Nov (same as the eighth day of Pesah, which Israelis don't celebrate) in anticipation of the completion of the ge'ula. Don't let anything interfere with the joy of having lived to see the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. May the process that began 60 years ago reach its glorious conclusion speedily in our time.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

In Memoriam: Sigmund F. Stern

Today (1 Iyar) is the 17th yahrzeit of my father a"h and the following was published in the Jewish Press on the occasion of his fourth yahrzeit in 1995:

Fourth Yahrzeit of Sigmund F. Stern
by Zev Stern, Ph.D.
[From Jewish Press May 5, 1995]

The first day of Iyar 5755 marks the fourth yahrzeit of my father, Sigmund F. Stern (Shimon Alter ben Moshe) A”H. It is fitting that my father should have entered Gan Eden during the week between Yom Hashoah and Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, a week when Jews ascend from the low point of being dirt under the world’s feet to the high mountain of sovereignty and independence.
My father personified the strength that enabled us to climb out of the pit and up on the mountain. An amateur boxer in his youth between the wars, he would not hesitate to take on the Nazi thugs whose favorite sport was harassing Jews on the streets of his native Vienna.
Later, seeing the writing on the wall, he followed the lead of Avraham Avinu and left his native land when the leaving was good, trusting in G-d to guide him to safety. World War II saw him fighting the Nazis, first with the French and then with the American Army.
When the war was over, he married my mother and raised a family of Shomrei Torah U-Mitzvot during those difficult postwar years when that required extraordinary struggle and self-sacrifice. For us it is difficult to imagine a Brooklyn without thriving Torah centers, without the shteiblach, kosher pizza shops and other amenities that our generation takes for granted. My father used to shlep to Washington Heights for Rav Breuer’s meat because he did not trust the kosher butchers in Brooklyn.
My father was a soldier and, as General MacArthur said, old soldiers never die, they just fade away. My father may have faded away from earthly sight, but he will remain in our hearts until the process begun in Iyar 47 years ago will be complete and we will be united again in the glorious light of Mashiach.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Of walls in Berlin and down Eastern Parkway

One evening in November 1989, my wife asked me to come to the TV; the Berlin Wall was being torn down. For those who don't remember the Cold War, the Communists ym"sh in 1961 erected a wall to keep their miserable slaves in East Berlin from escaping to freedom in West Berlin. That wall, and a Soviet ultimatum to evacuate West Berlin, presented President Kennedy with his first major foreign policy crisis; see here. The wall became the quintessential symbol of evil, Godless Communism, the struggle against which was the defining reality of my generation. I was certain that my wife was pulling my leg; the Berlin Wall would not come down, nor would Communism be conquered, in our lifetime, perhaps not until Mashiah comes. How wrong I was. Euphoric young Germans on both sides joyously tore down that wall with little but chisels and their bare hands. Soon, Communism in Europe would be kaput, and Soviet Jews, for whom we had struggled mightily from the 1960s through the '80s, would pour out of their erstwhile prison to new lives in Israel and the U.S.A.

Being a runner, I trained often in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, shared by Lubavitcher Hasidim and African-Americans. Running down Eastern Parkway, I could not help but notice an invisible wall running the length of the broad avenue in the area where the Jews live. While African-Americans lived on both sides of the divide and crossed it freely, almost all of the Hasidim lived on the south side of Eastern Parkway and hardly ever crossed it northward. It was as if a Berlin Wall ran right down Eastern Parkway; anything north of the Wall was not Crown Heights but Bedford-Stuyvesant, where no Jew who valued his life dared set foot (except for meshugana marathon runners like myself). I often asked myself, if the steel and concrete Berlin Wall, topped with barbed wire, could come down practically overnight, why couldn't an invisible wall down Eastern Parkway come down and all the people there live in peace and enjoy each other's company?

I now work in the area of Crown Heights north of Eastern Parkway and I went out for a run during my lunch hour, as I often do. Running south on Kingston Avenue, I stopped near a large synagogue that had been converted to a church when the Jews left the area and recited Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd. . . . ), and then I noticed a few Hasidim walking north on Kingston Avenue, turning west on Park Place and entering a playground. I too turned onto Park Place to get back to work, and I saw many young Hasidim playing ball and schmoozing on the benches. I flashed a sign and exuberantly shouted out, "Shalom Aleikhem," and they returned "Aleikhem Shalom." A few meters away some black kids were playing ball. It would have been even more beautiful if both groups came together for a high-spirited good time, but hey, Rome wasn't built in a day.

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