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If You Are Reading This, It Means I Have Ended My Career

“If you are reading this, it means I have ended my career.” These were the words written by First Sergeant Daniel Pomerantz, one of eight Golani soldiers killed when the a missile hit their armored personnel carrier in Gaza, in a final note he left for his family before going into Gaza.

This was a young boy! Daniel was just 20 years old, virtually still a child with his entire life ahead of him, but he committed to dedicating three years of his life to serve for his country before settling down.

As I read his words, I tried to imagine what could have possibly gone through this young man’s mind as he wrote this letter to his parents and prepared to enter one of the most dangerous places in the world – Gaza, a place crawling with Hamas monsters who are ruthless and simply want to kill as many Jews as possible. What could he write? Who could even put pen to paper in that situation?

Perhaps he would write, “I wish I didn’t have to serve in the army.” Or maybe, “I wish I was born in a different country,” or even, “I wish I weren’t Jewish.”

But no. He begins, “I never imagined that I would have to write something like this. That probably says it all already. What can I write? What can I add to these words?”

And then he astounds me. Facing the very real prospect of losing his life, he writes, “You should know I am happy. I am happy with the choices I’ve made. I’m happy to be serving in the Golani unit.”

Instead of second guessing his situation, he is proud and happy to be playing an instrumental role in securing his country’s safety, even at risk to his own life.

Wow.

The tragic irony is that Daniel’s mother, Varda Pomerantz, is the former head of the IDF casualty branch, where part of her job entailed informing families of the death of their loved ones. At her son’s funeral she said that she always had a terrible feeling that one day she would be the one being informed, and then in their last phone call he mentioned that he left her a note in case something happens…

We are currently observing the annual 9 day mourning period leading up to the 9th of Av, the day we mark the destruction of our two Holy Temples. For close to 2000 years we have been subjected to a terrible, bitter exile. We’ve had to endure all manner of persecution and ruthless enemies in their attempts to destroy us. The Spanish inquisition, the Crusades, Stalin, Hitler, Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Hamas, Hezbolla, Iran and more. But despite the immense pain and tragedy we’ve faced, as a nation we’ve survived.

Daniel’s message is our message and it’s our job to internalize it. “I want you to know I am happy,” he wrote. This, then, is our job. To be happy despite the fact that we are at war, to remain positive in the face of biased media reporting and to spread joy even though we are misunderstood, mischaracterized and criticized. For Daniel’s sake, for the sake of all the other murdered and wounded soldiers, we must stay upbeat and hopeful. Happy.

We are happy to be Jews. Happy to be the chosen nation. Happy to have our dear Father in Heaven. Happy to be his children.

We hope and pray every day for the coming of Moshiach, where we will be able to finally experience the ultimate form of happiness and joy!

Let’s keep Daniel’s legacy alive by holding onto that happiness, appreciating the good in our lives, making good choices and living without regret.

Am Yisrael Chai!

Tunnels Of Love

The current war with Hamas is focusing on a new and frightening element, one which did not feature prominently in any previous war. Until now, our wars have included soldier-to-soldier combat, tanks, planes, bridges, ships, airports and weapons, but during Operation Protective Edge much of the focus has been on a new threat: the tunnels.

For the first time, the threat is not above ground, it's hidden below. Over the years Hamas has created a virtual labyrinth of tunnels beneath the ground. The deadly network originates from basements and private homes in Gaza and extends into Israel - a tool for mass terrorist attacks against Jews.

In order to counter this threat, the IDF has had to dig deep, under hospitals, mosques and private homes, where they've discovered caches of weapons, guns, machine guns, RPG rocket launchers, tranquilizers, IDF uniforms and more - all deadly weapons with the potential to inflict untold harm on the Jewish nation.

Operation Protective Edge has exposed these tunnels, but it has also created a new kind of tunnel: 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.

My brother, Dr Motti Vigler, chief of hand surgery at Rabin medical center, dropped everything this week in order to attend the funeral of someone he had never met. Lone soldier Sean Carmeli was killed in battle, and his family all live in America. When my brother arrived, he discovered 20,000 people had come to the funeral to honor this brave hero.

A day later another lone soldier, Max Steinberg, was killed, and 30,000 people showed up for his funeral as well. And the tunnels of love continue to expand and extend. At the shiva, 300 people, almost all of them complete strangers, showed up to comfort the parents of these brave young men. Strangers on the streets show an incredible amount of care and concern for one another, even during these most stressful times. A stranger uses his body to shield a father and son from a rocket attack. Breslever chassidim dance with soldiers on the front lines. Chabad brings care packages. People from all walks of life, from all over the world, are connecting through tunnels of love and compassion to provide the IDF soldiers with whatever they need.

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 chareidi, another secular; one is a likudnik, the other is 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 currently in the annual three week period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple. The Temple was destroyed because of acts of wanton hatred, and it will be rebuilt through acts of love and kindness.

So, nu, G-d, what are you waiting for?!

My thanks to Rabbi Mendel Prus & Yaara Bank-Plotkin for the inspiration of this article.

Must our Brothers Fight Alone?

10384097_797956533571897_4392162689983165917_n.jpgIn my weekly blog I usually try to connect current events with the weekly parshah, but this week I struggled. So much has already been written about the war in Israel. The differences between Hamas and the IDF have been explored at length. Hamas puts children directly in harm's way, while Israel goes to incredible lengths to protect civilians. What more could I add?

So I texted  my friend, Fred, "Got any ideas for my blog this week?"

He shot back, "I love your blog! Reading them is the highlight of my week! But the last few weeks you've been too militant."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Every week lately you've been writing about Hamas! First Hamas kidnapped the teens, then you wrote about the UN, and then the need for Israel to use more force. I love your blogs that are personal and relatable, but I find the war blogs irrelevant to my life."

In this week's Torah portion the tribes of Reuven and Gad ask Moses to grant them land outside of Israel where they will have plenty of pasture for their flocks. Moses reacts strongly and angrily. "Will your brothers go to war and conquer Israel while you remain here peacefully?" So the tribes promised to leave their families and join the war, which they did years later when Joshua conquered the land. They left everything behind to help their brothers and sisters.

Our nation is at war. I spoke to my sister-in-law today. She wishes her children could start sleeping properly at night without being woken by sirens with less than a minute to get to a bomb shelter. My cousins in Israel are all traumatized, as are their children. It is only because of the incredible miracles we are seeing that we haven't had thousands of casualties.

There's no doubt about it, Israel is under attack. Hamas hates every Jew in the world, make no mistake about it. If they could, they would happily send rockets flying at us as well. This war is not just Israel's war. It is our war.

Moses resounding cry should reverberate in our ears. "Shall your brethren go to war while you stay here?!" Should our brothers and sisters in Israel face this war alone while we sit here comfortably in our penthouses?

In fact, this week I logged onto our Belev Echad Facebook page, which we only started a few months ago and haven't marketed yet. I noticed that Hamas supporters had attacked many posts with virulent anti-Semitism and despicable words. So yes, the war is personal.

If we can't fight physically, we can fight spiritually. The very minimum we can do is some extra mitzvot for our soldiers. Put on tefillin for Israel. Put up a mezuzah. Eat a kosher meal. Give extra charity. In fact, we've set up a website where you can donate to send care packages to IDF soldiers in Gaza to help lift their spirits. Do a mitzvah for Israel right now!

World Cup Final – Israel vs. Hamas

World Cup fever has overtaken the world. When I ask congregants to help make a minyan, they tell me, "Rabbi, Italy's playing, I can't come!" And then when I ask them to join a Torah class it's "France is playing..." Fortunately, the final is right around the corner and then we'll have our congregants back.

I belong to a South African Whatsapp group which is normally pretty quiet. Over the last few weeks, however, it has been buzzing virtually non-stop as people comment on every aspect of every game. I was forced to mute the group because after every game I had hundreds of messages! Now, maybe if Zimbabwe's team had made it to the World Cup I'd be more interested... 

The World Cup is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world, but as the chosen nation we are currently playing a very different and much more dangerous "game." Israel vs. Hamas. And we are not spectators. We are active participants!

Hamas has fired more than 365 rockets into Israel over the last 72 hours. Because of Israel's amazing "goalie" - the Iron Dome - most of those have been intercepted. Miraculously, when a rocket scored a direct hit on a home in Southern Israel, the family was away in Eilat and nobody was killed.

Unlike the World Cup which began in 1930, Israel has been playing its soccer game for over 4,000 years. And there have been many captains over the years - Moses, David, Joshua, Gidon, etc.

If there's one thing we can learn from soccer it's this:

To win, you cannot play defense.

Israel has played defense for far too long. The country is currently in crisis, being barraged by Hamas rockets at all times of day and night. Most of the country is being forced to run to bomb shelters multiple times a day - at work, at camp, at home, in the middle of weddings, bar mitzvahs and brit milahs - and they have only 15 seconds to reach shelter. This cannot continue!

We need to end this situation, and in order to win you cannot play defense.

In this week's Torah portion, the Jewish people were involved in another "World Cup." This time it wasn't Hamas, it was their Midianites enemies, and G-d instructed, "You shall smite them." And they did. They went all out and destroyed the evil Midianites. When facing enemy attack, the only way to win is to play offense and make sure they will never dare attack again.

Since its inception in 1987, Hamas has launched terror attacks against Israel, and Israel has never played offense. We have defended ourselves and destroyed a few targets. But in order to finally win the "game" we have to give them such a powerful blow they will never attack us again. That is what Moses, Joshua, Gidon, David and all the other captains did when they played against our enemies - the Emorites, Egyptians, Ammonites, etc.

In this week's Torah portion Pinchas kills two perpetrators, and G-d says, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace." The only way to true peace is to obliterate the enemy.

The same holds true of our spiritual lives. We can help Israel by playing spiritual offense. Come to shul this Shabbat, put on tefillin today, light Shabbat candles, go to a Torah class. All these acts will help us win the war.

Let's hope and pray that the current government in Israel will do the right thing, will do what is necessary to once and for all win the game against Hamas! Ultimately we know that we have the best goalie in the world. It is not the Iron Dome, certainly not the USA, but the almighty G-d. The G-d of our forefathers has saved us and protected us for the last 5000 years, and we know that he is protecting us right now!

"Hinei lo yanum velo yishan shomer yisrael!"- The guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.

*Thank you to the South African Whatsapp group for some of the ideas in this article!

I Have Been Kidnapped!

nf_3493_41837.jpgShock.
Horror.
Tragedy.
Outrage. 

There are literally no words that can accurately describe the profound loss we feel this week.

For 18 days, I checked the news first thing each morning to see if the boys had been found. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali have been in our hearts and on our minds virtually non-stop. We prayed fervently and wholeheartedly that our boys would be found alive. I listened to Eyal's grandfather pray at a rally with 10,000 people. When I heard him scream from the depths of his heart, I was sure the heavens would pierce open.

But after 18 days we received the shocking, brutal news that Eyal, Gilad and Naftali had been shot dead in cold blood just hours after they were abducted. We were brought to tears when Rachel Frankel, Naftali's mother, cried, "Rest in peace, my dear son," 

We also finally heard the phone call Gilad placed shortly after entering the car. He was able to call the police and whisper, "I've been kidnapped." In the background are Arab voices screaming, "Put your heads down!" and then shots are fired, which is when the boys were most likely killed. 

But the police center did not react. They thought it was a prank call. The call should have created an emergency alert, mobilizing every Israeli agency from the Shin Bet to Shabak, the IDF to the police. Instead, it was ignored. Every single person involved in security should have been woken and put on alert, but alas, the call was ignored and the kidnappers had a 10 hour head start, resulting in an 18 day manhunt and the kidnappers are still at large.

In this week's Torah portion the Jewish nation is likened to a lioness, crouching in the field, ready to pounce. Often we lie dormant, but when the call comes, we wake up and pounce. 

While Gilad wasn't able to initially mobilize the police force, he was certainly able to mobilize the global Jewish community. There are rare moments in life where we get "that call" - a call to action. This was one of them. “I have been kidnapped.” The call of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali grabbed hold of us, shaking us to the core, refusing the loosen its grip. And even though we, as a nation, disagree sharply on so many things, this call mobilized us as a single unit. We responded as one nation, with one heart. One family. We prayed, studied Torah, lit Shabbat candles, put on tefillin and committed to keeping new mitzvot in their merit. 

For 18 days it didn't matter if you live in Japan, South Korea, Alaska, America or Israel. It didn't matter which branch of Judaism you identify with or which community you belong to. The truth became abundantly clear - we are all Jewish and we are all in this together. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali awakened us and we pounced. 

The unity that prevailed is unprecedented. The immense power of social media enabled us to connect with one another, pray together and cry together. And then tragedy struck. But that does not mean we should abandon the call. No, instead, we should listen and internalize it.

We read in the Torah this week, that the Jewish people are a "nation that dwells alone." We saw that too, over the last 18 days. Nobody cares about us like we do, but the love and care we have for each other stretches across the entire globe. Let's make a concerted effort to continue what Eyal, Gilad and Naftali started - unparalleled love and unity through all segments of the Jewish population. When we are truly united, nothing can stand in our way. 

We continue to demand from our dear Father in Heaven #bringbackourboys, bring Moshiach and redeem us from this bitter and dark exile, when we will be reunited with Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

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