What Happened at LA Rally in Support of Israel?

Yesterday’s large rally in support of Israel at the Federal Building has been tainted by the violence that erupted while rally was ending. I recited prayers and psalms at the start of the rally, and the crowd was peaceful, positive, and non-confrontational with the counter protestors who I estimate numbered no more than 50-75.

Conflicting accounts on several news stations about how many arrested, who arrested, how many people at rally. CBS claims 2000+, LA Jewish Journal 1200, and LA Times at 500.

Since the accounts are so different I am now hesitant to say what exactly happened. An off-duty sheriff’s officer said four men with Palestinian flags attacked Jews with sticks. LA Times is reporting that Palestinians supporters were retrieving a flag taken and vandalized by pro-Israel supporters when the fight broke out.

The most remarkable part of the story is that a gunshot was fired by an officer with Federal Protective Services. The Federal Protective Service (FPS) is a federal law enforcement agency that provides integrated security and law enforce

ment services to federally owned and leased buildings, facilities, properties and other assets. Some say he shot in the air, but nothing is clear.

We will have to wait until we know more about what happened. What is certain is that people were arrested, although even that number is debated by news sources. Most reports are that four men were detained on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

(Photo Jewish Journal)

, ,

A Family Vacation, A Kidnapped Nation

From the moment that we arrived in Israel on Thursday night the 12th of June, the fate of three teenage boys, kidnapped on their way home, was one everyone’s mind. While the weather is picturesque, and the sky bright blue, the country was gripped by a gnawing pain about the fate of these three boys.

Now as we depart Israel, the tragic news of their murder has been announced.

Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, went missing near Hebron on June 12 and were all yeshiva students. Beloved by their families and their classmates, they were on their way home for Shabbat, but never made it. Instead, they were abducted by Palestinians in a van as they hitchhiked home. One managed to get a cell phone call to the Police, but the police thought initially it was a prank call.

News spread Friday morning the 13th of what happened. Then the nation prayed.

From the most secular to the most observant, Israelis prayed for the last 18 days for the return of “our boys.” At synagogues across the country, prayers for their return were said three times daily. Massive prayer rallies were held bringing together people from all walks of life. The country was glued to the TV waiting for any updates, reports, or information. Signs went up on bus shelters and public buses. Every day the story was front-page news.

This painful and tragic event brought a palpable sense of unity to a country that has many divides. Today the country is united in anger and sorrow, and wants revenge against the cold-blooded murderers.

We had to postpone our visit to Hebron for that Sunday. I wanted our trip to begin with a visit to the resting place of our ancestors, where the whole story of the Jewish people began. It was to be our first stop on our first family trip to Israel, and already we had to change our itinerary for security reasons.

After some time, even with the continuing search operation nearby, Hebron opened up again and we planned a visit for our last day in Israel. We would return with my close friend who now organizes weekly peace and reconciliation tours to Hebron. Twenty years ago, as college students, he and I had visited Hebron together for the first time.

My family spent most of Monday in Hebron, visiting the 2000 year-old structure built around the most ancient Jewish holy site, the Maarat Ha Machpela, or Tomb of the Patriarchs. My kids sat quietly as our friend explained the history of this Holy site and the caves which are below.

Soldiers seemed on edge, but it did not about seem like the city was about to explode in violence.

Hours after we left Hebron, the city was in turmoil, as clashes broke out when the IDF went one more time to the houses of the suspects. Hundreds hurled rocks and stones at the soldiers who responded with tear gas. Soon the entire city was on lockdown and all entrances to the city blocked.

My children have been concerned about the fate of these three boys for the entire trip. They felt that it could also happen to them. While we reassured them that was not the case, we knew in our hearts that this story was not going to end well as the days turned to weeks.

When I tell my children today about the tragic fate of these teenagers, I am not sure how they will respond. This horrible turn of events will certainly color their view of all Palestinians and Arabs. They may distrust all Arabs for the foreseeable future and their anger and sorrow may quickly turn to hate.

The international press can continue to call these boys settlers, but to my kids, they were fellow Jewish kids. And now they are dead because they were Jewish.

And we leave back for California this afternoon.

Here is what I will tell my kids:

“I am sorry kids. I didn’t want this to be the take-away lesson from your trip to Israel. I didn’t want this to be how you remembered what it is to be a Jew living in your homeland. I didn’t was this to be how the story ended. “

“Please remember all the love that we have experienced here from our friends and family. Please remember all our wonderful experiences as we drove 1,500 kilometers around this small country. Please remember that Jewish life thrives in Israel, and not a place where bad things are always happening to innocent people.”

“This is your homeland. And though we live very far away, it should always be in your hearts and minds as a wonderful place full of life, beauty, and wonderment.”

, ,

One Last Try: The Passover Vagrant and Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz

At our Pico Shul Passover Finale we continued the beautiful tradition started by the Baal Shem Tov to make a festive meal of matzah and wine in honor of the coming of the Messiah. This Passover meal encapsulates all the spiritual teachings of the holiday and integrates them into our spiritual lives for the year to come. I told the following story about the saintly Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz, known as the Ropshizter, and the vagrant who came for Passover. (1)

When Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz was still a teenager he spent Purim with one of his Rebbes. After Purim, his Rebbe told him, “Do me one favor Naftali, please don’t come back for Passover.” Not come back? Naftali so badly wanted to spend Passover with his Holy Rebbe. So he thought up a plan to get invited back for Passover.

A few days before Passover, Naftali shows up at the Rebbe’s kitchen offering to help his wife, the Rebbitzen, for Passover preparations. There is an enormous amount of work to do, and Naftali makes himself indispensable. Then just before Passover he asks his Rebbe’s wife for a favor. “Could you ask the Rebbe to let me stay for Passover?”

She consents, and goes to her husband telling him how helpful Naftali is in the Passover preparations. He replies, “Okay, he can stay. But I’m telling you that he’s going to make a lot of trouble.”

The morning leading into Passover is the busiest morning of the entire Jewish year. You have to finish all the Passover preparations, burn the leavened items that are left, get to the mikvah, set up the house and Seder table. On a deeper spiritual level, you have to negate all that is corrosive in yourself and mentally prepare for spiritual heights of the Passover seder.

When Naftali completes all that he can to help prepare for Passover he walks walk over to the Beis Medrash, the study hall, to do some learning before the Seder. Now it is well known that Naftali, the future Ropshitzer Rebbe, has an acute sense of smell. As you or I can smell what is good and bad, he smells what is spiritually good or bad in this world.

Suddenly the door to the study hall swings open and standing there is a stinking, filthy, eyesore of a vagrant. He is disgusting. Not only has he not showered in ages, but his hair and beard are matted into dreads. His clothes are rags. His shoes are held together with rope and tape. And he just doesn’t smell dirty, Naftali realizes, but he also smells spiritually. Naftali realizes that there must not be a sin in the entire world that this man has not committed.

The vagrant approaches Naftali and says, “May I see the Rebbe?”

“Imagine, that on the eve of Passover,” Naftali thinks, “after my Rebbe and I have so scrupulously prepared for Passover, wiping away everything that could possible compromise or corrupt Passover, this vagrant wants to see the Rebbe? This disgusting, filthy, low-life will destroy my holiday, and certainly the Rebbe’s!”

“Is that all you need to do, to see the Rebbe?” Naftali replies. “Why don’t you go home, clean-up a bit, put on some new clothes. You know maybe cut off those dreadlocks and trim your beard. While you are at it, do some repentance over all the sins you have committed! Because there is no way I am going to disturb the Rebbe on the eve of Passover for a scrap heap like you!”

The vagrant walks straight out of the study hall without saying a word, and Naftali gets back to his learning.

Not more than five minutes later, the Rebbe runs into the study hall and asks Naftali, “Was anyone here?”

“No, no one that I know” says Naftali.

“Are you sure there was no one?”

“Well, now I remember… There was this vagrant who waltzed in here asking to see you, so I sent him home to get clean-up and…”

“What did you say to him?” the yells his Rebbe.

“What do you think Rebbe, I threw him out of the study hall!”

The Rebbe turns to Naftali, and grabs him by the collar. “If you don’t bring that vagrant back to me be right away, I don’t want to see you ever again. I mean it!” And storms from the room.

Naftali is totally confused. But he starts running all over town looking for this guy. He checks alleys and dumpsters, places where people panhandle. Then finally makes it to the most disgusting dive bar in the city, and there sits the vagrant, drunk as a dog.

“Kind sir,” he says in the most polite way that he can possibly muster. “Can you come with me to the Rebbe?” After having treated him like filth, Naftali starts pleading with him to come to the Rebbe. “Please, please, I am begging you! I am so, so sorry about how I threw you out. I am so sorry. Please come with me to see the Rebbe. If you don’t he will never speak to me again!”

The vagrant is completely drunk. The last person on earth that he wants to see was this pompous guy who had driven him away before. He just wants to left in peace with his drink. But Naftali is a large man, and he grabs the vagrant by the arm, and pulls him out onto the street. He practically drags the man kicking and shouting, all the way back to the Rebbe’s house.

The minute that the Rebbe sees the vagrant, he runs up and gives him a huge hug kiss. “Where have you been? I am so happy to see you!” The Rebbe is overjoyed and beaming. Naftali shrinks away, and the Rebbe brings the vagrant into his house. There he gives the man a private suite, fresh towels, clothes for the holiday, a long coat and shtreimel. The vagrant comes out of the suite some time later shining and glowing from one end of the world to the other. He spends the entire holiday at the side of the Rebbe.

After Passover, Naftali gets up the courage to ask his Rebbe what had transpired. “I want you to know that this vagrant was not always a vagrant. At one time my greatest student. He was the holiest, most saintly student, engrossed in Torah study day and night. His head was in the heavens and his feet were planted here on Earth. But the saddest thing happened. You know he is just human, and he made a mistake. Since he knew that I knew about it, he left town in the middle of the night. He was ashamed to see me or ever come back. And since he was so ashamed things just spiraled down, down and down.

“On Purim I remembered him and wondered how he was. I prayed so hard to God asking Him to bring my student back. Then I saw in a dream that he would return right before Passover. And in this dream, you were there too. Since you have such a fine sense of smell, you drove him away from us. That is why I didn’t want you here on Passover!

“That Passover eve, sure enough, he decided to return to see me. He wanted to see if his teacher would take him back. He thought, if the Rebbe will take me back without saying anything about what happened, then I will stay. I will put my life back in order. But if I get chased away, I’ll never come back again!

The story has so many levels.

There may be people that you meet and for them, this is the very last try.

There may be people in our lives that we have exiled because of mistakes they made. We never want to see them again and don’t give them the opportunity to make amends. But these were people close to us, dear to us, and eventually we miss them. But getting them back is so hard. It requires that we humble ourselves, and swallow our pride.

But on a deeper level this story is about us and our relationship with God. Sometimes we do something wrong. We totally mess up. Of course we are embarrassed. And so we flee from God. We run far away. And once we are far away from God, we figure that since we are already so far away, what does it matter if we go further. After all, we have already messed up our lives, what does it matter if we mess up even more?

As we take the spiritual awakenings of this Passover into the coming year, we can remember this lesson. God is a kind teacher. God wants us to come back. God doesn’t care what we look like or what we smell like. God doesn’t want to judge us for every transgression. God wants to be back in our lives and back in our hearts. God is there waiting for us to come back.


(1) This story is based on a story told by my teacher of blessed memory Reb Shlomo Carlebach. In the story the Rebbe is named Rabbi Mordechai “Mottele” Neshchzeer.


Young Professionals’ 2nd Night Passover Seder

Please join me and my family for an interactive, inspiring, and transformative Seder for young professionals on Tuesday Night, April 15th, 7pm, at the Pico Shul We begin with appetizers and the seder begins at 8pm.

We hope that you will join us for four cups of wine and bring your friends that might not otherwise be at a Seder! No one should get left in Egypt!

Early RSVP for $40 until April 6th.
RSVP $50
Space is very limited.

Sponsors are needed!
There will be no children program.

when: Tues, Wed. 7pm
where: Pico Shul 9041 W. Pico blvd