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American Jews Find Opportunity in Israel

Aug 6, 2012 at 04:45:22 AM

For years, Israel was looked upon as American Jewry's "poor sister," a backwater community in the turbulent Middle East, with a poor economy and tenuous connection to the modern world.

Now, with the American economy slumping and the Israeli economy growing steady, things have taken a dramatic about-face. Suddenly, young American Jews are moving to Israel for – believe it or not – economic opportunity. With an unemployment rate of just 6%, Israel is a sanctuary where engineers, medical professionals, writers and managers are all finding success in the fields of hi-tech, academia and business.

For those not bold enough to make the move independently, many are taking advantage of the Masa program, which offers career training along with free housing and Hebrew classes.

There's another reason young American Jews are coming to Israel: to join the Israeli army. This summer, 350 adventure seekers are "making aliyah," hoping to join one of the elite IDF air force, paratrooper or intelligence units.

The idea of Jews from around the world serving in the IDF is not a new one. The Machal volunteers of 1948, many of them World War II veterans, supplied much-needed combat expertise to the fledgling army. Mickey Marcus was a U.S. Army Colonel who stepped in to help Israel in 1947 and became its first "General"; the story was immortalized in the Kirk Douglas film, "Cast a Giant Shadow."

The notion of young men coming to serve is gaining traction. Over 3,000 "lone soldiers" (i.e. immigrants without family in Israel) currently serve in the IDF.

In terms of long-term stays in Israel, perhaps the biggest group of all are those American Jews who come to Israel each year for a year-long "post-high school" yeshiva experience. Thousands of young men and women come to study, tour and bond with the land. A large percentage stay afterwards, get married and settle permanently in Israel.

Aish Jerusalem offers a wide range of study-and-touring programs, for everyone from beginner to advanced.

This is the new Israel, where the stereotype of picking oranges on a kibbutz has given way to new options: sharpening one's hi-tech skills in Tel Aviv, pouring over the Talmud in Jerusalem, or toting an M-16 in the West Bank. The opportunities are varied and waiting to welcome you.


Vacation Repeat

Jun 26, 2012 at 04:46:10 PM

Imagine that you plan to take two weeks off work to enjoy a nice, relaxing vacation at Disney World. You make all the arrangements with your boss, you book your flight and hotel reservations, and then the big day arrives. You arrive in Orlando, greeted by a swath of amusement parks, golf courses and attractions for as far as the eye can see. After a few days you're deep into the swing of things… when you come down with a bad case of the flu and are laid up in bed for an entire week.

Here's the question: Should that week of flu count as vacation days (after all, you were on vacation), or should it count as sick days – meaning that you still have a week of "repeat" vacation left.

This week, Europe's highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union, ruled that workers who happen to get sick on vacation are legally entitled to take another vacation.

As the New York Times observes: With much of Europe mired in recession, governments struggling to reduce budget deficits and officials trying to combat high unemployment, this ruling is a reminder of just how hard it is to shake up long-established cultural norms and revive sinking economies.

Amazingly, Europeans typically get 4-6 weeks of guaranteed annual vacation. Not quite as much as my kids get off for summer vacation (which begins tomorrow!) but it does bring to mind an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

© United Press Syndicate      h/t – James Taranto


The Quarter-Million-Dollar Gift

May 18, 2012 at 06:19:13 AM

I heard this inspiring story from my dear friend Jonathan Rosenblum.

Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg immigrated to the United States prior to World War II. He became involved in fundraising for a yeshiva, and in the course of these activities met a number of wealthy individuals.

One woman was so impressed with Rabbi Ginzberg that she included him in her will ― to the tune of $250,000. For Rabbi Ginzberg, who had a large family to support, that money was a huge financial relief. But Rabbi Ginzberg insisted that since he had met this wealthy woman as a representative of the yeshiva, the money rightfully belongs to the yeshiva, not to him.

When Rabbi Ginzberg's son heard this, he objected, pointing out his father's vast ongoing personal expenses. The son took upon himself to ask the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein for a ruling.

Rabbi Feinstein said: Since the will named Rabbi Ginzberg specifically ― not the yeshiva ― the money does in fact belong to him.

The son raced home with the good news. When Rabbi Ginzberg heard, he erupted in joy.

"I am a man of modest means and I could never imagine being able to donate a quarter-million dollars to a yeshiva. But now that the money is rightfully mine, I can finally fulfill that dream!"

And with that, he promptly wrote a check to the yeshiva for $250,000.

This story highlights a sensation that only a lucky few enjoy: Working for an organization that likewise represents one's greatest personal aspirations. In this case, Rabbi Ginzberg was getting paid… for doing what he himself was willing to pay for. What a marvelous inspiration.

Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Anonymous, May 21, 2012 10:59 PM

Wonderful story

When a very large lottery prize was announced, people asked me what I would have done had I even participated and won all that money. "First, I would give my shul the money they need to pay off the mortgage, then I would pay off my mortgage. I'd create an endowment that would provide local food banks with GOOD foods, and another to make certain that a religious school I'm fond of would never have to worry about money and... " With that, my friend interrupted me. Your van is old enough to be a bar mitzvah, you live in a modest house, you need new teeth...what about YOU? Looking at my friend as though he's lost his mind I reminded him that what "I" needed was insignificant compared to what good the money could do. I'd consider myself after I had done if I had won...which I hadn't, so the entire conversation was moot. What a shame that eternal values are ignored in favor for temporary "toys" and conveniences. Sure, I'd love to replace the teeth I lost during a series of grand mal seizures. My van is just wonderful the way it is, not a single rattle or squeak; I like it. My home? Perfect the way it is and where it is. But to just imagine the joy of being able to pay off my shul's mortgage? Pardon my thinking; I think that money should provide joy for others, not just for an individual. After all, we're COMMANDED to love Hashem with all of our hearts, souls and RESOURCES. Yeah...that's the ticket even if it is imaginary.


Goldman Sachs’ Greed?

Mar 16, 2012 at 05:46:30 AM

In the seminal film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko declared: "Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed… has marked the upward surge of mankind."

This week in a New York Times op-ed, an "anti-greed" crusader by the name of Greg Smith announced his resignation from the financial giant Goldman Sachs. Smith, whose clients had a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars, describes the firm's practice of "persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit." In other words, Goldman Sachs cares more about making money from its clients than making it for them.

Irrespective of whether the allegations are true or not, I don't know why we should find this surprising. When I hire a lawyer to represent me in a damage lawsuit, I am aware that he is primarily representing his own interests (profit, professional reputation, time constraints) than he is representing mine. In politics, too, the vast majority of elected officials are "looking out for number one," often at the expense of their constituencies.

Back to the financial sector. Capitalism is a wonderful institution. It improves the quality of life by fostering competition and yielding advances in many fields. Without competition we would be at the mercy of monopolists that would stifle progress and incentive for personal reward.

Yet let's be clear: The goal of capitalism is to make money. Period. Of course, many "capitalists" are caring, ethical human beings. But those values are distinct from the pure pursuit of wealth. And in a myriad of cases, the two goals will conflict.

That is why, if left unrestrained, many will choose the route of pure profit. The result, as we have tragically witnessed, is greed, corruption, and an erosion of trust that prevents the building of a fair and harmonious society.

The Jewish ideal ― built-in to Jewish law ― is that commerce must be balanced with genuine care for others. For example, the Torah (Deuteronomy 19:14) forbids a merchant from lowering his prices to the extent that it is not feasible for the competition to remain in business.

The Torah's goal is to create a just and compassionate society. Economic progress? Yes. Cutthroat competition and working against the interest of your own clients? No.

Maybe it's time to launch a Torah study revolution over on Wall Street.

Visitor Comments: 15

(11) Anonymous, March 21, 2012 1:28 PM

Attorney Bashing

Contrary to your comments, lawyers are NOT primarily interested in their own interests. When an attorney's fee is tied to a percentage of his/her client's recovery, that does not make the attorney's interest primarily their own. It allows for a client to be represented without having to pay an attorney unless the case yields damages. This is a fee schedule that greatly benefits those who could not otherwise pay an attorney to represent them. It should be noted that this fee arrangement is limited in many states to certain types of cases, and is not allowed usually in family law or criminal matters. Attorneys always have their clients' interests at the forefront, both by law, and by most states' Code of Professional Responsibility. Don't irresponsibly jump on the pop culture bandwagon of lawyer bashing.

Ron Kall, March 29, 2012 12:01 AM

Lawyer bashing

Saying good things about lawyers is the same as being a Muslim apologist. Both are so obviously wrong. The main use of contingent fee agreements is by people who are looking for a case, but wouldn't if they had to pay up front. Law suit abuse anyone!

(10) Anonymous, March 20, 2012 4:14 PM

If you light a candle in a dark, crowded room, who benefits?

Forbidding "a merchant from lowering his prices to the extent that it is not feasible for the competition to remain in business" is not "just and compassionate." This means that consumers, particularly the poor who would benefit most from lower prices, are forced to pay higher prices to keep uncompetitive merchants in business. While we should foster principled individuals whose actions are in concert with their values, the fact is a completely selfish person who lights a candle in a dark and crowded room for herself is still brightening the room for everyone else. This is the essence of free-market capitalism, in which the individual, by realizing their own potential, cannot help but benefit society.

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