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Yitzhak Shamir, of Blessed Memory

Jul 2, 2012 at 06:40:00 AM

Back what seems like a lifetime ago, I was making the transition from working in the field of entertainment to working for Jewish causes. The first job I got was as an American liaison for Yitzhak Shamir during his tenure as Israeli Prime Minister (the two of us, pictured here).

Shamir had moved to Israel in 1935, leaving behind his family who were all murdered in the Holocaust. His father had succeeded in escaping from a German death train, only to return to his Polish village where he was promptly beaten to death by childhood friends.

These events greatly informed Shamir's political views, and in the 1940s he became a leader of the Stern Gang whose goal was to drive the British colonialists out of Israel, thus paving the way for Jewish independence.

Yet while Shamir was a firm ideologue, his greatness lay in his ability to be a pragmatist at the same time. Though he was committed to Jewish settlement throughout the Land of Israel, he attended the 1991 Madrid Conference becoming the first Israeli Prime Minister to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians.

On one hand, Shamir was very forthright in Israel's right to defend itself, while on the other hand during the 1991 Gulf War he took the difficult strategic measure of not striking back when Saddam Hussein was hurling scud missiles onto Tel Aviv.

It is these two sides – tough yet compromising – that enabled him to serve so ably.

When he first came to Israel, he changed his family name to Shamir, which is, according to Talmudic lore (Gittin 68b), the name of a worm which can cut through stone. It was used to produce the blocks of the Holy Temple, since metal cutting implements were not appropriate in a place devoted to peace.

To me this sums up Yitzhak Shamir: Firmly devoted to peace, yet stronger than iron and not afraid to use it when necessary.

Yitzhak Shamir has died at age 96, and is being buried today in Jerusalem. He was not a politician who sought glory, fame or riches; he served with modesty and unswerving devotion. May his memory be for a blessing.

Visitor Comments: 8

(7) Anonymous, July 4, 2012 7:17 AM

In memory .....

Israel was indeed fortunate to have had a leader of his wisdom and character, displaying the right qualities at the right times. May his memory continue to be an inspiration to all those who follow in positions of influence in our beloved land.

(6) matania ginosar, July 4, 2012 6:36 AM

Please read my own brief memories of my Lechi-Stern Gang- leader Itzhak Shamir at:

(5) theresa, July 4, 2012 4:11 AM

G-d bless you, R Shraga

yes, a beautiful eulogy. while a couple of jewish bloggers have been criticising him, its very heartwarming to read this. what Hashem expects of every jew, loving one another. some jews fought physical wars, some jews fought spiritual wars, while other jews studied torah and prayed for israel. each is equally important in its own way. thank you rabbi shraga. may many read this article and give due respect to the dead.

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Jewish Lineage to Lead Venezuela?

Apr 17, 2012 at 06:44:52 AM by:

When Venezuelans head to the polls for a presidential election this October, a new rising star will be opposing Hugo Chavez, the socialist firebrand who has held power for the past 13 years.

The opponent is 39-year-old Henrique Capriles Radonski, whose Jewish descent has become a hallmark of his political career. His maternal grandparents were Jewish refugees from Russia and Poland who fled during World War II, arriving in Venezuela with nothing but “a suitcase full of clothes.” His grandmother's parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto and murdered by the Nazis in Treblinka.

Though Capriles describes himself as a "fervent Catholic," he is proud of his Jewish ancestry and doesn’t shy away from it. “Because of my mother and grandmother, for Jews I’m Jewish…” he said. Indeed, the Venezuelan media won’t let Capriles forget those roots: A popular magazine recently depicted a Star of David superimposed on his photo.

Additionally, Capriles’ enemies have used anti-Semitic rhetoric against him and accused him of being part of a Jewish conspiracy. In 2009 pro-Chavez activists ransacked his office, spraying swastikas on the wall and (ironically) calling him a “Nazi.”

Anti-Israel fervor has risen sharply during the Chavez presidency. In December 2007, after Chavez pushed through a constitutional referendum to abolish term limits, masked and armed police raided the Jewish Center in Caracas. A year later, a dozen assailants broke into the Grand Synagogue of Caracas, where they bound and gagged security guards, tore open the Holy Ark, scattered its contents irreverently across the floor, destroyed administrative files, and spray-painted the walls with horned devils and “Death Now.”

Chavez himself has accused Israel of committing "genocide" and a "new Holocaust" against the Palestinians. He claimed that "Israeli Mossad terrorists" have tried to kill him, and in 2009 broke all diplomatic ties with Israel.

In recent years, life has been become increasingly difficult for the Jewish community of Venezuela. Many Jews have emigrated due to a rise in violent crime, an anti-Israel atmosphere, and economic hardship. (Chavez has nationalized the cement, steel, banking and lucrative oil industries, stripping many upper-class Jews of their wealth.) The Jewish population of Venezuela, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, has dropped to less than 10,000.

In the meantime, Chavez has become chummy with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, commiserating about having atomic bombs at their disposal. Chavez hosted Ahmadinejad (as well as Syrian dictator Bashar Assad) on a recent trip to Venezuela and has declared an "axis of unity" against the United States.

Come October, world attention will be focused on Venezuela, with the hope that Capriles can defeat Chavez and usher in a new era of moderation and normalcy.


Goodbye UN Council

Mar 28, 2012 at 12:58:45 AM by:

Israel has decided to sever all contact with the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (HRC), in response to the council's plan to appoint an international committee to investigate the West Bank.

In practice this means that the Israeli government will not allow visits from HRC members to Israel, and will not cooperate in their investigations.

The United Nations has long been a bastion of anti-Israel sentiment, with the Human Rights Council particularly biased. The HRC has condemned Israel more often than it has condemned the U.N.’s other 191 member states combined. At annual meetings of the HRC, Israel is the only country in the world whose human rights record is examined as a permanent feature of every council session.

In the words of Abba Eban, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.N.: If the U.N. "introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions."

The poor folks at the (mistakenly-named) Human Rights Council are so overworked dealing with Israel’s “crimes against humanity” that they haven’t a spare moment to condemn truly abhorrent human rights violators like Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, China or Cuba. Undoubtedly the reason is because – unbelievably – Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, China and Cuba themselves sit on the Human Rights Council. What's next: Jack the Ripper on the Commission for the Protection of Women?

To wit: During the Arab Spring of 2011, as the Libyan revolution raged, the Human Rights Council was hailing Libya’s “commitment to upholding human rights.” (Gadhafi's Libya had previously been elected to chair the HRC with 155 votes.) Meanwhile, amidst the widespread shooting of civilians in Syria, the Assad regime smugly pledged “to uphold the highest standards in promotion and protection of human rights” – and remained a frontrunner for a seat on the Human Rights Council.

The entire U.N. apparatus has been hijacked by a bloc of Arab, Muslim and dictatorial Third World forces who constitute an automatic voting majority. These anti-Israel agitators push their agenda aided by the "halo effect" – the phenomenon whereby the U.N., due to its humanitarian focus, is insulated from scrutiny and regarded above reproach.

The potency of this halo effect was in full force in 2009 with the Goldstone report – the Human Rights Council's "fact-finding mission" on the war in Gaza that charged Israel with intentionally targeting Palestinian civilians, and suggested that Israeli soldiers be prosecuted in international courts for "war crimes."

So this week, when the HRC announced plans to scrutinize Israeli activity in the West Bank, Israel made the decision: Rather than be accomplice to its own condemnation, better to make a dramatic statement of opposition. Whatever the case, the outcome of this “investigation” is certain to deal Israel yet another diplomatic blow.

Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Barbara Johnson, April 30, 2012 3:47 AM



(5) Kim Oliver, April 22, 2012 7:57 PM

The UN HRC is a danger to all peace loving people

When peaceful, equitable nations like Canada are left off of this so-called Council in favour of enlightened nations such as Libya and China that flaunt their mistreatment of minorities; practice religious persecution and even genocide...this just proves to me what I've believed for years; that the UN is too corrupt and bankrupt of the values that it says it has. I too am bothered by how much of UN's time is taken up by harassing Israel and by pitting rich against poor whilst not doing anything about the real problems in the World. If there is to be a Global body of peace and reason--than let it be made up of the representatives of nations that practice what they preach.

(4) Annette L, April 4, 2012 3:05 AM



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Mitt Romney’s Tithes

Feb 5, 2012 at 03:43:36 AM by:

Mitt contributor Yvette Alt Miller notes that with the release of Mitt Romney's income tax records, a spotlight has been thrown onto the whole concept of “tithing.” In a world where charitable giving is low (3.1% of people's income, on average, in the U.S.), Romney donating 10% of his income was big news.

Though donating 10% is also a widespread Jewish practice, it seems that nobody bothered to tell the media.

"Tithing is an ancient practice in the Hebrew Bible," the New York Times reported, "but is rarely observed now" outside of the Mormon community.

The Los Angeles Times went further, offering a pseudo-scientific overview of religious views of charity, and – at least in the case of Judaism – getting it utterly wrong. "Jews have no fixed amount of giving to charity, and usually make their major offerings to synagogues to buy seats for the High Holy Days," wrote the Times, suggesting that Jews pay to recite prayers in synagogue!

The view that Judaism doesn't emphasize charity is inside-out. The original concept of Ma'aser (literally "one tenth," hence the English word "tithe") comes straight from the Hebrew Bible, based on Leviticus 25:35, Deut. 14:22 and Deut. 15:7-8 which implores us to “Open your hand generously.”

The Bible is filled with examples: Abraham gave Malki-Tzedek one-tenth of all his possessions (Genesis 14:20); Jacob vowed to give one-tenth of all his future acquisitions (Genesis 29:22); and tithes are mandated to support the Levites (Numbers 18:21, 24) and the poor (Deut. 26:12).

These guidelines are practiced by Jews all over the world. Studies show that Jews have significantly higher rates of charitable giving than the general population, and rates of giving increase among those Jews who are more traditionally affiliated.

U.S. President Herbert Hoover said in 1923:

"I have frequently had cause to comment upon the extraordinary generosity and liberality of the American Jews in their charitable contributions. Indeed, their voluntary contributions exceed that of any other American group, and range from the stinted savings of the poorest workman to the full outpouring of those in more fortunate positions." (cited in Ada Sterling, The Jew and Civilization, 1924)

So the question remains: Who should we give to, and what’s the best way of doing so? For an excellent overview of the guidelines to Jewish charitable giving, see Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s “World Repairs” on

So you see, it's not only Mitt Romney who tithes. A little credit to the Jewish originators!

Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Anonymous, February 7, 2012 4:48 AM


There is more tithing....if we read the bible, and want to practice what we learn, we ten years one year salary... giving to the is an honor and becomes easier as you unto Ha Shem, but you need His wisdom where to give to...anna

(1) Jeff Misrahi, February 6, 2012 6:07 PM

Maimonides & the 8 levels of Charity 8. When donations are given grudgingly. 7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully. 6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked. 5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked. 4. When the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient. 3. When the donor is aware of the recipient's identity, but the recipient is unaware of the source. 2. When the donor and recipient are unknown to each other. 1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.


Jack Lew and the Power of Shabbat

Jan 29, 2012 at 05:51:24 AM

The Forward has an article about "Jack Lew and the Power of Shabbat" which nicely articulates the idea of Shabbat as a counter-balance to our 24/7 iPhone world:

We live at a moment when interest in Shabbat is being rekindled, as broad swaths of people feel enslaved by the incessant nature of the information age. We are witness to a world crying out for a Sabbath.

Shabbat-observant Jews would seem to have a heightened obligation then to turn off, power down and stay at home. We have something precious to teach the world and our most influential members must lead the charge. Shabbat stands for humility in a world of such total human domination that we risk forgetting that we did not bring this world into being. And it stands for a vision of human society that rejects the constant work that characterizes slavery.

But the article goes on to make a very spurious leap in logic. It uses the biblical imperative to settle the land of Israel (which allows for certain leniencies in Jewish law) as a precedent for creating halachic leniencies when involved in general government-related work. My rabbinic training leads me to believe that Rav Sheshet (the Talmudic sage cited as a source) would summarily reject  the proposed extension of his law.


Obama in Atlanta

Jan 29, 2012 at 05:38:20 AM

My friend Harve Linder in Atlanta shared his thoughts regarding an ill-advised op-ed piece by the publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times. In discussing how to get the United States to stand more firmly behind its ally Israel, the publisher proposed three scenarios for Israel to protect itself:

(1) Order a pre-emptive strike on Hezbollah and Hamas.

(2) Destroy Iran's nuclear facilities "at all costs."

(3) "Give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel..."

In case we didn’t get it the first time, the author repeats: "Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel's existence."

Aside from the incitement ― which the Jewish community of Atlanta rightfully condemned in the strongest terms ― there is the issue of responsible use of power. For while each of us free to speak our mind, we must be cognizant of the ramifications of our words.

At which point has the line of “free speech” been crossed? In a crowded theatre, it’s when shouting “fire” causes a panic. In an editorial by a Jewish publisher in a Jewish newspaper, it’s when his words cast pallor upon other Jews.

In this case, those who heard about this story (and many did, thanks to the Internet), the Jews dropped a rung on the ladder of  public perception. Like it or not, the reality of today's world is that when a Jew ― particularly one of authority or stature ― speaks, he is perceived as speaking on behalf of all Jews.

The publisher lost his credibility and his job. Before a person speaks, he must be aware of the consequences. When a Jewish public figure speaks, all the more so.