Friday, October 28, 2011

Verplanck Episode 1

This is the first episode chronicling our transformation from urban dwellers to hicks. You can join the fun at

A Rediscovered Abundance of Goodness DANNY GORDIS; We all felt it. It was innocent, pure and thoroughly decent. We were witness that day to an entire country believing in something again.

Mr. Prime Minister,

Before the Shalit deal fades entirely from view, many of us are hoping that you have noticed what you unwittingly unleashed.  I don't mean the next wave of terror or the terrible decisions that Israel must make before the next kidnapping.  We knew about those even before last week.  But last Tuesday, all of us - those opposed as well as those in favor (and there were persuasive arguments on both sides) - rediscovered something magnificent about this country.  It would be tragic if we returned to business as usual without pausing to take note.

In addition to Gilad Shalit, we got one more thing in return that few of us could have expected; we got a reminder of the abundant goodness that still resides at the very core of this society.  You could see it everywhere.  Compare the speeches on our side, celebrating life and freedom, to the blood-thirsty Palestinian harangues calling for renewed terror and additional kidnappings.   Compare the respectful restraint of our press to Shahira Amin's immoral and abusive interview in Egypt.  But more than anything, we saw this reservoir of goodness in the streets - in the people so moved that they could hide neither the tears in their eyes nor the lumps in their throats.  We saw it in the throngs along the roads, people who wanted Shalit to know that they, too, celebrated his long overdue freedom.  And we saw it in the hundreds of people in Mitzpe Hila who continued dancing long after he'd entered his house and closed the door.  

We all felt it - it was innocent, pure and thoroughly decent.  We were witness that day to an entire country believing in something again.  Those young people outside the Shalit home were singing not only about Shalit, but about this land, this people, and about a future in which they still believe.  Did you see them?  Women and men, religious and secular, dancing with abandon in celebration of freedom?  Did you hear them singing anachnu ma'aminim benei ma'aminim .... "We're believers, the children of believes, and we have no one on whom to depend, other than our Father in heaven"?  You didn't miss it, did you?  Hundreds of people of all walks of Israeli life, proclaiming without hesitation their belief in something bigger than themselves?

The reason that the trade was wildly popular, Mr. Prime Minister, wasn't ultimately about Gilad Shalit. It was about Israel.  About a country desperate to transcend the cynicism, that still wants to believe that it's worth believing in.  Shouldn't we - and you - therefore ask ourselves what can we do next to justify people's belief in this place?   What will it take to make this a country that its citizens can love even when we're not freeing a captive?

How about if we start by eradicating evil?  Take but one example and deal with it.  There's a small but vicious group of kids living over the Green Line who bring inestimable shame on the Jewish people.  They burn mosques, tear down olive trees and sow fear everywhere - all with the implicit support of their rabbis.  And they make many young Israelis deeply ashamed of this entire enterprise.  Last week, you showed us that you do know how to take decisive action.  So do it again.  Rein them in.  Arrest them.  Cut off funding to their yeshivot.  If you show this generation of Israelis that your government stands for goodness even when that means making tough domestic decisions, you'll unleash a wave of Zionist passion like we haven't felt here for a generation.  It wouldn't be any harder to do than what you just did, and it would actually do even more good for Israel than getting one soldier back.

And beyond goodness, there's also Jewishness.  No, we shouldn't make too much of thatanachnu ma'aminim benei ma'aminim song, but admit - it's not what you expect to see lots of secular people singing.  Yet they did.  Because this is a strange and wondrous country; not so deep down, even "non-religious" people aren't "non-religious."  Just like their observant counterparts, they're searching, struggling, yearning - and at moments like that, they know that the well from which they hope to draw their nourishment is a Jewish well.

That's why it was wonderful that you quoted from Isaiah (the Haftarah for Parashat Bereishit) in your speech.  It was your suggestion, I hope, that at its core, this society must be decent, but it must also be Jewish.  You know what the main problem with the summer's Social Justice protests was?  It wasn't the naïve embrace of high school socialism, or the utter incoherence of the demands.  It was the fact that there was simply nothing Jewish about their vision for Israel.  Dafni Leef and her comrades could have given the same vacuous speeches at Occupy Wall Street.  Or in Sweden, for that matter.  Those inane speeches were testimony to the failure of our educational systems and of Israel's religious leadership.  The Yoram Kaniuk affair and the court's willingness to let him declare himself "without religion" is a reflection not on him, but on the appallingly uninteresting variety of Judaism that the State has come to represent.  Can you - or anyone else - name even one single powerful idea that's come from any of Israel's Chief Rabbis in the past decade or two?  Me, neither.

But lo and behold, it turns out that Israel's young people still want to believe in something.  We haven't given them the tools to articulate it, but they still intuit that whatever we become, it's got to be Jewish.  So ride that wave, too, Mr. Prime Minister.  What would it take to shape a country where the profundity at the core of Jewish tradition became once again the subject of discourse in our public square?  Does Judaism in the twenty-first century suddenly have to become dull and backward, or can we restore the intellectual and moral excellence that once characterized it?  Can you take this on, too?  Appoint the right people?  Build the right schools?  Can you help make this a country encourages those young people now searching for Jewish moral moorings?

For or against, hardly a single one of us is not thrilled that Gilad Shalit is home.  He deserved his life back.  But so, too, does this country.  Shalit, hopefully, will now get better and stronger with each passing day.  Israel must do the same.  It needs to get better - we need to be honest about the evils lurking in our midst, and we must exorcise them.  And we must become stronger, which we can do only by engaging with the roots that brought us back home in the first place.

Can you do this?  Many of us hope so.  Because if this fails, it will in the long run have made no difference that Gilad Shalit came home.  But if it succeeds, we might just come to see his liberation as the turning point in our collective return to believing in ourselves.

The original Jerusalem Post column can be read here:

Reactions, responses and thoughts can be posted here:

Bill Cosby Noah

Iranian expelled from chess tournament for refusing to play an Israeli

Tamimi says she would do it again

Ahlam Tamimi, who quarterbacked the Sbarro terror attack ten years ago, tells an interview after her release from prison in the terrorists for Gilad trade that she has no regrets about what she did and would do it again.

Let's go to the videotape.

She deserves to die a slow and painful death.

Rare interview with the surviving members of the Schijveschuurder family

On Tuesday, Israel's Channel 10 showed a rare interview with the surviving members of the Schijveschuurder family, whose parents and three siblings were murdered in the Sbarro suicide bombing. There is now an internet version of the interview, and I have it for you. The interview is in Hebrew, but an English summary will follow. This is not easy to watch.

Here's an English summary (which someone who saw the program live sent me):

The programme began with a little biographical detail about the family - olim from Holland. It then moved on to the actual terror attack itself. The three older boys, Ben Tzion (who now lives abroad), Meir and Shvuel were not present. Ben Tzion and Meir were both in the army and Shvuel (who was 16.5 at the time) was on his way back from the Kleizmer festival in Tzfat.

The programme documented their search (alone - no outside help) for the members of their family in various hospitals. As Meir did not have any ID proving his connection to one of his sisters, he was not allowed to see her as she lay dying in the operating theatre, but minutes later was asked to identify her body. He - an 18/19 year old - ended up organising the funerals all by himself. Hevra Kadisha even had the gall to demand money from him (20,000 shekels - later returned) for two burial plots, stating that he could only have three.

He and his older brother took care of the younger surviving children (the youngest was 8) in the family home with no outside help. At some point the social services tried to take the two younger girls into care, but they objected. Afterwards the girls were sent to live with a distant relative in Switzerland for about a year, but were very unhappy there and came back to Israel. Later they were sent to live with another distant relative in Israel, but that didn't last long either and Meir and his wife took them in, whilst also raising their own young family.

Shvuel seems to have 'fallen between the chairs' perhaps most of all... [I deleted something here. CiJ][H]is attempts to get that help from Bituach Leumi have been rejected.

The programme ended with a 'right of reply' statement from Bituach Leumi which the presenters said they had fact checked and found to be lacking on certain points.

Apparently there is a serious problem with people who, as children, lost both parents in terror attacks. (A lady orphaned by the Ma'ale Akrabim attack briefly mentioned similar problems). The system does not cater for them properly ans seems to work on the premise that they will be taken care of by the extended family, but in this case there was not much extended family to help. There is an attempt ongoing to try to change the law, but it is clear that this family has already sustained far too much damage because of the system's shortcomings.

On top of all that, of course, they now have to deal with the insensitivity surrounding the release of their parents' and siblings' murderer.
There's more about this.... But I've given you enough to think about for now.

Chaya Schijveschuurder's remarks on Memorial Day 2010

Chaya Schijveschuurder spoke at the ceremony for terror victims on Memorial Day in 2010. When I read her words, they tore at me. You should read them too. Here's an excerpt. (The picture is from her Facebook page).
It was a Thursday. We went to Jerusalem to go shopping. We all went, all except the older boys. We spent some time walking around in the city, and then we were hungry. At first, we went to Angel’s bakery in the Bell Center, but Ra’aya didn’t want to eat there. I remember that Dad took money out of the instant teller outside, and then we went to eat at Sbarro’s. I remember that we ordered food. My mother, Ra’aya and Chemda went to sit down because they didn’t have the strength to continue standing. My father, Leah, Avraham Yitzchak and I went to pay, and then there was an explosion. Apparently, I fell. I didn’t understand what had happened.

They told me that I lost consciousness immediately, but I remember that I went outside, and just then a pole fell from the shock wave, and I remember that I went over it.

I didn’t see anyone from my family. I don’t remember whether I looked. Medics rushed to me and poured water on my. I was put into an ambulance, and Avraham Yitzchak was lying there, and I called to him, “Avraham Yitzchak! Avraham Yitzchak!” But he didn’t answer.

They took me out on a stretcher, and took me to the hospital. They brought me to the trauma room, and I remember that I yelled, “Bring me my father! Bring me my father!”

They took pictures of me, because they thought that I had lost consciousness, and wrote next to the picture, “Chaya, approximately 8 years old.”

I remember that they tore off my clothes. My leg was full of blood, and I asked them if they would amputate my leg. They answered, “What are you talking about, look what a beautiful leg you have.”

Afterwards, I remember that I saw an operating room there, and I became tense and started crying. They immediately sedated me for the operation.

When I opened my eyes right after the operation, I saw Nechama there, my brother’s girlfriend. I constantly asked her what time it was. That’s what they told me.

When I woke up the night after the attack, there were people from my community next to me. I asked them what had happened to the rest of the family, and they told me that everything was okay, that they were hurt like I was. Afterwards, my brothers came back from the funerals, and I remember that I asked them why their shirts were torn. Then they told me that my parents, Ra’aya, Avraham Yitzchak and Chemda were killed.

The first question I asked was, “What? Who will cook and clean the house?”

I remember that Leah was always crying and I couldn’t understand why. I think that for this reason, it was good I was little. That way, I remember less and I understood less what this was. I didn’t understand what had happened. I didn’t cry, and I didn’t understand at all what this meant. I didn’t feel pain, and all the time there were people visiting me in the hospital.

I remember that whenever they would change my bandages, I would hit the nurses because it really hurt. I would wake up in the middle of the night and ask whoever was with me to take me on a tour of the hospital. Every time, someone else would be watching me. I had three operations, because I had a lot of nails in my body.


Mom and Dad!
I found the earrings that you bought me. How happy I am. I always miss you, and always when there is something in the class, I shed a few tears. I want the Mashiach to come already as fast as possible so that we can all go together to the Beit Hamikdash.

I love you,
Read the whole thing.

Yosef Karduner: Psalm 23, "Mizmor L'David"

Halloween burka

Terrorist Warning Poster

A new volunteer force called the "Capital Guard" has begun taking steps against the terrorists released into Jerusalem inthe Gilad Shalit deal.
The Guard was formed by prominent Jerusalem activist Aryeh King. As a first measure, a poster (below) is being distributed with the pictures of terrorists who have been allowed to return to the homes in eastern Jerusalem. 
"Out of grave concern for the security of Jerusalem's residents, in view of the danger of immediate harm to Jews throughout the city, the Capital Guard offers this warning regarding the terrorists whose pictures appear here, who are roaming freely in the city."
"Dear Jew! If you see one of the terrorists in a crowded place, it is important that you notify those surrounding you whom they are next to!!"
The poster also adds a request – "Dear citizen, please act only in accordance with the law."
The poster will soon be joined by another one, showing the locations of the terrorists' homes. 
King told Arutz Sheva before Shalit's release was implemented that the Capital Guard will follow the terrorists about and document their activities. "If they board the light train we will announce on a megaphone that there is a terrorist on board," King explained.
"All activity will be accompanied by a lawyer," he said, and volunteers will be mature people "who will know how to deal with the complex situation without creating friction with Arab populace or arousing an unnecessary or dangerous commotion."

Sbarro Orphans: Israel Betrayed Us

Last Tuesday, the country watched in suspense as kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit returned home for the first time in more than five years. Cameras rolled as a weary-looking Shalit hugged his parents while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who signed off on the deal for his release, smiled in the background.
The Schijveschuurder family, however, avoided watching the long-awaited return. The surviving members of the family say they could not stand watching the joy at Shalit’s release while knowing the heavy price that had been paid – the release from prison of more than 1,000 terrorists, including one of those who murdered their parents and siblings.
“I feel like I’ve been through a second bombing,” Leah Schijveschuurder told Arutz Sheva this week. “When I heard about the deal, I felt like my parents died again. Emotionally, I feel like I stepped back ten years.”
Leah was 10 years old when her mother, father, older sister Ra’aya (14) and young brother and sister Avraham Tzvi (4) and Hemda (1.5) were murdered in the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem. She and her sister Chaya were wounded in the attack.
Ahlam Tamimi, who helped to plan and carry out the attack, was one of those released in exchange for Shalit. She has repeatedly said that she is proud of her role in the murders, and continues to support terrorism.
“I don’t want to be a part of this country,” Leah said. “I plan to cancel my Israeli citizenship. The state of Israel betrayed me, personally, after promising that my family’s murderer would sit in prison.”
'They Sold Gilad'
“I feel horror at being a part of this place. People are dancing on the blood of the dead, not just my parents and my siblings, but all those who died for the people of Israel,” she said. “What especially hurts is seeing that they fooled the nation, that there was never any issue of an immediate threat to [Gilad’s] life… They sold Gilad Shalit like a car. They took the people of Israel’s innocence and used their goodwill for the campaign. Netanyahu’s only thought with this deal was self-promotion.”
She had harsh words for Gilad Shalit’s parents as well. “They don’t really care about people. They brought their child home at the expense of an innocent public and it didn’t bother them,” she accused.
She spoke of facing Noam Shalit in court last week. “He sat there for four and a half hours, and he and Aviva didn’t care for one second what we were going through. Noam and Aviva fought for their son; we made ourselves vulnerable and fought for the good of the people of Israel,” she said. Leah’s brother Shuvel confronted Noam Shalit in court.
“We didn’t think of ourselves, only of the people of Israel,” Leah continued. “In the end, [Israel] will realize too late that we were right.”
Many Plans, Uncertain Future
In media interviews last week, Leah’s older brother Meir said the family plans to leave the country for Holland, where parents Mordechai and Tzira were born and raised. However, Leah told Arutz Sheva the plans are not yet clear.
“We’re considering leaving Israel, we haven’t decided yet,” she clarified. “Right now we’re in the aftermath, it’s a type of exhaustion, we’re trying to digest what happened to us in the past week and a half.”
Leah clarified that she has no intention of giving up. “I have work to do, now that the state has failed to protect us. I have some plans to carry out, but I can’t talk about them,” she declared.
She takes comfort in knowing that her parents died sanctifying G-d’s name, she said, and in the company of fellow young adults who have lost part of their family to terrorism. “I met them when I was ten. Now we laugh about how we’ve known each other longer than our parents knew us,” she said.

Video Travel Diary: A Road Trip Across Israel; The sights and sounds of Israel come alive in this unconventional travel video, thanks to bold editing and color-saturated cinematography. Filmmaker Matthew Brown talks about making This IsReal (the title is a play on words) in an interview below.

This Isreal from Matthew Brown on Vimeo.

The Atlantic: Where did you travel? What inspired you to shoot the video?

Matthew Brown: I was a bit nervous to be making a video of Israel. It is a small country, but it has a spark in almost everything that people do or say about it. I knew the controversy within the country, as well as the external conflicts, so I knew it would be extremely touchy to make any sort of video of the country. I decided that I wanted to find the beauty of the people and places, neglecting the tension for once. I wanted to prove that there are so many beautiful people in that country, of all religions, cultures, regions. It was not hard to do, actually. The moment I arrived I was welcomed by every walk of life. The Jewish people's arms were wide open, and the Arab people always gave me a great big smile and welcomed me into great conversation. I felt a great warmth there. 

I went to Israel back in the beginning of May. Luckily, my Portuguese friends knew the locals who helped us find the best places to shoot the authentic aspects, special events, etc. We went as far north as Akko, where we trekked through the unbelievably amazing old town there. We went as far south as Dimona. We went through the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the beautiful little villages, vistas, and ruins in between. We went everywhere by car, except one day when we rode camels through the desert! That was one of the most memorable times of my life. 

My favorite part to shoot was the scene where all the people are frozen still in time. It was actually that everyone was standing still in a moment of silence for the Holocaust victims. One of the locals told me that the entire country would stop in silence and everyone would look frozen, so I found one of the busiest intersections in Tel Aviv and stood in the middle of everyone, passing through them. I did get yelled at for moving during the moment of silence, but I think it was worth it to show the world how beautiful and eerie this amazing moment is. 

How did you approach editing all the footage?

I found myself editing under terrible conditions. I got a kidney infection and a fever, and I only had enough energy to edit for an hour and then go back to sleep. After about a week I decided that I would start the video off with a certain cohesiveness, and certain structure, and then show the chaos of the country, the bustling beehive, the vibrant attitude of the people. The shots being all jumbled together are really how it felt to be there. There was always something astonishing to look at in every direction your eyes went. It was pretty much candy for any creative type. 

What's next for you?

Next, I am working on a few music videos, and working with the artist Pretty Lights on a few projects, as well as trying to do more portraits of countries and cities. Eventually I would love to get enough money to make a short film that I have been wanting to do, but until then I will keep making art, experimenting, and keep evolving what I do. I am so in love with visual storytelling. I love being able to share the way I see the world, and I hope it will soon turn into something bigger. I am ready for it! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sayeret (Hebrew סיירת, pl. sayarot), literally means "reconnaissance unit" in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In practice, these units specialize in commando and other special forces roles, in addition to reconnaissance (the degree of specialization varies by units and current needs). Such units are usually a company or a battalion in strength.

Sayeret units in the IDF

All combat brigades in the IDF have a unit with improved weaponry and training used for reconnaissance and special forces missions, trained to use advanced weapons and reconnaissance technology, as well as hand-to-hand combat. Historically the brigades used to only have one company-sized unit outfitted to do this job, known as Palsar (Hebrew Contraction of: פלוגת-סיור, Plugat Siyur (singular) / Plugot Siyur (plural), "Reconnaissance Company"). Although the Palsar are mostly oriented at battlefield support (which is their raison d'être), many have participated in special operations during recent years. All infantry units as well as some armored units have Palsar.
While in the past there were differences between the siyur units, due to the experiences of the past decades the IDF is now consolidating them into larger units with many different capabilities: battalion-sized units called Gadsar (contraction of Gdud siyur, "Reconnaissance battalion"). Each Gadsar is made up of three specialized Plugot (companies): Demolitions (Plugat Heil Handasa, or Palhan), Reconnaissance (Plugat SiyurPalsar) and Anti-Tank / Heavy Weapons (Pluga Neged Tankim, or Palnat).
This is part of the Yatah ("Low-Intensity Combat Unit") Project. This project aims at changing the Reconnaissance battalions into specialized urban counter terror units, that are specifically trained and equipped to operate in current combat situations. It must be recognised that thePalsar of these battalions is now considered one of the most recognized of the three Specialized units. Other sayarot are larger units, operating under corps and commands. There are several battalion-size special forces units which report directly to regional, functional (navy/air-force) and the general commands. The best known of these are Sayeret MatkalShayetet 13 and Yehidat Shaldag.

[edit]Sayeret units

[edit]The Top 3

These are the most elite IDF sayeret units. As such they perform the most important missions of the IDF, usually of a strategic nature. Its soldiers undergo longer training regimes than other sayeret units and are also proficient in long range solo navigation (as opposed to other units where long range navigation is done with a minimum of 2 fighters).
  • Sayeret Matkal - the most elite of all of IDF units. It operates as the IDF's principal special operations/commando unit, used mainly to obtain strategic intelligence behind enemy lines and to perform hostage-rescue missions in foreign soil. It is directly subordinate to the Israeli Intelligence unit Aman.
  • Shayetet 13 - the main Israeli naval commando unit, equivalent to the US Navy SEALS or British Special Boat Service. Also in charge of maritime hostage-rescue missions. Part of the Israeli Navy, its selection and training is considered the most arduous of the entire IDF, due to its maritime role.
  • Sayeret Shaldag - the main Israeli Air Force commando unit, it specializes in forward air control, aerial & special reconnaissance, and target designation outside of Israel's borders.

[edit]Infantry Corps

Also each of the four Infantry Brigades (GolaniGivatiNahal and Paratroopers) have its own Palsar as mentioned above. Each unit belongs to a specific regional command, where they mainly operate, but can also work in other areas. These are the Infantry "sayerets".

[edit]Armored Corps

During the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars (conflicts with intensive armored warfare) these units suffered terribly in operations, with high casualty rates.[2]

[edit]Combat Engineering Corps

[edit]Air Force


[edit]Other units

  • Maglan - a commando unit which specializes in operating behind enemy lines. The unit is relatively new, and little is known about it. Maglan is best known for its part in the Second Lebanon War.
  • LOTAR Eilat - reserve force counter-terrorism / hostage-rescue unit, based at the southern Israeli port city of Eilat.

[edit]Disbanded units

[edit]Gibush (Selection)

Young Israelis wanting to serve in the sayarot usually go to Yom Sayarot (Reconnaissance Units Day). Held at the Wingate InstituteYom Sayarot is a day where prospective recruits undergo a series of physical and mental tests to evaluate their aptitude for service in several units. Those wanting to join Sayeret Matkal, Shaldag, Unit 669, Shayetet 13, the submarine service or Hovlim (Naval Officers Course) must go to Yom Sayarot and perform the respective tests for each service option.
Other sayarot recruit their operatives from the best recruits of the respective parent units. For instance, those who excel during training in the Tzanhanim Brigade are invited to try to join Duvdevan, Oketz or Palsar Tzanhanim; the best of recruits of 7th Armored Brigade are invited to apply for service in the Palsar 7, etc.
Drop-outs from some sayarot might be able join other, less demanding sayarot units. For instance, drop-outs from Shayetet 13 migh be able to go to Unit Yaltam or Yaban; drop-outs from Shaldag can end up in Unit Yanmam.
The reserve sayarot such as Alpinistim or LOTAR Eilat usually recruit its members after they finished the mandatory 3-year service in some units: Alpinistim draws its members primarily from Golani and LOTAR Eilat draws its members from former kravi (soldiers that served in a combat unit) that live in Eilat.