A tale of two tunnels

Guest blogger Dan Gordon, an IDF reservist from Arizona, sent us this post from Jerusalem.

I’m in Jerusalem today to do an interview on a Christian Television network about being a Sar-El volunteer and about a few things that the mainstream press doesn’t seem to want to cover. This is not a “G-d is on our side” thing, I promise you. 

It’s more in line with putting things in their proper historical perspective. To paraphrase Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, in order to live in Israel, one has to be a realist; which is to say, one must believe in miracles.

For your consideration. Make of it what you will. 

A few days before the first terrorist tunnel attack, a group of religious Jews who make what is called matzah shmura for Pesach, were busy looking for very green wheat. Now this particular matzah that they make is made from special wheat, without blemish and is literally watched over, for every step of the process, from planting to harvest to grinding, to baking the final matzah for the Passover meal. The same meal that formed The Last Supper, commemorated by our Christian brothers and sisters.

Next year is a year is shmita, the seventh year in which the Bible commands us to literally let the land have a Sabbath, to let it rest, replenish itself. Oddly enough, today’s agronomists applaud the process as being ecologically sound. 

Because the land will lie fallow next year, these guys needed particularly green wheat, which could be stored for two years before being used to make the matzah. They found the wheat they were looking for in an agricultural community next to the Gaza border. They cut a deal with the farmers who sold them the wheat and they went out and harvested it all, so that the field , which had just held tall green wheat, was now completely barren.

A few short days later the field yielded an unexpected crop. 

 A homicide tunnel opened up and a dozen Hamas terrorists came out,  intent upon murdering and maiming, and taking captive dozens of Israeli men women and children, in what would, and, indeed, should have been for them, ” A Divine Victory.”

One can only imagine their dismay when they found that the field of tall green wheat , which was  to have been their camouflage, had been completely cut down! They were, thus, spotted immediately, and half of them killed and the other half driven back into Gaza by the IDF, thereby averting what would have been the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history. 

And all because some religious Jews were fulfilling a biblical commandment.

So I’m in Jerusalem and one of my dearest friends, Lt. Col. Danny Grossman, a highly decorated fighter pilot, makes me an offer I can’t refuse. Tonight is Tisha B’Av , It is one of the saddest days in the Jewish calendar, the worst luck day of the year. It commemorates the destruction of the First Temple and the Second Temple, and of Jerusalem,  and the start of the Spanish inquisition. 

Some of the most traumatic events in the history of the Jewish people have occurred on this day and religious Jews gather at the Western wall, the remnant of the Holy Temple, to mourn and lament these disasters, in which millions of our people were slaughtered, our Temple, twice destroyed, and in which,the adversaries who sought to destroy us, seemed absolutely assured that the Jews were finally wiped off the face of the earth.

So Danny offers me a triple-header. First we’ll get to pay a visit to my girlfriend. My girlfriend is Danny’s 88-year-old mother, who plays a mean piano, sings the best bawdy songs of her own composition, and has a pixie smile that could light up the darkest night. I’ve told her on more than one occasion that if I was 30 years older, I’d be chasing her around the home with my walker. 

The second thing he offers is a tour of the tunnels under the Western Wall of the the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Amazingly after all the years I’ve lived in Israel and all the visits to Jerusalem, I’ve never been in the tunnels that run beneath the wall and bring you as close to the Holy of Holies as it’s possible for a Jew to get, since the Temple Mount is home now to the Al Aksa Mosque, and the sight of a Jew praying there, much less one in uniform, would literally set off a riot that could start the Third Intifada. 

 So we will visit this holiest spot of the underground portion of the Western Wall close to the sight of the Holiest of Holies, tens of meters above us.

The third part of his offer is to be at the Wall for the Tisha B’ Av  prayers. Of all the Jews there are on the earth, tonight my friend Danny and I will be amongst the few who will be able to represent our people and be a living strand of Jewish DNA, in a history of our people’s connection to Jerusalem, and this land, that stretches back thousands of years before Islam was born, and a thousand years before the birth of Christianity. 

We are the living tree of which both Islam and Christianity are branches.

 We go down into the tunnels under the wall. The tunnels were actually built by the Mamluke Muslims 700 years ago. They cover the original steps which led around the Temple and that portion of the Western Wall closest to the Holy of Holies. Our guide, a former IDF paratrooper, points something out on the wall. It seems the Mamlukes used what was basically 1,300-year-old garbage to construct the tunnels. 

They used the stones of a long-dead Roman Empire with which to build their wall. 


If you look closely, you can just make out the letters of one of the stones, which spell ” FRET,” short for Fretensis, which is the name of the 10th Roman legion. Photo by Dan Gordon

I take a picture. If you look closely you can just make out the letters of one of the stones. The letters are ” FRET” That is short for Fretensis which is the name of the 10th Roman legion. The 10th Roman Legion is the one which not only conquered Jerusalem. They also destroyed the Temple and slaughtered our people, with a thorough viciousness that would not be matched again in two thousand years, when another dictator built a Reich he was sure would last a millennia.

Several years later, this same Roman 10th Legion not only put down the Bar Kochba revolt, the last time the Jewish people were sovereign until the modern state of Israel,  but their leader also changed the name of Jerusalem to Ilya Capitolina and the name of Judea, to Palestine. This was meant to not only wipe out the Jewish people, but the last vestiges of our memory as well. 

There would be no Jerusalem. 

It would be wiped off the map. 

It’s very name would be erased.

There would be no Israel, no Judea, indeed no Jews. 

The greatest empire in the history of the world had finally crushed these stiff-necked , Hebrew speaking, monotheists, who worshiped the G-D of Abraham.

And yet here we were in that tunnel,looking at that scrap from the dust bin of history, all three of us speaking Hebrew, the language that was spoken here two thousand years ago, when the mightiest army in the history of the world was sure they had put an end to us. 

And here I am in the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces,and our guide,Yuval says, “These stones you are standing on are the actual steps that lead around the Temple. Your name, Dan, is the name of one of the 12 tribes. You speak in the same language that was spoken here two thousand years ago and if you give a piece of the Dead Sea scrolls to any Israeli high school student, he can read them. And where is the Roman legion now? And where are we?”

I have two photos of my foster father, Chanan, who served in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army during WWII. It was the forerunner of the army whose uniform I so very proudly wear today. 

Hitler’s empire was going to last a thousand years and he would build his Reich, he was sure, on the graves of our people after making Europe Jew-Free. He was as sure of it, as the Roman 10th Legion, as sure of it as the Spanish Inquisition, as sure of it as  Hamas is of it’s next Divine Victory.

The first picture is of Chanan, with three other soldiers of the Jewish Brigade. They are holding an Israeli flag as they stand beneath the Arch of Titus, the arch Ceasar built to commemorate the ultimate victory over the Jews and the final destruction and sacking of Jerusalem, the city that would never rise again. And there Chanan and his fellow Hebrew soldiers are, not only still here, still speaking Hebrew, but victorious. And where is Titus?

The second picture is of Chanan and the same three other soldiers of the Brigade . They are standing in front of the Munich beer hall where a third-rate painter dreamt of a thousand-year Reich, built on our graves, in a Jew-Free Europe.By the time the picture was taken, Hitler was dead in his bunker. And Chanan was having a beer with the other soldiers of the Jewish Brigade who had just helped defeat the Nazis, and soon would literally fulfill the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, and help the remnants of our people come up out of their graves, as the Almighty would breath life into them, bring sinews and flesh up onto their skeleton like bodies, and bring them home into the Land of Israel.

So, in this, my second to last day in  the Uniform of The Israel Defense forces , for a while, a quick note to Hamas:

We’ve heard louder noises than your rockets.

We’ve seen more terror than any you could ever dream of burrowing beneath our borders.

We’ve faced tyrants and empires, armies and marauders who make the worst you can do think of doing, look like the mad ravings of a fevered child.

Your own people now look at you in disgust. 

No less than Abdullah, King of Saudi Arabia has called what you’ve done in Gaza , ” a collective massacre” caused by you, Hamas.

The Palestinian people of Gaza will look at the misery you’ve brought down upon them and ask, what was this for? Of the 1,600 Palestinians who are now dead, because of the war of your making, 1,400 would be alive today if only you had accepted the cease-fire  which Egypt proposed and the Arab League and the President of the Palestine Authority endorsed, and which Israel accepted immediately and unconditionally, and which you rejected by launching a terrorist tunnel attack against us. 

Because you hadn’t enough pictures of dead babies to show an all too gullible world, so you could claim the mantle of victimhood.

And you hadn’t yet managed to pull of the spectacular, ” Divine Victory” terrorist attack that would demoralize the Jews.

And it all failed!

Your more than three thousand rockets, launched against our civilians, were shot down by our Iron Dome. 

Your half-dozen terrorist tunnel attacks were all foiled by the IDF.

Your tunnels, which you built, instead of building homes and hospitals and schools for your people, are in ruins.

And what was it all for?

We haven’t occupied Gaza for 10 years.

There was no siege until you began attacking us with rockets aimed at our civilians.

You promise your people the same thing that Titus and the 10th Roman Legion and Hitler promised theirs.

You promise to annihilate us.

And you may manage to kill a few of us in a terrorist attack. We know the price we must pay to live in this, the land of our forefathers; the land that gave birth to our language and religion and culture. The land that gave birth to the tree of which you are a branch.

Tonight we will lament the tragedies that have befallen us at the hands of other tyrants. 

But we will also give thanks to a merciful and gracious G-d for saving us from the tragedy you had planned. I believe He did it with a handful of religious Jews who followed His commandments by gathering wheat, and I know he did it with the soldiers of the IDF, who stand in a tradition stretching back to David and Joshua, and the Maccabees, and the Haganah and the Jewish Brigade.

Three words to you then on this Tisha B’Av:  Am Yisrael Chai.

The People of Israel Live.

Dan Gordon 

Capt. IDF ( Res)



Turmoil in Israeli south paralyzes businesses


JobKatif has helped thousands of unemployed and underemployed families who were evacuated from Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Photo courtesy of IMP Group

It has been nine years since Israel’s disengagement from the Jewish settlements of the Gaza Strip. About 500 of those evacuess still remain without jobs and stability, a dire predicament exacerbated by the current turmoil in Southern Israel, where many of the evacuees went to rebuild their lives. Here, Daniela Berkowitz of IMP Group writes about Jobkatif, an organization that helps bring relief to thousands of unemployed and underemployed families through vocational training, employment placement, counseling and coaching.

Itzik, a restaurant owner in southern Israel, finds himself paralyzed this summer. Normally, his café and catering company are bustling with customers. Yet this summer, because of the constant barrage of rockets targeting the region from Gaza, people are barely leaving their homes, let alone going out for a meal.

For Itzik, surprisingly, this is not grossly traumatic. While his business is suffering and he is concerned about sustaining his family and paying the bills, he remembers all the struggles he faced before he could even open his business. Itzik and his family are just one example of the thousands who relocated to southern Israel after the Disengagement of 2005.

Nine years ago, the Israeli government decided to withdraw the Jewish settlements of Gush Katif in Gaza. These families lost everything: their homes, communities, businesses, synagogues and more.

A majority of these people relocated to towns and cities in the south of Israel, which for years has been targeted by rocket fire from Gaza. Today, Israel is in a state of emergency; at least 70 percent of Israeli residents are at risk of rocket fire from Gaza and have had to experience the horror of the Code Red siren, which gives seconds’ notice before a rocket strikes.

Aside from the obvious distress that this situation brings, income is down by nearly 90 percent for businesses in the south. Many people are unable to go to work; children are staying home from school and camps. Much is left unknown.

Making ends meet

Before 2005, Itzik lived with his wife and five children in Moshav Katif.  He worked in a marketing department in Beersheba and enjoyed the rural community life in Gush Katif.  After the Disengagement, his life began falling apart.

“I was at home for nearly a year,” Itzik recalls, “I wasn’t able to hold down a job for more than three-four weeks, tops. Our whole financial situation deteriorated, until there was not enough money for food.  You are dying to work, but you simply can’t.” Like many evacuees, there was trauma and gaining stable ground seemed worlds away.

He and his wife dreamed of opening a catering business. Slowly, they saved money and recruited customers. “I remember the first Shabbat meals that we did,” he said. “To save money, I recruited our kids to help us.  The business began to turn a profit, but it was slow going,” Itzik says with a smile. In 2009, Itzik was contacted by the staff of JobKatif, an organization established for the sole purpose of assisting Gush Katif families left bereft of their livelihood to become financially independent. With some funding and advice from professionals, Itzik and his wife purchased a restaurant.

“JobKatif was a true and faithful ‘shaliach,’” he says. “They helped us and thanks to all their support, we are where we are today. They believed in us.”

More work to do

Eight-three percent of former Gush Katif residents are now employed. However, there is still more work to do, especially as the situation in southern Israel has become more severe. Because of the security situation in the south, even JobKatif needed to temporarily shut its training centers and counseling programs because people were just unable to attend. This year, the Israeli government renewed its commitment to these important endeavors and has promised to match up to 75 percent of the programming costs to help Gush Katif families find meaningful employment. But these funds are returned retroactively and dependent on JobKatif raising money from donors.

Over the past nine years, 2,500 people have found employment because of JobKatif. Among these people, 570 participated in vocational retraining courses. At least 200 small businesses are operating because of JobKatif’s startup funding and guidance.  Another 202 students now are studying in colleges and universities across the country, thanks to scholarships provided by Amutat Yedidut Toronto.

To assist those remaining without work, JobKatif developed customized programs tailored for specific populations. These groups include: Bnei Menashe (Jews from India), small business owners on the threshold of success, people over 55 years old, individuals with challenges, students and employed individuals who are dissatisfied with their jobs. The organization has over one year left to accomplish its goals.

“We have nearly accomplished our mission of assisting all Gush Katif evacuees to earn a living so that they can support their families with pride and dignity, as they once did in Gush Katif,” says Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, founder and chairman of JobKatif. “We have made so much progress and with continued support, we can make sure that the burdens are eased and our brothers and sisters can live with peace of mind and stability.”

As it moves toward completing what it set out to do, JobKatif is seeking partners from across Jewish communities worldwide to join in relieving the struggles of unemployment in this difficult time.

To contribute to JobKatif’s Shabbat Chazon campaign, tax-deductible donations can be sent to JobKatif, 71-47 171st St. Flushing, New York 11365 or online at www.jobkatif.org. For more information, contact info@jobkatif.org or 011-972-2-547-4548. All donations will be matched 3:1 by the Israeli Government.

One land, two stories: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

With all the stories coming out of Israel recently, I have found that often the “comments” underneath the articles or Facebook posts are often just as disturbing as the stories themselves.

Where does all this venom come from and how can these commentators have such different views about the issue than I do? What have they heard that I haven’t?

Although I’m aware of the Palestinian textbooks that are used to educate Palestinian children and how those history lessons have spread hateful ideology, it wasn’t until recently that I’ve realized that those same stories are just as available to the rest of the world, thanks to the Internet.

After feeling overwhelmed by all the hatred for Israel I witnessed on social media, I recently spent some time searching for these stories that are being told. Perhaps I was naïve, but what I found shocked me.

For example, the organization What Americans Need to Know, a nonprofit started by Alison Weir, who, according to her website, is an American freelance journalist who traveled independently throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in February and March of 2001 and found that the way the American press portrayed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “significantly at odds with information being reported by media throughout the rest of the world.”

Her website – ifamericansknew.org – uses different methods to present her perception about the conflict. For example, there are charts comparing such things as the number of Israeli children killed by Palestinians to the number of Palestinian children killed by Israelis. I didn’t see anything about the fact that Israel sounds sirens to warn its citizens of incoming rockets so they can seek safety in the country’s bomb shelters or anything addressing reports that Palestinian gunmen often use civilians and children as human shields.

On her mission statement page, she announces that the organization’s main call for action is to encourage Americans to advocate cutting U.S. aid to Israel.

Her site also presents a paper titled “The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict,” which says that “Zionism was based on a faulty, colonialist world view that the rights of the indigenous inhabitants didn’t matter. The Arabs’ opposition to Zionism wasn’t based on anti-Semitism but rather on a totally reasonable fear of the dispossession of their people.”

The details there are very different from the history I’ve learned and Weir’s presentation of history helps explain why so many people around the world feel the way they do about Israel.

More insight on this version of history is on 1948.org.uk, describing the same people who Israelis call heroes as “Zionist terrorists” and telling a very different story of the founding of the Jewish state and its leaders and wars.

Here is an example:

The Zionist plan to transfer Palestinians out of their land was headed by no lesser character than David Ben-Gurion himself. He plotted these schemes in his own home aided by a small ad hoc group of people referred to as The Consultancy. Its aim was to plot and carry out the disposession of the Palestinian people.

At what point is history dictated? How is it even possible that there are those who deny the Holocaust, even as those who survived it are still alive? How can there be such different perceptions of the state of Israel when its entire existence has occurred in one life span?

As a child, one learns about history how it is presented to him or her and then forms a view on the world based on these facts. But that trait doesn’t often end in childhood. With today’s busy world, many people make decisions based on stories posted on their friends’ Facebook pages and don’t take the time to research other sources to form their viewpoint.

It doesn’t help that there are extremists on both sides that hurt their own cause by committing horrific acts and instances of media manipulation that portray Israel in a negative light.

On the flip side of Weir’s website are theisraelproject.org and honestreporting.com; the first is a non-partisan American educational organization dedicated to informing the media and public conversation about Israel and the Middle East and the latter monitors the news for bias, inaccuracy or other breach of journalistic standards in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

What sources do you turn to?

‘Scandal,’ ‘Once Upon a Time’ cast members visit Israel

Photo courtesy of IMP Media

Dudi Roth, director and president of Meir Panim, Israel’s leading relief organization left, discusses poverty with actor Guillermo Diaz, center. Photo courtesy of IMP Media

The stars visit the Galil Mountain Winery, located on Kibbutz Yiron, near the Lebanese border. Photo by Pioter Fliter

Are you a fan of “Scandal” or “Once Upon a Time”?

Then you might be interested in hearing more about the cast members’ recent tour of Israel. Here’s a recap of their trip from IMP Media:


    A contingent of stars from the hit ABC-TV series of ‘Scandal’ and ‘Once Upon a Time’ visited Israel April 29-May 5 and were exposed to a whirlwind of Israeli medical and viticultural innovations. The stars, the guests of America’s Voices in Israel ( a division of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations), are being treated to a whistle-stop tour of the country while meeting with influential figures from Israel’s cultural, food, medical, organizational, religious and political spheres . The America’s Voices in Israel trip is led by the organization’s Director, Irwin Katsof and was partially sponsored by El Al and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Arriving at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa last week, the stars were greeted by Dr. Rafi Beyar, director of the bustling hospital. After introducing the celebrities, some of whom had guest-starred on medical dramas, to a wide range of cutting edge  innovations,  as well the hospital’s underground parking lot which transforms into a fortified, underground, emergency hospital in just 48 hours, the stars were positively awe-struck. “Everything we have seen here has all of us with our mouths wide open in astonishment,” joked Katie Lowes who plays Quinn Perkins on ‘Scandal.’

Guillermo Diaz (Huck on ‘Scandal’), who also portrayed nurse Angel Garcia in the medical drama ‘Mercy’, was particularly impressed with  PillCam, a futuristic device developed at Rambam ,which is swallowed by a patient like a pill and then transmits images of the small intestine to gastroenterologists. PillCam, which is manufactured and marketed by Given Imaging (NASDAQ), has helped prevent the spread of colon cancer in many countries, including North America, EU and Asia.

The stars also visited the hospital’s laboratories, where they were introduced to Professor LiorGepstein, who showed the stars beating heart cells, which he had developed with advanced stem cell technology.

“I’ve played a doctor on ‘ Miami Medical’ and toured many trauma rooms but I’ve never in my life seen anything like this,” exclaimed Lana Parilla who plays Regina Mills on the Emmy Award winning series, ‘Once Upon a Time’. “It’s unreal!”

The group also visited Meir Panim, Israel’s leading relief organization in Jerusalem.

 During the course of their visit, the stars heard about Israel’s recent social “cottage cheese” revolution and about Israel’s working poor, but, despite it all, were amazed to realize what a happy, vibrant country Israel is.

“You can see by your expressions how completely engaged you are in this organization,” enthused Lowes.   “It’s an honor to be shown this very special part of Israeli society.”

 After another adrenalin-charged visit to an Israeli air force base in Northern Israel and wandering around the mystical town of Safed, the stars’ packed day ended with a visit to the Galil Mountain Winery, located in Kibbutz Yiron, near the Lebanese border. Greeted by CEO, Uri Tyroler who fielded questions about his pride and joy, Israeli wine, the stars toured the unique visitors center which offers unparalleled access to the wine making facilities via a raised platform. They tasted a range of wines from the winery and were impressed by the quality and uniqueness of the wines presented.

“I’m blown away by the red wines here, such as the Meron and the Yiron (both unique blends of the winery),” remarked Lowes.

“When I think of Israel, I would never have thought of wine,” said Lana Parilla. “I had no idea that the wine we would be tasting, would be as delicious and rich as it is. I absolutely loved the wine.”

The stars were given a history of how the Israeli wine industry has developed in recent times and then tasted wines from the award-winning Golan Heights Winery which has been credited with revolutionizing the field.“I was also blown over by the Chardonnay Odem (Yarden) which is absolutely delicious,” continued Lowes. “We’ve travelled all over California, Italy and France, but Israel’s wine industry is incredibly exciting.” Lowes and her husband, actor Adam Shapiro, say that they plan to source Israeli wines upon their return to Hollywood, and are determined to spread the world about the extremely high quality of Israel’s wine industry.

For these thespians, whose views about Israel have been formed by what they see on the local TV news , this was a unique opportunity to relax, meeting and getting to know real Israelis, while sampling award-winning, Israeli wine.

Nonie Darwish talk at Young Israel

Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian-American human rights activist who is the founder of Arabs For Israel and the director of Former Muslims United, spoke at Young Israel of Phoenix last week, sharing her insight about being raised in an Islam home. She also spoke about the significance of the tumultuous events currently unfolding in the Middle East and the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

An excerpt:
“This international conflict called the Arab-Israeli conflict really is a fabrication. It is not a conflict over land, and anybody who thinks it’s a conflict over land is misguided because we don’t see the truth. The truth is … there is something in Islam anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, especially anti- Jewish and I will tell you why.

“Those people calling themselves Palestinians who live in the Gaza and the West Bank are the pawns of the Arab world. I don’t believe that they care about their happiness or welfare. They are set up to live a miserable life on purpose in order to show the world that we’re victims. Do you think Saudi Arabia, with all the money they have, the Gulf countries, (all this) oil money – think they can’t give them good roads and good homes and good police and turn it into a productive area of the Middle East? They can but that is not their objective. There is a hidden objective and I don’t understand why western culture doesn’t get it.”

Listen to her full presentation here.

Mazel tov to local Daf Yomi students

Tonight is the Phoenix Siyum HaShas 2012, which will celebrate the Valley’s first Daf Yomi class to complete a full cycle of page-a-day study of the Babylonian Talmud.

While more than 90,000 people are expected to gather in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey tonight to celebrate the completion of the Talmud study cycle, a local celebration, presented by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Greater Phoenix in conjunction with Agudath Israel of America will also be held in Phoenix.

Here’s the schedule we received:

4 p.m. pre-program: Live broadcast from Met Life Stadium                                                       Featured pre-program speakers: Harav Shmuel Kamenetsky Shlit”a , Novominsker Rebbe Shlit”a

Local programs begins at 5 p.m. with a communal mincha

5:15 p.m. Siyum buffet opens, with reservations only.

5:30-6 p.m. Local Siyum Hashas/Start of Brachos, Rabbi David Rebibo, Rabbi Zvi Holland/Rabbi Yisroel Isaacs/Music & Dancing)
Rav Yissocher Frand  (Live Broadcast)
Divrei Bracha Rabbi Reuven Mann
Presentation to Mesaymei Hashas & Lomdei Daf Hayomi
Rav Yaakov Hillel, Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, Kei Moleh Rachamim IMO Kedoshei Hashoah-Chazzan Helfgot (Live Broadcast)
Divrei Bracha-Rabbi Shimon Green

Approximately 7:30 p.m.: community maariv.

The celebration will be held at thePhoenix Hebrew Academy Auditorium, 515 E. Bethany Home Road.

Dinner is $10 per person, with reservation only. Click here to register.

Mazal tov to those who have completed studying the entire Talmud!

A rabbi stealing a wheelchair?

The cover story in this week’s The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles is “The Mystery of the Rabbi and the Missing Wheelchair,” by Jonah Lowenfeld, about a “rabbi-for-hire” who was accused of stealing the wheelchair of a 96-year-old woman.

Hours after the article about Alan Abrams, who in 2009 had founded Kehillat Emek haMidbar, a short-lived congregation in Scottsdale, was posted online yesterday, Abrams announced on his blog that he has “made a decision to take leave from the Rabbinate for an unspecified time.”

Lowenfeld blogged further about the post today.

Grief counselors deploy in East Valley deaths

In response to what Tempe Police are investigating as a murder-suicide of the Butwin family, Jewish Family & Children’s Service is deploying its Jewish Crisis Response Team today to Temple Emanuel of Tempe, where the family were members, and to the East Valley Jewish Community Center, where the youngest child was to have been a summer camper, according to Dvora Entin, JFCS’ Aleinu program coordinator.

“This is why we created the team,” she said.

Team members are to be available to offer grief counseling to those attending a 7 p.m. Service of Grief, at the Reform congregation today (June 6).

Word of the tragedy, in which police suspect that James Butwin, 47, a member of Emanuel’s board, killed his wife and three children and then himself, spread via email and phone sending ripples of shock and grief through the congregation.

If what police suspect is true, the victims were his wife, Yafit, 40; daughter, Malissa, 16; and sons Daniel, 14, and Matthew, 7.

Although autopsies on the bodies found in a burning SUV on Saturday, June 2, reportedly failed to identify the bodies, the SUV was registered to the Butwins and was missing from their Tempe home, Tempe Police reported.

Winner of ‘Inspired by Israel’ contest

The Israel Video Network has announced the winner of the “Inspired by Israel” contest sponsored by The Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.

The video, by Sivan Felder, is described as “a poetic look at our connection to Israel and her significance, through the eyes of a teenage olah chadasha.”

A total of $20,000 in cash prizes were awarded to the winning videos—including a $8,000 grand prize to Sivan Felder and Batsheva Shachnovitz for their video, “Olah Chadasha (New Immigrant),” a poetic exploration of a teenager’s journey in Israel after making Aliyah five years prior. During a 10-day period of public voting, entries in this year’s competition received more than half a million views in 236 countries.

The Israel Video Network launched the “Inspired by Israel” video contest in March 2017 in partnership with the Milstein Family Foundation. Here’s the video:

Vote for your favorite Israel video

The “Inspired by Israel” video contest has started its 10-day period of online voting to determine which 10 video entrants will move on to the final phase of the contest and be evaluated by an elite panel of judges. Last year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world voted.

More than 80 individuals and groups entered the contest by creating videos that entertain, educate and inspire people about Israel. A total of $20,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to the winning videos, including an $8,000 grand prize.

Some examples of video titles are: “The Israeli heart and mind just transformed the lives of 1 million Africans forever”; “One Million Reasons You Should Love Israel”; “An anti-Semite visits Israel and discovers something completely shocking”; “If you thought the world could exist without Israel, you’re about to be proven wrong” and “Israel: A Light in the Storm.”

Following this period of public voting, which ends on March 29, the top 10 prizes will be selected by a panel of independent experts, including philanthropist Gila Milstein, Jewish Journal/Tribe Media President David Suissa and StandWithUs Israel Executive Director Michael Dickson. The winners will be announced on April 30.

Hosted on IsraelVideoNetwork.com, the contest is sponsored by the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation in partnership with the 12Tribe Films Foundation.

Click here to view the videos and vote.