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Do South Africans Hate Israel?

I just came back from a beautiful trip to South Africa. I flew in for my niece’s wedding—along with most of my siblings—and we spent an incredible weekend together.

When I told people I was going to South Africa, the overwhelming response was, “South Africa? Are you serious? It’s so dangerous there now! Don’t go.”

We all know South Africa has been leading the charge in the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, which the Israeli Foreign Ministry called “one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy in history and a series of baseless and false claims.”

And then, while I was there, South Africa submitted an urgent measure to safeguard Rafah in the Gaza Strip (which was ultimately rejected).

Listening to the media, you’d think South Africans really hate Israel. But while I was there, I spoke with at least 100 locals—people I met on the streets, in shopping malls, going about their day-to-day lives—and not one of them had anything bad to say! In fact, they all told me how much they love Israel and the Jews—a poll with 100% success, definitely not what you would expect from reading the news. Moreover, I felt perfectly safe walking around Johannesburg late at night.

So what is it then? How to explain the discrepancy?

It seems that the government hates Israel, but the people love us. I grew up in South Africa. South Africans are generally warm, kind, friendly people. You greet someone on the street with a “Good morning” and they respond with a resounding “Good day!” You stop someone for directions and they don’t just wave you off, they stay with you and try to help you. South Africans are genuinely nice people.

On top of that, the Rebbe promised that South Africa will be good for the Jews until Moshiach comes, and even afterwards.

Clearly, there is a massive disconnect between what we see and hear in the media and what the average South African actually thinks and feels. The media tells us how dangerous and anti-Israel South Africa is, but it’s not true! The government has issues, but the locals love us.

I realized there’s an important message here for all of us.

In this world, we are all blind. We do not see the truth—G-d’s master plan. But ultimately, everything that happens in this world and in our personal lives is Divinely ordained.

Most of the time we don’t see it. We live our lives thinking we are the masters of our own success, but actually we are like the blind groping in the darkness. 

Before we say the Shema every day, we beseech G-d: “Have mercy on us!” What does this mean? “Open our eyes to the truth,” we ask G-d, “show us Your ways. We don’t want to be blind.”

Moshiach is about to arrive, bringing redemption and world peace, but we are so blind that you’re probably thinking right now, “This rabbi is so out of touch!”

L’chaim! Let Moshiach come right now, and let G-d open our eyes so we truly trust and believe it will happen. 

Dearest Hostages

Dearest Hostages,

Words alone cannot even begin to assuage the deep sense of pain and loneliness you are experiencing. We cannot begin to imagine the depths of your suffering. I cannot envision a worse predicament than being at mercy of ruthless, violent, blood-thirsty terrorists, living in fear every moment of every day. We have no idea how you survive each day in the darkness of Gaza, in tunnels or above ground. From where do you draw the strength? 

That you’ve been living this way for well over 100 days is unfathomable. 

When we go through dark periods, it's hard to imagine anything outside the pain. The future is blurry; there’s no apparent end to the suffering. “Why me? Why our people? Will the suffering ever end? What is its purpose?” Surely these questions flood your mind as you pray for an immediate end to your captivity.

And while I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, I wish you could see what Am Yisrael is doing now on your behalf. 

Children in schools across the globe are praying for your safe return. Adults are reciting tehillim and learning in your honor. Jews of all stripes are doing acts of kindness in the merit of your safety.  More Jews than ever are putting on tefillin, lighting Shabbat candles, and giving charity, storming the heavens and demanding your safe return.  

The IDF, of course, is doing everything in its power to bring you back. Politicians and people behind the scenes are moving mountains to exert pressure for your immediate return. 

You have succeeded in uniting the nation of Israel like never before—the togetherness we are experiencing now, all bound by our desire to see you reunited with your loved ones, is unprecedented.

This Shabbat we read the Ten Commandments, which outlines why we were created and what our mission is in this world: to infuse the darkness with the light of G-dliness, making our surroundings a holy place. This is exactly what we are trying to do—to flood the tunnels of Gaza with spiritual light until G-d is forced to concede, “Enough! You can all go home!” 

We are moving mountains for you. We are coming to get you. You are in our hearts and minds every second of every day.

You are not alone; we are all with you and sending you a tremendous amount of strength, energy and light.  

Stay strong! We will get through this and greet Moshiach, reunited in Yerushalayim, with you in the front row. 

We love you all,

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

I Received $36000

This week, my son’s school, Yeshivat Mayan Torah, ran a fundraising campaign. It’s not an easy time to be raising money. Times are tough; everyone’s feeling the squeeze. But somehow, despite the struggle, they managed to raise $206,000. Even more impressive, all that came from only 700 donors. 

As a parent, I wanted to contribute. We all have an obligation to give charity—even rabbis. The campaign was coming to an end and I didn’t have the means to do anything substantial, but I wanted to give a meaningful amount. I dug deep, well beyond my capacity, and gave $3600. 

Now, that is quite a large donation, and as good as I felt for having given it, I also felt bad for no longer having that money! 

But I reassured myself with the Torah teaching that when we give charity, Hashem pays us back tenfold. When you do a mitzvah, there is no way you will lose out, we are promised. Yes, it may be tough in the moment, but Hashem never remains in debt. I truly believe that. 

Not only do I believe it, I encourage people to donate and support all the wonderful work we do at Chabad Israel Center with that assurance. So, I guess I have now practiced what I’ve been preaching. 

I gave the donation at 7.00pm. Ten hours later, I logged into my bank account and, lo and behold, there was a deposit of—you guessed it—$36,000! I was astounded. Not because I didn’t think Hashem would pay me back (I knew He would) but by the alacrity of the payment. 

Usually Hashem has His own timetable about when and how to repay us. But here I saw it in real time, less than a day after giving well beyond my comfort zone. Incredible!

So, who sent the $36,000? I’m still not sure. I had to email my bank asking them for more details and I’m waiting to hear back. It might be a government grant for one of our programs, but I actually have no idea. 

What is clear, however, is that Hashem is the boss of the world. He is in full control. Sometimes we don't or can’t appreciate that, but he is in charge of every aspect of our lives. And He loves us. Oh boy, does He love us. And even though we don’t usually see repayment with the kind of immediacy that I just experienced, He never remains in our debt. 

So go ahead, do a mitzvah, and watch the miracles unfold before your eyes!

Tunnels of Love From 770

I was in Israel just two weeks ago. We were there to inspire and get inspired.

At the Palmachim Air Force base we were privileged to witness one of our wounded IDF soldiers being reunited with the helicopter pilot who evacuated him to Tel Hashomer hospital and saved his life. It was an extremely emotional reunion which we will not forget!

The pilots described for us how they evacuate wounded soldiers from Gaza, often under fire, in record time. Our wounded soldier, for example, was in the hospital undergoing surgery within an hour of being injured! These people are true heroes.

At the end of our tour, I asked the head of the Palmachim Air Force if he’d put on tefillin yet that day. He hadn’t, and I offered to do it with him right then and there. He agreed.

I rolled up his sleeve—I know how to do it pretty quickly at this point!—and in under a minute we were reciting the Shema and connecting his soul to the deepest levels of G-dliness.

Then he shared with me, “You know, I would love to be in Helsinki right now. My nephew—my brother’s son—is having his bar mitzvah.” He grabbed his phone and pulled up a picture of his brother Tal and his nephew Omri putting on tefillin. We immediately recognized their rabbi, Rabbi Binyamin Wolff, who runs Chabad in Helsinki.

It turns out that his brother is the Israeli attaché in Helsinki. They were supposed to celebrate Omri’s bar mitzvah in Israel with their entire extended family, but due to the war they decided to do the bar mitzvah in Helsinki. Without family, however, it just was not the same!

What are the odds that we would visit Palmachim on the exact day of the bar mitzvah, and that I would have the privilege of putting tefillin on with this holy pilot, enabling him to truly celebrate with his nephew in spirit? Clearly, Divine providence was at play!

Thank you to our group leader, Bentzi Sasson, for capturing the moment.

This weekend, we mark Yud Shevat—the day that the Previous Lubavither Rebbe passed away in 1950, and the day that his son-in-law became Rebbe and leader of the Chabad movement in 1951. The Rebbe created the greatest army in the world. From Brooklyn, NY, the Rebbe created tunnels that run the length and breadth of the world. Tunnels that connect every Jew, wherever he or she may be. Tunnels of love connecting us in New York, Helsinki, and the Palmachim air force base.

The Rebbe sent emissaries out all over the world with a single mission: to spread love and kindness and to inspire others to make ourselves and the world a better place. The Rebbe entrusted that mission to us, and it’s up to us to keep it going.

So look around your sphere and ask yourself: Who can I reach out to? Where do my tunnels lead? Go ahead, and connect. Invite someone for a Shabbat meal. Ask a friend to tag along to shul. Offer Shabbat candles to your neighbor. Spread the light, spread the love; continue the Rebbe’s mission.

How Was Israel Caught So Off Guard on October 7th?

On our recent trip to Israel we toured the devastated areas and got a real sense of the tremendous tragedy that befell our nation.

But the question we can’t shake, the question on all of our minds is: How was the mighty IDF caught so completely off guard on October 7th? How were 3000 bloodthirsty terrorists able to take us by surprise and overrun all our defenses? How could this happen in Israel, whose intelligence capabilities are among the best in the world?

Of course, everything in this world ultimately comes from G-d; nothing happens without Him. But I wanted to know what the army thought—how did they explain this massive breach?

As we visited and spoke with people in the border towns, I asked this question multiple times.

And then, at the site of the Nova music festival, right by the picture of Raz Mizrachi who was brutally murdered there, I saw an old friend who is now in the army. I posed the question and he gave me the best answer I’ve heard so far: “We thought they wouldn’t dare.”

“We simply thought they would not dare. We had grown accustomed to living side by side on the Gaza border, literally a mile apart,” he explained. In Kfar Aza, our tour guide described to us how he would travel daily to the Erez junction and give rides to sick Arabs, taking them to hospitals for treatments. “We thought they were our friends; we were so nice to them!” he said.

Israel had clear intelligence from multiple sources indicating that Hamas was going to attack, but the higher ups in the army completely ignored it. They truly believed they wouldn’t dare.

I thought this was the best explanation that I’d heard. Obviously the army will have to learn its lesson and institute new protocol, but it strikes me that there is a tremendous lesson here for each and every one of us.

You see, we all have a yetzer hara, an evil inclination that tempts us. But the yetzer hara acts like he is our friend. And he starts by tempting us with the smallest things. First he gets us to wake up late, telling us that we’ll have a better day if we skip davening and get some more sleep. Then he gets us to eat a small little piece of non-kosher, all the while explaining to us how it’s no big deal. Next he convinces us to violate Shabbat, and that it’s no skin off our backs to steal some money that’s owed to us. The sums become bigger and bigger and slowly but surely—without our even realizing—we’re trapped. He has us firmly in his grasp.

And we thought he was our friend! We never imagined he would dare do this to us!

But the yetzer hara dares.

And Hamas dared. Oh boy, did they dare. They showed their colors in an unparalleled and indescribable display of evil and brutality.

So it’s up to us. We need to recognize evil for what it is: evil. And there can be no compromise when it comes to evil—the yetzer hara inside of us and the evil around us. It needs to be completely eradicated.

We pray for a day that G-d will erase all evil from this world, and for the safe and immediate return of all our hostages from Hamas captivity. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom

Our Mission To Israel Was Just Wow!

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to Israel, but the trip I just returned from was unlike any other. The sights I saw, the people I met, the devastation and the unity—it will stay with me forever.

This visit was not a pleasure trip or a tourist opportunity. It was a mission. I went with a group and our goal was to show solidarity and provide as much assistance as possible.

We started at Kfar Aza—a town right on the Gaza border that was hit one of the hardest on October 7th. As much as I’d heard and read and seen about the brutality and devastation, it was nothing compared to being there in person, seeing it first hand, and hearing about it from those who lived through it and somehow survived. 

Our guide walked us through the attacks in horrifying detail, showing us exactly where the Hamas terrorists paraglided into Israel, where the fences were breached, where the first murders happened, how everything played out. We saw, heard, and breathed every excruciating detail. It felt like we were living it all over again.

The homes in Kfar Aza have been left exactly as they were on October 7th—bloodied, burned, plundered, riddled with bullets. We could still smell the smoke.

We met hundreds of survivors. Everywhere we went, we saw pain. Everyone has a story, everyone is a survivor.

We visited the site of the Nova music festival, which has become a makeshift memorial. We listened to the stories of the soldiers who were wounded there, saving as many lives as they could under heavy fire. We cried.

We went to Sderot, which has been hit by hundreds of missiles, and saw the police station that was completely overrun by terrorists on October 7. We saw the Chabad house playground which was also struck. We heard first-hand accounts of those who witnessed the unbearable slaughter of our people.

We visited an airforce base where we witnessed a deeply emotional reunion between a soldier who was wounded in Gaza and the pilot who saved his life. It was impossible not to cry.

We hosted BBQs for soldiers stationed on the front lines and saw the critical equipment Belev Echad helped purchase. At Belev Echad headquarters and Tel Hashomer hospital we met with a devastating amount of wounded soldiers, hearing story after story of pain and heroism.

We visited the family of Raz Mizrahi, just to be there in their time of pain. We cried with her parents and cried at her grave.

We went to the Western Wall, where we prayed and cried and cried and prayed.

The pain is endless, the suffering unfathomable.

But at the same time, I met so many other Jews who had come specifically to show their solidarity and support. Group after group, all there to say, “We care. We share your pain. We’re here to help.”

The message I’m bringing back from this trip is: These are our brothers and sisters, putting their lives on the line every single day for all of us. Their pain is our pain, their suffering is our suffering. We feel it now more acutely than ever. So this is the time to turn to Hashem and say: “Look how united your children are! We are “Belev Echad” — with one heart! It’s time to bring Moshiach and the Final Redemption. We have suffered enough.”

We must demand it, and do everything we can to make it happen. Light Shabbat candles, put on tefillin, reach out to another Jew … surely we are at the tipping point where our mitzvah could truly be the one to launch us into the era of Moshiach and true peace.

Dropped His Start Up To Fight In The War

When I turned on my phone after Shabbat two weeks ago, I found a message from someone I didn’t know.

“Hi Rabbi Vigler,” he wrote. “My name is Doron Levy. I served in the IAF (combat special forces) from October 8th until a week ago. I've just arrived in the city and am looking for a place to stay for a little while. Can you please help me?”

It turns out that Doron and his co-founders have a start-up company called “Colors AI.” They had investors lined up and were preparing to launch, but then October 7th happened. Doron and his team could not stand by; they dropped their business, canceled their meetings, and immediately lined up to volunteer with the army. 

They spent the next weeks with their units, fighting to protect their country and their people—fighting for all of us. And all the while, they were being bombarded with calls from their investors wanting updates about the launch. Some understood and some didn’t, but regardless, Doron and his co-founders weren’t going to abandon Israel. 

By December, however, they realized that the company would completely collapse if they didn't come back, so they flew to the US. That’s when Doron messaged me for a place to stay. He came with a vision, but needed help to bring it to fruition. 

Knowing Doron and his co-founders dropped their business at a pivotal point to fight for us and protect our Holy Land, I was grateful for the opportunity to repay them even in a tiny way.  

Thank G-d, we have an undeniably strong community here at Chabad Israel Center. Because of our extensive work helping wounded Israeli soldiers with Belev Echad, we have an enormous network of volunteers dedicated heart and soul to our brothers and sisters in Israel.

So I put out the request on one of our many community WhatsApp chats. “Does anyone have any leads for a soldier who just returned from battle?”

Within 3 minutes, I had 12 leads! It’s incredible to witness how much people want to help. What an incredible nation we are.

Thanks to the generosity of our community, I had the luxury of giving Doron the best option—an empty studio apartment in a luxury building, donated by the owner to help Doron get settled for the first few weeks. 

I also met with Doron and asked him to send me a short blurb about his company. Maybe some of our friends would want to partner with him and help fund it.  

I sent it around and—voila!—people were very interested indeed! Turns out Doron and his team have an incredible idea, which you can read more about on their website:

Shortly thereafter Doron messaged me that he was able to close the first round of funding and will be forever grateful to our community! 

The third Chabad Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, taught: If you help someone with their livelihood, even a small amount, the gates to the Heavenly Chambers will open for you. 

Thank you, Hashem, for giving us the incredible merit of helping a Jew with his livelihood, and thanks to our incredible  community for always stepping up.

An Aliya 45 Years in the Making

I found myself standing outside last Shabbat, looking for a minyan—a position I have not been in for a very, very long time. Our minyan has been thriving, but this week was tough. People are sick, people are away, and we only had 9 people for mincha. I was determined to find a 10th.

Now, having been out on the streets tracking Jews basically my entire life my radar is pretty good. So when Mike* walked past, I had a pretty strong indication that he was Jewish. I greeted him with “Shabbat Shalom” and he responded in kind.

“Do you mind helping us with a minayn?” I asked. “We need a 10th man.”

He declined.

I tried to pressure him just a little. “The sun’s going down and we cannot pray without you. It’ll just take five minutes …” (I meant five Jewish minutes. You know, mincha, Torah-reading, Torah class, and then maariv.)

Again, he declined.

“Do it for Israel,” I said. “Israel needs you.” 

And I meant it! Every Jew, no matter who, no matter where, can do something for our brothers and sisters in Israel. We are all in this war together. An IDF soldiers can fire bullets at terrorists and save lives, and we can fire spiritual bullets by wrapping tefillin and coming to pray.

At that, he agreed, and followed me inside.

Now, when you do a mitzvah or a sin, there’s always an “Oy!” and an “Ahh.” When you sin, first you feel the “Ahhh,” and then later on the “Oy!” hits you. But when you do a mitzvah, in the moment you might feel the “Oy!” but later you experience the “Ahh.”

And Mike, doing this mitzvah almost against his wishes, definitely felt the “oy.” He agreed, but was palpably annoyed.

When we got up to the Torah reading, I called Mike up for an aliyah. “When was the last time you were called up to the Torah?” I asked. Turns out it was 45 years ago! 1978! That was the last time he went to shul.

We were honored to have Mike join us and give him an aliyah after so many years. And Mike discovered that he actually enjoyed the experience, so much that even when an 11th man joined, he stayed.

Now I know why our regulars didn’t show up this week. It was all orchestrated by G-d so that I would bump into Mike and bring him inside for his first aliyah in almost half a century!

So, go outside and do a mitzvah for Israel. Bring a friend to shul. Help a coworker lay tefillin. Bring Shabbat candles to your neighbor—or better yet, invite them over to light with you and stay for the meal.

Shabbat shalom.

*Name changed to protect privacy

We Are A Nation Of Light!

Last week, I received the following email:

“Rabbi Uriel Vigler,

“You are invited to an exclusive private screening of unfiltered footage from the events of October 7th. We believe your presence at this screening is invaluable, considering your influence and impact. Your insights and perspective on this matter are highly regarded and would contribute significantly to the discussion.”

I took the weekend to think about it, and after careful reflection I declined. I simply cannot handle the close-up look at the atrocities. It’s just too painful.

And yet, my thoughts are constantly on Israel. My mind is in Gaza with the soldiers; my heart is in the tunnels with the hostages.

When we consider the reality right in front of us, it’s hard not to despair. Israel is surrounded by enemies who seek her demise, soldiers are being killed every day, and Jews globally are the target of increasing antisemitism and disdain.

Today marks exactly 2 months since the October 7 war began. We are angry! What can we do? We want to roll up our sleeves and do something—anything—to make a difference.

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah! How do we mark the holiday? What do we do to commemorate the victory of the few against the many, the weak against the strong? We light the menorah, because a small amount of light dispels great swaths of darkness.

And indeed, we are currently in very dark times. Lies and accusations and undeniable pure Jew-hatred. It’s on social media, it’s on the streets, it’s in our businesses and places of work. But we know that the darkness time of night is just before dawn breaks, and the darkest part of our exile will be right before Moshiach comes.

So tonight, as you light the menorah, gaze deeply into the flames and see just how brightly it burns.

That is us—a nation of light. We shine! Our strength lies in light, in positivity, in love, laughter and G-dliness. In life. And that is why our enemies will never defeat us.

Happy Chanukah.

Their Joy Is Our Joy

My heart overflowed this pure joy this week, as I watched video after video of the hostages returning home.

I cried when I saw little Abigail Edan coming home. Hamas murdered both her parents and took her hostage alone—a 3-year-old! She turned 4 in captivity. 

I cried as I watched 13-year-old Gali Tarshansky running into her mother’s arms after 54 days in captivity, her mother’s relief tangible.

I cried when I saw Yaffa Adar, 85, the oldest person taken hostage, safely back in Israel.

I cried when I caught that first glimpse of Doron Katz Asher and her children, 2-year-old Raz and 4-year-old Aviv finally coming home.

I cried seeing Emily Hand—who lost her mother to cancer several years ago—reunited with her father and siblings, who initially thought she had been killed by Hamas on October 7.

I feel it as if it’s my joy; I cry as if they’re my children.

And I know I’m not alone. In Sydney, London, Cape Town, Thailand, Panama, Honolulu, Paris, Miami … across the entire globe Jews are glued to the news, feeling the same joy and relief I did.

Watching those long-awaited hugs and kisses … their joy is not an individual joy, it’s our joy!

This is what makes us unique—the true strength of our nation.

We are dispersed across the world, but our hearts remain united. It doesn’t matter which language we speak or which clothes we wear; we are one nation with one heart.

Which other nation can say the same? Where else do you find a nation who feels the joy of those mothers as their own? Who cares about a 4-year-old child as if she were their own?

Gali’s mom’s joy is the joy of every single Jew in the entire world. Emily is our child and Abigail is our child!

This is what makes the nation of Israel so unique. 

But it doesn’t only apply in times of crisis. This is how we should be living every day!

When Jack makes a bar mitzvah, it’s my joy too, because we are all family. When Dina struggles, it’s my problem too. When Yankel marries off his child, it’s my simcha too!

This is the long-term lesson we need to take with us from this week: Let’s take the intense love and unity we feel this week, and infuse it into our daily lives—every thought, speech, and action.

Thank you, Hashem, for bringing home our brothers and sisters. Let’s continue praying for the release of all the remaining hostages, and for the IDF to continue its holy work.

I Was Accosted Outside My House

On my way home from Shacharit this week, a woman screamed at me with intense animosity, “Free Palestine!”
“Do you even know what that means?” I yelled back. 
“Free Palestine” is anti-Semitism in its truest form. It’s a call for genocide—getting rid of every Jew in Israel. 

And we see clearly that what happens in Israel spills out into the rest of the world. In every major city across the globe, on the streets, in schools, colleges, coffee shops and restaurants, Jews are being targeted. 

I couldn’t drive my 11-year-old to his school on the Upper West Side this weekend because of the NY marathon, so I allowed him to ride his bicycle. But I was afraid. I reconsidered 1,000 times. I insisted he let me know as soon as he arrived. 

I have a daughter who takes the subway to school every day. Like every parent, I wonder, “Will my children be safe?” They’re city kids; they’re used to having a certain amount of independence and free rein. I’ve been teaching them Krav Maga so they can learn to defend themselves. 

Everything we encounter, everything that happens around us—yes, even anti-Semitism—contains a lesson for us. 
It was early in the morning when I was accosted by that Jew-hating woman. She was still holding her coffee as she spewed her hatred and animosity at me. 

We need to do the same thing, but with kindness. When our eyes are still blurry and we’re still waiting for our caffeine fix to set in, reach out to someone with effusive kindness! 

Hamas hunted us down in the most barbaric way possible. It wasn’t just hatred, it was hatred on steroids. 

We need to do the same thing with kindness. We can’t be satisfied with regular acts of kindness. That won’t suffice now. In the face of such deep darkness, we need kindness on steroids. 

We need to wake up every day with a mission in mind, determined to ignite a spiritual fire. How? By doing one mitzvah, then another, and another, with no end. There is a fire raging and the only way to combat it is to stoke our own spiritual fire. 

Put on tefillin, study more Torah, keep Shabbat, go to shul, pray, light Shabbat candles … do it all on steroids. Add light. Add warmth. Illuminate the world with the fire of love of Hashem and love of each other. 

That’s our secret weapon—our unity and our loving Father Who will never abandon us. We will get through this as a stronger nation with a stronger connection to G-d.

Dear World

Dear World,

Listen closely: You will never break us!

When my grandfather was deported to Auschwitz, and his wife and children were murdered by the Germans in the gas chambers, he was traumatized and deeply and permanently scarred, but not broken.

When my other grandfather grew up an orphan in Israel in the 1940s, after seeing the Turkish police beat his father to death and watching his mother die from starvation a few weeks later, he suffered tremendously, but he wasn’t broken.

When our nation fought for its very survival in 1948, ‘56, ‘67 and ‘73 it was rough. We lost tens of thousands of our soldiers, with many more severely wounded and deeply traumatized, but we didn’t break.

Now, in 2023, Hamas has murdered, burnt and beheaded 1,400 Jews. Peace-loving civilians. Children. Babies. Thousands more are injured, hundreds of thousands are displaced, and 250 are in captivity, including babies, toddlers, and the elderly.

And no one cares. The world is silent.

Where’s the outrage? Where’s the noise? Where are all the human rights activists? How is it that when it’s Jews being massacred—in the worst attack against our people since the Holocaust—we are met with silence?

“How was it possible that men, women, and children were being burned and the world kept silent?” Elie Wiesel wondered in his Holocaust memoir, Night.

Yet here we are, almost 90 years later, wondering the very same.

And more than silence, the world marches and demonstrates for Hamas. How can anyone witness the Hamas atrocities and then go out and support them?  But they do. They tear down posters of innocent hostages—Babies! Children!—and chant for death to the Jews.

It is absolutely astounding. 

And yet, we are not broken. Horrified, yes. But broken? No.

How do we do it?

We have a secret weapon that we received 3,335 years ago along with the Torah: faith. A firm belief in G-d’s protection. 

A Jew never breaks, and a Jew never gives up. We have G-d on our side. We have incredible soldiers who are sacrificing their lives for us. We have a nation united like never before. These are the things that will protect us.

That is our response to the haters who rip down posters and spew their hatred in the streets. We will not be broken by your lies! We will not be shattered by your silence! We will not be crushed by your hypocrisy!

No country in the world would tolerate the butchering of their children like Israel is expected to. We are allowed to defend ourselves!

Your threats and hatred only further unite us and cement our commitment to one another and to G-d.

No matter how bad things get, you will never break us.

Our response has to be to stand taller and prouder. We will display our Judaism with pride and joy. We will walk with our kippot on our heads. We will pray more, study more Torah. We will walk around with our tzitzit visible. We refuse to cower and hide or try to blend in.

The mother of Ori Megidish, who was rescued from Hamas captivity this week, was praying for her safe return. Even in the depths of her pain, while her daughter was still a hostage, she said, “I love you, G-d.”

And that’s what we say now, too. “I love you G-d and I love you all my fellow Jews!” We are alone, we have nobody to rely on besides for G-d and each other.

May we see the safe return of all the remaining hostages imminently.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

An Unbroken Jew

Bring Them Home, Now!

Our hearts are broken, shattered. 224 of our brothers and sisters are in captivity. 1400 murdered and thousands more wounded. How could this happen?!

We have no answers, only outrage. This unfathomable, barbaric massacre has shaken every Jew to the core. We are angry! Outraged. Stunned into silence. And we feel helpless. Anti-Semitism is raging and the world doesn’t care—not about us or about Israel. What will be?

Hamas is keeping 224 of our brothers and sisters hostage in their labyrinth web of tunnels winding for miles and miles under Gaza like a hidden city. It’s unbearable to think about.

It was during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 that the existence of these weaponized tunnels came to light, and it’s assumed that Hamas is keeping all the hostages there. The IDF will do everything in its power to search those tunnels, but what can we do?

We have to pray for the hostages and for the success of the Israeli army, but what else can we do? We are all antsy, we want to help. If we’re not soldiers, what action can we take?

Well, we’ve already started doing it. Brand new tunnels have come to light since the barbaric massacre on Simchat Torah: tunnels of love.

During this war, we’ve dug deep into ourselves and discovered powerful tunnels of love crisscrossing our nation, connecting us to one another and to our brothers and sisters in Israel. We are, regardless of outward differences, a nation that cares deeply.

As Jews, we have displayed the most incredible love towards one another. There are so many units in the army that are requesting different items: fleeces to keep them warm, sleeping bags, army boots, helmets, bullet-proof vests, tefillin, tzitizit … you name it. And whatever they want, Jews from all over the world have united and created WhatsApp chats and fundraising efforts to find, buy and distribute supplies, all in the shortest amount of time. It’s incredible to witness!

Jews who have been displaced from their homes due to missile attacks have been embraced and fully taken in by strangers, simply because they are their fellow Jews.

We are a nation like no other.

Hamas may have built tunnels of terror, but we are building and maintaining tunnels of love. We may be different on the outside—one seems to be secular, another ultra-Orthodox, one a kibbutznik, another chassidic—but when it really matters, we know how to ignore the external differences and dig deep, focusing on our commonalities: we are one nation, with one heart and one soul.

We are helping complete strangers in their time of need. The giving is unparalleled. It’s astounding!

There is not a Jew who hasn’t been shaken to the core. We feel the pain of the hostages; we feel the pain of each family that has had to be uprooted from their homes. We feel the terror of the children when a missile strikes and the anxiety of a whole country living on the front lines.

While we may be far away physically, the power of the spiritual is infinite! These tunnels of love that we are digging will find their way to our hostages, and give strength to our powerful army to find them and dig them out. May it happen very quickly!

Oy! What Will Be?

Like millions of other Jews, I woke up on Simchat Torah morning and went to shul. We’d had a vibrant, electrifying party the night before, and I was in good spirits. We’d be reading the end of the Torah and starting over again with Bereishit, and I was anticipating a large crowd.

But when I got to shul, I started hearing snippets.

“There’s been an attack … ”

“Jews have been kidnapped … ”

“Hamas overpowered them … ”

“They have murdered so many …”

“Army bases have been run over …”

It came to us in bits and pieces. People came to my house to update me throughout the afternoon. It was absolutely terrifying.

In a matter of hours, the world as we knew it had gone.

Our people experience the most brutal attack since the Holocaust; the devastation and loss is unbearable. Our very own Raz Mizrachi, one of our Belev Echad soldiers, was murdered.

No one knows what will happen now. War is imminent but hasn’t really started yet. At the same time, troops are mobilizing and we’re facing enemies on all sides—Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, not to mention sizable crowds around the world celebrating the massacre of our brothers and sisters. It affects all of us.

After the Yom Kippur War and its terrible losses, Rabbi Lau traveled to New York to visit the Rebbe. The Rebbe asked him about the mood in Israel, and Rabbi Lau told him that people are afraid and asking “What will be?” The Rebbe looked at him and answered, “A Jew does not ask ‘What will be?’ A Jew asks, ‘What can I do?’ ”

That is our response today, too. What can we do?

And the response has been overwhelming. Jews all over the world have rolled up their sleeves and jumped into action. The lion within us has been aroused.

We Jews are the most incredible nation. When we are attacked, we unite like a single entity.

We are all involved. We have war rooms up and running—raising money for army gear so every unit has what it needs.

At Belev Echad, the Israeli government tasked us with providing items that are vital for national security and we’ve raised millions of dollars for the effort. Ask Jews to give during times of crisis and the results are incredible.

Jews all over the world have stepped up and come together, donating money, volunteering, sending gifts and letters and even food to the soldiers and their families left at home in limbo.

When we are united, we are unbreakable.

So, what else can we do? Mitzvot.

We need to overwhelm the darkness Hamas brought with light—the light of Torah, mitzvot, Jewish pride and Jewish unity.

The spiritual power of a mitzvah cannot be put into words. It’s enormous. So choose something—something you can keep to—and commit to it. Shabbat, tefillin, kosher, mezuzah … whatever you choose it helps in a real and tangible way.

We’ve been trampled, pillaged, more brutally than we have been in almost 80 years. But we will prevail. We will triumph and make our homeland safer than ever.

There is no doubt in my mind: When we are this deeply united, no enemy can defeat us.

Farewell, Dear Raz

Our hearts are absolutely shattered by the murder of our dear friend, Raz Mizrachi, may G-d avenge her blood. 

Raz, with the infectious smile and the voice of an angel. 

Raz, just 21 years old, who had already survived a previous terror attack.  

Raz, who had seen and experienced too much, but remained charming, exuberant, and giving. 

Raz, brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists last week. May G-d avenge her blood. 

I first met Raz a year ago, when she came to New York with 11 other severely wounded IDF soldiers through our Belev Echad program. As part of the rehabilitation process, Belev Echad brings wounded soldiers on transformational trips across the world.

Raz was the main speaker at last year’s Belev Echad gala, held at Chelsea Piers and attended by 1,000 people. One thousand people listened to her story that night, and were inspired by her courage and light. One thousand people had tears in their eyes as she described the moment a terrorist rammed his car, at full speed, into her and her fellow soldiers, in Sheikh Jarach in May 2021. One thousand people heard Raz’s account of being so severely injured, she thought she was going to die, but she persevered and survived. One thousand people were uplifted when she declared, “The terrorist did not win. I won. I was victorious. I am still here and I love Israel more than anything else.”

When she returned to Israel after that trip, she started working at the Belev Echad house. Everyone loved working with her, myself included. I communicated with her multiple times a day. She was incredible. 

Above all, her infectious smile stands out to everyone who knew her. Despite her pain, despite the terrible fear she had experienced and the difficult recovery she had to endure, she was a happy, upbeat person to be around. 

Raz returned to us just last month when my wife Shevy organized a women’s challah bake and candle-lighting evening. Raz spoke again, and also sang for the 300 women and girls who attended. Her charm was magnetic; her voice that of an angel. More than that, she was just so sincere and heartfelt. 

When Raz arrived, she brought Shevy a gift—a framed picture of the two of them at the gala, smiling, happy. When I looked at it this past Shabbat, I saw she had engraved on the frame, “Forever.” 

The last place she visited in New York before her flight was the Ohel, the Rebbe’s resting place, where she prayed. She told her mother that this visit gave her clarity and strengthened her connection with G-d. May He avenge her blood. 

What can we do in Raz’s memory? We can take upon ourselves a mitzvah in her honor, such as lighting Shabbat candles, putting on tefillin, going to shul, davening daily, putting mezuzahs up in your home and business, giving charity on a regular basis in her memory, or any other mitzvah that speaks to you. 

Raz, as you ascend with your loving smile and pure heart, please beg the heavenly angels to bring Moshiach. 

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