Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Absent Son

Raphael Morris

One of our sons was absent from our seder table this year.

Raphael was in jail.

Raphael is the leader of the "Return To The (Temple) Mount" Movement (Chozrim LeHar).

The series of events began when Raphael, his wife and two children arrived at our home on Thursday evening to join us for the first day of Passover. 

Awaiting Raphael, outside our house, were two patrol cars and a crowd of police officers, who served Raphael with a restraining order, forbidding Raphael to visit Jerusalem.

This was in order to prevent Raphael from going to the Old City on Friday (Passover Eve), where he might make attempts to bring a Passover Sacrifice.

Unperturbed by the restraining order, Raphael set out Friday morning to the Old City of Jerusalem.

He was met there by police officers, who arrested Raphael along with about 20 other young folks, for "disturbing the peace" and, in Raphael's case, breaking his restraining order. 

Whereas the others were all promptly released, Raphael was detained. His case came before the court on Friday afternoon and the judge (from Umm El Fahm, I don't know if that was relevant) refused to release him for the festival.    

So whereas Raphael's wife Aviya and their two children spent seder night with us, Raphael spent his seder night in a cell with one drug dealer, a chronic re-offending criminal (been doing time since he was 11, now 60) and a Christian (although I'm sure that wasn't his offence).

Raphael found it inspiring ("Orot!" - lights!). He was elected as the cell "rabbi" and led their seder (Hagada was provided by the prison services, along with plentiful matzo and maror etc). 

We missed him at our table... 

Today (Sunday), I was invited to attend his hearing at the Jerusalem Court.

The police were asking for Raphael to be incarcerated until the end of the legal proceedings - probably 8 months or so. This was no laughing matter.

Having said that, the mood was remarkably up-beat.

The judge asked what all the noise outside the court building was, and was informed it was from a solidarity protest for Raphael. The judge complemented Raphael on having such vociferous supporters. 
There was an agreement between the prosecution and defence (attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir) that Raphael should be placed under house/yishuv arrest, until the end of Passover (a week).

Our house. 

Me, my wife Julie, and son Yonatan are designated as 24/7 custodians over Raphael. Raphael's (solely) permitted to go, with escort, anywhere in Ramat Beit Shemesh. 

It took another couple of hours to complete the paperwork, and then Raphael was released. 

There was a clutch of journalists waiting for Raphael, including Channel One, Arutz 7, Channel 10, Haaretz et al.

You can see one write up and video here (including interviews with Raphael, Aviya and me, and starring my granddaughter Cherut):

Raphael's now home and he seems quite sincere in promising not to go wondering off.   

Monday, 18 April 2016

Why the decline in stabbing terror attacks?

(Notwithstanding today's report about an explosion on a bus in Jerusalem...).

After 6 months of almost daily terror attacks, the pace of mayhem and murder has noticeably slowed.

Since October, 2015, Arab terrorists have attacked Israelis, generally acting without organizational logistics, but rather solo individuals or, at most, small groups of friends, using knives, cars and sometime guns, resulting in a tragic death toll of 36 Israelis.

In the past month and a half, however, these horrors somewhat and thankfully abated.

Of course, the future is uncertain, and who knows what tomorrow may hold, heaven forbid. But the recent past is incontrovertible fact.

Less attacks.

According to the IDF, March saw an overall number of 6 terrorism incidents (including shootings, stabbings, and vehicle rammings), compared to 56 in February, 45 in January, and 40 in December.

April appears to have followed, so far, the same pattern of dramatically decreased number of terror attacks.

I haven't seen any commentator who has come up with a credible narrative explaining why this may be happening. 

In light of the dearth of credible explanations for this among commentators, I posit my own theory about a possible contributing factor. 

Perhaps there is a link to the infamous incident in March when an Israeli soldier shot dead an apparently prone and incapacitated terrorist in Hebron.

On the one hand, this event sparked off an enormous storm in Israel, with outspoken opinions about whether the soldier had acted outrageously or heroically, or somewhere in between.

The Palestinians and their supporters, such as the producers & publishers of the curiously sound-trackless and cropped video, Betzalem, milked the occasion for everything they could, demonising the IDF and beatifying the terrorist. 

The macabre video was repeatedly shown on Palestinian and international media. Finally, they had ‘clear evidence’, that the IDF was truly carrying out extrajudicial executions, just as the Palestinian leadership had been consistently claiming.

My suggestion is that, unwittingly, the Palestinians succeeded in dampening the enthusiasm in the Palestinian streets for taking on more individual acts of terror.

For half a year, the Palestinian leadership had routinely and baselessly accused the IDF of "field executions".

With the aid of this video, blasted from every TV station and throughout social media, perhaps they finally convinced their own people (who surely know even better than us that their leadership is composed of compulsive and pathological liars) that the claim was actually true.

I suggest this may be what has led would-be terrorists to think twice, viewing themselves as that guy lying prone on the Hebron street, and then getting shot in the head.  

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Passover Sacrifice to be Reenacted Facing Temple Mount Next Week

Guest Author: Batsheva Cohen

The public reenactment of the Passover Sacrifice, which has become a popular spring-time event these past few years, will be getting closer to the actual site of the Temple Mount next week. In addition, the organizers are offering a (k'zayit-sized) piece of the Paschal Sacrifice in order to fulfill the biblical commandment, should that become a possibility.

This year's reenactment may prove to be an even more festive event than ever as many new participants are planning to arrive from all parts of the country in order to take part in this free but priceless opportunity!

The past Paschal Reenactments were held in a school courtyard which became more cramped each year due to the growing popularity of the important event. For this reason the organizers decided to move the event this year to the more spacious location of Mitzpeh Beit Orot, between Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives, near Emek Tzurim, which faces Judaism's holiest and most relevant to the occasion site, the Temple Mount.

The reenactment will take place next Monday, just four days before the prescribed time of the Paschal Offering. It is the intent of the event's initiators to offer a taste of this exciting ancient Jewish experience, with its smells, sounds, and colors that have been lost to us these 2000 years, and to thus arouse a longing to renew this Temple ritual in our day. It is also meant to demonstrate that this Paschal commandment, so essential to the Passover celebration, can be a totally realistic goal, which we can in fact fulfill at its prescribed time, on the eve of Passover.

Rabbis and public figures will be attending. Among them is the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Shtern, who at last year's reenactment expressed his great amazement at the public's desire to reinstate the Paschal Sacrifice, which in his words was, "much greater than he expected." Also attending will be current members of Knesset and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Dov Kalmanovitch.

This ancient ritual is being revived this year with the help of the cutting-edge HeadStart Campaign Website under the name Passover Reenactment, which is proving to finance the event through the public's support. Just in its first week, the campaign became listed as one of the website's most popular causes, and it is enjoying a wave of pledged support that has covered about two thirds of the project's goal.

You can see this by clicking the following link:

Among the prizes offered there as appreciative gestures, is a small piece of the roasted lamb from the reenactment. But the most popular prize chosen is a k'zayit sized piece of the actual Paschal Sacrifice promised to be offered for the donor, on the Temple Mount, at the prescribed time this year, should the authorities make allowance for it. For this purpose several flocks of sheep without blemishes have been reserved by the organizers.

This year the event will begin with a rabbinical round table debate about how much we should strive in our day to renew the Temple service with its sacrifices, if at all.

Following will be Torah classes given by rabbis and rashei yeshivot, including Rabbis Menachem Borstein, Uri Shreki, Menachem Makover, Benayahu Bruner, and Rabbi Yitzhak Yavetz , graduate of the Ponivitch Yeshiva.

During all hours of the panel discussions and Torah lessons there will be children's activities such as craft tables, sheep petting, and an inflatable play-ground available.

Finally, there will be a procession with the sheep simulating the Passover pilgrimage to the Temple Mount as in the time of the Mikdash culminating in an exact reenactment of the Paschal Sacrifice, including the slaughtering of a lamb and the ritual offering of its blood and fats on a model altar by actual Cohanim dressed in authentic priestly garments. The performer, Mordechai Yitzhar and his band will be on hand to sing the Hallel accompanied by silver trumpets, just as was the practice in the days of the Temple.

Details of the event listed here:

Monday, the tenth of Nisan (April 18th 2016)
At Mitzpeh Beit Orot

2pm: Round table panel debates (in the Bet Medrash of Beit Orot Yeshiva right next to the Mitzpeh)

3pm: Torah Lessons (also in the Bet Medrash)

4:40pm: Sheep procession to the Mitzpeh

5pm: Paschal Sacrifice Reenactment

Transportation available to and from Ammunition Hill during all hours of the event starting from 1:30pm

To get your k'zayit of roasted paschal lamb or an actual Korban Pesach voucher, click here:

Other Rabbis and officials attending besides the ones mentioned above:

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed,
Rabbi Yaakov Medan, Yeshivat Har Etzion,
Rabbi Shabbtai Rappaport, Bar Ilan
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, Temple Institute,
Yehuda Glick, Temple Mount activist,
MK Miki Zohar, and Aryeh King CEO, Jerusalem United

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Extraordinary Measures

I gave a guy a hitch/tremp the other day. It transpired he is closely involved in the Duma case (the arson which killed three members of the Dawabsheh family).

During the ride, he told me about an astounding aspect of the case which was unfamiliar to me, and probably to you too, as the only media outlet which has agreed to publish the story was Haaretz (in their Premium section).

You will recall that on 2nd August, 2015, the Israeli Cabinet approved introducing "extraordinary measures" in interrogating suspects of Jewish terror.

It has been widely reported that these measures included administrative detention (ie imprisonment for long periods without charges or trial), physical force (stretching, electrocution), sleep deprivation (considered a form of torture under international law) and causing emotional stress (harassment, sexual assault).

My passenger told me about an additional level of "extraordinary measures" which have recently been used for interrogating and extracting confessions from Jewish suspects, which sound like a B Movie script.

There is a disused British Prison in Acco (not the public museum, but a different building near the current day police station) which was converted by the police, for the purpose of extracting confessions from "Jewish terror" suspects,  into a fully functioning mock prison.

All the people in the prison, the guards, the prison service officers, and the prisoners, both Jews and Arabs, were all undercover policemen, acting in these roles.

The only 'real' characters were the Jewish suspects. These suspects were held totally separately from each other, and report similar treatment.

The cases of two of the suspects is recounted in detail in the Haaretz article.

25 year old Yitzhar Klimkovitz was arrested on suspicion of participating in the Duma arson and was later released without any charges.

Shortly after his arrest, Klimkovitz found himself in this fake Acco prison, in the same cell together with "dangerous long term prisoners", including murderers, gang members, drug dealers etc. Most of the prisoners were Arabs.

During his incarceration, he was a witness a "stabbing murder" of an Arab prisoner by a Jewish prisoner armed with a knife. There was blood everywhere, a dead body, a hasty washing off of the knife to remove finger prints, and general panic among the prisoners. The prison authorities, batons swinging, launched an investigation.

The prisoners then turned on Klimkovitz, knowing he was a witness to the murder, and a new inmate, and they accused him of being an informer or undercover cop. They beat him, including kicking him in his testicles and threatened his life.

In order to 'clear himself' of the allegation and violent consequences of being an informer (the lowest class of prisoner and open game for retaliation), he was told he must tell them what crimes he had committed, so that his identity as a genuine criminal could be verified by their friends outside, and so that the prisoners would have leverage to use against him to ensure his silence. This would avoid him being labeled and punished/silenced as an informer.

Klimkovitz told them he had been previously imprisoned in "Rimonim, Section 16" but didn't admit to any crimes and indeed Klimkovitz did, in frustration, eventually 'admit' to being a police informer!

A different suspect, "B", whose name is under a gag order as he is a minor, is 17 years old.

He was also taken to the same mock prison, and similar tactics were used to extract a confession. This time the "crime" he witnessed was drugs related and he was similarly threatened and accused of being an informer or police plant.

Under this pressure B said he had been involved in various anti-Arab activities, including arson and beating up an Arab in Jerusalem. He also said he had once assaulted a police officer in an evacuation of the Ramat Migron outpost. There was nothing about Duma.

The youth is now facing charges for these other alleged offenses, based on the 'confession' extracted in the prison scam.

Another youth, "A", who is currently facing trial as an accomplice to the Duma arson, was also subjected to the Acco fake prison. Like B, he also "admitted" to various crimes to his fellow prisoners under threats, but nothing about Duma.

Placing a minor into a prison of adults is against the law; however, the prosecution are arguing that it wasn't a real prison, so that law didn't apply. The defence is arguing that subjectively, the boys believed they were in a real prison, with real prisoner and real threats - therefore this constituted illegal incarceration and unlawful pressure.

The main suspect, Amiram Ben Uliel, who is charged with murdering the Dawabsheh family, during his incarceration in Acco "admitted" to have killed a goat owned by an Arab as well as beating up another Arab (who was hospitalised).  He did not relate at all to Duma.

This story of the Acco fake prison has been told to the main media outlets in Israel, but none of them were willing to publish, apparently due to concerns of breaking censorship regulations. Chaim Levinson of Haaretz was the only main stream journalist willing to report it.

Which is why you probably don't know the Hollywood-style story of the Acco fake prison and the dubious confessions which were extracted under duress there.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Soldier Shoots Terrorist

The case of the soldier in Hebron, reportedly a Beit Shemesh resident, who was videoed shooting a stabbing terrorist in the head, who had already been 'neutralised' (ie had been shot and was lying on the ground), has filled the media in Israel.

The video was publicesd by left wing extremists BeTzelem, in the name of human rights.

Politicians from Prime Minister Netanyahu downwards, including Minister Naftali Bennett, opposition leaders Herzog and Lieberman, and numerous others, have charged in to voice their opinions.

The video itself is apparently an excerpt (3 minutes) from a longer event (11 minutes) and indeed looks unsettling.

An ambulance is seen evacuating the (light/moderately) wounded soldier, who had been stabbed by the Arab, while the terrorist himself is lying on his back, not perceptively moving.

Another soldier seems to shoot the terrorist in his head and a red stream of blood flows onto the street.

According to Army Radio, the soldier is reported to have said to both a colleague (before shooting) and to his commanding officer (after shooting) "an Arab who stabbed my friend should be killed".

The soldier's family and lawyers (a team of volunteers has grouped together to represent the soldier) have publicised statements that the soldier had shot the terrorist due to concerns that he may be wearing and could activate an explosive belt. In other words he was acting according to army Open-Fire regulations.

Whereas most politicians have come down against the soldier's action, some have been outspoken in their support.

A poll released yesterday showed that the majority of Israelis polled were in favour of the soldier's actions, with only 29% believing the act constituted 'murder'.

Here in Beit Shemesh, there is Municipality-backed demonstration this evening in support of the local 'hero'..

My take is:

1. Protecting civilians and their colleagues is the first duty of soldiers.
2. Even in high-intensity environments, such as battles, soldiers are trained and are expected to abide by rules of conduct. No pillaging. No raping. No murdering. etc..
3. In this circumstance, while understanding the soldier was under pressure and 'who are we to judge', the Army should investigate objectively the event and the soldier's culpability, if any.
4. Given that the video was distributed by an extreme left wing organisation, intended to cause damage to the IDF, the consequences of the event will inevitably have a political aspect.
5. The charge of murder does sound extreme, as the victim was a terrorist, the shooter is a soldier, and the act was not done with deliberation and forethought but rather on impulse.

"Supporting" the soldier does not equal saying he was blameless, nor a hero, only that he has a right to an objective enquiry and if necessary a fair trial by the army judicial system.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Discovering PicsArt

My recent foray into 21st Century amateur photography has introduced me to the awesome power of the humble cellphone (in my case a Galaxy S5), the image processing & social networking of Instagram and, this week, the next step in artistic online post-processing "PicsArt".

My 18 yo daughter Yael suggested I take a look at this ap.

Whereas Instagram helps you make a good photograph even better, PicsArt enables you create a new image out of the photo.

The special effects and editing tools are so powerful that one can merely touch up, or entirely recreate your image.

Here's a few of my first attempts; the photos were taken this week in the rainy Galilee (Zippori and Hararit):


Saturday, 12 March 2016

David Kestenbaum - Saving Jews from Europe

Ray Kestenbaum
Talk at QJC about David Kestenbaum, March 12, 2016, by Ray Kestenbaum
By Kind Permission of The Author

Next Shabbat will be my bar mitzvah sedra and my late father’s 59th yahrzeit. I am the youngest of the seven Kestenbaum brothers…so this may be the last comprehensive presentation of his life and rescue efforts before, during and after the Shoah. I am doing this not only out of kibud Av but to report on the life of a monumental Ohev Yisrael.

Some of you may have seen the recent year-long exhibit titled "Against the Odds" at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park. The exhibit identified five Americans who worked feverishly to help Jews and Jewish families caught in the Nazi trap before and during World War II and afterwards, when a million Jewish survivors roamed Europe wounded, homeless, displaced and with their families destroyed.

"Against The Odds" Exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage 

The exhibit portrayed the anti-Semitic attitude within the US State Department at the time, especially in the Immigration Department, which turned up restrictive quotas, especially those of tens of thousands of Jews seeking to escape the Nazi repression and hatred, yimach shemahm, and the coming inferno. Never forget the St. Louis ship.

It would not be a Lashon Hara on my part if I mentioned the name of Breckenridge Long of our State Dept., who turned down thousands of Jews who applied for refuge. Nor will I be incorrect in mentioning the name General George Marshall, our revered Military Chief-of-Staff during the war but one who later tried to prevail upon President Harry Truman not to recognize Israel in 1948. But Truman ignored Marshall and was the first national leader who recognized the sovereignty of Israel as the Third Jewish Commonwealth…Kol Hakavod. Nonetheless, in the late thirties and forties there was an atmosphere here of anti-Semitism in the government and in parts of the military.

The non-religious Jewish community sought to blunt these attitudes by changing their names, their appearances. They worked hard to Americanize, even Christianize. But there were more than a few who worked to go back to our roots, to strengthen their families and communities into practices of Judaism, Yahadut, into Torah and mitzvot…and in the case of my father and uncle…to work to rescue hapless Jews and Jewish families from the clutches of the Nazis. Not many of those types…but a few. That’s partly what the exhibit was about.
David & Gisella Kestenbaum
I will always be proud to be the youngest son, the ben zekunim, of David Kestenbaum, Reb David ben Reb Elyahu v’Leah Rachel Kestenbaum. He was born in 1895 in Tarnov, Galicia, Poland, on the 9th of Adar Bet and moved to Leipzig, Germany, in 1914. He married at age 23 to Ella Gisella Goldman, a beautiful 13th generation German Jewish girl.

David Kestenbaum and his older brother Jacob—Uncle Yakel we called him--A”H, filed over 800 affidavits for relatives, friends, rabbeiim, yeshiva students, talmidei chachamim and others. They worked with the Vaad Hatzallah, the Committee for Jewish Rescue, and individually. An affidavit, you know, is the undertaking of financial responsibility of an immigrant so that he or she does not become a burden of the state. 800 plus is an enormous financial commitment. The Kestenbaums were doing well in the fur business in Leipzig, London and New York.

Individually, my father Dovid and Uncle Yakel worked with the US government and through contacts in neutral Switzerland and Turkey and with contacts in Scandinavia and England. At the Vaad Hatzallah his first assignment was to help rescue the 300 students and rabbeiim of the Mir Yeshiva.

The yeshiva was located in the tiny town of Mir in East Poland. In the fall of 1939 the yeshiva rabbis and students were caught under the domination of Communism after Germany and Russia agreed to divide Poland. The Yeshiva fell under the jurisdiction of Moscow and its rule to abolish religious education and practices.

That fear became a panic after the Wermacht attacked the Russians in the blitzkrieg of Barbarossa. The Nazis were approaching and the Jews of Eastern Poland had to find a way out. With the help of the JDC (Joint Distrubution Committee) and the Vaad Hatzallah, some 2,000 Jews took buses, trains and walked northward, crossing the Lithuanian border to find refuge in Vilnius. With funds from the Vaad the Mir people set up their yeshiva in the city of the Vilna Gaon…but not for long…because the Nazis were making headway in their conquest of the Baltic States.

My father worked with Rav Avraham Kalmanowitz and Rav Aharon Kotler, founders of the Vaad, in plans to provide food, shelter, transportation and money to maintain the Mir people in that city. Fortunately, b’siyata dishmaya, the Japanese Consul in Vilnius, a fellow by the name of Chiune Shiguhara, felt compassion for the Jews and stamped over 3,500 transit visas, among them the entire Mir Yeshiva body. He is often referred to as the Oscar Schindler of Japan.
The Mir Yeshiva in Shanghai 
After the war a Mir Yeshiva musmach, Rav Hirsch Asia, who was employed in my house as family teacher, explained how the Mir students got to Shanghai. “Once we got our visas,” he said, “we boarded long cattle cars on the Trans-Siberian railway. We travelled boxed-up for 12 days to Vladivostok. From there we got on to half broken boats to sail to Japan. In Tokyo we languished in the park until the awesome figure of Rav Aharon Kotler appeared and scolded us for lying around in Japan. He ordered us to move on to China where a big building and ground space in the Hongkew section of Shanghai was awaiting our arrival.”

Rav Kotler later became the founder of the Yeshiva Gedolah in Lakehood with my father and brother’s support. Meanwhile the Vaad helped establish the Mir Yeshiva in Shanghai. Throughout the war the Vaad saw to it that the Mir Yeshiva had the support to carry on. The Mir was the only European yeshiva that survived the Holocaust intact.

My father was involved in several other rescue operations as dark clouds hovered over Jewish communities in Europe.
I often questioned my father’s motive. My conclusion has been that he was a great Ohev Yisrael and was deeply believed in the mitzva of Hatzalat Nefashot—the saving of lives- and the mitzvah of Pidyon Sh’vuim—the redemption of Jewish captives. As the Pasuk warns us in Parshat Kedoshim, ”Lo ta’amod ahl dahm re’echa”…Do not stand aside while your brother’s blood is being spilled.” He understood the travail of the Jews in Galut through the ages…and volunteered his efforts and his money to be mekayem these mitzvot.

I can recall as a boy of nine sitting on the staircase in our house on President Street in Brooklyn hearing the outcry of the men of the Vaad Hatzallah in the living room. It was frightening! They were yelling because they received cablegrams of arrests, family members hauled off for transport, break-ins, murder.

Among the Vaad Hatzallah members meeting in our house—you may not recognize any of these names but I thought they should be mentioned here for the record—among the people were Irving Bunim, Barton Candy CEO Stephen Klein, Rabbi Baumol of Crown Heights Yeshiva, Rabbi Shabsei Frankel and Congressman Herbert Tenzer.
Henry Morgenstern Jr., Secretary of the Treasury under Franklin D.Roosevelt, Washington DC, USA
From all of these meetings, the sweat and tears, our government took no serious action until the famous protest march of the Agudas Horabonim in Washington in 1943. Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgenthau stepped in to plead with President Roosevelt to help stop the mounting mass murder of Jews, which he finally did with the founding of the so-called War Refugee Board...very late and very little. And as you know after Germany surrendered unconditionally, 22 top Nazis were tried for war crimes in Nuremberg. And there were dozens of other trials of concentration camp officials and collaborators.


David Kestenbaum also had a busy family, business and philanthropic life. He and Gisella raised seven boys, all born in Leipzig, Germany, and all graduates of Mesifta Torah Vodaath. I found out that our house in Leipzig was some four five blocks from that of the Grunblatt family.

My grandparents, Elias and Leah Rachel Kestenbaum, left Tarnow for Leipzig in 1914 and got into the flourishing fur business. With their five children, they lived a productive and religious life. Son Yakel migrated to New York in 1922 and established a regional office in the fur trade while son Yisrael migrated to London and also built a fur business.

David and the boys attended two Leipzig synagogues—the Broder Shul, a narrow Orthodox synagogue attached to neighboring buildings, a shul that remained intact through Nazism and Allied bombings--and the Eitz Chaim Synagogue. Rabbi Ephraim Carlebach, grand uncle of the famous singer/guitarist Reb Shlomo Carlebach, was the spiritual leader of both these shuls. He was the mesadeh kidushin of my parents’ wedding in 1918. At the same time David was a devoted follower of the Kozhnitze Chassidic movement, Years later in Crown Heights he was an active congregant of the 7th Kozhnitzer Rebbe, the tsaddik Rabbi Israel Hopstein, on President St., Brooklyn.

The good years in Leipzig ended with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement, yimach sh’mam. I brought this book (show book) Lest We Forget by Shlomo Wahrman about Leipzig in the Nazi period between 1933 and ’39. You can look at it later.
Elias and his sons were closely monitoring the changes in both the German government and people’s attitudes toward Jews. David was an inveterate newspaper reader; even after arriving to the US in 1936, following his private Talmud lessons, he launched into devouring The Herald Tribune with breakfast. He kept himself informed.

Back in the early ‘30s there was no shortage of press and radio information in Leipzig to lay bare what was happening day by day. His activism at the synagogue and at organizational meetings identified him as a leader in the Leipziger kehilla.

Even before the Gestapo was set up, the German civil police arrested him in the street and brought him to the station house. It was right after Hitler came to power when he sat in the sparse station house near the city’s edge waiting to be registered. One of the cops went outside for a smoke and the other went to the bathroom. David saw his opportunity; he got up, quietly opened the screen door and walked out. The Nazis never caught him.

Meanwhile, on the Keilstrasse, Elias was on his terrace on a warm Shabbas afternoon singing zemiros. Suddenly he felt a cloth draped on his shoulders. It was the Nazi flag with the accursed swastika. After Shabbas, he called his lawyer to prefer charges on his upstairs neighbor whereupon his lawyer informed him “Herr Kestenbaum, zie haben ganishts mer keine rechts in dieses landt”…you have no more rights in this country.

It was then in 1933 after the elections that Zeida Kestenbaum knew then that it was time to leave Germany. At one point while he and Bubba Leah Rochel were in London, Gestapo thugs were waiting for them in their apartment. Zeida then gave the order to all his children to drop everything and leave Germany.

We obeyed his orders, left everything and moved to Holland and then to France. There were no suitable yeshivas in either for the boys so we migrated to England from where, in 1936, we boarded the SS Washington to New York Harbor.
The Kestenbaum Family on their way to the USA, 1936
The family moved into the house on Ave. J and Ocean Parkway, the stately house with the big stone lions in front. David was busy raising his family with Gittel, building a fur business and being active in Jewish affairs. We davened at the Young Israel of Flatbush. At the same time Reb Dovid was monitoring the ominous situation in Europe. He corresponded with cousins and friends who stayed on, urging them to get out immediately. He recalled the Chofets Chayim’s warning at a lecture in the 1920 that “there will come a time soon when a war will break out that would make the last war look like child’s play.”

With the clouds of war threatening overseas, Reb Dovid, who had once been an active Mizrachist, turned increasingly to activism in the American yeshiva movement. He saw our talmidei chachamim (torah scholars), our yeshiva students and frum people, due to their appearance, dress and lifestyle, as being the most visible targets of Hitler’s evil racial policies and pronouncements.
"Mr" Shraga Faivel Mendelowitz
In 1938 Reb Dovid met with Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz, founder of Mesifta Torah Vodaath, and began working to raise funds for the school and help build Camp Mesifta, the institution’s summer retreat in the Catskills. He also began a close association with Rav Aharon Kotler, founder of the Beth Medrash Gavoah in Lakewood, NJ, now among the world’s two largest rabbinical seminaries.
The Vaad Hatzallah functioned through the war years and the DP period (Displaced Persons) after. There was no mitzvah more urgent in the minds of David Kestenbaum and Vaad Hatzala activists than the saving of lives and the rescue of Jewish captives singled out for ghettoization, humiliation, starvation and disease, for Jews rounded up for transport to concentration and death camps.

As most of the world turned away from the deteriorating fate of the Jews, David Kestenbaum worked tirelessly to help provide affidavits to families and individuals for their rescue through the committee and on his own. He was a man of broad shoulders, of statesmanship and of drive for the job ahead. Much of that drive stemmed from his profound sense of hakorsas hatov, thankfulness to Hashem for the insight and ability to escape early with his family and warn others based on his experiences with the Germans and the prediction made long before by the Chofetz Chaim.

The most comprehensive collection of the works of rescue before, during and after the war is found at Yeshiva University’s Vaad Hatzala Collection. It summed up its contributions as follows: “The Vaad did succeed in actually bringing out thousands of Jews from concentration camps and transporting them to Switzerland in 1945, transmitting great sums of money to their agents to negotiate with German officials.”

David Kestenbaum remained active in the Vaad Hatzala until it wound down its activities in 1949. In 1952, David and Gittel travelled to the new State of Israel and soon invested in establishing a refrigerator plant in Haifa.
Rav Ephraim Kestenbaum Baking Oat Matzos
Of the seven Kestenbaum boys three are still with us. Leonard Kestenbaum of Lawrence and Yerushalayim, former President of Hapoel Hamizrachi of Crown Heights, is the true legator of the Kestenbaum chessed v’emunah. Rav Efraim Kestenbaum, a chemist and producer of oat matsos for wheat allergic people, migrated to Aretz from England some 6 years ago and now lives with parts of the Kestenbaum family in Ramat Beir Shemesh, may they all be happy and live the full life in Eretz Yisrael.

And I, a former journalist, radio newscaster and chazzan, am now a real estate agent.

David Kestenbaum passed away at age 62 in New York in March of 1957 and is buried in the family plot in the Young Israel of Flatbush tract in Beth Israel Cemetery in Elmont, Long Island, near the Queens border.

When the seven Kestenbaum boys arrived in New York Harbor in 1936, The Daily News carried a center-fold picture of the smiling family. But what they have been remembered for in the community was their activism in Jewish life and their snappy, harmonic Shabbat zemirot. The sons and grandchildren remember their father or zeidie and his devotion to each one of them. May the memory of his great works and character be a segulah, a treasure trove, to us and to Ahm Yisrael.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Latest Photo Collection

I am developing my newly revived hobby of photography (see previous post Getting Back Into Photography) and I have pleasure in sharing this latest collection.

All photos are shot with my Galaxy 5 phone, and I have processed them using Instagram.

Four Generations of Male Morrises!

Restaurant in the Jaffa shuk

Felled Tree

Nahal Soreq

Burst of blossoms

Snack time

Man Meets Katalav Tree

Le Penseur 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Temple Showbread (Lechem Hapanim) Revived

Raphael Morris's interests in Temple Mount and in Baking (he's a professional baker) combined recently, in a Temple Institute project to re-enact the preparation and ceremony of the "show bread" (Lechem Hapanim) - perhaps for the first time since the destruction of the Temple 2000 years ago.

Raphael explained that The Temple Institute decided to dress some Cohanim (descendants from the Priests) in the reconstructed Priestly garments which the Institute has painstakingly made as closely as possible to the original Priestly Garments of the Tabernacle and Temple.

Rav Baruch Kahana, The Institute's rabbinical authority advised them that rather than do this as an isolated event, they should have the Cohanim wearing these garments as a part of a bigger event. As I understand it, similarly to the rules concerning taking a Sefer Torah out of the Ark, this should only be done for a purpose, such as to read it, rather than out of curiosity.

The Institute decided that an appropriate ceremony to re-enact, with the Cohanim wearing their priestly garments, was the ceremony of the showbreads.

In the time of the Tabernacle and Temple, the showbread was baked once a week, and the Cohanim ceremonially replaced the old bread on the Table (shulchan) with the new bread.

Raphael with freshly baked Show Bread
The Institute decided to hold a reenactment of the Showbread ceremony, at the Old City Community Center, on Tu B'Shvat.

To the best of their knowledge, this has not been done since the Temple was destroyed.

A member of the Temple Institute team of experts researched what is known about the preparation of the showbread and guided the volunteers how to practically prepare the bread.

In the Tabernacle, there were 12 show bread loaves, replacing the week-old 12 breads. So for a full reconstruction reconstruction, 24 loaves were required.

According to the research, each showbread loaf was made from approx 4kg of coarse wheat flour, resulting in some 6kg of dough. This, multiplied by 24, equals 144 kg of dough.

Furthermore, the loaves themselves were large, some 60cm long by 40cm wide, and 8cm thick, with 'walls' of 10 cm at the two ends, to make a "chet" shape.

The Institute decided that the showbread should be kneaded for 40 minutes and baked for 40 minutes (considerably longer than the 18 minutes for matzo). In a one-loaf capacity kneading machine and oven, this would therefore require 16 hours of continuous production.    

Raphael obtained the permission of the owner of the bakery where he works in Hod Hasharon to use their commercial oven, with capacity for six loaves. And the Institute rented a commercial scale kneading machine.
Show Breads cooling off in the bakery

The Institute was concerned that large quantities of 'showbread' would be left to waste, and so they decided to cut back the project to 12 loaves, enough for a full Table.

Raphael took over the bakery for an all-night session, working solo, and he kneaded and baked the loaves. He used standard aluminum pans as a mold for the 'walls' of the breads.

There was no way to check the texture of the inside of the bread, so Raphael worked from instinct.
They came out crusty on the outside and fluffy inside.

"Actually I made 13, rather than 12, so we'd have one in reserve."

In the morning, he transported the loaves by car to the Old City. The Institute staff were excited to receive the loaves and particularly surprised with how physically heavy and awkward the showbreads were to carry. The ceremony would require strong and dexterous Cohanim.

Tu Beshvat was forecast to be snowy in Jerusalem, and yet around 60-70 people enthusiastically attended the spectacular event.

Six Cohanim were dressed in the Priestly garments and conducted the ceremony of the Showbreads.

Cohanim Place the Show Breads on the Shulchan 
Everyone who attended was welcome to eat the bread afterwards, together with chumus and salads.

By the end of the evening, all of the 'Showbread' had been eaten.

This was by all accounts a most impressive practice exercise, and we all look forward to seeing and participating in the real Lechem Hapanim ceremony in the Third Temple!

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Guest Post: Save The Nerds (and others!)

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By Shaul Behr

It's not easy, being a nerd.  
Imagine spending your life as a weedy wimp. 
Just knowing you're going to be the last one picked for the playground soccer game.
The dread of anticipation, the horror of realization, the abject humiliation when your side loses the toss and has to be "skins".  Again.
Spraining your wrist opening the salad dressing.
Getting sand kicked in your face at the beach.
Being the only one laughing at your own clever witticism.
Realizing everyone in the room is staring at you and wondering what was funny.
Or perhaps it was your braying nerd laugh punctuated by snorts?

Like I say, it's not easy.  I should know.  
Because - and I am officially coming out of the closet today - I am a nerd.
Now I know this may come as a shock to many of you who have known me for decades, but I feel I have to be true to myself and come out and say it - I am a nerd.  

But there is hope!

You see, even a guy who's been a nerd for over 40 years can - and should - be helped.
You don't want to just smile falsely at his otherworldly intellectual double-entendres and let him think it's ok.  Because tomorrow, he'll just crack another one.
As a friend, you want to give him a hand up.
It starts by talking to him, and helping him realize he can overcome his nerdiness.
Once he perceives that physical exercise beyond the long walk from the computer to the bathroom is actually a possibility, he may be ready for a challenge - like walking from the computer to the electronics store on the next block.  
With encouragement and guidance, his friendly coach can slowly push him to ever greater achievements, until he's doing crazy stuff that nerds never even dream of, like push-ups, sit-ups and competitive races.  
No salad dressing bottle can intimidate him now.
Even pickle jar lids quiver when they see him coming.
He can even learn not to make puns involving chemical formulae.  Formulas.  Whatever.
The nerd laugh... well.. you need a different kind of coach for that...

It's kind of similar with poverty.

There are a lot of people out there, in your neighborhood and mine, who are caught in a never-ending spiral of debts and obligations, who no matter how they try, somehow always have too much month left at the end of their money.
There are many charitable organizations out there who help the poor and give them financial relief.  But handouts are just a band-aid; the poor remain impoverished and require ever more assistance.
But there is one organization that gives people a hand-upLemaan Achai!
Lemaan Achai not only provides acute financial relief to the needy, but it organizes financial coaching seminars to train people in financial awareness and budgeting, so that their own income can stretch further.  
Lemaan Achai helps people get professional and vocational training to increase their employability.
And so many other programs, including a free dental clinic, summer camps, therapy and counselling, interest free loans, citizen's rights advocacy.
And the results are phenomenal: annually, around a quarter of the people on Lemaan Achai's books achieve financial independence
Can you name any other organization, anywhere in the world, that achieves anything like that?

In short, if you want to help poor people break out of the cycle of poverty, then Lemaan Achai is the smart choice.

So that's why I, reformed nerd, who used to get out of breath just walking around the block, am running 21.1km in the Jerusalem Marathon on 18 March, for Team Lemaan Achai, for the second consecutive year.

Please sponsor me, whether for ₪10 or $10,000 and help Lemaan Achai to continue its fantastic work.  
Plus, you're giving hope to thousands of other nerds, who can take heart that 

You can also follow my training progress on my Running for Chesed Facebook page.  Give us a "like" and a "share"!

With blessings from the Holy City of Ramat Beit Shemesh,