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.
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.
Light Makes Might
The story of Chanukah is made up of two radically different components. One is the war, the battles of the Chashmonayim and their ultimate victory over the Syrian/Greek oppressors. “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few…” we insert into our shemonah esrai during Chanukah.
The other component is the spiritual, miraculous event of the small pitcher that supplied oil for eight days even though it held enough only for one night.
At first glance these components — the military the spiritual — are diametrically opposed.
Indeed, there is no other holiday on the Jewish calendar that emphasizes military victory. The triumphs of Yehoshua, Shaul or Dovid HaMelech, magnificent as they were, are not commemorated. What makes the military victory on Chanukah different from all other victories?
It is not the permanence of the victory. The great pantheon of famous warriors in the distant past and the near present testify to this disappointing truth: there are only temporary victors in wars. All military victories are subject to reversal, destruction, decay and abandonment – and Chanukah’s is no different. After the Jews retook Yerushalayim and experienced the miracle of the menorah the war dragged out another five to seven years. Successive Greek emperors tried to take back Eretz Yisrael by force of arms and by orchestrating a coup among the Jews.
What makes a military victory more than a fleeting moment of glory? The spiritual truth behind it. How do we know that Chanukah was more than a military victory? The little flask of oil that miraculously burned eight days.
Only when the military victory is combined with and sublimated to spiritual accomplishment, only when Hashem is acknowledged as having fashioned the victory, only when there is symbolic religious ritual attached to the celebration of physical triumph, only then can that victory be seen as having some sense of permanence.
The memory of the victory of the Chashmonayim is glorified because of the Chanukah candles. With its spiritually uplifting message of eternal fuel and lights, Chanukah allows us to exult fully in the military victory of the Chashmonayim as well. For it is no longer just a triumph of arms and war but of the human spirit and hashgachah pratis.
How apropos, then, that our cover story this month is about four IDF soldiers who became baalei teshuva. The idea that military victory is rooted in spiritual causes is a difficult message to accept among those not raised in an environment of Emunah. Perhaps then the most miraculous aspect of our four soldiers is that they got the message. Despite their upbringing they figured out that, for a Jew, “sharing the burden” means sharing the yoke of Torah and mitzvos – and that it is not only a much more difficult yoke, but the root cause that best protects Jewish lives.
Therefore, the light that these four soldiers shine is a truly a miracle – one worth celebrating ba’zman hazeh, at this time.
Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief
Rabbi Marvin Hier recalls Simon Wiesenthal telling him about a transformative moment in his life. It was 1946. He was spending Friday night with a group of fellow Holocaust survivors who could not understand why he decided to become a Nazi hunter.
“Enough with the past,” they argued. “Focus on the future.”
Then, as Wiesenthal looked into the glow of the Shabbos neiros, Rabbi Hier relates, he suddenly saw “the neshamos of the six million listening to their conversation.”
“My dear friends,” Wiesenthal said, “there will come a time when we’ll go up to shamayim and the six million will come to each of us and ask, ‘What have you done?’ You, my dear friend, will tell them that you went into construction to build homes. And you will say you went into the jewelry business. And you became a manufacturer of clothes. But I will have the privilege of saying to them, ‘I have never forgotten you.’”
Of course, survivors who quietly went about rebuilding their lives and raising families loyal to Torah are the greatest heroes. They never forgot their families and friends, or the six million, as they rebuilt Klal Yisrael in the most concrete fashion.
Nevertheless, Simon Wiesenthal was unique in the way he honored the memory of the six million, as an article this month details. Moreover, his life’s work inspired the creation of a center named after him, as conveyed in our cover story.
I feel particularly close to this topic now, as I write this introduction 30,000 feet above ground, returning from a week in Poland where, with a group of mechanchim and mechanchos from Torah Umesorah, we visited the concentration camps, ghettos and mass graves — the tombstone of a vibrant Jewish world that is no more. The most moving part of the trip took place just outside the town of Tarnow, at the site of a mass grave containing the bodies of 800 Jewish children, hy’d.
On July 4, 1976, as dazzling multi-colored fireworks burst high in the sky across the United States, Americans celebrated the 200th anniversary of their country’s freedom. Little did anyone in the land of the free and home of the brave — or anywhere else for that matter — realize that about 7,000 miles away a group of Jews were secretly celebrating their newly-won freedom. For shortly after the stroke of midnight, on that fateful morning 36 years ago, 102 Jewish hostages were being rushed into C-130 Hercules military planes by Israeli commandos who had just pulled off arguably the most stunning rescue mission in history.
It’s all in this month’s cover story. The tension. The drama. The shock. The outrage. The ecstasy. And the agony (four hostages and one commando were killed).
When Islam erupted onto the tapestry of history about 1400 years ago the monumental upheaval it caused changed the face of civilization with astonishing speed.
Even while Mohammed lived, Muslim armies swept up from the Saudi Arabian peninsula through Eretz Yisrael into Babylonia and Syria, all the way up into Turkey. Then they swept east into what is today Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Next, they swept west into what is today Egypt, Sudan and the northern coast of Africa, including Libya, the subject of this month’s cover story.
Our cover story is fascinating for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that it is told through the eyes of Raphael Luzon, whose family roots in Libya stretch back to shortly after the expulsion from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s. Almost five centuries of history were wiped out in 1967 when Arab rioting forced all but a few thousand Jews to leave Libya, including Luzon’s family. In 1969, when the other main character in this month’s cover story, Muammar Qaddafi, ordered the destruction of virtually all remaining vestiges of Jewish life the job was complete. Libyan Jewry had become an echo of the past, a rumor.
Or so he thought.
Hashgachah worked it so that almost a decade before he met his well-deserved demise, Qaddafi felt he needed to make contact with a prominent former Libyan Jew and make amends. Whether he did so exclusively for selfish political motivations or also for some spark of humanity buried deeply in his troubled soul (President Reagan had dubbed him the “mad dog of the Middle East”) is irrelevant. In an impossible-to-predict way that only the Playwright of history could author, Hashem planted in one of modern Jewry’s worst villains the idea to reach out to Raphael Luzon.
Luzon saw the invitation — first to correspond by letter and later to personally visit Qaddafi — as an opportunity to advocate for the return of stolen Jewish property, and the protection of the remaining Jewish historical sites in Libya.
It’s a fascinating story told with Zman’s characteristic depth, one you are sure to enjoy and learn much from.
As we go to print, the headlines are dominated by turmoil in the Middle East. The “Arab Spring” has not brought prosperity, stability or real change to any of the countries swept up in the fervor of the past months. Even Libya, whose overthrow of Qaddafi was widely heralded as a triumph for democracy, is beset by political unrest and the ever-present threat of militant Islamists taking over. Having been ruled by despots for centuries, and with corruption and cronyism endemic to their societies, the “Arab Spring” is looking much more like just another bleak and bloody chapter in the “Arab Winter” of their discontent.
Be that as it may, there is only one piece of information we need to know to maintain our equilibrium: The same Playwright who manipulated Qaddafi into listening to Raphael Luzon orchestrates all events. Whatever else we may think we need to do, we first and foremost need to address our concerns to the King of Kings. Our cover story reminds of that in the most profound way.
Occupy Wall Street Now And Then
Reading this month’s cover story, one cannot help but hear echoes of it in today’s news, specifically the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been taking place since September.
Seventy-five years ago a group of British Fascists organized a march through the Jewish quarter of London’s East End, shouting slogans like “No More Jewish Corruption!” They made claims such as, “You have bad houses because the Jews have the good houses. You have bad jobs because the Jews have the good jobs.”
Baruch Hashem – with an emphasis on Hashem – the British people literally stood up to them, and the rest is history. But how scary it is that even those we counted as our allies were so close to siding with the likes of Hitler.
Of course, although anti-Semitic slurs have been documented, today’s Occupy Wall Street is nothing like London 1936. Nevertheless, that it even exists at all illustrates how fragile our sense of security is, reminding us how thin the barrier is between the Dr. Jekyll and the Mr. Hyde of the Gentile world.
This serves as a paradigm of the prophetic vision for the end of time, Milchemes Gog Umagog, the “War of Gog and Magog,” the ultimate conflict between good and evil. Before Mashiach succeeds, the armies of Gog and Magog will join forces and war against Klal Yisrael. It will be a terrifying time, but Gog and his collaborators will be vanquished, and the long foretold era of peace among nations will be ushered in.
The identification of Gog and Magogis complex, however as Rabbi Moshe Eisemann explains in his brilliant analysis (Yechezkal, Chapter 38; Artscroll) Gog is an individual from the arch-enemy of the Jews, Amalek (from Noach’s son, Shem), who will rise to power amidst the people/culture of Magog(from Noach’s son, Yefes) and incite them against the Jews.
Yefes, which means “beauty,” is the forerunner of Greece, the foundation of Western civilization. Beautyis morally neutral. It can inspire to good or intoxicate to destruction. Yefes can place his gifts at Amalek’s feet as readily as he can subordinate them in the service of holiness.
As Rabbi Eisemann explains, “throughout history, we find Yefes fluctuating between the poles of true spirituality and the grossest sensuality. The same Yefes who allowed himself to be turned to holiness by his brother Shem was able, centuries later, to allow a Haman to control his empire, and attempt to wipe out Shem’s descendants. When Gog will seek supporters in his final war against holiness and Godliness, he will turn to the pliable Yefes.”
Milchemes Gog Umagogrepresents a tug-of-war that has replayed itself throughout history. When good people prevail the forces of Yefes become vehicles for light. When they slacken the dark side takes them over.
Despite Amalek/Gog’s apparent power, he only exercises it according to Hashem’s will and in accordance with the spiritual stature of the Jewish people. An external event – political, military or otherwise – reflects our internal state. The cover story this month illustrates that poignantly. May we take it to heart and focus on internals before externals.
Even though Sholom Rubashkin’s 27-year sentence is ludicrous and unprecedented for the crimes he was charged with, it was not death by hanging given to Leo Frank. Even though many believe anti-Semitism influenced (and influences) the Rubashkin case, the proceedings were not conducted as a mob shouted, “Hang the Jew!”
Nevertheless, one is struck by this similarity between the cases: Each was a grave miscarriage of justice where the justice system itself was/is blind to its own shortcomings. (At least in the Leo Frank case, the State of Georgia eventually admitted its blindness, albeit 70 years later.)
I, like so many others, find it incredible that the judge whose judgment was being questioned in the recent appeal was a backup and had influence on the court that reviewed the appeal!
This was the same judge, Linda Reade, who was discovered to have had several secret meetings with law enforcement long before the arrests at Agriprocessors (for more details see Zman Sivan 5770/June 2010)! It was Judge Reade whom ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) memoranda indicated had taken an organizational role in the immigration raid; attended weekly meetings; personally requested a meeting with personnel from the many branches of law enforcement who would participate in the raid; and requested updates and final game plans.
How can a person work with law enforcement, which worked with the prosecution, and then serve a judge in that case?!?
Yet, Reade denied having performed any functions that fall within the executive branch (i.e. law enforcement) which may have reflected an irreconcilable stain on her impartiality.
I don’t claim to know American law. Maybe according to the US justice system this is perfectly legal. But, that’s the difference between a man-made law and a Divine one.
The Torah tells us: “Don’t take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous” (Devarim 16:19). The emphasis is on “the wise” and “the righteous.” Even they can be blinded by impartiality.
The Gemara offers several cases of Jewish judges who disqualified themselves for even the minutest influences. When Shmuel was walking on a bridge and a man lent him a hand, Shmuel disqualified himself from judging his case.
When Rebbi Yishmael b’Rebbi Yossi encountered a sharecropper who did him the tiny favor of bringing him his fruit a day earlier than usual he disqualified himself from judging his case. Indeed, as Rabbi Yishmael listened to the case (as an observer) he found himself conjuring up arguments in favor of the sharecropper.
“I didn’t take a bribe,” Rebbi Yishmael declared, “and had I taken the fruit, it would have been mine – yet I was biased!”
This issue of Zman comes out during the Yemei HaDin, “Days Judgment.” If we make an extra effort to painfully examine where we are being moreh heter on ourselves, maybe in that merit a measure of objectivity will descend upon those with power over Sholom Rubashkin’s life and help them come to their senses long before they did in the case of Leo Frank.