Remove Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee

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Remove Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee


Rep. Ilhan Omar was flagged during the campaign for having a proclivity towards making antisemitic remarks, while refusing to condemn terror groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Upon being elected to the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi placed Rep. Omar on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is critical in steering America’s foreign policy. Since taking office, Rep. Ilhan Omar’s antisemitism has continued, and even escalated.

She blamed Jewish Money for America’s pro-Israeli foreign policy and invoked “Benjamin’s Baby” as an antisemitic trope aimed at Jared Kushner.

Enough is enough! It’s time for Rep. Ilhan Omar to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

‘We assume there are weapons stockpiles on the Temple Mount’

Israel HaYom

During a visit to the world’s most volatile site, former head of the Shin Bet Avi Dichter shares his insights about what he sees as the Palestinians’ true intentions for the Temple Mount and what Israel must do to stop them.

“The Palestinians will never drop the matter of the Temple Mount. It’s a tool that they, and parts of the Arab and Muslim world, use to take on Israel,” former Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman and former head of the Shin Bet security agency MK Avi Dichter tells Israel Hayom in a special weekend interview.

Dichter was at the helm of the Shin Bet when the Al-Aqsa Intifada broke out after Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. Last week Israel Hayom accompanied him on a visit to the Mount in an attempt to understand if, since Sharon’s visit, anything has changed at what is considered the most volatile site in the world.

“Do you know what the most frustrating thing about the Miss Universe pageant is?” Dichter asks as we set out. “Coming in second.”

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“The Temple Mount is in second place after Mecca and Medina. No one really makes pilgrimages to the Temple Mount. There is no Hajj here. For them, the fact that Israel captured the Temple Mount is outstanding leverage, but their real goal is elsewhere – it’s conflict. The Temple Mount is just an instrument.”

This time of year, the Temple Mount is crowded with visitors. An average of 7,000 tourists arrive each day, and another 150 or so Jewish visitors. Visitors begin making their way in early; Jews and tourists via the Mughrabi Bridge, and Arab worshippers use the other eight entrances to the Mount.

In the past, each visitor had to pay a $10 entrance fee. It wasn’t a bad source of revenue, but Israel decided to end that practice in 2000 because it gave the impression that it was the people collecting the money, rather than Israel, who were in charge. Later on, the sale of food and souvenirs on the Mount was also banned.

The Mount is under heavy security. Police and Border Police are on duty at each of the entrances, and they check the people who come to pray. There are no hi-tech security measures in places, and everything is done by hand. Bags are searched, and so are bodies if the need arises. The biggest concern is that someone, Muslim or Jew, will try and bring weapons into the Temple Mount.

Both sides worry – about extremist Jews who might try to carry out a terrorist attack or Muslims who will bring in weapons for use in an immediate or future attack. Police commanders declare unequivocally that there are no weapons on the Mount, but Dichter is much more cautious.

“I’m telling you that our working assumption must be that there are weapons on the Mount. The police must work under the assumption that they could be surprised by guns,” he says.

Q: Guns that are there for what reason?

“If there are weapons, they see them as something to use to deal with attempts to force something on them they don’t want to happen. Tomorrow they could decide, for example, that the police can’t come into Al-Aqsa Mosque when things start to heat up, and they know they won’t have to standoff against the police barehanded.”

The metal detector crisis that led to the murder of two police officers in a shooting attack perpetrated by three Israeli Arabs in July 2017 prevented the introduction of any advanced technology that would make it harder to bring weapons onto the Mount. Dichter supports the idea of metal detectors.

“I know that eventually, there will be security checks at the entrances to the Temple Mount. I can’t tell you what they’ll look like, but there will have to be security checks because everyone understands the sensitivity of what would happen if, heaven forbid, there was another terrorist attack here.”

“If it did, we’d ask ourselves how we allowed people to bring weapons onto the Mount, and you need to remember that at peak times, the number of people coming in reaches hundreds of thousands per day. It’s very hard to check everyone. That’s another reason why I think that the working assumption must be that there are weapons stockpiles on the Mount, and anyone who doesn’t work off that assumption is missing an important part of his job, I think.”

A chick that turned into a bird of prey

Despite the number of tourists and worshippers, the Mount is very clean. Everything is orderly, calm, and light-years away from the media images of violence that frequently make headlines. The police here are prepared for these sudden extreme shifts. The commanders are very experienced and most of them have been here for years. They’ve all been through plenty of cycles of violence on the Mount.

Dichter is accompanied during his visit by the entire Israel Police chain of command on the Mount: Cmdr. Haim Shmueli, who is in charge of the David District (the Old City); Chief Supt. Yuval Reuven, who is in charge of holy sites (the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre); and Supt. Daniel Mizrahi, the commander of the Mount itself. The Temple Mount police station is the only sign of Israeli sovereignty, and as such is the target of frequent violent attacks. In an attempt to establish facts on the ground, the Muslim Waqf located its offices on one side of the station, and the officer for its security guards on the other.

A few dozen Waqf officials are scattered across the Mount, keeping an eye on things from afar. They use walkie-talkies to report but refrain from interfering. A little like museum guards, who follow visitors and intervene only when necessary. They are especially interested in Dichter – a visit by a high-ranking Israeli official, a politician, who has a notable background in security, is always an unusual event. Dichter’s visit was preceded by lengthy consultations between security officials, who were concerned he might spark riots at a sensitive time. At first, he received hints that perhaps he should cancel, but in the end, his visit was approved.

As we mentioned, Dichter was head of the Shin Bet when Sharon visited the Temple Mount on Sept. 29, 2000, an event that precipitated the Second (or Al-Aqsa) Intifada.

“We checked with everyone, and we didn’t see any problem. It was a Thursday. Even though Arab MKs were waiting for him on the Mount and creating provocations, the event here ended relatively quietly. The storm only broke the next day, and [the visit] was the excuse.”

‘The Palestinians are a cowardly people’

The violence that re-erupted the day after Sharon’s appearance, following Friday prayers, was on a much larger scale than it had been in the past. The police pushed into the Mount with guns and four Palestinians were killed in the compound, along with another three in the Old City. Hundreds were wounded. The violence spread quickly, engulfing Israeli Arabs, Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.

“The main insights since then are that a casualty on the Temple Mount is not a regular casualty – it’s something else. So incidents here have to be handled in a way that does not result in casualties – starting with the weapons and the tactics, and the people that you put on duty and the commanders who oversee the incidents. The rules on the Temple Mount are different, and we paid a very high price to learn them,” Dichter says.

Q: Israel’s sovereignty isn’t eroded because of how it operates on the Temple Mount?

“How you handle incidents doesn’t add to or take away from sovereignty. On the Temple Mount, it’s impossible to implement sovereignty because the status quo determines that there are to be no flags or any other national symbols, so there is no sign of [Israeli] sovereignty here other than the police station.”

Anyway, Dichter says, the Waqf is taking a “salami” approach on the Mount – “always slicing off small bits, and when they see that they can take a big slice, like they did in 1999 with Solomon’s Stables, that’s what they do, shamelessly.

“Back then, they received the biggest mosque in the region to be built not in the time of the Turks or the British, but under Israeli rule, and we looked the other way. We said, we need to let the chick spread its wings and learn to fly. We didn’t realize that the chick was a bird of prey. The Temple Mount is the only place where you see Palestinian self-confidence on display. Without shame.”

Q: Explain.

“They feel that it belongs to them, that they have the backing not only of the fragile Palestinian Authority but also of other states. The Waqf officials here don’t feel that they are representatives of [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas, but rather of the King of Jordan, the King of Morocco, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan – of all Islam. I know the Palestinians fairly well. Look at them. Look at their self-confidence.”

Q: Does Israel even have a clear policy on the Temple Mount?

“Ultimately, we decide what happens here. The status quo is very clear, and where they are challenging us, we need to take decisive action.”

An example of that is a mosque the Waqf wanted to break open near the Gate of Mercy about six months ago.

“That was a classic example in which they had a permit to build offices for the Waqf, but their true intention was clear – they didn’t intend to build anything other than a mosque. In so far as it hinges on me, it won’t happen. I can’t see any Israeli government allowing them to build a mosque at the Gate of Mercy.”

A small rock, big boulders

Tourists walk around the Temple Mount freely, accompanied only by guides. The Jews are protected, both to keep them from being attacked, and to keep them from praying. The police take care not to allow outward symbols of prayer such as a tallit or fringes, but is less careful about murmured prayer, except when it comes to known provocateurs. Their names and faces are well-known, and sometimes they are barred from the site entirely.

Dichter thinks that Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, “Just like Muslims are allowed in to pray.”

He thinks that the Palestinians’ current attitude toward the Temple Mount is emotional, not rational: “When a Muslim here sees someone wearing a kippa or a cross he goes nuts.”

However, in Dichter’s opinion that change must be made through consensus and be well-thought-out, because “the Temple Mount is a little rock that’s holding big boulders [in place], and you need to ask yourself what would happen if you moved it after 52 years in which everything here was static, and any change could cause a major shake-up.”

The constant concern is fear of an attack by Jewish extremists. Since the Jewish underground of the 1980s, there hasn’t been any Jewish terrorist activity that hasn’t addressed the possibility of attacking the Temple Mount mosques, or as some of the groups put it, “taking the filth away from where the Temple once stood.”

Dichter recalls two such plots from his time as head of the Shin Bet: One group wanted to shoot an anti-tank missile at the Temple Mount, and the other wanted to deploy an explosives-laden model plane.

“A grenade on the Temple Mount equals war,” he says. “Look what happened when Al-Aqsa Mosque was set on fire in 1969, or after the Western Wall tunnels were opened.”

Q: Why would Jews want to carry out a terrorist attack on the Temple Mount?

“Attacking the Temple Mount has much broader implications that what happens right here, and I’m saying that from all my security experience and knowledge of the Muslim world. We have an army and the Shin Bet and the police here, and we know how to handle it and contain it, but I’m worried about what would happen to Jews and Israelis all over the world. They’d become targets anywhere there are Muslims.”

Q: Should we be worried?

“Yes. There are people whose thinking is detached from the reality in which we live. Tomorrow some Baruch Goldstein who decides that God came to him in a dream and told him to carry out an attack here could get up and cause damage that would have an enormous effect.”

Dichter says that the way to handle that threat is twofold: through intelligence and a physical security presence on the Mount, and through dialogue with the only officials he thinks can get through to the extremists – rabbis.

“After the attempts at terrorist attacks [by Jews] in my time, I went and met with rabbis. I told them I thought they were the ones giving the orders, but they had to demonstrate responsibility. They not only have immediate responsibility for what happens here but also responsibility for every Jew and Israeli all over the world.”

‘The Palestinians are a cowardly people’

Dichter’s most important visit to the Mount was a private one. It was in 2003, and his daughter was about to be drafted. She wanted the family to take a vacation abroad, but Dichter was in charge of the Shin Bet and couldn’t go.

“Her compensation was a two-day tour of Jerusalem that they’ll never forget. One day in ancient Jerusalem, and one day in today’s Jerusalem. We hired the best guides. It was the most in-depth tour I’ve ever had here.”

Q: Can a solution to the Temple Mount issue be found?

“Right now I don’t see a solution in the form of dialogue with them, because the Palestinians are a cowardly people. They don’t have the courage to do anything that isn’t belligerent. You don’t need to be brave to carry out a suicide bus bombing, you need to be a fanatic and not able to see beyond the end of your nose. Look at what they did to Sadat and Hussein, look at Arafat and Abu Mazen [Abbas].”

Q: Nevertheless, international sovereignty on the Mount has been discussed that would allow everyone to pray, things like that.

“The Temple Mount can be one clause of many in a peace deal, but there is no Palestinian leader who’ll go there, stand up in the Knesset, and say, ‘The path of terrorism is at an end.’ At first, I thought that Arafat had an opportunity to be the one, but when I got to know him from close-up, I saw that he wasn’t it.”

Q: So the Temple Mount will remain an eternal point of conflict for us?

“Yes. Or at least until there are leaders, on both sides, like Begin and Rabin, who will undertake dramatic steps and concessions.”

Meanwhile, Dichter thinks, Israel must stand its ground – not violate the status quo so as not to set off riots, but also make sure it doesn’t pay a price for that.

“There is an obvious effort to turn the entire Temple Mount into Al-Aqsa,” he says.

“If we can’t contradict the sense that the Temple Mount is Al-Aqsa, they’ll have legitimacy to keep Jews off the Mount and behave like they do in Mecca and Medina, where non-Muslims are not allowed. That is there guiding motive, and not many people in Israel understand that this is their goal and what ramifications that has for our own goals. We have to be aware of that. This is a battle for hearts and minds whose importance must not be underestimated.”

Animal Sacrifices – Korban (“To Bring Close”)

Tzippy Cohen As I understand the teaching of the the Torah, When one examines the nature of, or characteristics of kosher animals we see that a person making a sacrifice is “expressing” an aspect of their soul; e.g. one’s thanksgiving or one’s deficiency in action. For example, Rashi relates that the Torah singles out “the dog, the cat and the bear” as unclean/non-kosher for the purposes of sacrifices because each of these non-Kosher animals have both positive and negative character traits and we should seek to eliminate the negative character traits (the dog is crude, while it’s heart is with it’s master, the cat is indifferent towards it’s master, while it tends towards cleanliness, and the bear eats, sleeps and has no master) from our behavior. For instance, a domesticated bull represents strength and consistency, sheep (a ram or ewe) represents a docile, submissive nature. a goat, it will butt it’s master and represents rebelliousness. The Torah provides the ritual of cleansing the metzora because of the sin of slander. Rashi relates that cedar, hyssop and a bird are used ritually to express the need to eliminate haughtiness and slander and for the person (metzora) to become humble like the worm and like the hyssop. Parshiyot Tazria – Metzora

(Leviticus 12:1-13:59 Leviticus 14:1-15:33)

“The priest shall command; and for the person being purified [of leprosy] there shall be taken two live, clean birds, cedarwood, scarlet thread, and hyssop.” (Leviticus 14:4)


Ultimately we see that the types of sacrifices are symbolic of what aspect of our soul that we wish to express to HaShem…..

The root for the word korban (sacrifice) is “to bring close” – hence we are bringing close to the Holy One an aspect or characteristic of our soul.

For Yom Kippur we see that two goats are ritually used to atone for sin; one is slaughtered “for HaShem” bringing the Kohen HaGadol (the High Priest) as representative of the People of Israel “close to HaShem”; and on one is for vidduy – confession by the Kohen HaGadol (the High Priest) made over the goat for azazel which symbolically carries away into the wilderness our rebelliousness – V’Yiqra (Leviticus) 16.21-22.

Are Jews Indigenous to the Land of Israel?

Tablet Magazine

February 8, 2017 • 10:00 PM


As an indigenous activist—I am a Métis from the Paddle Prairie Metis settlement in Alberta, Canada—there is one question I am most often asked by the public, one that can instantly divide a community due to its intense and arduous subject matter.

Yet, regardless of the scenario, each time I hear the words, “Are Jews the indigenous people of Israel?” I’m inclined to answer not only with my heart but with the brutal, honest truth, backed by indisputable, thousands-year-old historical and archaeological fact: yes.

While evidence in favor of this view is overwhelming, activists who oppose Israel’s right to exist and deny the Jewish people’s connection to the land—perhaps before learning where indigenous status stems from and what it means—still have an issue with this claim, supporting a narrative built on falsehoods that today is basically acknowledged as fact.

It is my belief that strengthening Jewish identity is the optimum way to fight against the perpetuation of false narratives and lies. This can be achieved only through an indigenous decolonization of Jewish identity, which would urge Jews to see themselves through a Jewish lens and manifest the indigenous aspects of Jewish identity in a meaningful way.

Now, to understand indigeneity, one must also understand indigenous people, how we see ourselves, and how we see the world. At its simplest, indigenous status stems from the genesis of a culture, language, and traditions in conjunction with its connections to an ancestral land, most commonly derived from ties to pre-colonial peoples. Once a people have such a cultural, linguistic, and spiritual genesis as well as a coalescence as a people, they are generally acknowledged as an indigenous people.

An anthropologist named José Martínez Cobo, who served as the UN’s special rapporteur on discrimination against indigenous populations, developed a simple checklist in order to make indigenous status easier to understand. Even though that checklist has since been adjusted—I would argue, to fit the UN’s anti-Israel agenda—it remains the standard for most anthropologists in the field today:

Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present nondominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.

This historical continuity may consist of the continuation, for an extended period reaching into the present of one or more of the following factors:

a) Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them;

b) Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands;

c) Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.);

d) Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language);

e) Residence on certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world;

f) Other relevant factors.

As a guideline, the Martínez Cobo study is fairly clear and gives us a way to avoid falling prey to false claims. However, there is one section—which, as far as I can tell, wasn’t in Cobo’s earliest definition—that has been referred to as problematic by many indigenous activists. This section refers to “nondominant sectors of society,” which is directly related to the issue of Jews as an indigenous people. It implies that by being “nondominant,” you have yet to realize self-determination. Ergo, if a group has achieved self-determination (i.e., the Jewish people or the Fijians), they will no longer meet the checklist as indigenous.

Seeing how the goal of all indigenous peoples is to achieve self-determination on their ancestral lands, it’s basically the most egregious example of a Catch-22.

You might be wondering why this seemingly throwaway line about “prevailing societies and non-dominant sectors” was included when it’s so clearly counterintuitive to our goals as indigenous peoples. It is my belief that it was inserted to deny indigenous status to one specific people, in fact, the only people who have actually achieved full self-determination on their ancestral lands: the Jewish people.

Why else would the United Nations include a caveat that basically denies indigenous peoples’ identity if we actually win in our struggle?


Archaeology, genealogy, and history all support the Jewish claim to indigeneity. A debate on this issue only even exists because we’ve been fed a false narrative that Palestinian Arabs also hold a claim to the land of Israel. Not to say that two peoples can’t be indigenous to one land. The Palestinians do indeed have the legitimate “rights of longstanding presence” in Israel, but this does not trump the indigenous status of Jewish people, 90 percent of whom can directly trace their genetics to the Levant. The cultural genesis, spirituality, language, and ancestral ties of Palestinian Arabs, however, trace back to the Hejaz (a region in present-day Saudi Arabia). In the Quran, the Hejaz is where Muhammad was born and where he established a community of followers.

To say that Palestinian Arabs were the first inhabitants of the land of Israel is problematic for actual indigenous people like the Jewish people, the Amazigh, the Copts, the Assyrians, the Samaritans, and others who were forcefully conquered, subsumed, and converted. It would literally be akin to white Europeans in North America making that same claim. Conquering peoples can still become indigenous through cultural genesis and coalescence. They cannot, however, become indigenous simply through conquering indigenous people.

Indigenous status is specific to certain areas, just as in North America, where certain tribes are indigenous to specific regions. The same rules should be applied in the Middle East. Just as the Cree would not claim Mohawk territories, Arabs should not try to claim Jewish, Amazigh, Kurdish, or Assyrian territories. Each of those peoples have clearly defined territories that date to pre-colonial times.

The primary argument promoting the false narrative that Jews are not indigenous to the land of Israel is that they are actually the descendants of European colonizers. This can be easily rebuked. Recent studies support the notion that some 80 percent of Jewish males, and 50 percent of Jewish females, can trace their ancestry to the Middle East. Early population genetics studies also confirm that “most Jewish Diaspora groups originated in the Middle East.”

Another study shows that even the first European Ashkenazi Jews were at least half Middle Eastern.

The next argument against Jews being an indigenous people derives from the fact that Abraham was from Ur. And, while he is considered the father of the Jewish people, they did not become a people in Ur but in the Levant—specifically, in modern-day Judea and Samaria.

According to Jewish tradition and spirituality, the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, but they had their cultural Genesis in the land of Israel. Of the 613 mitzvot, the vast majority can only be completed in the land of Israel. The Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people are all buried in the land of Israel. The holiest sites in Judaism are located—you guessed it—in the land of Israel. Abraham was indeed from Ur, but the people who stemmed from him are, without a doubt, from Israel.

This is closely related to the issue of Jerusalem, which both Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews claim as their own. One need only look to the Tanakh, where Jerusalem is mentioned an astounding 699 times, and then to the Quran, where Jerusalem is not mentioned even once, to resolve this dispute.

Then there is the Canaanite argument, a relatively newer piece of Palestinian propaganda that argues—because the Torah claims that the Canaanites were driven out by the Israelites—that Jews are therefore not indigenous to Israel. Archaeologists suggest, however, that the Canaanites were in fact not destroyed at all, but subsumed by the ascendant Hebrew people.

It appears that once Palestinian Arabs realized their claim to being descendants of the Philistines was false—as the Philistines, derived from the Hebrew word peleshet, have no connection ethnically, linguistically, or historically to the people of Arabia—they decided that they were descended from Canaanites instead.

In a 2012 speech, a spokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas said, “The nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7,000-year history B.C.E. This is the truth, which must be understood, and we have to note it, in order to say: ‘Netanyahu, you are incidental in history. We are the people of history. We are the owners of history.’ ”

This comment from the Abbas camp is complete rubbish, just one on a laundry list of Palestinian misnomers. First, the Canaanites have been extinct for 3,000 years and little is known today about their direct descendants. Second, pre-Islamic Arabs—of whom Palestinians are direct descendants—first appeared only in the 9th century BCE, not in 7000 BCE. Third, in 1946, before the establishment of Modern Israel, Palestinian-Arab leaders themselves only claimed a connection to the land of Israel dating back no further than seventh century CE—when Muhammad’s followers conquered North Africa and the surrounding region. You may also want to ask: What spiritual, cultural, or traditional constructs of the Canaanite people have Palestinian Arabs maintained? The answer is none.

But this should not be surprising. Even the most novice researcher looking into falsehoods perpetrated by Palestinian leaders would quickly find other blatant lies aimed at delegitimizing the history of the Jewish people, like the time Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton there was never a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, or the time Ekrima Sabri, former Jerusalem mufti and chairman of the Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem, said, “After 25 years of digging, archaeologists are unanimous that not a single stone has been found related to Jerusalem’s alleged Jewish history.”

These are the proponents of the false narrative attempting to rebuke the indigenous status of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.

I got involved in this struggle because I was seeing nonindigenous people make arguments that are detrimental to actual indigenous people, arguments that attempt to rewrite our history. The idea that “Palestinian Arab” conquerors could become indigenous through conquering the Jewish people, even though the term “Palestinian” was only used in reference to Jews before 1948, is anathema. While Arabs claim to be related to the descendants of Israel through blood, it’s just another way to say that they acted like all conquerors, raping and pillaging and then settling and subsuming the locals. Native North Americans especially understand that simply conquering indigenous people does not grant one indigenous status.

Building a monument over our sacred places does not make them yours (Mount Rushmore, anyone?) Not any more than UNESCO declaring the Temple Mount to be a Muslim sacred site because they built a mosque over the church that was built over the ruins of the Jewish Temple. It’s a basic tradition in the Western ethos to respect those who came before you; it’s even built into most of our laws to respect prior claim, and that’s what indigenous rights are really all about. Respecting the rights of those who came before you.

What’s it like growing up Jewish in Iraq?

Arutz Sheva – Israel National News

When Ceen Gabbai argued with her first-grade teacher about the Arab-Israeli conflict, she didn’t realize how big of a risk she was taking.


Ben Sales, JTA, 04/10/19 11:56


Iraqi-born Jew Ceen Gabbai now lives in Brooklyn

Iraqi-born Jew Ceen Gabbai now lives in Brooklyn                                 Courtesy of Gabbai

When Ceen Gabbai argued with her first-grade teacher about the Arab-Israeli conflict, she didn’t realize how big of a risk she was taking.

The year was 2000 and students across the world held strong opinions about the Second Intifada, an outbreak of violence that claimed thousands of lives and began in September of that year. But Gabbai’s situation was different: She was one of the few Jewish students in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Standing up for Israel in a Baghdad elementary school was not an advisable move.

“Saddam was all crazy about Palestine,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I go to school and they’re talking about what a horrible thing that is and how Israel was horrible. And I go and I’m like, ‘I think that’s a lie.’”

Gabbai was called to the school office, took a letter home to her mother and her parents had a meeting with the principal. Soon after they moved homes and she switched schools. Following the episode, her parents did not talk with her about Israel or Judaism.

Gabbai has had a dangerous life. Born a Jew under an Iraqi dictatorship, she endured constant anti-Semitism from a young age, then survived the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the years of war that followed.

In 2015, Gabbai received asylum in the United States. She is now living in an Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, raising a child, teaching elementary school and writing children’s literature. She does not look back fondly on the hardships she endured, but feels they taught her to persevere no matter the situation.

“I was born as an Arab Jew for a reason: to take this thing — the fact that I’m an Arab Jew — and make the best out of it and be good at it,” she said. “That’s what I do, be good at things that I’m in.”

The Jewish community in Iraq dates at least to the time of the exile after the First Temple’s destruction, while the Talmud’s principal edition is called the Babylonian Talmud and originated in study halls in what then was known as Babylon. Jews held prominent positions in government and business until the 1930s, and there were some 150,000 Jews in Iraq before the State of Israel was established in 1948.

But conditions deteriorated in 1941, when Iraqis attacked their Jewish neighbors in what is called the Farhud, a two-day pogrom in which some 180 Jews were killed. By the early 1950s, most Iraqi Jews had left in an Israeli mass-emigration operation.

“There’s a huge amount of nostalgia from Muslims and Christians in those countries for the joint life that Jews and non-Jews shared in Arab countries,” said Elhanan Miller, a rabbi who interviewed Gabbai for a series he’s conducting with Jews from the Arab world. “[For Jews], it’s a mix of nostalgia and a lot of hurt.”

Gabbai said that though Iraqis purport to be opposed to Zionism but tolerant of Jews, she never felt accepted for who she was. Teachers would give her a hard time in class despite her good grades. One even gave her a copy of “Mein Kampf,” Adolf Hitler’s manifesto.

“It was hard being Jewish because I felt like, if you’re Jewish, you don’t really have anywhere to belong to,” she said. “Wherever you go, people ask you to leave. If you’re in the Middle East, people ask you to leave. In America, you have anti-Semitism. Wherever you go, people ask you to leave.”

Ceen Gabbai with friends in one of Saddam Hussein’s former castles, approximately seven years ago Courtesy of Gabbai

Gabbai’s family hid their Judaism from friends and neighbors, letting others believe they were Christian or agnostic. When her peers did find out, they would mock her. While Gabbai was growing up, the family had to move five times because of anti-Semitic harassment.

“I was always saying, give me a chance to do something bad and then hate me,” she said. “I would be OK about that, but don’t just hate me for no reason. … It was about me personally, about something I don’t have a say in.”

There were bright spots. Gabbai was scared of telling one of her close friends, a devout Muslim, that she was Jewish. But when she did, the friend accepted her, and the two remain close (though Gabbai never revealed her religion to her friend’s parents). And soon before Gabbai left, her friends recorded themselves in private singing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, as a way of telling her they loved her.

“I felt comfort in that because I knew they’re not using me as propaganda,” she said. “They’re not being like, ‘Hey, we’re friends with a Jew, we’re OK with a Jew.’ No, they were OK with me being Jewish, with me belonging to Israel in one way or another. So they did something for me. The fact that it was dangerous made it even more beautiful.”

Along with anti-Semitism, Gabbai had to deal with another danger while growing up: the Iraq War. She has a string of terrified memories from that time: huddling with her grandmother and family in a basement during the American invasion, coming to school one day to find the building bombed out, and riding a taxi with her father as a bomb blew up right in front of them.

“I don’t really remember much about that day,” she said. “I remember the glass from the window in the car all breaking, and I remember there was blood coming out of my dad’s head, and I think he fainted.”

As the war raged, Gabbai managed to get a bachelor’s degree in law at age 19, the youngest in her class. Soon after, she was given asylum in the United States with the help of HIAS, an American Jewish refugee aid group. She now lives amid Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community and loves seeing the things she missed out on — big, happy Jewish families hanging out freely with their neighbors and cousins.

After coping with so much in Iraq, she said the move has not been so hard on her. She said a number of Americans have apologized to her for the Iraq War.

“I think it was OK for the most part,” she said of her move.” I learned how to adapt with change. Change wasn’t a shock for me.”

Gabbai now teaches fourth grade and is a published children’s book author. Her work focuses on upending stereotypes.

In one of her stories, a girl becomes a knight, but instead of slaying a dragon, she realizes the dragon is nice and befriends it.

“If the world tells you you’re bad and you’re wrong, maybe the world is wrong,” she said. “Maybe you’re not the wrong one, maybe they’re the wrong ones. Maybe you should be proud of who you are.”


More of Gabbai’s story can be read here: Growing Up Jewish in Modern Baghdad

To quote from that interview:

“My favorite part of growing up in Baghdad was meeting friends who were taught, as they were growing up, to hate Jews, but then by knowing me were able to change their idea of what Jews were like. There were many people who grew up thinking Jews are the enemy and were taught to hate them, but by knowing a close Jewish friend they were able to throw away that hatred. I still talk to some of my friends in Iraq on social media. It is the most special thing to me because it taught me that even the most beautiful flower can grow among thorns.”

Books by Gabbai:

The Case for Building a Synagogue on the Temple Mount

An argument for peace, security, and justice

By Matthew Ackerman, TABLET Magazine 02/10/2019

This past Tisha B’Av, nearly 1,800 Jews ascended the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in observance of the annual Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the Temples. While it is true that the observance this year fell on the same day as a Muslim holiday, and that Israeli officials decided to close the entrance to the mount to Jews for a few hours that morning out of fears of clashes, and that even when the Jews were finally allowed to ascend they were quickly shuffled off, and that Israeli police were still forced into confrontations with the Arab Muslim crowd, this nevertheless represented an extraordinary step in Jewish engagement with the Temple Mount. It may indeed have been the largest group of Jews to collectively ascend the Temple Mount with a specifically religious purpose on a single day since the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE, a span of 1,949 years, and another sign of the remarkable change in Jewish fortunes that has occurred in the past century, during which time a people once herded to death has transformed itself into a people on the verge of reclaiming full possession of its most ancient and once seemingly irretrievable patrimony.

In light of this, it’s worth reconsidering Israeli policy regarding the Temple Mount. Even after gaining control of the site in 1967, Israel has maintained the preexisting “status quo” in which the area is administered by a foreign religious authority that maintains a blanket ban on all non-Muslim prayer. For peace, security, and justice, Israel should now take formal control of the Temple Mount, open the site to prayer for all, erect a large and beautiful synagogue so the point is made plainly, and do it quickly.

For justice the case is simple. The Temple Mount is the site of both the First and Second Jewish Temples and, since King David’s establishment of Jerusalem as the Jewish capital and King Solomon’s spiritual consolidation of Jerusalem through his construction of the First Temple there 3,000 years ago, has been the holiest site in the world to the Jewish people. The Temple Mount is where it has been believed for probably longer than any other thing in this world, that the Holy of Holies—the divine presence of God manifested—came to rest on earth after wandering along with the Jewish people in the Tabernacle through the desert from Egypt to Israel. That spot, believed also to be the place where Abraham withdrew his knife from Isaac’s throat, has been the focal point of Jewish hope and pleading with God ever since.

The special significance of the mount and the Temples to Jewish life and practice served as the justification for the massive retaining walls built around it by Herod 2,000 years ago. The Western Wall of the Temple Mount derives all of the spiritual importance it now holds for Jews to its proximity to that spot, in particular for being both symbolically and (for the past 500 years) literally the closest Jews have been officially permitted to approach the Holy of Holies to pray by rulers of Jerusalem, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

I want to underline that point, because it’s important to everything that follows. The Western Wall, which now retains its own place in popular imagination due largely to the plaza built from it that was constructed by Israel following the Six-Day War in 1967, only started to become an important place for Jewish prayer in the 16th century when the Ottoman ruler Sultan Suleiman I set the area aside for Jews as compensation for his renewal of a ban on non-Muslim access to the Temple Mount. Over the preceding 1,500 years, Jews had ascended the mount to pray as the fluctuating policies of the ruling authority allowed, several times beginning the process of constructing a Third Temple, and praying in a Temple Mount synagogue as recently as the 11th century. (A useful survey of Jewish approaches to the Temple Mount from the period of the Roman destruction through the 20th century can be found in this 2013 essay in the Middle East Quarterly.)

Only in the 19th century did a self-prohibition regarding Jewish ascent become normative in Orthodox circles, and even when that view was most widely held many individual Jews continued to ascend. And in the days following Israel’s conquest of the Temple Mount, a synagogue there was once again briefly established by Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces.

In short, since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews have been accustomed to praying facing and as close to the Holy of Holies as personal and legal circumstances allowed. If a Jew found himself in Berlin, that meant turning a bit to the southeast. If she found herself in Saigon, that would mean turning a bit to the northwest. And if in Jerusalem, that often meant standing on the Temple Mount itself, where a compass was not needed to direct oneself in the proper direction. Unless of course that Jew encountered a weapon wielding representative of a ruling government that had banned Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, in which case a particularly pious Jew might find herself wandering through Jerusalem’s many alleyways before finding a few rocks of the retaining wall that surrounded the Temple Mount to hold on to while asking God to return his presence to the Holy of Holies above.

There is no suitable definition of justice that can rightly claim it is just for a Jew to be denied the right to pray at the spot his or her religion has for so long deemed to be the holiest spot in the world.

No doubt the objection will be raised that though it may be just for a Jew to pray at the Temple Mount, security considerations make permitting the actual act impossible—and in fact, this is the de facto legal position of the Israeli government, which continues to enforce a ban despite the Israeli Supreme Court’s decisions that such prohibition is illegal. The argument goes that Arab Muslim anger over a Jew praying on the Temple Mount would lead inevitably to violence. The target of this violence will almost certainly be Israeli Jews, most likely those who have never prayed (and never intend to pray) on the Temple Mount. And it has been said by many people in many ways for many years that exercising Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount would ignite a wider “holy war” in the Middle East that could have unknowable catastrophic consequences. Should some people die so that someone else can pray standing in that particular spot as opposed to another?

First, it has to be said: It is sad to allow a threat of violence to deny a person’s ability to exercise a right we otherwise agree is just. Sadder still is the hard fact that the ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount is not generally understood as a callow and shameful surrender to a violent “heckler’s veto” posed by Arab Muslims accustomed to imposing their unjust aims by threatening to unleash tens of thousands of violent fanatics.

Otherwise, the security argument is weak even on its own terms. For it succumbs to the false appeal of appeasement, believing that by granting full religious control of the Temple Mount to Muslim authorities, Arab Muslims will understand that Israel does not threaten their own religious practice or traditions, thereby creating the conditions under which a larger peace can be negotiated.

Since the dawn of modern Zionism, Arab Muslims have used the supposed threat Jews posed to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount to foster anti-Zionism and hatred of Jews and as a pretext for violence. In one notable example of the pattern, in 1928 shortly before Yom Kippur Jews placed a screen to separate men and women on the flagstones before the Western Wall. Arabs protested and, when Jews continued to petition for their rights to worship freely, declared the need to “protect al-Aqsa from Jewish attacks.” The resulting orgy of Arab killing found its apogee in the August 1929 destruction of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron, when an Arab mob went door to door slaughtering Jewish families. More recently, Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 famously served as the pretext for the unleashing of a Palestinian terror war that killed nearly as many Israelis from the year 2000 to 2010 as had been killed in the 50 previous years of modern Israel’s existence.

In that context, it is perhaps easy to understand the Israeli instinct following the capture of the Temple Mount in 1967 to return full religious control to Muslim authorities, and acquiescence when those authorities promptly reaffirmed their ban on non-Muslim prayer. Could there be a better manner for Israelis to disprove the decades of claims of plots to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque? Can we peer into the mind of Moshe Dayan when he returned control of the Temple Mount to Jordanian religious authorities in 1967 and see there the fears of a sabra child born in a poorly defended pre-state kibbutz hearing the reports of murderous anti-Jewish riots and the Arab leaders who fostered them by claiming a Jewish plan for the destruction of al-Aqsa?

Better not to. But we do have 50 years experience to show that the gesture has done nothing to assuage Arab calls to violence over this point. In 2019 as in 1929, minimal Jewish claims to justifiable rights that have long been shown to pose no threat to non-Jewish rights are seized on as a threat to al-Aqsa, and these claims lead directly to the brutal murder of Jews by Arabs.

While despicable and cynical, this behavior by Arab Muslims is far from irrational. For they see what most Jews today persist in not seeing: that politics flow downstream from culture, that there are no more powerful and longstanding cultural symbols than those that are tied up with religion, and that there are therefore few (if any) better ways of cementing a long-term political claim over a space than by putting a large building associated with your religion in it. The Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople was famously converted to a mosque in 1453 after the successful Ottoman conquest that changed the city’s name to Istanbul. The Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, was a pagan shrine before Muhammad converted it into an exclusive site for the worship of Allah in the seventh century. The Cathedral of Cordoba in Spain was before 1236 the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which itself had been built on the site of a Visigothic church. And there is also of course the example of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount itself, built in 690 to cover the rock where Abraham is believed to have bound Isaac, on the spot where the Temples were believed to have been built, to, in the words of the historian Albert Hourani, “establish Islam in the Abrahamic lineage while also disassociating it from Judaism and Christianity.” The crusader kingdom later turned both it and al-Aqsa into churches, from which the Knights Templar (the knights of the Temple) ruled Jerusalem until being defeated by a new Muslim empire, which promptly converted them back to mosques.

The increased secularity of Western societies in the 20th century seems to have convinced us that these symbols have lost or will soon lose their power over us and the remainder of the world. Hence we deem ourselves capable of devising and implementing “rational” political decisions like Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak’s impractical proposal in 2000 that the Palestinians take sovereignty over the surface of Temple Mount while Israel retain sovereignty over the area beneath it. (Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s now infamous response to this proposal was to question whether there in fact had ever been a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount). This is the hyper rationalist perspective that the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has termed WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic), one framed mostly by the belief that the world is “full of separate objects, rather than relationships.” He terms the irrational, immediate impulses that usually govern our moral and political views the Elephant, and calls the rationalizations we employ for those views the Rider in order to illustrate that the Rider is far less powerful than the Elephant, even if he has a role in directing the action. It’s akin to what another psychologist, the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, has termed System One and System Two, in this case System One being our immediate, easier and often wrong response to many questions, with System Two serving as the harder to access, more meditative and rational aspects of our thinking.

To date, Zionists have largely alternated in their attempts to generate Arab acceptance of their claims by appeals to the practical benefits of Jewish development of Israel (echoed today in arguments about the earnings and freedom enjoyed by Israeli Arabs or in recent diplomatic progress Israel has made in the larger Middle East on the back of the country’s economic success), offers to rationally negotiate a division of claims (the various forms of the west of the Jordan River two-state solution that have been proposed since the Peel Commission report in 1937), or the projection of impenetrable military strength (Vladimir Jabotinsky’s “iron wall” metaphor from the 1920s living on today in the separation barrier—at times a wall—that snakes along and around the 1967 lines). All of these approaches ask Arab Muslims to think about Zionism and Israel with their Rider or System Two, and all have failed as a result. As Kahneman, Haidt, and others have shown, even members of WEIRD societies do not often form their fundamental moral and political perspectives through dispassionate, rational analysis. To finally cement Jewish claims more than 70 years after the independence of modern Israel, we must search for another way to communicate clearly to the Elephant or System One that modern Jewish independence in the Land of Israel can not be reversed.

Conversely, not building a synagogue, not confirming our own rights ourselves, conveys the opposite point, fueling the long Arab Muslim dream of destroying Israel by forever putting into question the Jewish state’s legitimacy. As David Horovitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, wrote in 2017 on Muslim perceptions of the Temple Mount, “The Jews could not and would not have relinquished their authority over the site if it truly constituted the most sacred physical focal point of their faith. Israel’s restraint, its religious realpolitik, in other words, has come to be regarded as proof of our illegitimacy.”

A few years of the sight of a beautiful synagogue on the Temple Mount would rewrite humanity’s mental map of Jerusalem, and the Jewish state beyond it. The synagogue would in short order become an extremely powerful version of what Pierre Nora has termed a “memory site,” or a “symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any community.” Sites like this are what frame all of our notions of what the world is, driven as we are to narratives and imagery, and away from text and abstractions. That is why al-Qaida targeted the Twin Towers in New York and not the Woodmen Tower in Omaha on 9/11, why the faces of past American presidents are carved into the side of a mountain in South Dakota, and why Hollywood makes movies showing the destruction of the White House or the Statue of Liberty. All were or are symbols of the nation and culture that produced them, and their monumental physical solidity gives us confidence in our national strength and continuation, just as their destruction diminishes that confidence, to dramatic effect.

There will of course be many security issues to manage during construction, and there is little doubt that Arab Muslims would use the building of a synagogue as pretext for violence.

These short-term security risks are however outweighed by the long-term security benefits of the synagogue. Murderous Arab riots over Israel’s opening of the Western Wall tunnels in 1996 came and went, and the tunnels are now in regular use with little controversy. So too might one consider the mosque dedicated that same year in Solomon’s Stables inside the Temple Mount, and how accepted its presence and transformation of the “status quo” has been. I imagine we all would be surprised by how quickly the particular violence generated by the synagogue’s construction would subside. No doubt Muslim leaders the world over would howl in protest, but such protests would also soon fade if Israeli leaders made clear that their words had no power to change anything.

Sooner than we realize, the presence of a synagogue on the Temple Mount would begin to seem ordinary, forcing Arab Muslims to reconcile themselves to its existence. Once built, it would so often be in front of us: hanging in the background while a reporter for CNN or Al-Jazeera gives the news from Jerusalem, appearing in pictures at Jerusalem hotel gift shops, seen from overhead while a digital font prints out “Jerusalem” during the next Jason Bourne movie. We should recall how firmly the visual of the current Western Wall plaza now symbolizes Jewish spiritual tradition, and that the plaza did not exist before 1967.

Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor of The Atlantic and a longtime writer on Israel and the Temple Mount, wrote in 2015 that the Temple Mount status quo “is prudent and must remain in place” because it saves “lives fundamentalist Jewish radicals would risk.” This assumption, and the concern behind it over the supposedly extraordinary risks of transforming the national conflict with the Palestinians into a holy war with the entire Muslim world, reveals only an odd misreading of history by those who hold it. It is of course true that the Thirty Years’ War in 17th-century Europe was devastating, as were the many wars of conquest waged across the modern Middle East, North Africa, and Europe by expanding Muslim empires a thousand years earlier, and the many wars between Christians and Muslims that followed. But the many conflicts waged and the many lives taken by oppressive regimes in the many years since that have had little if any religious basis make it hard to understand why religious war should concern us more than secular war. Given the many millions killed by the explicitly secular regimes of the Soviet Union, Communist China, and North Korea, and the many lives lost in the secular World Wars, it seems that if offered the unpalatable choice between conflict on religious or secular grounds we should welcome the conflict driven by people who share an overarching faith in a supreme power that exists beyond human affairs to conflict conducted by those confident in the human mind as the final arbiter of justice, for it is they who have proven themselves capable of building the death camp and the gulag, not the religious believer.

Goldberg also wrote in that same 2015 article that Arab violence is “rooted not in Israeli settlement policy, but in a worldview that dismisses the national and religious rights of Jews.” In other words, Goldberg understands that Arab Muslim terrorism flows not as a response to any particular action of Jews or their state, but from the belief that attempts by Jews to assert any degree of autonomy are inherently illegitimate. The solution to Arab murderous attentions toward Jews therefore must aim to be one that firmly establishes their national and religious rights psychologically, something that only powerful cultural symbols have even the capacity to do. And since the Temple Mount is clearly the most powerful national and religious symbol in Israel, and the status quo arrangement has by now demonstratively failed to convince Arab Muslims that Jews have national and religious rights, it is better put that the status quo does not save lives, it takes them.

So, too, are we warned to be on guard against the messianism the return of Jewish prayer to the mount would engender. Again, though, here we hear an odd superstition against religious messianism when we rarely hear such concerns raised over secular messianism. In fact, extolling the many virtues of the Israel of the 1948-1967 period, before the conquest of Jerusalem and the territories, what Bernard Avishai has called the “Labor Zionist faith in the Hebrew republic that Israel was between 1948 and 1967,” is a bit of a thing. Yet that was the period of independent Israel’s greatest collectivism, when avowedly Stalinist kibbutizm welcomed the children of Jewish immigrants to Israel from the larger Middle East by forbidding their religious practice and indoctrinating them with Marxist ideology in service to the messianic goal of creating a perfect society. We may give thanks that Israel’s secular messianists did not follow the horrors committed by their comrades from the Caribbean to the Yellow seas, and maintained a basic respect for democratic norms. It remains strange though that their type of messianism, which has led to the death and despair of so many millions of people, should be extolled today by the same kinds of voices who would worry over the passions ignited by the construction of a synagogue.

It’d be better for us to caution ourselves against messianism applied to politics in all its forms, while not allowing our prejudices against or in favor of one form or the other to guide us. I am not promoting the construction of the Third Temple, the long prophesied event believed to herald the messianic age. I do promote the construction of a synagogue, which confirms the Jewish right to pray only.

In short, threats to Israel’s security rest on the belief that it is possible to destroy the country. Building a synagogue on the Temple Mount is the best available way to psychologically demonstrate otherwise. Concerns over the new security risks such a synagogue would create are overstated.

But we should demand not merely security. We should also demand peace.

It is a sign of how dispiriting the long Arab Muslim war has been to the Israeli psyche that the great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai came to ask not for peace, but merely the “absence of war.” But following a decade in which the Jewish state has shown inspiring resilience and an ability to effectively manage the violent threats it faces—thanks in large part to the highly effective separation barrier built in the mid-2000s in the wake of the bloody Palestinian terror war—while growing its economy from 40% of U.S. GDP in 1960 to 65% in 2016, and fostering a purposeful society whose citizens consistently achieve high ranks in surveys of “life satisfaction,” it’s past time to ask again for peace. In the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel that was introduced in 1948 we ask, after all, for “peace in the land” that will be an “everlasting joy to its inhabitants.” And did not the Jews’ most admirable heretic, Baruch Spinoza, tell us that peace “is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.”

Asking for peace would mean imagining a world in which not only the question of Israel’s existence is not up for debate but the question of its purpose is also largely resolved. And that purpose is caught up intimately in the 2,000-year Jewish dream of spiritual return to Jerusalem.

We are often blinded to this simple truth by both the increased secularity of Western societies and the ideologies that drove the Zionist movement’s founders. The early movement was dominated by people like David Ben-Gurion who had been raised in religious Jewish communities in Europe and who as young women and men became atheists and true socialist believers. We are now years past the near total collapse of the kibbutzim and other cultural drivers produced by their ideology, years after the Labor Party that for so long dominated Israeli politics has been transformed into a rump faction in national affairs. Yet it is surprising how deeply a wholly secular view of the Jewish state continues to inform Israeli thinking. No doubt this is driven in no small part by the close integration the elites of Israel’s high-tech economy and cultural and academic institutions currently enjoy with their Western counterparts, and the degree to which Israelis wish to mimic the sensibilities of the largely secular people they interact with in Western countries. This also says nothing of the sociological fact of the great number of Israelis who have now been raised generations removed from any semblance of Jewish religious education or understanding.

Nevertheless, there is a reason why the long dream of Jewish political independence was realized in the Land of Israel, and not Uganda, Birobidzhan (the Yiddish homeland established in the far east of the Soviet Union in the 1920s), or Alaska. None of those places has the connection to Jewish history necessary to galvanize the masses needed to actually move to the place in pursuit of the Jewish homeland. And the place that did work, the Land of Israel, is a place whose Jewish history is intimately tied with the long Jewish struggle, from Abraham’s test to Joshua’s conquest to the Hasmonean dynasty, with God. There can simply be no Israel that does not aspire to the long Jewish dream of universal recognition of the oneness and supreme power of God, however defined and however worshiped.

As the final verses of the Aleinu prayer, taken from the book of the prophet Zechariah, put it, “Then the Lord will reign over all the earth; on that day the Lord shall be One and His name One.” No wish here for all the world to become Jewish or to bow before Jewish power, but rather a dream that every human will be inspired by the Hebrew prophetic tradition to a recognition of the truth of a single and loving God, in whatever way they are best able to approach that truth. In the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “No prayer more eloquently expresses the dual nature of the Jewish people: its singular history as the nation chosen to be God’s witnesses on earth, and its universal aspiration for the time when all inhabitants of earth will recognize the God in whose image we are formed.” It is in the present power of the Jews to create this single place of prayer for all peoples on the Temple Mount today, and to do so we need only to affirm our own right to pray in that place instead of allowing one single religion to selfishly and imperially reserve the space for its own purposes.

The establishment of the official rabbinate in Israel and the delegation of authority to it over the state’s functions over fields like marriage; the many Israeli official and unofficial taboos around things like work on Shabbat or leavened food during Passover; the establishment of the traditional religious Jewish holidays as official holidays of the state; the prominence of the Western Wall as a state political symbol of Israel—all of these have been the attempts made by a democratic society to give Jewish spirituality its place in a Jewish state. But in the many enduring controversies over marriage and conversion we see the utter failure of these policies. They fail because they are coercive. They fail because they view Jewish spirituality backwards in time, clinging to symbols of exile like the Western Wall and delegating the definition of religious practice to men who seem still to have yet to reconcile themselves to the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

The spiritual dimension of Zionism, what the great Hebrew writer, Zionist, and pacifist Ahad Ha’Am called its “real and only basis,” is castrated by this present state of affairs.

A synagogue on the Temple Mount would upend this paradigm. Instead of encountering the Jewish spiritual tradition as a pile of rocks or a series of closed doors to the people they want to marry or the foods they want to eat, Israelis would instead encounter an open door to a beautiful building sitting at the very geographical spot that unites the physical and spiritual elements of our long Jewish story, the beating heart of the Jewish return to Zion itself.

To confirm the justice of Jewish rights, to secure Israel forever, to build toward peace among Jews and all peoples, the Jews should build a synagogue on the Temple Mount, and do it soon.

Excerpt: Chovoth HaLevavoth (Duties of the Heart)

Excerpt from Chovoth HaLevavoth (Duties of the Heart) by R. Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda
(Here is a demonstration of the Existence of the Creator) –
Sha’ar Ha’yichud, Section One: The Gate of the Unity of G-D, (Excerpts from Chapters Five and Six) –
There are three premises which lead to the inference that this world has a Creator who created it from nothing:
1) A thing cannot make itself.
2) Beginnings (causes) are limited in number; therefore, they must have a First Beginning (First cause) which had no beginning (cause) before it.
3) Anything composite must have been brought into existence (cannot be eternal, i.e. without beginning).
When these three premises are established, the inference will be, for one who understands how to apply them and combine them – that the world has a Creator who created it from nothing, as we will demonstrate with G-d’s help.
Since it has been demonstrated that there cannot be an infinite series of causes, it follows that the world must have a beginning before which there is no other beginning, a first cause without a cause before it. It is He Who formed the world, bringing it into existence out of nothing, aided by nothing, and with nothing as a foundation, as it says in scripture: “I am G-D Who made all things; I alone stretched out the heavens, by Myself I spread out the earth” (Yeshayahu 44.24); “He stretches out the north over empty space, suspends the globe over nothing” (Iyov 26.7).
Arguments [for the proposition] that G-D is one:
Since it has been demonstrated by way of logical argument that the world has a Creator, it is now our duty to inquire as to whether He is one or more than one. [….]
The first [argument] is drawn from examining the causes of existing things. For when we consider these causes, we find that they are fewer than their effects. [….] The further back we go in tracing the cause of causes, the fewer causes we find; the higher we ascend [the hierarchy of causes], the lower their number becomes, until finally, when we reach [the top, there is only] one cause, the cause of all causes.
To read more on line, go to Daf Yomi Review, Chovoth HaLevavoth.

Parsha Nitzavim: Ahavah

Here’s a little drash on Parsha Nitzavim
Devarim (Deuteronomy) Chapter 30
11 “For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. […] 14 Rather, [this] thing (haDavar – commandment) is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.”
[this] thing (haDavar – the commandment, prophetic word of Moshe) is expressed in the singular to relate the unity of the entire Torah in ONE Word – Devarim 6.5, Ahavah HaShem, the love of / for HaShem; and love of one’s neighbor VeYiqrah 19.18. See Devarim 30.6, 16 and 20; Mishley (Proverbs) 6.22 “When thou walkest, it shall lead thee, when thou liest down, it shall watch over thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.”
In the same way that B’midbar (Numbers) 15.39 (“And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, [….]”) pethil techelet, (the fringe of blue on the tziztith) is expressed in the singular; so too does Devarim (Deuteronomy) Chapter 30.11, 14 express the Mitzvoth (commandment) in the singular.
One should not turn to the right or to the left (“towards the corners”) but one should walk in a straight path: tzitzith (fringes) is spelled tzaddi yud tzaddi thav צִיצִת to express righteousness, righteousness is HaShem’s Torah (teaching haDavar): It (the Commandment AHAVAH) is like HaShem, (ECHAD)! As it is said, “the simplicity of the simple is at one with the Simplicity of the Holy One” ….
Shabbat Shalom, v’K’siva v’chasima tova
Yochanan Ezra ben Avraham