Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ein Kemo Shuvu

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Last week, I was in the presence of the Shechinah. It’s true. I haven’t lost my mind. I really was. It happened in Acco, way up in the north of Eretz Yisroel in a very mixed Arab-Jewish city.

What was I doing in Acco and how do I know that I was in the presence of the Shechinah there?

I really didn’t want to go. I really wanted to stay home last week. I wasn’t in the mood of flying away, and I had so much to do. But Shuvu was having a mission to Eretz Yisroel, they really wanted me to join, and I just couldn’t bring myself to say no. Somehow, last Tuesday, they finagled me a ticket, and Wednesday afternoon I was on the plane for a ten-hour flight to Eretz Yisroel.

At the time, I was thinking to myself, “This is nuts. What am I going for? How did I let this happen to me? When am I ever going to finally learn how to say no to everyone’s ideas? I have been reading stories about Shuvu for 18 years and have seen their schools before; what was there to gain by undertaking such a long trip?”

Boruch Hashem, the paper keeps me quite busy and there are other things going on in my life as well to keep me occupied. I really wasn’t interested in flying to the other end of the world to get on a bus and listen to some Russian Jewish Israeli children talk about the Aleph Bais.

But it was too late. I was on my way.

Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l, towards the end of his life, was speaking at the annual Shuvu parlor meeting in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Gedaliah Weinberger. He was recounting that Rav Michoel Gutterman, the Israeli director of Shuvu, had presented to him a shailah. Parents from the Israeli city of Acco had heard about Shuvu and approached Rav Gutterman, asking him to open a school there for their children. However, Shuvu was having a hard enough time keeping up with their existing schools and didn’t see how they could undertake opening and maintaining yet another one.

Rav Pam refused to be deterred. Though he was weakened by disease, he banged on the shtender and said, “One-hundred-and-fifty parents want a Torah school for their children! How can we say no? There is no cheshbon in the world that would allow us to say no to these parents.” And then he uttered the prophetic words, “There will be a Shuvu school in Acco, and the Shechinah will be in that school.”

Avrohom Biderman and the people of Shuvu made sure that their rebbi’s words would be realized. Last week, a bus of American visitors pulled up to witness the miracle of 500 children in the school that no one thought would ever really open or stay opened. They came to see the miracle and they experienced the Shechinah.

They saw the Shechinah on the faces of elementary school children as they stood up to tell their personal stories.

“My family never kept Pesach before, but I was able to convince my father, and when the bread in the house was gone, he went out looking for matzoh,” said one child.

Pint-sized children spoke about how they cleaned their homes for Pesach and saw to it that the holiday would be observed. Children from irreligious homes spoke of netilas yodayim and kashrus. They told how they convinced their parents to become observant. We’re talking about little children, yet they are so committed to Yahadus and their age is no barrier in their ability to turn around an entire family.

Hands of the offspring of people who barely knew they were Jewish were raised to answer questions posed by the teacher on the parsha. Sweet, precious children, boys and girls in separate classrooms, sat attentively as if they were in any elementary yeshiva school we know. And the Shechina was shining from their little faces, just like Rav Pam said it would.

To see those children with your own eyes and not just read about them is worth the trip from anywhere, anytime. To observe these children learning Torah is not something that can easily be conveyed. Reading about it can never match the emotional charge you experience upon seeing them.

It was overwhelming to see hundreds of children pouring out of school at dismissal time and knowing that, if not for Shuvu, these children would all have been cut off permanently from Yiddishkeit and the communists would have won the battle against Jewish continuity.

These children will grow up and be able to tell their children about that fateful day that, for some reason, their parents sent them to Shuvu, never dreaming that they would turn into full-fledged shomrei Torah umitzvos.

So many of us hail from the same lands that these Shuvu children come from; so many of us trace our origins back to Eastern Europe and Russia. Our parents and grandparents had the good fortune of escaping those lands ahead of the ravages that decimated our people. Those not as fortunate were stuck behind. Hitler took their bodies and Stalin robbed their souls. Through no fault of their own, the parents and grandparents of these children were locked behind an iron curtain and shorn of their glorious heritage.

But they can be brought back. Those years of cruelty and subjugation can be undone. Their children can be given the same opportunities as ours, if only given a chance.

Shuvu gives them that chance.

When you read in the Yated about these children, they are just numbers, but when you see them and recognize that those numbers represent living, breathing, adorable, cute, intelligent, young people, you are overcome with emotion.

When a 17-year-old boy stands up to speak at a melava malka, you almost expect a Russian-accented speech betraying his roots. But when he looks and sounds just like any other yeshiva bochur of that age, you realize that Shuvu is not just a dream. You recognize that it can be done. Russian kids, who know from nothing, can be mechunach and developed into Bnei and Bnos Torah.

And this boy, who learns in a regular yeshiva gedolah, is not the exception. He is not just a solitary kid who Shuvu trots out for American visitors.

Rav Havlin, the rabbi of the hotel where we were staying, approached me after Maariv on Motzoei Shabbos. He said to me, “Atah miShuvu? Are you part of the Shuvu group that is staying in this hotel? Ani chayav lehagid lecha, I have to tell you, ein kemo Shuvu.” He said that he just had to let me know what Shuvu is and what it accomplishes. He went on to say that he is a rebbi in the Shuvu boys high-school-level yeshiva in Yerushalayim. “I’ve been there for six years,” he told me. “I was a rebbi in other places before that, but they don’t compare to Shuvu.”

He was so appreciative that he found an American who understood Hebrew that he kept on talking.

“I don’t need the money. I have a job here in the hotel, and my wife works. Shuvu is anyway many months behind in salary. I do it for the satisfaction. There is nothing like it. I am a rebbi in the 12th grade, and of the 15 talmidim who are graduating this year, five are going on to a regular yeshiva gedolah, five to Machon Lev, and five will be going to the army, where they will be part of a religious contingent and will remain shomrei Torah.

Mah ani yachol lehagid lecha? Ein kemo Shuvu!”

I didn’t ask him, but I am sure that he experiences being with the Shechinah every day, when he sees the mesiras nefesh of his talmidim to grow in Torah and yiras Shomayim.

We joined a previously planned melava malka, which had nothing to do with our trip. It was part of a Shabbaton for Shuvu parents from Ashkelon. It is held regularly in Har Nof, assisted by the girls of Nachlas Bais Yaakov.

The Shechinah was in the room as one parent after another spontaneously rose to tell their story and how they are leading frum lives thanks to Shuvu. They look like regular FFBs, but when they spoke, they took our breath away. With such simple elegance they told their stories.

One particular woman got up and said, “We came from Russia to Ashkelon and were looking for a school for our daughter. We saw an ad for Shuvu on television and heard ads for them on the radio. It sounded like a good school, so we went to check it out and were very impressed with the scholastic level. We didn’t know much about Yahadut.

“Look at me now. Our daughter would come home from school and teach us. She taught us about brachot, about netilat yadayim, about kashrut. She taught us about meat and dairy. She taught us all kinds of things we never even heard of before. And then she taught us about Shabbat.

“Shabbat was the hardest. I was so scared of it. I work a whole week and it was my free day - my day off - when I could do what I want. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do on that day. But my husband was intrigued by the idea and he dragged me along. Today, we are shomrei Shabbat, and we keep kashrut, and, lately, also taharat hamishpacha. All thanks to Shuvu.”

The basic message was the same as each parent spoke. But instead of it sounding repetitive and trite, the speeches had a cumulative effect on us. As each one delivered a short impromptu message, their words began sinking deeper and deeper into the hearts of those in attendance. By the time they were done, we were left speechless and overwhelmed.

We came to be mechazeik, to strengthen them on Motzoei Shabbos Chazak, but we ourselves were mechuzak.

It wasn’t easy to get away, and I didn’t really want to go, but it was well worth it.

Everyone who wants to witness the realization of the posuk at the end of Malachi which states, “Vehaishiv leiv bonim al avos veleiv bonim al avosam,” should go see for themselves the children and parents of Shuvu. The only way to explain how children effect such tremendous change on their families is by reviewing that posuk and recognizing that the children are empowered by Eliyahu Hanovi to have that impact upon their parents. And the only way to really believe that it is taking place is by witnessing it for yourself.

Every week, we see the ads for Shuvu. Many wonder what really goes on there, how many children are really enrolled in the schools, and what impact they really have.

If you don’t see it with your own eyes and experience it with your own heart and soul, it really is difficult to comprehend the Shuvu revolution that Rav Pam dreamed of. It is hard to imagine the realization of the pesukim which foretell of the historic return. It is hard to imagine the Shechinah in Acco.

But you can go see it for yourself. You’ll be a changed person, as the Shechinah impacts you.

When you walk the streets of Eretz Yisroel, it breaks your heart to see that there are so many kids out there waiting for Shuvu to reach them. There are so many people who will never know the bracha of a Torah way of life simply because there isn’t enough money to open additional schools and spread the Shechinah further around. With pennies, their souls can be saved for eternity.

If we don’t reach out to them others will. Just this week, Israel’s Minister of Education spoke to a group of Israeli Reform Jews she is empowering. She told them, “There is a thirst for knowledge, especially among our youth, and I expect you to quench that thirst.” She went on to say what we already know: “That’s the way to make a lasting change. I recommend that you devote your energies to education, not to legal battles.”

If we don’t reach these kids, others will. If we don’t intercede and stretch out our hands to them, others will. If we don’t get them off the streets and bring them to Torah, nobody else will. The work of Stalin and Khrushchev and the other communist reshaim will be completed, right under our noses.

It’s not too late, however.

The next time you see an ad for Shuvu, think of these little children in Acco, think of the people in Ashkelon, and think of the 15,000 children in the Shuvu system. Think of their parents and siblings. Think of what could be and what is, and think about what you can do to help bring about the realization of the prophecy, “Umalah ha’aretz de’ah es Hashem,” and the announcement heralding the arrival of Moshiach tzidkeinu, may it be very soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Gaping VoidWaiting To Be Filled

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It was a little over ten years ago. The phone rang early on a Friday morning. My wife answered and told me that Rabbi Sherer was on the line and wanted to speak to me. It had to be a prankster, I thought. Everyone knew that Rabbi Sherer had re-turned the night before from Eretz Yisroel and headed straight for the hospital. His dreaded disease had come back and everyone feared for his life. How could it be that he was on the phone, early in the morning, wanting to talk to little me?

I took the phone, and it was him. The words still ring in my ears: “Pinnaleh, this is Moshe Sherer. I came back from Eretz Yisroel last night. I am in the hospital. I don’t know if I will leave here alive. You know how much I love you. I want you to listen to me.”

For forty-five minutes, he directed me what to do in his absence. How to run the paper. How to carry myself. General rules for life and success.

When he hung up, it took me time to gather myself together. Here was the great Rabbi Sherer, telling me that he was dying and giving me a tzava’ah to live my life by. I was so awed and humbled at the same time. His words were engraved in my heart with fire and ice and I seek to follow them until this very day.

I pulled myself together and called my rebbi, Rav Elya Svei shlita, and told him what happened.

“I feel as though he was giving me a tzava’ah,” I told him.

“He was,” responded Rav Elya. “Tell me what he told you.”

I repeated the entire conversation to him.

“You should follow him,” Rav Elya said.

“I thought I knew him. I thought I had a special relationship with him. But I never realized how smart he really is,” I said sheepishly to Rav Elya.

“Now that you found out,” he answered me, “you should be clever enough to remember what he said and to follow his every word.”

I was very young and very raw when I fell under Rabbi Sherer’s influence. I never really understood what he saw in me or why he took such interest in me. I attributed it to my friendship with his son, Rav Shimshon, then known as Shimshie. From the first time Shimshie introduced me to him, he always encouraged me to do great things with my life and reminded me of my yichus. He always had something positive to say and would seek to motivate me, even at a young age, when I was unable to appreciate what he was trying to do.

I remember the first time I met Rabbi Sherer. It was at an Agudah Convention, of course, back in the days when the conventions were held in Atlantic City. Many people would stay in the various small motels which dotted the area and converge on the convention hotel for the tefillos and sessions. Since my grandfather, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l, was there, I was permitted to leave yeshiva for the weekend. I went with Refoel Wolpin, son of Rabbi and Mrs. Nisson Wolpin, and stayed with the Wolpin family and ate the meals with them.

When we were done, we went to the Sheraton Hotel. I was in awe. I was a small boy, from a small town, and had never seen so many frum Jews together. I saw great people whom I had only heard about. My grandfather introduced me to them and asked them to bentch me. One of those was Rabbi Sherer. He gave me his trademark broad smile, which could have made any skinny, scrawny, country kid like myself feel like a million bucks. It was the first of many.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l spoke, as did many other of Klal Yisroel ‘s treasures. There was a hush in the room as each one of these great men rose to speak, and everyone in the cavernous hall swallowed every syllable that was offered.

The weekend built to a crescendo, which was reached when Rabbi Sherer addressed the large gathering on Motzoei Shabbos. There was just something about his presence that caused a young boy who didn’t know much to sit there and take notice. His diction was perfect; his sentences hung together. His message was powerful, as he wrapped up the entire convention and held the audience in the palm of his hands.

From that time on, whenever I met him or thought about him, I saw him as a public speaker, a public figure, on stage, essentially performing via his speeches and using his oratory skills to affect people and effect change. I always saw him as a public person, not as a private individual.

That was until our early morning conversation. It was then that I realized that there was so much more to him than the public persona he had created and which had sprouted around him. He wasn’t just a person who could appeal to the hamon am. He wasn’t just a Jewish statesman who could quiet a hall, mesmerize and audience, and set the agenda for Orthodox Jewry. He was an intellectually gifted, astute, keen, thinking person, with a huge heart.

He was blessed with the ability to mold words into thoughts and emotions, that were able to change the entire Orthodox world and the way we are perceived. His public messages were carefully crafted and, with them, he brought together disparate groups of Holocaust survivors and refugees, transforming them into a vibrant, burgeoning, powerful and effectual group.

At the same time, however, he was able to relate to individuals. He never lost sight of the trees for the forest. He never grew too high to be able to reach the little people. Holocaust survivors who had lost everything, arrived here penniless and embarked on rebuilding their lives one slow painful step at a time were as enamored by him as were Yankees born on these shores.

Because everything he did was l’sheim Shomayim, he never tired and never quit. For a man to be as immensely successful as he was, countless sleepless hours had to be spent away from his family poring over documents seeking solutions others argued didn’t exist. He was a workaholic on behalf of his people, toiling day and night far away from the spotlight.

The same person who walked with presidents strolled with little Pirchei boys, according them the same honor he gave heads of state. When standing in corridors of power, he knew he was there as a shlucha deRachmana. He knew that he was there so that the young Pirchei boys and Bnos girls would be able to grow and flourish in a free country unencumbered by the vagaries of the exile which were part and parcel of the lives of their parents and grandparents.

And since the years of World War II when he began his years of service for Klal Yisroel, generations of children have grown with so much to be thankful for, taking for granted all that was gained through decades of mesirus nefesh of a man who lived for them.

Alas, as I sit here preparing this week’s edition, these thoughts come to me. There’s no doubt that many others will also think about Rabbi Sherer as his tenth yahrtzeit approaches. They will recount his greatness and bemoan the great vacuum glaringly apparent a decade later. Some will offer up public memorials and others will speak about him privately. They will all hope and pray for a man like him to rise from our midst and occupy the space that he did in the hearts and minds of Am Yisroel.

I will join with them and pray that our generation will merit to create the proper environment in which a man like that can function and succeed.

A decade later, I still miss his phone calls and gentle “knips” on the cheek just as much as his statesmanlike pose and timeless prose.

We all pray to be zoche to be greeted by the ultimate leader who will take us from golus and bring us to the geulah sheleimah, bimeheira b’yomeinu.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Lesson of Rabi Akiva

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As we proceed through the Sefirah period, it behooves us to contemplate what it is that we mourn for during these weeks.

We all know that it was during this period that 24,000 talmidim of the great tanna Rabi Akiva passed away because they did not display proper respect for one another.

The Chevron rosh yeshiva, Rav Simcha Zissel Broide zt”l, asks what the connection is in the fact that they were students of Rabi Akiva. Obviously there is a connection, for otherwise Chazal would simply say that 24,000 talmidei chachomim died during this period. The fact that they are described as students of Rabi Akiva would seem to indicate that there is something about Rabi Akiva that they could have learned and didn’t, and thus they were punished.

Rav Broide explains that the Gemara in various places describes the princely middos of Rabi Akiva and the way he judged people and dealt with them. As his students, these talmidei chachomim should have learned that from him and dealt with each other with the same degree of respect their rebbi showed for others.

The Gemara in Maseches Yevamos [62b] says that the talmidim died from an illness described as eskerah. In Maseches Shabbos [33b], the Gemara indicates that eskerah is inflicted on a person as a punishment for bittul Torah. Why, then, did Rabi Akiva’s talmidim die from this illness if their sin was not treating each other with proper respect?

I was discussing this question with my dear friend, Rav Ari Levitan, and he offered a fascinating explanation. The talmidei Rabi Akiva were punished with eskerah because they didn’t realize that their rebbi’s greatness in Torah was brought about through his sterling character. They didn’t grasp that gadlus baTorah is dependent upon gadlus in the mitzvos of bein odom lachaveiro.

Rabi Akiva was a latecomer to Torah study and it was only because his determination to grow in learning was coupled with an outstanding commitment to the mem ches devorim shehaTorah nikneis bohem that he was able to be become a great tanna.

Thus, since their behavior with each other indicated that they did not learn from their rebbi what is required for limud haTorah, they were punished with eskerah.

And why is this so? Because if you want to reach people, if you really care about them and want to influence them, you have to address them with respect. Nobody likes being talked down to. Most people respond to positive reinforcement and tune out negativity.

If you want to be able to learn properly with your chavrusah and talmidim, you have to excel in the mem ches devorim shehaTorah nikneis bohem.

This fact, as simple and obvious as it seems, appears to totally escape some people.

If you behave with mentchlichkeit and treat people properly, you really can effect change. People will respect you and listen to you. You will be able to help people improve their shemiras hamitzvos, their learning, their understanding of life and their acceptance of their lot.

People who bring out the best in others embody optimism. They smile at the world and the world smiles back. They can be plain, simple people, but if they remind others of their greatness instead of berating them, they can bring out a person’s latent intelligence and goodness. This can be achieved sometimes merely by showing simple respect.

The greatest teacher is not the one who knows the most, and the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who motivates people to accomplish the greatest things. The greatest teacher is the one who can crawl into the soul of his students and reach them.

A quality teacher gives a child the feeling that he has the confidence in him and recognizes his potential for achieving greatness. The rebbi or morah lets the student know that they share their dreams, hopes and goals for the future, and will do all they can to help the child attain them.

You can convince people to do good by appealing to their hopes or by playing to their fears. The one who excels makes sure to speak to their confidence and not to their doubts, with facts and not with fantasy. People respond much better when they are treated with dignity and are more likely to rise to the challenge.

For leaders and teachers, as well as parents and friends, communication is a lot more than mere words. What matters is not necessarily what we say, but how we say it. We can inspire and motivate when we communicate with genuine love and care. By imparting our true feelings effectively, our children, students, friends and acquaintances will understand that they are admired and loved by people who have confidence in their abilities.

Others might be superior to us in intelligence, experience and diplomacy, but if we care to pay attention and exercise greater care when speaking to people, we can accomplish so much more. Our lives have a deeper purpose than simply fulfilling selfish impulses. There is so much we can do and accomplish if we only set our minds to it. There is no excuse to say that we are not smart enough. There is no excuse to say that we are not capable. It is no defense to say that we don’t have proper experience or ability.

We have to care about others. We must have passion in what we do. And we have to let it show. We can all help other people and remind them of their inherent greatness. We have to be optimistic about life and about our own abilities, and we have to convey that to others.

Every one of us possesses the ability to affect the world. If we would only maximize our G-d-given abilities to study Torah as well as we possibly can; if we would only utilize the strength that Hashem gave us to build instead of destroy, to be optimistic instead of pessimistic; if only we would use the brachos that Hashem blessed us with to shower others with material and spiritual goodness, we could transform the world, person by person, station by station, town by town, and city by city.

Let’s gather in the rays of Torah and spread its light. We each have the ability to light up the world with Torah and maasim tovim, with intelligence and splendor. We can reach out and touch people, if only we tried. If only we cared enough.

At the same time, we should recognize that the heroes of our world are the people who train and prepare themselves as professionals in Torah. For years on end, their preoccupation is to excel in the knowledge and practice of the gift that is the focus of our lives.

Talented and able as they are, they give up financially promising and socially prestigious careers in order to keep Torah learning alive and then serve as rabbonim, poskim, rabbeim and roshei yeshiva. We need to treat them more consciously and more visibly with honor and respect, and inculcate that esteem sincerely within our own hearts. We need to afford them an honorable living and the kavod that should be spontaneously felt for experts of Torah.

Brave men and women enter classrooms daily to be mechanech our children. They work long hours under difficult conditions, their salaries are nothing to write home about, and they are not exactly awash in fame and honor. They bear an intense inner-calling welling up from deep within their beings, which motivates them to dedicate their lives to transmitting the message of Torah to the next generation.

They deserve our appreciation. They deserve to know that their dedication to their task is recognized and admired. They need to know that they have the eternal gratitude of the Jewish people for filling the gap that still remains because of the loss of the 24,000 talmidim of Rabi Akiva.

Let us demonstrate that we learned the lesson of Rabi Akiva as we display proper courtesy to rabbeim and moros, as well as to our chavrusos and everyone we come in contact with.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Happy Anniversary?

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As Israel prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary, it’s illuminating to turn back the pages of contemporary history to get a grasp of the origins of Zionism and how it brought about the spiritual alienation and moral decay that today threaten the tiny Jewish state.

Zionism emerged in the late nineteenth century in response to decades of anti-Semitic persecution in Europe. It was the appalling outburst of French anti-Semitism in the Dreyfus affair that first catalyzed the movement, convincing Herzl and his followers that the key to the Jewish problem was to rid the Jewish people of their statelessness.

Since being driven out of Eretz Yisroel two thousand years ago, the Jews had wandered the globe. Without political autonomy or control over their fate, they had been dependent on hostile host countries which sometimes granted them brief periods of relative affluence and comfort, but more often exploited them as convenient scapegoats and second-class citizens with no legal rights.

For hundreds of years, Jews in one country or another were condemned to abject poverty, murder, pogroms, random rampages of violent religious persecution, and worse.

Through it all, the Jewish people, inspired and nurtured by Torah and mesorah in the face of every adversity, still flourished. Torah was everywhere, as was the sincere and meticulous observance of its laws and customs.

With the dawn of the age of Enlightenment in the mid to late 18th century, and the lure of social acceptance of Jews into some Western European societies, a new challenge to the Jewish people emerged.

The Haskalah ended up leading a large percentage of Jews astray from their religious moorings. It promised that by secularizing themselves and turning their backs on religious faith, the Jews of Europe would at last gain equal rights in their host countries. Yet, though they were now living secular, materialistic lives in the big cities, Jews still could not win full acceptance.

They were never allowed to forget their Jewish roots and continued to be excluded from the upper ranks of goyishe society. They were still despised, mistrusted and the first to be blamed whenever anything went wrong. In Eastern Europe, the bloody pogroms continued, and even in the most civilized societies of Western Europe, anti-Semitism remained deeply ingrained.

Haskalah spawned the Zionist movement which professed that if the Jews had their own country like every other ethnic people, and they became nationally strong and self-sufficient, anti-Semitism would become a thing of the past.

The historic Jewish mode of surviving by playing up to host countries and corrupt ministers would no longer be necessary, Zionism preached. For in the land of the Jews, a utopian existence ushered in by a socialist state would be established. Jews would cast off the shackles of the exile, finally free of the tyranny of governments, priests and rabbis.

Many Jews bought into the Zionist dream. The idea of returning to the land of our forefathers held emotional sway all over Europe. Jews were starving to death in many places. They were poor beyond our comprehension. They were tormented by their neighbors, landowners, and people in power.

They thought that this was, at long last, the answer to Jewish poverty and starvation, the end to the centuries of torment. Especially following the Holocaust, many Jews felt that a state of their own would solve so many problems and lead to the ultimate redemption.

Of course, in hindsight, we all know that it was a false hope, never to be fully realized. There were many rabbonim who foresaw that a secular Zionist state would solve few, if any, of our problems, and would create many more.

Those gedolim and askanim were shunted aside by the people in power and lost almost every power struggle in the new land.

Looking back over the past 60 years, one is struck by the many dismal failures of the enterprise. Yes, they made the desert bloom. Tel Aviv is a cosmopolitan city. Israel has more companies traded on the NASDAQ than any other country besides the U.S. Israel provided a home for some Holocaust refugees, as well as hundreds of thousands more Jewish refugees chased from North Africa, a true ingathering of the exiles.

But at what price?

The Laborites who held onto power until Menachem Begin wrested it from them, robbed many of these newly arrived Jews of their religious heritage, a sin that can never be forgiven, and whose repercussions continue to produce bitter fruit in our own day. They set up a state devoid of Yiddishkeit, seeking to substitute Jewish history, Hebrew language, nostalgia and Jewish ‘folklore’ for real Judaism and faith.

They created a state which was Jewish in name only, using the Jewish heritage as a convenient backdrop. They seized political control over the new country and purported to act and speak on behalf of the entire Jewish people.

The founders of the new state expected its religious community to quickly shrivel up and disappear in their new socialist Zionist utopia, but they were wrong.

Instead of withering, those devoted to Torah and Yiddishkeit were inspired by the Holy Land and breathed a religious flavor into the state. Torah has taken root, grown and flourished in the nascent country. The number of frum Yidden, as well as their intensity in learning and devotion to the observance of Torah, has multiplied many times over.

The prosperity of the Torah community sparked surprise and dismay in the children of the secular founders. A new generation has come of age, and many descendants of the early Zionists reject their parents’ Zionism. Yet far from receding with the weakening of Zionism, contempt and hatred for religious Jews and a Torah lifestyle has increased in this land.

It’s possible to visit Israel and not see overt signs of this contempt. We travel to Yerushalayim and are overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and flavors the land has to offer. We pass by chadorim, yeshivos and yishuvim, and our hearts skip a beat as we think of all the blood, sweat and tears that went in to reestablishing everything in the Holy Land. We go the Kosel, the Meoras Hamachpeilah and Kever Rochel and are overcome by the holiness and the communal memories of thousands of years of Jewish history connected with these sacred places.

We walk down the streets of Yerushalayim and marvel at the great miracle of the rebirth of our people. On Rechov Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak, we can’t help but visualize the holy Chazon Ish zt”l walking these same streets, dreaming of a city of Torah arising from the ashes of the Holocaust.

Wherever we go in the country, there are stirring reminders of the history of our people. In Beer Sheva, we are shown wells and walls which are dated to the times of Avrohom Avinu. If we travel around the country, we encounter Har Gerizim and Har Eivol, and the pesukim of the Torah reverberate in our minds. At Har Hacarmel, the pesukim in Nach come alive. The pools of Shlomo Hamelech can actually be touched. The palaces of Hordus, Ihr Dovid, the Beis Haknesses of the Ramban in Yerushalayim and the shul of the Arizal in Tzefas are all testaments to our glorious history in this land.

The graves of the ancients evoke shivers of awe, from Adam and Chava, to Avrohom and Sarah and all the Avos and Imahos, to the kever of Shmuel Hanovi overlooking Yerushalayim, the kever of Dovid Hamelech, and all the historical figures whose Torah we study day and night.

It is so easy to be overwhelmed when visiting the Land of Israel.

But then you realize that so much of what touches you about this land has nothing to do with the modern state. It is the history and kedusha infusing this place that touches your soul and causes you to feel as if you have found home.

There is much we don’t see when we go for a visit to Eretz Yisroel, and much they don’t show us. Were we to wander into Tel Aviv, we would be lost; we wouldn’t believe that Jews live this way in Eretz Yisroel. The same in Chaifah, Eilat, and so many other places not on the Chareidi tourist map. You go there and your heart breaks, for you know that these are Jews, yet they inhabit a different universe. You cringe and you can’t wait to get out of there.

Yet, that degenerate universe is what the founders of the state set out to create. They weren’t interested in enclaves such as Meah Shearim, Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak and Kiryat Sefer; they didn’t even want places like Bayit Vegan and other more cosmopolitan religious areas. They wanted Tel Aviv nightlife, the beach in Eilat, and kibbutzim where families were separated from each other and all was bliss.

So it’s hard to offer a retrospective on the country’s 60th anniversary. I hate to be negative and to point out the downside and the sad parts. Yes, there is what to be thankful for, but you can’t praise the good without noticing and examining what has gone terribly wrong.

It is with a great deal of ambivalence that the anniversary is celebrated. Obviously, Zionism didn’t cure the Jewish problem. Anti-Semitism is as ugly as ever, and much of it seems to be caused by the very state which was founded to get rid of it.

We live in a world that seems drastically different from the world of 60 and 100 ago. Communism, once so terrifying in its global power and tyranny, has crumbled. Jews who live in the West experience freedom, enjoying the same rights as Christians to work, live and worship as they please. Pogroms are but a distant memory, something children learn about in school and old people talk about, but seemingly totally irrelevant to today’s world.

How about Israel? Is this country the great refuge and safe harbor for Jews that its founders envisaged? With so many rockets aimed at it and so many people bent on its destruction, it’s hard to see it that way.

The country has been in a state of war since its founding. Its enemies are not interested in making peace with it or even officially acknowledging its existence. Miraculously, the army succeeded in fighting back the country’s attackers several times throughout the decades. Lately, the vaunted army has not merited miracles of that nature, and has been dishonorably defeated several times.

The country is led by one of the most corrupt elected governments on earth. The prime minister faces no less than five investigations and can be indicted at any given moment. The president was thrown out of office in disgrace. Ministers have been accused and found guilty of crimes of moral turpitude. The government and people who participate in it operate with no public support. Were elections to be held today, they would all be trounced. And they know it, but couldn’t care less.

It is truly appalling that a country invested with so much hope, and which people still believe to be a harbinger of the Messiah, is led by people of such low caliber.

The great debate whether there are still Zionists left anywhere continues to rage. I maintain that there are. It may be that we don’t meet them. When we travel to Israel, we generally stay in Yerushalayim where we meet and spend time with other like-minded English speakers. Most of us can’t speak Hebrew coherently and thus have no real interaction with Israelis other than superficial chit-chat. The Israelis we do converse with are Chareidim like ourselves. The only secular people we engage in conversation with are Arab waiters or rabidly right-wing Sephardic taxi drivers. It is unfair to judge an entire country based upon our interactions with those small segments of the population.

No matter what the secularists do, they can not rob the country of its special chein. The very air of Eretz Yisroel is redolent with its history. No one and nothing can eradicate that. There is Torah everywhere; wherever you go, there are people on a quest for teshuvah, people searching for a more spiritual life, people searching for the way back to the paths of their forefathers. Despite its flaws, the country does function to a certain degree and Jews from all over the world feel free there.

It is the land we pray towards three times a day. We pray for the people who live there. We direct so many of our charity dollars there. We hang pictures of its buildings in our homes. We are invested emotionally in its survival and success. And, as its anniversary is marked, we are reminded that we are still in golus and our physical existence is as precarious as ever. The country’s anniversary ought to remind us to increase the fervor of our tefillos for a hastening of the geulah sheleimah bimeheirah.