“And Yaakov Left…”

I have been searching the words to write this piece much of last night.  I still have not found them, but I promised myself I would write something. And yet how could one be expected to make sense of a father and son murdered on the way to a Shabbat Chatan days before his daughter’s/sister’s wedding. How does one make sense of two beloved residents of Kiryat Arba, Father, husband, and teacher and his son, a Magen David Adom volunteer, looking forward to accomplishing so much in his life, both gunned down in front of their family?

I could try to reiterate that these murders are due to the fact that the government deals lightly with an enemy population squatting in our midst.  I can point out that many of these terror cells drive freely throughout Judea and Samaria.  The government seems far more interested in being perceived as “moral” rather than protecting its citizens. Despite the veracity of the above points they do little to connect us to the events that have transpired.

For me the most recent murders are far more personal, too personal now to draw in the necessary government rebuke.  That is for another article.

You see Rav Yaakov was our first grader’s Rebbe.  He was the first person he and his friends saw when they got to school. Everyday since the start of the year, Rav Yaakov has been there. He was their first Rebbe. He was their first teacher of Torah.

Recently I went to a school event and when my son saw his Rav, his face beamed and made sure to bring me over to him.  Rav Yaakov shook my hand, said hello, and gave me a smile that stayed with me. His smile was filled with that simple joy, which is timeless.  It was that joy of Torah and Mitzvot that he transmitted to his students.

So how do you tell your son that he will never see his Rebbe again? How do you tell your 1st grader that arab murderers gunned his Rabbi and son down for no other reason than because they are Jewish?  

Our son heard the news from us last night and processed it. In many ways kids are more resilient than we are.  “Who is going to be there tomorrow?” he asked my wife. Our older son seemed to wonder the same thing. Rav Yaakov taught him two classes a week as well. The three of us decided to learn together.  That was what Rav Yaakov would want us to do. We picked this week’s Torah portion to learn.

“And Yaakov left Beer Sheva…,”  it began. Yaakov left. Rashi tells us that when a tzaddik leaves a place the people feel his absence.

Rav Yaakov Litman; father, husband, and yes Rebbe to countless students has left us, but despite his leaving his presence will remain with us forever.

Originally Published on HaKol HaYehudi


Recycling bottles to redeem Jerusalem

Originally published on HaKol HaYehudi.

Aryeh Blumberg gathers bottles for recycling and donates the money to buy homes in Jerusalem.

Aryeh Blumberg lives in Maale Adumim and works as a plumber. In recent years Blumberg has also begun collecting bottles for Jerusalem. He collects bottles for recycling and the money he receives he gives to Ateret Cohanim to redeem property in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish nation,” says Blumberg, “The world doesn’t accept this and wants to steal it from us. Jerusalem has always been ours. We can’t let them change history and steal it from us. We have to fight for Jerusalem.”

Blumberg tells the story of how he started his project after the Gaza expulsion. “I realized that if today they were expelling Jews from Gush Katif, tomorrow they could expel Jews from Jerusalem. I decided that talking wasn’t enough and I wanted to do something in practice to strengthen Jerusalem.” Blumberg explains that he wanted to donate to support Jerusalem, but his financial situation did not allow it.

“Then I realized that people always throw out their bottles in the trash and they could instead get money back for them,” says Blumberg. That thought led him to action and he began by asking Ateret Cohanim if they had a minimum donation amount. They told him they were willing to accept even small amounts and so he began his project.

“My first donation was only 140 shekels (~$40). In the first year I donated 2500 shekels, the second year 5000 shekels, the third year 8000 shekels, the year after 10,000 shekels, and every year since, it’s been around 12000 shekels,” explains Blumberg on how the project grew. “Today, thank G-d,‘donations from bottles’ have passed the 100,000 shekel point.”

Blumberg says that as the project grew, more people joined him. “There are several in Maale Adumim, and there are also several places in Jerusalem where I pick up bottles from people.”

Since he started the project, Blumberg’s yard is almost always filled with boxes of bottles, but he says “My wife agrees to it. She even helps with the project and my kids also help a lot.” Blumberg also emphasizes that all of the money from the bottles goes to Ateret Cohanim, “I don’t take any overhead and I pay for my own gas or any other expenses.”

“It’s amazing to be able to take a small thing like bottles that we throw in the garbage and use them to change the reality,” says Blumberg. “From 30 agorot (8 cents) from each bottle we reached 100,000 shekels, thank G-d. It’s possible to help the Jewish people in many ways and with G-d’s help through all of these small things we will merit to bring the Redemption.”

“The need to strengthen Jerusalem,” is what Blumberg says gives him the strength to keep going. “I can’t tell you why we were punished with the expulsion from Gaza but it was probably something small. I think we need to strengthen Jerusalem and move as many Jews as possible into the city. That’s what Ateret Cohanim does and that’s what I want to support.”

Blumberg says that, “As a result of the project my personal connection to Jerusalem has also strengthened.”

In conclusion, Blumberg tells that he once did work for a Jew who was not religious in Jerusalem. “I asked him why he chose to live in Jerusalem and he told me, ‘Jerusalem is the center of the Jewish nation.’ Jerusalem is truly our center. The world wants to take it from us but we can’t give up Jerusalem.”

Obama and His Plan to Islamify Jerusalem

There is nothing more central as a focal point to Jews and Christians than the Temple Mount.  It is the place where Jews pray towards three times a day.  The Temple Mount is the site where the first and second Holy Temples once stood, and the third is to be rebuilt in the future, ushering in peace throughout the world. For Christians the Temple is a central part of the story of Jesus and serves as hope in the future of a more perfect era.

One would assume that as President of the United States, Obama would urge a policy for his administration that supported freedom of worship at a site that is Holy to three religions.  The fact that this is not the case is even more bizarre since the backbone of American culture is freedom of religion. Obama and his administration could have urged the Jordanian Waqf to change its attitude to Jewish and Christian prayer on the Temple Mount, but instead they supported the current trend of Islamification of the Holy City.

Early on in its involvement with the latest round of violence, State Department spokesperson Admiral John Kirby said the following: “Well, certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”

After a lot of condemnation, Kirby retracted.

Despite the retraction, the focus has remained on Jerusalem’s need to keep what can only be described as a self imposed apartheid on non-Muslim prayer at its holiest site as a prerequisite to calming tensions. This point has become more than just clever policy for Obama.  It is in fact bordering on obsession.

By reminding the players over and over again of the administration’s support for the Status Quo, it enables Muslims to continue rewriting history and teaching their followers that they must die for Al Aqsa. Of course now the Arab street believes that the entire Temple Mount is considered a Mosque and furthermore they believe the Kotel Plaza is as well as evidenced in their failed attempt to get UNESCO to rename the Kotel Plaza to Buraq’s Plaza.Break the BDS

The Temple Mount is really one part of the administration’s plan to enable the Muslim world to continue to change history. Part of the goal of the Obama administration is to force Israel to relinquish large areas of Jerusalem in order to give hope that a Palestinian State will have access to the Old City in some future agreement.  Yet a deeper more obvious reason exists. Obama, ever since his rise to the Presidency, has sought to reframe the American outlook on Islam.  From his famous Cairo speech to recent statements that Islam is part of the American story, to suggesting that the USA is no longer a Christian country, Obama has been determined to cut America from its roots. The attack on any sort of Jewish occupancy in formerly historic Jewish neighborhoods is far less connected to a future Palestinian State and is rather an attempt to deny a Jewish connection to its capital and by extension disconnecting Judeo-Christian culture from its source.

The areas known to Jews as Ir David (City of David), Shiloach, and Kfar Temani (Yemenite Village), are called by a later Arab name Silwan.  The world has pretty much adopted the Arab narrative that these areas are a centuries old village known by that name. With recent private purchases in these areas by Jews to reclaim stolen property, the administration goes out of its way to claim these are settlements and of course illegal.

Yet history says otherwise.  These neighborhoods were thriving areas of Jewish life up until the Arab riots of 1929 and 1936. In fact the neighborhood of Shiloach was home to a community of Jews from Yemen that boasted 5 synagogues and thriving commerce. After 1936 all was destroyed.

By opposing the reclamation of this property unlawfully stolen from Jews by followers of Obama’s “religion of peace”, the administration is actively supporting the Islamic Apartheid policies we see so much across the Arab and larger Muslim world.

The idea that an American administration would be opposed to a reclamation of an old Yemenite Synagogue that was stolen and populated by squatters is at the least absurd and more accurately described as immoral.

The administration’s policy can only be described as supersessionist in regards to Islam being the dominant kin of Judaism.  Yet, this is part and parcel of an administration that has sought to “right the wrongs” of American history through outreach to the Muslim world.  

The dangers of erasing and the rewriting of history cannot be overstated, however the most dangerous aspect of all is the reconfiguring of America’s connection to the Judeo-Christian principles that have made it so great.


Break the BDS

The Jerusalem Light Rail: A Train to Nowhere

When the light rail was completed in Jerusalem, it was hailed as a new future for the city.  The theory led to policy, and the policy created a dogma to go along with it. The train represents, for the Jerusalem city government and really the Israeli government, an untested mantra that is fueled by hope.  The hope is rooted in economics.”If we just make the Arabs’ standard of living better, they will learn to like us. Who would ever risk their jobs?” That was the theory and the Jerusalem light rail exemplified it.

The problem with policy built on theory is that theory never truly represents the world we live in. The Arabs in Jerusalem have never had more access to jobs, commerce, and Western culture and yet their anger has grown. The “knife intifada” has completely flown in the face of the logic of the light rail theory.

Instead of changing course and admitting that the Arab street in Jerusalem and the rest of the country is not interested in financial security and Western culture, Israel for the most part ignored the anger simmering over the last year and now is paying the price.

Traveling on the light rail through the Arab neighborhoods of Shuafat and Beit Hanina one can see huge houses, nice cars, and clean streets.  These are not the neighborhoods of Silwan and Jabal Mukabar and yet the intifada rages on with the support of residents of Shuafat and Beit Hanina as well.

The mayor of Jerusalem has staked his success on creating a feeling of a unified city for both Jews and Arabs. But what happens if one side doesn’t care for unity? What happens if they just don’t buy into Western culture or a better standard of living?

The answer is what we have now.  Neglected neighborhoods, violent education, and a fearful populace. What is our consolation prize? All we have is a light rail that acts as a showcase to what could be, but nothing more. Now instead of a train moving towards coexistence, it is a train to nowhere.

Despite the challenges the city and country face, they can be met and overcome. The most important thing is to recognize that coexistence can only work if all sides are interested.  This is not the case and the outgrowth of that realization should be a severing of the benefits that the Arab sector has been receiving.

The second action should be a complete return of property confiscated by Arab rioting in the 1920’s and 1930’s to the original Jewish owners or communal boards now representing them. This goes for the Old City as well as areas throughout the Holy Basin.

Lastly, new building projects should be instituted immediately, such as E-1 that will work to connect the suburb of Maale Adumim to the capital.

These three actions will show the Arabs in Jerusalem and throughout the Middle East that we are not going anywhere and they should act accordingly.


Restoring the Old

There are times when you are expecting the future to arrive at some point and there are other times when the future becomes the present, when time catches up to you.  Today was one of those moments when past, present, and future combined into a unitary continuum.

Two weeks ago the rest of the Old Yemenite Synagogue the heart of the Old Yemenite Village in what is today Silwan had once again restored to its rightful owners. I merited to be one of the first people back at the newly redeemed synagogue.  Despite my arrival I did not get to go inside.

Today I traveled once again into the winding streets of what the world considers Silwan to enter into the Beit Knesset.  Besides Daniel Luria, the Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim, I was joined by Tommy Waller and Ken Groat of the HaYovel Organization.  The four of us made our way and witnessed the beginning of the demolition of the illegal walls that hide the old walls of the synagogue. The revealed outer walls are like a time machine, drawing the viewer back to 1883 when it was built. The four of us were awestruck at the history and profound sense of redemption underway in front of our eyes.

Ken Groat, Tommy Waller, Daniel Luria, David Mark (Left to Right) gazing at the newly revealed original wall of the synagogue.
Ken Groat, Tommy Waller, Daniel Luria, David Mark (Left to Right) gazing at the newly revealed outer wall.

The Yemenite Jews who came to Jerusalem believed they were coming to witness redemption, yet their redemption was cut short in the Arab riots of 1929 and 1936, with the community ultimately being abandoned in 1937.  Now we have come full circle, the aborted redemption has been renewed 78 years later.

Despite the inside of the synagogue in a state of disrepair, volunteers from Ateret Cohanim seemed focused and joyful in beginning the restoration. My two friends from HaYovel, an organization founded by Tommy Waller and dedicated to bringing pro Israel Christians here to aid vineyard owners in Samaria, left renewed, with a sense of purpose and a deeper connection to the redemption and closeness to their mission.

Daniel Luria covering the history of the Old Yemenite Village and the Ohel Shlomo Synagogue.
Daniel Luria covering the history of the Old Yemenite Village and the Ohel Shlomo Synagogue.

I myself feel a sense that we as a Nation are beginning to realize that the redemption is not a fairy tale. We are living in it.  With each new house we buy and property restored we are rectifying a historic wrong and coming that much closer to the day when “And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets. (Zechariah 8:5)”

The Southern third of the original wall of Ohel Shlomo now exposed.
The Southern third of the original wall of Ohel Shlomo now exposed.

“This Son of Abraham Has Returned Home”

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I had an opportunity to sit down today with my colleague Daniel Luria, the executive director of Ateret Cohanim. Daniel is on the daily frontlines of battling to redeem areas of Jerusalem once filled with Jews.

Thankfully in all of the darkness of the last few weeks we were able to redeem the Old Yemenite Synagogue in Shiloach (Silwan) after 75 years of Arabs squatting within. Now the renovation begins.

Enjoy the conversation and as Daniel insists the newly reacquired synagogue needs a lot of refurbishment. Those interested can help below.

“I Pray to My G-d of Israel on the Temple Mount”

Listen to my inspiring conversation with Jane Kiel otherwise known as Jerusalem Jane. Her run in with Waqf police on the Temple Mount should inspire many many believers, both Jews and Christians to get involved. Jane is seriously a one woman army against the forces that are aligning to prevent Jews and Christians from praying at their most holiest spot.

Make sure to learn more about Jane and her work on her website Jerusalem Jane.

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Truth Will Bring Peace

I have been in Israel for over 14 years now.  I still remember my second Shabbat in Israel spent in Hevron where my friends and I were shot at with a spray of bullets as we walked back from our Shabbat meals. That Shabbat I spent in doors as the IDF and the terrorists from the Palestinan Authority battled back and forth. It was an eye opener for me.  The 2nd intifada continued. Suicide bombings increased and my wife and I, newly weds willing to grit it out here made our peace with the idea that our lives would be a simple extension of our relatively peaceful upbringing.

Numerous terror attacks and few wars later Israel is at it again. Jerusalem is also once again at the heart of this current round of violence. Arab claims that some sort of status quo has been broken are ridiculous once one studies the issue.  If anything the breakers of the fabled status quo are the same Arabs threatening everyone else who dares utter a prayer or even walk on the Temple Mount.  Arabs continuously deny our connection to Jerusalem, rewriting history as if they have been here for centuries.

The key to settling this conflict is Jerusalem.  The Arabs know that if we the Nation of Israel succeed in returning to our property that has been taken from us over the last century and we succeed in getting over our fears and really reunite and redeem our former Jewish neighborhoods, then their claims on the rest of Israel fall apart.  

This is why neighborhoods like the Old Yemenite Village located in what the Arabs have renamed Silwan as well the Flowers Gate neighborhood in the Old City, among others are so important to redeem and settle.  By restoring the rightful heirs to their land, the unjust actions of the past can be reversed.  Peace flows from truth.  

Below are some images of the Yemenite Village as it was a century ago.  The hill Silwan is on now is empty save for the Yemenite Jews that lived there.  Those Arabs that have claimed to have been there for centuries are nowhere to be found.  That is because they cannot be found in the vicinity.

Truth will win!

The Beit Knesset is in Our Hands

It is not every morning you feel that the redemption is unfolding around you. This morning I had the merit of witnessing the final 2/3 of the Yemenite Beit Knesset in the Old Yemenite Village of Jerusalem return to Jewish hands. When I arrived at the scene riot police were all around and kept a tense peace in one of the most violently anti-Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.  The Beit Knesset has been the central focus of this violence and with its lawful return to Jewish hands a rebirth of true Jewish sovereignty will certainly return to  a once historically thriving Jewish neighborhood.

The Beit Knesset stood out for years as a three domed structure.  One third was returned a few months ago and subsequently renovated, but the other two domes were a mystery.  Now with the removal of the final Arab squatters a true renovation can begin.

Old Yemenite Village - Silwan
Partly renovated Yemenite Beit Knesset in the Old Yemenite Village of Silwan (Shiloach)
Riot Police Guarding the Yemenite Beit Knesset
Riot Police Guarding the Yemenite Beit Knesset
First Entry to the final 2/3 of the Beit Knesset.
First Entry to the final 2/3 of the Beit Knesset.

The Arabs Have Understood We Are the Sovereign

I spent time today with Rabbi Ben Packer of the Heritage House, based in the Old City. We covered security, politics, settlements, and more. Ben is one of the few people I know that is unstoppable on the front lines in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria.

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