Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Reflections on Israeli POW's and the public's reaction towards them on Israel's 60th

Last Friday, May 2nd, a very interesting article appeared in the Weekend supplement of the Jerusalem Post, Israel's oldest English language newspaper. The article, entitled Stigma of Surrender, and written by correspondent Larry Derfner, dealt with Israelis who had been taken prisoner in various wars, especially the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the first Lebanese War of 1982. Former Israeli POW's who had been taken prisoner and later released, recounted their experiences in the hands of the enemy, and what happened to them after their final release. Many of them said that the treatment they received by IDF authorities who "interrogated" them afterwards was (from a psychological basis) almost as bad as when they were prisoners of war, or of terrorists.

With Israeli soldiers such as Gilad Schalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser still not back home after nearly two years, this year's Soldier's Remembrance Day and Independence Day celebrations will take on a special meaning for members of their families, as well as for many other Israelis.

Israel will be celebrating its 60th anniversary as an independent state this week; and the matter of captured and missing soldiers is an issue even more important, especially in light of recent offers to affect a prisoner exchange with the Hamas organization for captured soldier Gilad Schalit.

Many people in Israel feel that trading this young soldier's life (assuming he's still alive) for several hundred Hamas and other terrorists who will only go back to killing Jews, is not going by the old Rabbinical context of "he who saves one life has saved the entire world". This time it's entirely different.

I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of either Mr. and Mrs. Schalit or the Prime Minister in regards to what to do in this situation. Israeli prisoners have mainly been repatriated in wartime - and at that most were from the Egyptians who were only slightly more humane than their Syrian allies.

Regarding soldiers captured or taken prisoner by terrorist groups, it's nearly always been a death sentence - except for some like Elhanan Tennenbaum, an Israeli reserve officer who was captured while in Dubai on a "business trip" and later transported to Lebanon, and who may have had "connections" which enabled him to stay alive.

Some people feel that Israeli solders should be issued a cyanide pill, like Mossad agents are, and if they have the opportunity, to simply swallow it. At least it prevents the suffering, including by such as Ron Arad, who may actually have died long ago (this was supposedly verified by Russian and other foreign diplomats who received inside information).

That's the sad reality of being captured as an Israeli soldier. So much for the "Pinchas Shevi" (POW ID Card) issued every IDF recruit. Some say that it's not worth the paper it's printed on!

Or is it?

I'm quite sure that if one talks to parents and relatives of the three young men mentioned here, they will definitely agree that Israeli soldiers should not only come back alive but should be given the honor that they truly deserve. In fact, I'm sure these relatives feel that Israeli leaders are not doing enough to ensure their loved ones' release.

As Israelis celebrate 60 years of independence, they should also take time to reflect on these brave young men who so much deserve to come home – with honor – to their loving and waiting families.

Monday, May 05, 2008

How Israelis Plan To Celebrate Passover, 2008

Israelis have always had a "love-hate" affair when comes to the 7 day holiday known as Pesach (Passover) or Hag HaAviv (Festival of Spring) to secular folk. Pesach is one of Judaism's most beautiful and important festivals as it commemorates the Jew's freedom from slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramsis II, more than 3,000 years ago. Like Thanksgiving in America, the Passover Seder is one of the best times for families to be together to enjoy this holiday and eat the foods that God commanded their forbearers to eat as they left Egypt for what turned out to be 40 years of wandering through the wilderness of Sinai.

For some Israelis, however, Pesach is not the joyous and meaningful festival that it should be, and many go abroad for the week to escape having to eat matzah or unleavened bread and other foods deemed Kosher for Pesach. Recently, more and more restaurants and stores have begun offering bread products, including pita, pizza, and even baguettes to those who want them. This now includes large supermarkets as well as small convenience stores, many of which are run by non-religious kibbutzim. Enforcing the existing law concerning the selling and eating of "hametz" (leavened bread and other non-kosher for Pesach products) has been difficult, and many businesses, including a large supermarket chain, simply pay fines as a "cost of doing business".

Enter Pesach 2008. Due to objections in the existing laws by secular Israelis, a Jerusalem court judge issued a decree that in some instances the existing "Passover Law" will not be binding for private establishments who are not considered as "public arenas". This means that breads and other "hametz" products will now be allowed to be sold in grocery stores, restaurants and pizza parlors, etc., and that beer will flow freely in all the pubs (as if it hasn't already up to now!). While this has made a lot of secular people happy, religious and traditional Jews feel just the opposite as this edict clearly violates a very old and important tenet of Judaism.

Or does it? Those who intend to keep Kosher for Pesach wouldn't eat or drink in most of the establishments who will serve "hametz" as many of them are already non-kosher and are open during the year on Shabbat and religious holidays; serving non-kosher foods, including pork and shellfish. This being the case, there's really no reason for these types of establishments to have to be Kosher for Pesach anyway, since serving non-kosher pepperoni pizzas prepared on matzos instead of normal pizza dough is a bit superfluous.

The bottom line is the personal consciousness of people; and being forced to do something they really don't care to do is not going to change them. Anyway, it's been estimated that at least 70% of all Jews in Israel will forsake their pizzas and falafels for a week and be none the worse off for it. In fact they will do this proudly, out of respect for their faith and tradition.

As for the remaining 30%, hopefully some of you will get the message and join your Jewish brethren in observing a truly unique and wonderful religious tradition to celebrate our release from human bondage into freedom.

Hag Pesach Semach!

JPost.com - Headlines