Monday, October 30, 2006

A Photoblog by Pinchas

Some posts I’ve been meaning to get to... (Part III)

On my trip to America last week I finally picked up a brand new Canon Rebel XT. Here's some photos I shot the very first day I got it.

Click on any photo to enlarge. Enjoy!


Sunday, October 29, 2006

News of Its Death Greatly Exaggerated

The entrance of Ulpan Etzion.
Photo: Gil Zohar

Some posts I’ve been meaning to get to... (Part II)

As an alumnus of the 112th Ulpan Etzion class this story rings very close to home! Would the 114th class really be the last one? If this story is true it's really not so bad. The main building - though beautiful is old and quite frankly it's been in need of repair for quite some time. There's plenty of room to build a new main building on the other side. With a new main building it'll be a great campus - if you thinking of Aliyah and you are single and under 35 I definitely recommend Ulpan Etzion. It's true I made some great friends there including my flatmate. Also I still learn a seder at night after work with my roommate from the Ulpan. It would be a real shame and loss for Aliyah and Eretz Yisrael if Etzion were forced to shut down...

Moving house

To paraphrase Mark Twain, news is premature of the demise of Ulpan Etzion - the flagship Hebrew-language school for academics run by the Jewish Agency (JA).

As recently reported by The Jerusalem Post, the Carmelite Church - which is connected to the Vatican - will not renew its lease in June on the aging building that has served as the absorption center's main dormitory and dining hall for more than half a century. The property, located on Rehov Gad in Baka, was recently sold to a private developer who plans to construct luxury housing on the site, says JA spokesman Michael Jankelowitz.

The JA, which works with the Ministry of Absorption to recruit and settle new immigrants - is investigating alternative residential arrangements, he explains. (Yoel David, the JA's director of properties, refused In Jerusalem's request for comment.) Among the ideas is to build a new main dormitory on the leafy, 10-dunam campus. The compound currently contains five low-rise buildings apart from the main building.

Founded in 1949 as the first language school in the newly established state, Ulpan Etzion currently is home to 102 new immigrants and 53 external students who live off-campus, says Anat Uzzan, the ulpan's director since returning from Montreal in 2005 where she served a three-year stint as an aliya emissary.

Divine Intervention? The Vatican-allied Carmelite Church recently refused to renew the lease on the venerable Ulpan Etzion.
Photo: Gil Zohar
The cosmopolitan, polyglot student body ranges in age from 22 to 35. All are single academics and professionals, representing the 114th class at the school, says Uzzan, who lovingly nurtures her charges as a mother hen raises her chicks.

The largest contingent hails from France. But Ulpan Etzion's student body represents the ingathering of the exiles, with students coming from countries as diverse as Aruba, Turkey, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Britain. Some are the children of Israelis who settled abroad, including Soviet Jews who moved on to the West after a period in Israel.

Students spend the mornings of the five-month program studying Hebrew. Four levels of Hebrew are taught, with eight classes and 11 teachers.

The afternoons are devoted to cultural programs. Meetings with government bureaucrats fall in that rubric, with clerks from the Interior Absorption ministries coming to the school for ceremonies to hand the new immigrants their Identity Cards and Immigrant Certificates. Representatives from the Student Authority also come to advise those under 30 of their eligibility to study for free at Israeli institutes of higher education.

"This place has a certain magic," explains Uzzan, comparing the intensive program to paratrooper training. Students become "the best buddies, like in the army." She salutes her charges' idealism, leaving their careers and families to fulfill their Zionist dream. They're "oxygen for the state. They're doing something great, making a real contribution to Israel. They're truly outstanding students," she says with obvious affection.

Many hound the Draft Board to be accepted into combat units and to commence their military service earlier than scheduled, she notes.

"I love Israel. I want to go to the army," enthuses Michael Uzan who studied computer science in his home town of Sousse, Tunisia. And as if on cue, he opens his mail to find an IDF call-up notice for two years beginning in 2007.

Aviva Hirshman, who came from Toronto, says, "The connections we make [here] our incredible. We rely on each other. It's hard but it's beautiful. When they talk about life changing experiences, this is it."

Clive Chazzan, who grew up in the Sydney suburb of Rosebay together with many fellow South African expats, calls the school "lots of fun. I've made good friends. I go to the beach."

Indeed Ulpan Etzion has a certain reputation for its active social life.

"They're kids," Uzzan winks, adding the school has never had to call the police regarding parties that have gotten out of hand, nor had complaints from its neighbors - many of whom "adopt" students for Shabbatot and festivals. By the same token, many of the students settle in Baka and the neighboring German Colony locating their permanent housing near their first home in Israel.

The flip side of Ulpan Etzion's boisterous social scene are the many couples who met there and ultimately marry, Uzzan smiles.

Holding hands as they leave the cafeteria, Daniel Apfelbaum of Paris and Andrea Klimova of Prague report they're planning to rent an apartment together when the program ends in December. Apfelbaum, who left a six-figure position in Manhattan as a bond trader, is looking for a job with an investment bank or in finance. Klimova intends to study international relations at the Hebrew University.

Michael Flam of Ventura, California posts a blog of his experiences ($1294) under the nom de plume "Exodus: Yehuda Hammer." Notable is his blog entry early in his stay: "I made aliya almost 40 days ago and aside from attending Hebrew classes for five hours a day, I have exerted little effort to learn the language. I frequently don't do my homework. Rather than speaking Hebrew with the other students at the Ulpan, I instead take the easy route and speak English. Every day I tell myself that I am going to start hitting the books, but I don't. Instead I play basketball, watch a movie, take swing-dancing class, go out for a hamburger or drink some beer with the many nice people at the Ulpan. But now the party is over. I need to study."

It's a gritty sentiment of determination to succeed one hears again and again from Ulpan Etzion's students.

Most seem to enjoy, or at least not mind, the communal aspect of living together - including having roommates and sharing a washroom with some 40 others, an experience Uzzan calls a "social pressure cooker."

If there's a fly in that cholent, it's the institutional cooking.

Sitting in Ulpan Etzion's neatly manicured garden, Michael Snider from the US enjoys a falafel he purchased on Derech Beit Lehem rather than eat the subsidized but somewhat unpalatable lunch. "Don't write about the food," he grimaces.

Another student from London, who asks that her name not be used, adds the kindest thing you can say about the cooking is that it's kosher.

(Students pay for their room and board out of the absorption basket that immigrants receive. Tuition is covered by the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption.)

A guard is posted at the gate of Ulpan Etzion, and the buildings are locked. But those security measures can only partially protect the students from Israel's sometimes rough-and-tumble reality. One student reported she had NIS 8,000 charged on her VISA card for purchases made in the United States - while she was attending class in Jerusalem. While credit card fraud is universal, what she found hard to deal with was the aggressive attitude of the bank's investigators - who grilled her at length before finally determining that it was a genuine case of fraud.

For Ruth Brainis, who was born in Haifa but grew up in Canada, that's just part of the acculturation process. "I feel like Ulpan Etzion is an incubator. I feel like you're transforming at every level."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Rav Yosef And The Rosh Hashanah Yonah

Some posts I’ve been meaning to get to... (Part I)

This story happened way back on Erev Rosh Hashana and received some positive press… more recently it has received some negative press. It’s interesting, though, to see how the same events are portrayed from completely different perspectives.

On one leg: A dove (the bird kind – not the soap) landed on Rav Ovadia's Shlita Shtender Erev Rosh Hashana. No one was able to shoo it away until Rav Ovodia quoted some poskuim about doves at Mincha time. Some believe it must have been a gilgul while others just poke fun (at time maliciously).

Here are some various takes on the episode:

Mystical Path's Take
Dreaming Of Moshiach's Take

The Jewish Chronicle's Take
Failed Messiah's Take

Monday, October 09, 2006

Only In Israel #6: Video of Today's Birchat Kohanim

Or click here.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Watch Birchat Kohanim LIVE - right here!

I'll wave to you! :)

Above: Birchat Kohanim Pesach 5766

The feeds below come from - so please visit that site, register, and give a donation to keep these wonderful cameras rolling!

The Kotel Plaza

The Prayer Plaza

Wilson's Arch

Marriv Quotes Point of Pinchas

Two landmarks today!

First, Point of Pinchas is no longer a "Lowly Insect" in the TTLB Ecosystem. (See right side bar) It's now a Slimy Mollusc! Hooray! Moving up in the world.

Second, Marriv quoted my blog in today's paper! Stay tuned and I'll see if I could some how get it up. (It's only in the print edition.)

Anyway basiclly they quote this post! How cool is that?

Here's the quote:

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Oil in Israel!

Higher Oil Prices Prompt Israel to Search for 'Black Gold'
By Julie Stahl Jerusalem Bureau Chief
October 06, 2006

Jerusalem ( - Higher oil prices prompted an Israeli oil concern to re-open an abandoned oil well in southern Israel recently, and what experts found has encouraged them that Israel may have significant quantities of oil that could be very important to the country.

Situated in the oil-rich neighborhood of the Middle East, very little oil has nevertheless been discovered in Israel. But that may change soon.

Testing for oil in the area of the Dead Sea in southern Israel has been "very encouraging," said Dr. Eli Tannenbaum, geological consultant of Ginko Oil Exploration, which is a private company conducting the explorations.

Recently, Ginko re-opened an old well that had been active from 1995-97. It was abandoned because international oil prices were very low at the time -- $15-20 a barrel -- and it was not financially viable.

"Since then, prices have quadrupled, and it might [now] be economical," Tannenbaum said in a telephone interview.

What Ginko found when they re-opened the well was that the oil pressure was good, and oil flowed freely. But the significance of the well is not about the quantities that are produced there, Tannenbaum said.

The company is doing more comprehensive testing. About two kilometers north of the current well, Ginko found a "hydro-carbon trap" (a geological area where oil is found), and it could yield an estimated 4-6 million barrels of oil, he said.

If there is a well like this on the same layer as the current well, then it follows that there could be other wells, too, that would also produce quantities of oil, he added.

"There is quite a big potential here," said Tannenbaum. If "significant quantities" are found, it would be "very important" to Israel, he said without elaborating.

Israel currently imports most of its oil from the former Soviet Union and the remainder from West Africa, Egypt and Mexico. Gasoline prices in Israel currently are more than $5.00 per gallon.

Tannenbaum said that Ginko is working on 10 prospects and hopes they will be able to drill at each one and "prove their potential," he said.

The Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, is packed with minerals and is already mined for its potassium and bromine. Both Israel and Jordan sit on its shores.

Jordan also previously found oil in the area, but it was not enough to make it commercially viable, Tannenbaum said. According to Ginko's surveys, most of the oil would be found on the Israeli side of the Dead Sea, he added.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Rabbi and Terror

(Posted on Innernet).

by Shlomo Z. Sonnenfeld
Excerpted with permission from "Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld on the Parashah." Published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn, NY --

On Friday, the 17th of Av, 5689 (1929), the Arabs in Israel began the infamous "riots of 1929," which culminated the next day, Shabbos, with the murder of 59 Jews -- including 29 yeshivah students -- in Hebron. After the Friday prayers at the A1-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount ended, thousands of frenzied Moslems -- incited by the Mufti's inflammatory sermon -- marched through the Old City, exiting through Sha'ar Shechem (Damascus Gate), heading towards the Meah Shearim and Beis Yisrael quarters, and chanting "Itbah al-Yahud" ("Kill the Jews!").

Fright, bordering on hysteria, seized the women and children of these neighborhoods, as word was received of the approaching mob. The Jewish men grabbed whatever instruments they could get their hands on -- poles, axes, pipes, etc. -- to defend themselves and their homes. The few Haganah men posted at the entrance of the neighborhood were at a loss as to how to deal with the huge mob, which was making its way down St. George Street (now named Shivtei Yisrael), headed by a sword-wielding sheikh who egged them on with shouts of "Jihad!" and "No mercy on women and children! Kill all the Jews!"

Suddenly a young religious fellow emerged from the flour mill at the entrance of Meah Shearim (which served as the Haganah's guard station) and, accompanied by just one other man, confronted the approaching mass of rioters. He took out a pistol, aimed it at the sheikh, and fired one shot at his head, killing him instantly. The mob was suddenly seized with panic when they saw that their leader had been slain, and turned on their heels, running back toward Sha'ar Shechem. Several of them were trampled to death in the ensuing stampede.


The next day, Shabbos, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, [the revered Sage who lived in the Old City of Jerusalem,] had been scheduled to perform a circumcision in the Meah Shearim neighhborhood. Everyone, including the rabbi's family, took it for granted that he would not dare to undertake the perilous walk from the Old City to Meah Shearim; it was so obvious that no one even discussed it. How surprised they were, then, when Rav Yosef Chaim put on his coat after Kiddush on Shabbos morning and announced that he was going to the bris! They shouted and protested, but to no avail. Rav Yosef Chaim had made up his mind. The mitzvah of circumcision would protect him from harm for, as the Sages taught, "Those who travel on a mission to do a mitzvah will experience no harm, neither on their way there nor on their way back" (Talmud - Pesachim 8b).

Since the rabbi was already 80 years old, some of his acquaintances decided to accompany him. When they arrived at "Street of the Jews," at the end of the Jewish Quarter, Rav Yosef Chaim turned to them and told them to go back, for he saw that they were gripped with terror. As they turned to walk back home, they were shocked to see Rav Yosef Chaim head down the street leading to Sha'ar Shechem -- which was considered "treacherous terrain" even in the best of days -- rather than the safer "Bazaar Street" route, which led to Sha'ar Yafo (Jaffa Gate).

And so, following the very same path that the rioters had trodden less than 24 hours previously, the rabbi made his way toward Meah Shearim, confidently and proudly, buoyed by the happy thought that he would soon be bringing "another Jew into God's legion," as he liked to put it.


The first residents of Meah Shearim who noticed the distant black-clad figure walking down St. George Street stared in amazement and fear as the old Jew confidently strode along. As soon as they realized who it was that was coming, they burst out in shouts of joy. Within minutes, hundreds of residents assembled to greet Rav Yosef Chaim as he safely entered the neighborhood. Among them were his grandchildren, who promptly invited him to spend the rest of Shabbos with them, so that he would not have to retrace his steps through "enemy territory."

After the bris, Rav Yosef Chaim stopped by his grandchild's house to visit for a while, and then bid farewell, as he put on his hat and prepared to head home. The scene of the early morning replayed itself. The family members vehemently protested, arguing that coming to the bris was bad enough, but now there was certainly no longer any reason to undertake such a perilous journey.

Once again, however, Rav Yosef Chaim's persistence won out in the end. "Those who travel on a mission to do a mitzvah experience no harm, even on their way back," he reminded them. As he began walking down the street toward the edge of Meah Shearim, thousands of residents poured out of their houses to accompany him to the "border." When they reached the Italian hospital (now the Education Ministry, on the corner of Shivtei Yisrael and Nevi'im Streets), the crowd took their leave of the beloved rabbi and watched him as he began to walk, briskly and proudly toward Sha'ar Yafo!

Why did he insist on going to the bris through Sha'ar Shechem? he was later asked. "So that the Arabs should not think that they succeeded in driving out Jewish passersby from even one corner or street of Jerusalem!" he explained.

And why did he return through Sha'ar Yafo? "This has always been my custom, to leave the Old City through Sha'ar Shechem and to return through Sha'ar Yafo, to fulfill the verse, 'Walk about Zion and encircle it' (Psalms 48:13)!"


Rav Yosef Chaim once wrote, "I have no Torah or wisdom to my credit. The only distinction I can apply to myself is that I had the merit, by God's grace, of living my life in the Holy City of Jerusalem."

In his will, he left instructions that no one should eulogize him, and that no one should say anything more than, "Pity the loss of an old Land of Israel Jew." For Rav Yosef Chaim, that was the ultimate praise!

Hat Tip: Daniel