Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Shana Tova
by Zalman Velvel

Shana tova …. I want to start the new year by speaking from the heart about what we saw during our trip to Israel a few weeks ago, and what I believe we can expect in the new year.

This trip was my brother’s first trip to Israel, and we arranged a great tour. Yosi Maimon, our Israeli brother, was going to show him the special places. Rabbi Minkowicz was going to introduce him to special people.

After we landed, Yosi took us to his settlement, Maale Levona, for Shabbat. After Shabbat, we drove to the Dead Sea & Massada, then to the Golan & Kineret, then to Haifa & Acco, ending up in Yerushalayim. Yosi talked from the heart about the history of our people reflected in those places. Yosi loves Israel, and he transmitted that love to my brother and inspired him.

Rabbi Minkowicz was scheduled to fly in during the second week of our trip. A sample of what he arranged was davening with Moshe Katzav, the president of Israel, and a meeting with Michael Kleiner, a member of the Kinneset. The Rabbi called me a few hours before he was to get on the plane, and said, "Zalman, I have a problem."

Many of you may not know this, but Rabbi is involved in a local treatment program for serious emotional problems. Orthodox Jews from all over the United States come down here to work with counselors, and the Rabbi. A patient was just admitted with a serious problem.

The Rabbi’s bags were packed. His ticket was paid for. The plane was on schedule. He had a great week in Israel planned. He tried to find another Rabbi to take his place. He searched high and low in South Florida – no one was available. So what should he do – leave or stay?

He asked me for advice. I refused to give it – for two reasons. One, I wanted to see what he would do without my interference. And two, he probably wouldn’t have listened to me anyway.

So what did he do? He stayed in SW Florida and didn’t go to Israel. I wasn’t happy he didn’t come – but I was proud to know someone who’s such a mensch. He walks the talk, even when it hurts. Isn’t that the true test of a Jew – to do the mitzvah, especially when it hurts?

That became the theme for this trip- doing the mitzvah, especially when it hurts.

It started with our first Shabbos in Maale Levona, a hilltop settlement deep inside in the West Bank. We drove there by car, using a road passes thru Luban, a nearby Arab village. 80 Jewish families live in Maale, one of which is Yossi Maimon’s. The settlement is founded on the dream of living a complete Torah life, in the 21st century, in Israel.

It was a hot August day when we landed at Ben Gurion airport, but it turned into a beautiful Shabbos night – 70 degrees and breezy. After davening, and then a delicious Shabbos meal, along with a few l’chaims, we retired to a guest house. We opened all the windows and doors to let in the cool, night air, and then Gershon and my brother slept like stones.

Me, I did not sleep so good. Why? Because my brother and Gershon shook the walls like an earthquake with their snoring.

We awoke Shabbos morning to the news that three Palestinian terrorists were captured at midnight climbing up the hill to Shilo carrying AK-47’s and hand grenades. Shilo was only a few miles from where we were staying – the distance from here to the Bell Tower.

The following night, Motzi Shabbat, we shuttered all the windows and locked the doors. I had an Uzi under my pillow. I did not sleep. Whenever I heard a sound outside, I got up. I lay awake from midnight until sunrise, listening for sounds of terrorists, and thinking. I did a lot of thinking. Mostly I was thinking, "What the heck did I get myself into?"

I thought about how comfortable and safe my life was back here. What kind of vacation was this, sleeping with a machine gun under my pillow?

I thought about Yosi Maimon, and his wife and their four young daughters. They had to live with terror 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for years. I thought about the rest of the families of Maale, with their wives, and children, and grandchildren even, living with this kind of terror.

Why? Because they love being Torah Jews, living a Torah life, on the land that God gave us in the Torah. They are holding the land for themselves, and for me, and for you. They are doing the mitzvah, especially when it hurts.

On Sunday morning, we drove from Maale Levona to the Dead Sea. On Sunday night, Avi and Avital Wolonsky, a young couple from Eli, a settlement less a half a mile away from Maale, was ambushed and shot dead on that same road. There, but for the grace of God, that could have been us … by the way, the Wolonsky’s left behind two orphaned infants.

For the rest of the tour, while my brother was inspired by our History, I was looking at current events. We were in Israel in August, during the peak of tourist season, which is like being in SW Florida on the first week of March. Everywhere we went, the tourist sites were virtually empty, and restaurants, hotels, and shops were either almost empty, or closed down.

Israelis were suffering economically. They were also hurting spiritually. Everyone knew someone who was killed, or mutilated, by a terror incident. Yet, thru all this pain, the complaints were few. God Bless our people.

Everywhere we went, you could see Arabs towns – the cause of our people’s pain. There are over a million Arabs living around Jerusalem, Haifa, Yafo, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. There are another million Arabs in Gaza, and two million more in the West Bank, surrounding the settlements.

These 4 million Arabs are settled onto our the land – they are everywhere, waiting and hating. And now, two years after turning down 95% of what they said they wanted, it is apparent what they really want. They don’t want a separate country. They want to destroy us and take everything. Nothing has changed in their attitudes. Nothing.

They deny our religion, deny our history, deny our ancestry, deny our God. They claim there never was a Great Temple at the Temple Mount. They claim the place is made holy by the fact Mohammed tied his horse there when he ascended into heaven in a dream.

They lie and kill and act like animals. According to Moshe Ya’alon, the chief of staff of the IDF, they are the worst threat to our existence since 1948.

If we had one Jewish leader of influence willing to stand up and say to the Arabs, "Get out! You do not belong here! This is our land, given by the one true God, in the one true Torah, to his one true chosen people," the pain of our people would end. Instead, we have leaders who cow-tow to world opinion, and refuse to act like Jews, while our people suffer bravely.

For our last shabbat in Israel, we were at the Western Wall. As the sun was going down, my spirits were low. The problems seemed insurmountable. For the first time I contemplated the destruction of Israel, and this thought was terrible. I did not want to wake up to a world that had no Israel, a world filled with persecution, and little hope. I was at the place that Jews yearned for for 2,000 years, and now that we had it, it felt like no leader was safeguarding it.

My spirits were low, lower than they have been in a long time … and then … then I heard a beautiful sound behind me. I looked up, and there were about a hundred young men, a hundred bal chuvahs, singing and marching to the Kotel from their yeshiva across the courtyard.

These hundred bucherim davened the Karliback Shabbos service right next to me at the Western Wall. It was a beautiful thing to hear and behold. I joined them in davening.

When they were done, they gathered together, and sang and marched back to their yeshiva.

My soul was rejuvenated – that moment reminded me that God was listening to us, and protecting us, and helping us, as He always has

That is why I wanted to talk to you now, on Rosh Hashana. I wanted you to be proud we have a Rabbi who does the mitzvah, especially when it hurts. I wanted you to feel the bravery and the suffering of our people in Israel, while they do the mitzvah of living on the land, especially when it hurts. I wanted you to feel the hope and spirit in those hundred bucharim as they davened at the Western Wall.

And I wanted to remind all of us that God is listening, and protecting, and helping us, as He always has.

There are momentous events coming. Anochnu hayim bay zmanim mayuyanim. We live in interesting times.

And together, with God’s help, we will survive, and overcome, and prosper.

Thank you, and Shana Tova.


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