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Monday, February 27, 2006

Machon Meir - An Awesome Place

When I came to Israel over twenty years ago, I arrived at Machon Meir with a suitcase in one hand and a guitar in the other. I had been a Ba'al Teshuvah for about a year and a half, long enough to know that I really needed to learn in Yeshivah. Little did I know that I would not only learn Torah at Machon Meir, but that I would acquire the spiritual tools to deal with the afflictions that are a part and parcel of living in the land of Israel.

I visited Machon Meir recently, and the place has changed dramatically. In my day the Beit Midrash was in an old building that was cold in the winter and hot in the summmer. I remember seeing students dovvening Shacharit wearing "dubonim", winter coats. Today they have a beautiful new Beit Midrash, which is heated well in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. Way back when, it was very difficult to stay in touch with the family abroad. Letters sent from Israel to the United States would take two weeks to arrive. If someone was flying to the States, we used to give him our letters so that he would send them in the U.S. as local mail. Today, the Machon has an "email room" where students can send email or communicate with their family abroad using one of the "messaging" programs. Making a phone call in my time was no simple matter. You had to buy "asimonim" (tokens) to use the one pay phone that was in the Yeshivah. (You would not get a dial tone until one of the "asimonim" dropped down into the telephone. This is the source of the saying "nafal lo ha'asimon" as and allegory for understanding a certain matter.) There was usually a line to use the phone. Making a long distance call was tremendously difficult because the "asimonim" would fall faster than you could put them into the phone. Today of course everyone has a cellphone. What a life the Yeshiva students have today!

I also noted that many of the faculty members that taught in my time are still teaching there. I imagine that is because that teaching in a Ba'al Teshuvah Yeshiva must be a pleasure. All of the students are there by their own free will and they want to learn. This must be a true paradise for rabbis and teachers.

The point of this post is that Machon Meir was an awesome twenty-some years ago and it still is today. For those interested in learning in Israel it is a place that certainly deserves checking out.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Weird Yankel

When Yankel came into the Beit Midrash you couldn't help but notice him. Don't get me wrong: He was not an imposing figure. He was actually kind of short. He wasn't a great Torah scholar so nobody would rise in his honor when entered the Beit Midrash. Yankel was different. He would dress weird. He would talk weird. He would come up to you and ask you weird questions. Yankel was weird.

Yankel never married. That is probably because he was weird. What kind of girl would want to marry a weird guy? But then again, there are a lot of weird guys that get married. He just had to find a girl that likes weird guys. Perhaps Yankel was asexual. It seems to me that getting married wasn't one of his objectives. Did I say that Yankel was weird?

The love of the people of Israel and the land of Israel burned in Yankel's heart. He liked to read a lot. He was very interested in the political situation in Israel. Yankel wanted to hasten the redemption of the Jewish people. He would publish his thoughts on this matter and distribute them in the synagogues and Batei Midrash in Jerusalem. He would talk about his ideas with you whether you were interested or not. For some he was a pest. You could make him very happy by reading the sheets he distributed or by discussing his ideas with him. Yankel should have been a blogger. He was weird.

Yankel passed away last week. Nobody published mourning notices as is customary in the Holy City. Blaring megaphones mounted on the roofs of by taxi cabs did not spread the news of his demise in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem. A huge crowd did not take part in his funeral procession. I found out about his untimely death through a handwritten note that was tacked up on a synagogue bulletin board.

Yankel's family mourns. For them he was not weird; he was a brother and a son. Those who looked past his weirdness and valued his great love of the land of Israel and the people of Israel will miss him. Weird Yankel is no longer with us. May his soul be bound in the bundle of life.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Why Isn't Cosmic X Posting More Often?

Some of you are probably wondering what happened to me. I used to post quite often and now I'm lucky if I post once a week.

The answer is that changes in my life have severly limited the time that I can devote to blogging. I'm spending more time doing other things. I miss blogging, and I miss reading other blogs even more. Such is life.

Everything about Matisyahu

Here it is: A blog devoted entirely to Matisyahu. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Amona, Ehud Olmert, And Pharoah

I imagine that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has a headache. True, it was the heads of the settlers and their supporters that were violently bashed by police batons yesterday in Amona. Their heads and broken bones are surely aching, in addition tho their hearts. However, this is Olmert's second blow to the head since taking the reins from the ailing Ariel Sharon. He probably needs an aspirin, or even a dose of valium.

The first blow was the Hamas victory in the PA elections. I personally took absolutely no interest in those elections. I fail to see the difference between the Hamas and the Fatah. They are both terrorist organizations, murderers outside of realm of civilization. However, the starry-eyed among our nation, those that daydream while they are awake, had a real stake in these elections. For them it was important for the beardless murderers to be victorious over the bearded ones. Their first false messiah of peace, Yasser Arafat, is currently burning in hell together with his Nobel Peace Prize. Now, their second false messiah of peace, which they called in classic Orwellian "disengagement", has been proven to be a farce. We have left the Gaza Strip, but the Gaza Strip is chasing after us, reminding us every so often that rewarding terror breeds more terror. The "disengagement" was the greatest crime against the Jewish people in this century, and one of the greatest crimes that Jews have ever committed against fellow Jews. The rotten fruits of this crime, in which Olmert played a key role, are creating a stench that even the starry-eyed are having a hard time ignoring.

The second blow to Olmert's head was yesterday's events in Amona. Olmert, his henchmen, and his publicity agents disguised as journalists in the Israeli MSM, all claim that the deployment of thousands of policemen, the cracking of skulls, the breaking of bones, were all necessary in order to promote "the rule of the law." Those few houses in Amona were the symbol of evil, something that must be obliterated at any cost. Yet there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of illegally built structures constructed by Arabs in the Galilee, in the Negev, as well as Judea and Samaria. The government does almost nothing against illegal building by Arabs. The brutality demonstrated by the government has nothing to do with the rule of the law; it has everything to do with politics. Olmert thought that playing the tough guy will help his party garner more seats in the next elections. I have a feeling that the pictures of demonstrators with their faces covered with blood as the result of yesterday's government sponsored police brutality will not sit well with the Israeli electorate. I have a feeling that Ehud Olmert understands that his intransigence with regards to a compromise with the settlers of Amona was a mistake. The settlers were willing to dismantle the structures. Olmert said "No." Olmert wanted to look like a gun-toting sheriff walking into a lawless town. Yesterday he ended up looking more like the late Syrian tyrant Hafez Assad or Saddam Hussein.

It is reasonable to surmise that Olmert is now running to his political and media advisors. The words "damage control" and "creative slogans" are probably being ping-ponged back and forth between Ehud and his advisors. I have another word they might consider talking about: teshuvah. The Rambam (Laws of Teshuvah 6:3) says that G-d took away from Pharoah the ability to do teshuvah because of Pharoah's wickedness. I sincerely hope that Mr. Olmert will attend services this Shabbat and hear this weeks Torah portion, "Bo". I hope that he takes to heart what Pharoah did and what happened to him in the end.
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