Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why I'm Going to the Celebrate Israel Parade for the First Time on Sunday

My family and I will, IY"H, be at the Celebrate Israel Parade this Sunday (June 1) for the first time. I want to share a few thoughts behind this decision. 

First, it is not because I have undergone any recent change in ideology. I still love the fact that we have a state in Eretz Yisroel built by Jews and hope that it will continually become more alligned with the Torah as time goes on. I still say tachanun on Yom Ha'atzemeut. [Incidently, when I saw what occured on Yom Ha'atzmeut in YU, it appeared to be somewhat haphazard because everybody did different things and no one knew what to do. It left me feeling like the whole thing was somewhat made-up.] I am still grateful to Hashem that His providence has caused the beginning of the ingathering of the exiles and the building of Eretz Yisroel even before Moshiach's arrival.
Putting aside my natural quality of laziness, I have not felt a strong desire to go to the Israel Parade before because it has always struck me as too modern and/or secular a way of showing appreciation for the Jewish state. And I still basically feel that way, but other things have caused me to want to find new ways to show my support and gratitude to Hashem and the Jewish people for the existence of a thriving State of Israel in Eretz Yisroel.
Here is what has pushed me in the other direction so that I would like to try going to the parade this year. First, I have friends who often go and have told me about the beauty and inspiration of seeing tens of thousands of Jews, from the most secular to those who are very religious, getting together to express their gratitude and love for the same thing. I have heard that there is an incredible positive energy. It is almost unheard of to find secular and religious Jews taking part in something together so I love there idea that we have at least this one thing, the State of Israel, that can bring people together in a positive way. We often find such unity when tragedies like 9/11 or Hurricaine Sandy strike, but almost never for positive things.
The second thing is the toxic negativity toward the State of Israel and those associated with it, including the IDF, that I very often hear from various parts of my community. It goes without saying that, as a Jew who works to be religious, I recognize that there are many things wrong with the State, its army, and its laws. But there are so many positive, beautiful things happening as well. And so many of even the people who do harmful things are sincerely trying to do what is right as they (albeit wrongly) understand it.
The derech in Torah to which I am drawn is one which sees good in things. Even when Jews do bad things, this derech seeks to avoid whitewashing the bad while still looking beneath the surface to appreciate that those doing it are not inherently evil or malicious, but are simply wrong or confused. A chareidi MK in a recent article in Mishpacha Magazine actually claimed that non-chareidim hate chareidim so much that it would be futile to even attempt to reconcile with, talk with, or even persuade secular Israelis of the correctness of the chareidi position.  See my letter to the editor in response to that on the right. Such extreme negativity which blinds itself to seeing any positivity in "the other" pushes me to try even harder to see good in those who are condemned as evil and malicious.

Even drashos speaking against the current government of Israel by tzadikim who I respect and look up to, like this one, push me to see the good that other tzadikim and my own gut tells me is there. So even though my positions regarding the state have not changed, I am frustrated by the lack of an appreciation for the goodness within Jews whose beliefs and actions may be wrong. And that frustration causes me to look for more ways to see, be grateful for, and celebrate the good.

My family is now getting very excited to come to the parade as well. My somewhat vertically challenged oldest daughter (a good Bais Yaakov girl) was a little bit concerned that she would not be able to see anything because of her height, so I suggested that we march in the parade so she wouldn't have to worry about the view. She very much liked that idea, so IY"H, we will be marching in the Celebrate Israel Parade with YU, my alma mater.  Hope to see you there if any of  you may be joining!

I do not know whether I will come to future parades, but IY"H, may this one reveal more goodness, gratitude, and achdus in as broad a specrum of the Jewish people as possible!
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Friday, May 23, 2014

Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh Author - Rav Itamar Shwartz - U.S. Schedule This Coming Week - Woodmere, Far Rockaway, Monsey, Flatbush, Lakewood, Philly, & Passaic

Baruch Hashem, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh and Da Es seforim, Rav Itamar Shwartz, will be arriving in the United States on Sunday morning! The Rav will be speaking in Aish Kodesh 9:45 Sunday morning so please come to that! We are still seeking sponsorships in any amount to help the Rav put more of his amazing Torah in print. So please contact me using the email address in the right side-bar if you can help!
Please see below for the Rav's full schedule this week, and please spread the word by email/Facebook/Twitter/etc. Thanks!
Sunday May 25 - Woodmere – Flatbush – Far Rockaway
9:45 AM Woodmere Aish Kodesh (Men and Women) - 894 Woodmere Place
12:15 PM Flatbush Beit Medresh Bnei Levy - 1950 East 21st Street (btw R and S)
5:00 PM Far Rockaway - Kollel Zichron Ephrayim in the Agudas Yisroel of Long Island 1121 Sage St. - Far Rockaway - Connecting to Hashem Brings Brocho Daily
Monday May 26th - Monsey
10:30 AM Ohr Samayach (Men and Women) How to Make Hashem Feel More Real - with English translation.See announcement flyer »
6:00 PM Yeshiva Ohr Yisroel 21 Rita Ave.
Tuesday May 27th - Lakewood - Philly
1:15 PM Lakewood Beis Medresh Ohr haMeir 30 Fifth Street
8:00 PM Philidelphia Politz Torah Academy (Men and Women) How to Feel Pleasure from Spirituality - with English translation - 9225 Old Bustleton Ave., Phily 215-969-5960
Wednesday May 28th - Lakewood
Private Appointments, please text: Rabbi Zvi Cohen 732-966-7743
10:00 PM Beis Medresh Toldos Yehudah127 Courtney Street
Inyan Mitzvah Talmud Torah
See announcement flyer »
Thursday May 29th - Passaic
12:00 PM Mrs. Aviva Aberman (Women Only)
Kehillas Bais Yosef, 580 Broadway How A Woman can Prepare Herself for Shavous and Experience it Fully - with English translation
9:00 PM Aberman Home, 325 Dwasline Road (Limited to 15 couples - $200 per couple) Raising Children with Emunah - with English translation
PLEASE RSVP- limited space left | Contact
See announcement flyer »
Private appointments in Passaic
Shabbos May 30-31st - Lakewood Westgate
6:40 PM Shul at 49 Radin St.
For all private appointments in above locations
please text Rabbi Zvi Cohen
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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Things I Learned Spending Shabbos with CEO of Nachal Chareidi Amuta

Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow, CEO of Nahal Haredi, is on the right
I learned a lot over the Shabbos I just spent with the CEO of Amutat Netzach Yehuda, known colloquially as Nachal Chareidi, Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow. I also got to have, as a Shabbos seuda guest, one of the current chayalim in Netzach Yehuda, Nesanel Silverman, a bearded bochur from Brooklyn who joined Nachal Chareidi as a volunteer from America but has since made aliya. Here are a few of the things I learned about Nachal Chareidi:
  • Nachal Chareidi was started in 1999 primarily through the initiative of a rebbe in yeshiva ketana, Rabbi Yitzchak Bar Chaim, who found that there was, at that time, no productive, satisfying life-path for the many bochurim who were not destined to learn full-time in kollel for decades.
  • One of the most important forces in the IDF helping Rabbi Bar Chaim and others set up a kosher environment in the army for chareidi boys was and is retired General Yehuda Dubduvani, who described his mission in life, after helping found Nachal Chareidi, as working to "mend the tear in the Jewish nation."
  • There are now about 1,400 boys in Nachal Chareidi, which is a three year program. The first two years involve training and combat and the third year is a program to allow boys to either prepare for their high school equivalency exam (bagrut) or study a profession.
  • Nachal Chareidi is a real combat unit. They have primary responsibility for two major Arab population centers, Jenin and Tul Karem, and the surrounding towns.
  • One of the battalion's major functions is that when the Shin Bet provides them with detailed intelligence, they go into Arab cities and towns to extract specific individuals in the middle of the night, with the unit making approximately 2-3 arrests per night. They avoid doing this on Shabbos whenever practical.
  • They were instrumental in the major extraction of Hamza Abu Alheja in March, which involved an armed conflict. You can see Netanyahu praising the unit starting at about the 0:30 mark in the above video.
  • The organization, Amutat Netzach Yehuda, provides approximately 14 rabbanim who constantly travel wherever members of the battalion are at any given time. They give shiurim, chizuk, and guidance on a constant basis. They also help the chayalim with any personal issues that come up, including working with families that may not appreciate their decision to join the IDF.  The organization also provides  other services, including  housing for boys that can't return home for whatever reason, for Shabbos, and a keren chassanim, among other services.
  • The Amuta also acts as a watchdog, ensuring that the army fulfills all of its promises in terms of religious accommodations. Some of these are mehadrin kashrus, separation from women in all aspects of the program (even though 95% of the IDF instructors are women), and times for davening every day. The organization puts the "haredi" in "Nahal Haredi."
  • One cute story is how, about 1.5 years ago, the battalion was participating in a major maneuver lasting the entire night. The maneuver involved several other battalions as well (which are not chareidi). At about 4:30 in the morning, one of the commanders asked Nesanel, one of the Nachal Chareidi chayalim (who told us the story), what time sof zman krias Shma was. The commander wanted to know whether there would be time to do the next portion of the maneuver (which included mostly non-chareidi battalions) before sof zman krias Shma, or whether they should do it after davening!
  • To understand more about how effectively the unit accommodates the chareidi chayalim religiously, see Akiva's post on the topic, which he wrote when his son was about 2.5 years into the 3 year program. It sounds like it's pretty good but not perfect. He wrote: "armies...excel at killing people and breaking things – that is, after all, their primary purpose. At everything else they do it just barely well enough not to be totally messed up and completely dysfunctional. Barely."
  • Because I think this is something that people really want to know, I asked Rabbi Klebanow and Nesanel how many bochurim grow religiously, stay the same, or go down religiously; comparing how they came into the program and how they left three years later. Nesanel felt that 90% of the guys were stronger religiously when they left compared to when they came in, though many (just like outside the army) had ups and downs in the middle. Rabbi Klebanow felt that Nesanel's number was accurate among guys whose parents started off supportive of them, or became supportive at some point in the process.
I'm excited about this program because it's one way, among many relatively new efforts, to get away from the unnatural policy of offering all boys exactly one choice about how they live their lives: long-term, full-time kollel learning. And if they're meant to do something else, for whatever reason, such a policy breaks people and is not the ratzon Hashem. One of those efforts is the relatively new Lomda Institute in Yerushalayim for vocational training founded by Rivka and Yaakov Yerusalvsky (pictured on the right). Another is the Chareidi campus at the Ono Academy, also in Yerushalayim. There is also the Shahar program, allowing chareidim to learn a profession as part of the Israeli Air Force. And there are many others which are beginning to give people the options they need.
Hatzlacha raba to Rabbi Klebanow and the army's efforts at recruitment to the Nachal Chareidi program! May many more people join so that our people can avoid the inevitable conflict and toxic language that will inevitably result when the army attempts to draft people by force if the chareidi recruiting goals are not met! And may the program continue to benefit of the guys and may they grow in midos and ruchnius there, as this will ultimately strengthen them in Torah as well!
Update 5/14/14: The below video in English, featuring information on Nachal Chareidi and an interview with R. Kelbanow was just put online today. Enjoy! 
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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Director of Nachal Charedi in Woodmere/Lawrence/Cedarhurst this Shabbos - Videos, articles, & Links

Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow, director of Nachal Chareidi, on the left
 This is exciting. Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow, the director of Nachal Chareidi, a non-profit organization which worked to found what is now known as the Netzach Yehuda Brigade, will be in Woodmere/ Cedarhurst/ Lawrence this Shabbos and baruch Hashem, he and his wife will be staying with us for Shabbos. Nachal Chareidi continues to support Netzach Yehuda soldiers and liaze between the chareidi communities and the IDF.

Rabbi Klebanow will speak this Shabbos at the following times:
  • Shabbos morning at Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, Rabbi Klabanow will speak at about 10:15. Shacharis starts at 8:30 a.m.
  • Shalosh Seudos at the Young Israel of Lawrence & Cedarhurst, following 7:30 Mincha.
  • Motzoi Shabbos at 9:45 p.m. at a Nachal Chareidi parlor meeting at the home of Anne & Shelly Golombeck, 6 Washington Ave. S. in Lawrence
To get certain misperceptions out of the way in advance, (i) Reb Areye Leib Shteinman, shlita and Rav Elyashiv, zt"l, gave their passive (not publicly declared) support to the founding of Nachal Chareidi back in 1999 and (ii) Nachal Chareidi does not take a position in support the chareidi draft or attempt to attract boys who are learning well to join the IDF.

The main purpose of Nachal Chareidi is to give chareidi young men who are not meant to learn full time long-term for whatever reason, a kosher way to do army service and learn a profession. The battalion has no female instructors (even though 95% of instructors in the IDF are female - women aren't in combat units) and very strong mehadrin kashrus standards, among other religious accommodations.

Netzach Yehuda is one of six battalions in the Kfir Brigade, which does anti-terrorism service in Yehuda and Shomron. A minimum of 70% of the boys come from chareidi homes, about 10% are from chutz la'Aretz, and about 20% are strong dati leumi boys. The Brigade is spread out over seven bases and consists of about 1,500 soldiers (the program started with 30!).

I'm excited about the expansion of this program because, especially as there are more and more alumni and families who see that it is a serious religious program, it opens up options for spiritual and practical actualization for many boys who were made for professions other than long-term, full-time kollel learning. It's a basic human need to do what one is made to do, and that is not the same for everyone. So kol hakavod for Nachal Chareidi creating one path for that!

See here for Akiva's recent thoughts on how Nachal Chareidi chareidi boys fare religiously in the program. He wrote this when his son was 2.5 years into the program (it's a 3 year program).
See here for an audio interview (studio setup wasn't amazing) with Rabbi Klebanow from 2011 which is very informative.
See here for a video put out in February of this year, upon the 15th anniversary of Nachal Chareidi, summarizing the history of the program and the now-Netzach Yehuda Brigade:

And here's a beautiful video from Aug. 2013 from an induction ceremony:
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