Zman Magazine

A Cosmic Hatred

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Introduction to his month’s Zman magazine

Zman 81 cover - Bassem Eid - Palestinian Authority scandalsA Cosmic Hatred

In our cover story, Bassem Eid offers a surprising angle on the Arab-Israeli conflict: “The first thing that we as Palestinians must do is to stop viewing ourselves as victims of the Israelis. This constant blame that our situation is the result of Israeli politics has brought us nothing and will continue to do nothing for us.”

This is downright refreshing, even revolutionary. Change is impossible without accepting responsibility. The kneejerk reaction to blame others (even where justifiable) is a recipe for misery. It takes strength of character to acknowledge one’s failings and move onto the hard business of fixing oneself, first and foremost, instead of giving that power to others by blaming them. Kudos to Mr. Eid.

Now, if only the rest of the Middle East felt that way….

Blaming Israel for everything – like traditional anti-Semitism that blames Jews for everything — permeates today’s world, but especially Middle Eastern culture. Ironically, some of the soberest thinkers on this subject are Muslims. “I am an observant Muslim committed to combating Islamism,” stated Dr. Quanta Ahmed, an outspoken British-Muslim physician, in a recent interview. “Islamism is a political totalitarian ideology, one of the central tenets of which is Islamist anti-Semitism.”

She then adds, “There is a deep-rooted anti-Semitism… which is greatly fueled by Islamist ideology… which is actually in the philosophy of major groups… like Hamas and Hezbollah, who explicitly identify the Jew or Judaism as a ‘cosmic’ enemy, not just a mortal enemy.”

Here she has hit the proverbial nail on the head: Islamists do not hate, persecute or murder Jews because of anything apologists and politicians imagine, such as alleged economic inequality or territorial disputes. They do so because of their ideology. Similar to the Nazi ideology, Islamism turns Jews into an evil, cosmic, supernatural force to be opposed at all costs.

Hundreds of stabbings of Jewish Israelis by young Palestinian Arabs over the past year are, at their root, natural outgrowths of the raw anti-Semitism spewed daily from places like the Voice of Palestine Radio teaching school children that killing Jews and dying in the process is a sacred duty. Many of the assailants (like Muslim terrorists in general) were financially well-off. It was ideology that drove their behavior.

“Is it any surprise that after decades of indoctrination in a culture of hate that people actually do hate?” Nonie Darwish, who was raised as a Muslim in the Gaza Strip, said of her birth-culture.

Sadly, thanks to what Dr. Ahmed calls an “incredibly ignorant marriage of Left and Islamism,” presidents and pundits alike perpetuate the dysfunctional attitudes that plague the Middle East and which are exported to the West. They need to diagnose the problem soberly, which begins by having no illusions about the central role ideology plays in Islamist terror.

Be that as it may, we can only control what we can, which means living by our faith, growing our communities and continuing to serve as conduits for the “cosmic” good.

Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief

Massive New Pesach Zman!

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Cover Zman-52The Munich Massacre

The 1972 Olympics was to be a new Olympics symbolizing a new Germany with a new feeling of universal brotherhood. Then Arab terrorists seized 11 Israeli athletes, sparking memories of the Holocaust in the land that perpetrated it. Zman interviews Israeli Olympic delegate Shmuel Lalkin who was only a few feet away in the neighboring apartment at the time of the attack. He provides a fascinating yet harrowing and chilling insider’s account of this terrifying event.

Slavery… Today

“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt….” Slavery in modern times has been strongly denounced and much effort has been made to uproot it. Despite that, there are — shockingly — more slaves today than perhaps ever in world history! Zman takes a look at modern slavery and how we can use it as an opportunity to appreciate the words of the Haggadah telling us how fortunate we are that we are not enslaved.

 King Tut – Not One To Say “Tut Tut” To

The discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun, a relatively minor pharaoh, with its fabulous treasures virtually intact, took the world by storm. Everyone could now see for the first time the unbelievable wealth that surrounded the monarchs of the ancient world’s most famous and imposing empire. Read about the discovery of the tomb and learn about its significance in the annals of history and in the eyes of the Torah.

Airliners Gone AWOL

The news this past month was full of the story of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared on March 8. More than two dozen countries searched from land, air, space and sea for any visible sign of the plane. Two weeks of intense searching produced nothing. The plane simply disappeared. But this was not the first time in history that such an event caught the world’s attention. Read the stories of other airplanes that mysteriously vanished.

Apollo 13: Disaster In Space!

The entire world was transfixed. Many said it was the first time they prayed. It all began when the Apollo rocket heading toward the moon experienced a major malfunction. On the ground, specialists worked feverishly to develop a plan to return the astronauts to Earth. It was a race against time. Oxygen, heat and electricity on the craft were fast running out. A series of risky maneuvers were initiated in the slim hope of returning them alive. Would they succeed in time?

 Kids Who Made The News

It isn’t every day that children are featured in the news, but when a child does make headlines the circumstances are bound to be extraordinary, if not completely bizarre. Here is an array of curious reports about children that have captured the interest of the media and the public all over the world.

 Raised By Wild Animals

Although there are many myths, legends and fictional stories depicting children reared by wild animals — such as dogs, wolves, apes and bears — modern day cases suggests that at least some of those legends may have been based on true accounts. As surreal as this may seem, there have been documented instances even today where children have been adopted and raised by animals.

 Humble First Jobs… Of Some Not-So-Humble People

The only truly predictable thing about life is its unpredictability. Nowhere is this more evident, arguably, than in the lives of the most famous (and infamous) world leaders who had the most humble beginnings. Be it the billionaire who once waiting on tables… to the dictator who began as a peasant… to the current President of the United States who used to scooped ice cream, history (past and present) proves time and again that anything can and does happen.

 NASI – Anatomy Of A Crisis

It has been called the shidduch crisis. In order to shed light on the nature of it and its possible causes, Zman interviewed Rabbi Moshe Pogrow, the director of NASI, the North American Shidduch Initiative. To provide a more complete picture, we also interviewed several shadchanim who have been involved in NASI shidduchim, including Mrs. Libby Lieberman, and mother of “older singles” who would potentially benefit from the program.

 The New Seminary

Seventeen years ago, Rebbetzin Sora Bulka, along with Rabbi Yeshaya Levy, envisioned an educational institution that would achieve two different but related goals. The first was to provide young women with the proper values, skills and knowledge to become professionally involved in quality Jewish education. The second was to allow women to obtain degrees from respected universities while remaining in an environment committed to tzniyus and yiras shamayim. Thus was born The New Seminary.

The Munich Massacre

Munich, Germany – the birthplace of Naziism. The year is 1972, more than 27 years after the end of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. This was to be a new Olympics, symbolizing a new Germany with a new feeling of universal brotherhood and peace for all mankind. Then Arab terrorists infiltrated seized 11 Israeli athletes, sparking memories of the Holocaust in the land that perpetrated it. The world literally watched the horrific events unfold and wondered: Would negotiators and commandos be able to save the Jewish athletes in time?

 Hi Tech Veggies

Vegetables and greens are an important part of Pesach tradition, and take a prominent role at the Seder. In this month’s special food section, Zman explores the wild world of insect infestation, and how to have your broccoli and eat it too!

 

New Zman: …And Mordechai Will Not Bow

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Bowing To No Other

As background to this month’s cover story, let me share a thought told by Rav Shlomo Brevda, zt”l.

One of the key moments in the Purim story is when Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman (Esther 3:2). Haman was the second most powerful man in the Persian Empire, which ruled the entire civilized world, including all its Jews. Everyone bowed to him — except Mordechai. When Haman found out, he vowed to kill Mordechai.

That set in motion the events that led to the royal decree to exterminate all Jews – as well as the miracles that thwarted the decree, ending with the execution of Haman, his sons and thousands of other anti-Semites throughout the empire.

Rav Brevda, quoting the Vilna Gaon in his commentary on Aggados Megillah, says that Mordechai’s act served as a tikkun for an old communal transgression that had never been properly expiated. When the Jews were first sent into exile by Nevuchadnetzar he erected a huge statue and called all the leading dignitaries of all the peoples in his domain to meet in the valley where the statue resided. At the designated moment, everyone was supposed to bow. Those who refused would be thrown into a furnace.

Everyone bowed, including all the Jews, except for three brave youths, Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were miraculously saved.

The Gemara (Megillah 7) tells us that those Jews who bowed to the idol of Nevuchadneztar did not intend it to be an act of avodah zarah. Rather, they acted out of fear of Nevuchadneztar. However, it had the appearance of avodah zarah, and thus was a chillul Hashem.

It was several generations after Nevuchadnetzar when Mordechai refused to bow to Haman. “Why are you defying the royal decree?” the royal servants asked him.

Mordechai informed them that he was a Yehudi (a Jew), and avodah zarah was forbidden; he would never bow down to Haman, who had made himself into an object of worship (Megillah 10b, 19a; Sanhedrin 6Ib).

Mordechai’s kiddush Hashem served as rectification, tikkun ha’chet, for the chillul Hashem of bowing to Nevuchadnetzar’s idol. In so doing, he undid the earlier wrong and thus set up the deliverance of the Jewish people.

Rav Brevda goes onto explain that the real sin here was that the Jews had come to rely on a power other than Hashem. They looked for help from foreign powers, from persons of great influence or on their own ingenuity and efforts. The tikkun was to absolutely disregard all powers on Earth; to turn only to Hashem for a salvation through prayer and teshuvah.

That is one of the great lessons of Purim: our reliance on Hashem and the primacy of tefillah and teshuvah.

The situation in our cover story was not exactly the same, but there are striking similarities. As such, perhaps it is meant to drive home the point that this lesson is still very current, and one of the primary challenges of our times.

Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief

Elul – Zman! Back from China!

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I have just returned from an amazing 10-day tour China. In a future issue, I plan to go into greater depth about the experience, but I want to share a thought I had there that is relevant to the month of Elul.

There are so many impressions, but perhaps the most prominent for me was the way that the Chinese venerated their emperor. The evidence of this reverence permeates China’s ancient relics. For instance, the massive Tiananmen Square (100,000 visitors a day; over half a million total capacity) was originally nothing more than a plaza leading into the enormous Forbidden City, the place where the emperor and his family lived (and which was so named because it was forbidden to commoners). Together, it took us two hours just to walk through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. All this for one man!

This is but a single example. Chinese veneration of the emperor is so deeply embedded in their culture that even decades after the last emperor was deposed, in 1911, Mao Zedong, founder of Communist China, was worshiped like an emperor despite the fact that he uprooted everything imperial China stood for economically, politically, religiously and socially. The one thing that survived into Mao’s China was the absolute power of and veneration for the leader. Consequently, Tiananmen Square even today is dominated by huge pictures of Mao — despite the fact that he caused the deaths of 40–70 million Chinese!

The Chinese veneration of Mao is an artifact of a culture that for well over 2,000 year saw the power of its leader as absolute.

Witnessing this and other examples how the Chinese tend to revere the highest – even most corrupt – human authority, it struck me that perhaps China looks the way that the world would look if Avraham Avinu had never defied Nimrod; and if Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah had never defied Nevuchadnezzar; if there had never been any Jews, people willing to sacrifice their lives for the idea that man is not God.

Ultimately, this Chinese veneration for their leaders reminded me of the teaching by Chazal that there is a mitzvah to go see a visiting king and his entourage, because as honored as he is, the honor shown him is only a pale echo the honor that will accompany Mashiach when he arrives.

Elul is the time of the year we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the day we are mamlich HaKodesh Baruch Hu, the day we coronate Hashem as king. It is a time when we clean up our acts and prepare the throne of our hearts for His entrance. It is a time for us to reinforce the awareness that no matter where we are, He is there. His is a true kingship, and it is our task to acknowledge that verbally and viscerally.

May these words imbue this Elul with special meaning as we prepare to receive the King of Kings into our lives.

 

My Mother-in-Law’s Passing

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The Last Witness

With a Heavy Heart…

I write this introduction with a heavy heart… since as we prepare to go to print this month, Menachem Av, my mother-in-law has just passed away.

She was a Holocaust survivor, as some of you may know from my book The Hidden Hand – The Holocaust and from lectures I have delivered as part of my work for Torah Umesorah’s Holocaust education branch, Zechor Yemos Olam.

In many ways, her story is no different than numerous other Jewish men and women who went through the worst imaginable times but emerged as beacons of faith, immersing their energies into rebuilding their lives and establishing new generations. On the other hand, how many people can say that their Bubby caused the deaths of 1,000 SS soldiers at the height of the war in an effort to save her life and the lives of the righteous non-Jewish family that had hidden her?

I hope to publish an article about her incredible story, and perhaps even a book, but the thing that stands out most about her is that she always said with a full heart, “Nothing bad ever happened to me.” This from a woman who as a teenager watched each member of her family killed one by one, a little girl alone against the Nazis and an insane world bent on killing her. Yet, she not only said regularly, “Nothing bad ever happened to me,” but lived it — expressed as an unshakable positive attitude toward everything in life and her total involvement in chessed for others (family and otherwise), even winning an award from the governor of New York for her community work.

I cannot understand or approach my mother-in-law’s emunah peshuta, her simple faith. I cannot comprehend how she came out of her experiences intact physically, mentally and spiritually. Yet, she did.

Of course, she was not the only one. There were many, including Yudel Weinstein whose dramatic story is told in this month’s issue; how he survived 17 hellish days in the Treblinka death camp. Treblinka – the place that began murdering Jews en masse on Tisha B’Av 1942. Treblinka – the death factory no larger than two football fields where 875,000 or more Jewish men, women and children perished. Treblinka – where only a handful of eyewitnesses survived to tell about it.

Some people find Holocaust stories depressing. I find them just the opposite. If one approaches the Holocaust correctly, it is not just another subject. It is the most powerful vehicle to inspire us with the greatest Torah ideals such as ahavas Yisrael; to be more kind and do more chessed; to give us an appreciation of the power of Torah to provide hope in the darkest of circumstances; to impart belief in the eternity of the Jewish people; and, ultimately, to value what it means to be alive.

May the memory of my mother-in-law and the lives of all who went through the Holocaust continue to be a blessing and an inspiration.

Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief

Zman – Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants

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Cover Zman-41Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants

“The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”

Those words were not uttered by a pacifist, but by a legendary World War II general, a man who commanded 1.3 million men, the largest body of American soldiers ever to serve under a US field commander. They are the words of General Omar Bradley.

Bradley’s warning echoes through time and reverberates throughout this month’s cover story, where we interview a grandson of Harry Truman – who authorized the dropping of the atom bomb — and the grandson of a Jewish air force lieutenant who flew on both atom bomb missions. The larger purpose here is not to question Truman’s decision, which was made under unique, arguably once-in-history circumstances. Rather it is to give context to current events that haunt us today.

As rogue states with unstable leaders guided by fanatical ideologies brandish their nuclear arsenal or are very close to coming into possession of them, r’l; as terrorist groups vie to get – or get more — weapons of mass destruction; as terrorist attacks strike closer to home, we feel increasingly concerned and helpless. Even if we turn back a threat from one quarter there always seems to be another madman waiting in the wings.

The world appears to be edging closer to the very last navuah in Tanach: “Hinei anochi sholeach lachem… Behold, I will send you Eliyahu HaNavi before the coming of the great and fearsome day of Hashem… lest I come and smite the Earth with utter destruction.” (Malachi 3:23-24)

Can we do anything about it? The last words of Tanach indicate that we can: “And he [Eliyahu] shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler suggests that the deeper meaning here is that there will be a gilui Eliyahu – a “revelation of Eliyahu” – that will precede the “great and fearsome day of Hashem.” Gilui Eliyahu refers to a deeper and more profound level of Torah knowledge. The proliferation of Torah will counter the proliferation of WMDs.

How apropos, then, that we go to print with this story just before Shavous, the day commemorating the giving of the Torah, emphasizing generations returning to Torah. Sadly, far too many Jews do not see the connection between proliferation of Torah and the proliferation of peace. If only we had the opportunity to tell them that it is not just a Jewish perspective, but also the perspective of men who knew the meaning and horrors of war, men like General Omar Bradley, who said at the same speech quoted above, “We have too many men of science, too few men of G-d.”

In the post-atomic world, the urgency for every Jew to discover and fulfill his portion of Torah is more pressing than ever.

Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief

New Zman – Iyar

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Swept Out To Sea

The devastating tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011 left more than 15,000 people dead. Those who barely escaped spoke of the miracles that saved them. This is arguably the most amazing survival story of all — the harrowing account of one man who was swept out to sea by the monstrous waves and spent days stranded on the roof of his home, floating miles away from land. Yet, he somehow lived to tell about it.

You Have a Twin!

Scientific research has established that identical twins are not only similar in outward appearance but also in their habits, talents, IQs and personalities. The most amazing aspects of these similarities become apparent in the case of twins separated at birth. Even though they never met and were raised under completely different circumstances, they still share astonishing similarities. Sometimes, the similarities defy explanation — for instance, separated twins who give their children the same names…. The scientific and paranormal converge in this fascinating topic.

Houdini

No chain, cell, safe or chest could keep him under lock. Thousands and thousands of spectators around the world thronged to his fantastic performances, watching openmouthed as he freed himself from every sort of confinement and restraint. Houdini did not possess any superhuman skills. He was simply a master at pulling off tricks that others could not fathom. Learn more about this extraordinary Jewish magician who became a legend in his own time.

Gold & Greed

When they heard there were “rivers of gold,” they came from far and wide. A pristine frozen wilderness was transformed. More than 100,000 prospectors – appropriately called “stampeders” — swarmed the Alaskan and Canadian hinterlands. Chaotic shanty towns of muddy streets sprang up to accommodate the ever-renewing supply of gullible outsiders hoping to strike it rich. It was the perfect setup for one of the cleverest and shadiest swindlers – a man so slippery that he was known as “Soapy.” Would they ever catch him?

He Fought The System For The Sake Of Shabbos… And Won!

Those living in America for more than 40 years undoubtedly recall the infamous “blue laws” that forbade opening one’s business on Sundays. For most Americans this law was merely an inconvenience, but for Shabbos-observant Jews it posed an impossible choice: work on Shabbos or face severe financial consequences. Zman is proud to present an in-depth discussion of this significant piece of American history. The story is accompanied by an exclusive interview with Chaim Reich of Boro Park, the man who led the fight to enable Shabbos observance in America.

Kashrus vs. United States

Government officials and federal prosecutors conspired with the unions to bring down a large kosher slaughterhouse. The owners were arrested and charged with violating laws that had never before been enforced. A biased judge cooperated with the prosecutors by convicting the Orthodox Jewish owners and delivering a harsh verdict. Sound familiar? This story actually took place nearly 80 years ago, long before the case of Sholom Rubashkin. Read how the US government tried to destroy kashrus in America, but with Hashem’s help the accused emerged victorious.