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The economic recession is a harsh, dazing blow to many of us who rested comfortably on the status quo of financial security. 1.2 million jobs have been cut; Citigroup alone recently announced plans to lay off 50,000 employees, and the auto industry is tanking. The secure financial pillars of America have crashed to the ground, leaving millions stunned. The days of whipping out a credit card at the grocery store without consequence have ended, leaving people who used to make a decent living struggling to put food on the table.

While the news coverage was wonderfully dismal and pessimistic it didn't quite hit home until I became one of their depressing statistics. Me and all the ex Citigroup employees could have a pity party at Starbucks, although I'm not sure how we could afford it.

Why did I spend so much money on food last week?! I sat in shock that Friday afternoon, heart pounding, tears coming to my eyes, staring at my boss in disbelief and utter dismay. He looked intently at his desk, shame faced, and uncomfortably muttered, "With the economy the way it is now, I just can't afford any more than two full time people..."

Thoughts began racing through my head. Why did I spend so much money on food last week?! No more casual spending! Everything will have to be carefully calculated and considered before I extract my wallet from my purse. My Excel spread sheet containing my budget flashed before my eyes with negative numbers and my heart was filled with dread knowing that I had to make some serious cuts. Thank G‑d, my situation was not as dire as most, as I had a backup plan to study in Israel and savings to support myself. It's too scary to even begin to contemplate what would happen had I not had a contingency plan, or if I had a family to support.

So central is money to our survival that every day in the silent prayer we pray that G‑d bless us with abundance in terms of physical nourishment. On Yom Kippur, when we stand before G‑d as angels (who don't eat, mind you) praying to be sealed for life we also ask for sustenance. In ancient times, during the Yom Kippur service, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies chamber of the Temple, place the proper offering, step out and recite a short prayer. What does he ask for at this climactic spiritual moment? "…Let not Your people Israel depend on one another or on any other nation for its livelihood..."

And yet, though we need a livelihood to survive, this very same thing can lead us down a path of greed and a false sense of self-sufficiency. Such is the dichotomy of life. The thing that is most essential to survival can ultimately be that which corrupts us and leaves us devoid of true purpose and meaning.

In King Solomon's work Ecclesiastes he bewails, "havel havalim!" Futility of futilities! He expounds on the temporal nature of every endeavor and experience in this world. Everything that we labor in will pass on to someone else, every joy and pleasure we experience will eventually dissipate. We are hard-pressed to find anything that is lasting and eternal. Therefore, according to King Solomon, everything is futile.

These words flashed into my mind when I walked out of my boss's office that afternoon. The effort I invested in a career path and the creation of a sense of direction was taken away in a matter of seconds. All my feelings of self-created stability and permanence proved to be false, leaving me feeling as though the world was an unfriendly sea of crashing waves, letting me drown and giving me nothing sturdy to hold on to. I had mistakenly placed my self-concept, future, stability, and my path in the world in this job. It was all futile; I lost my job and all the things I had labored in. Futility of futilities!

King Solomon concludes his work with, "the sum of the matter, when all has been considered: fear G‑d and keep His commandments, for that is man's whole duty." When we are focused on spiritual pursuits the results of those labors are eternal and profoundly more pleasurable than anything purely physical or invested in things without permanence.

However, G‑d created a world in which my survival is dependent upon activities that in and of themselves are futile.

Our stability and direction should be placed in spiritual goalsRabbi Ephraim Twerski gave an interesting insight on this dichotomy. The Zohar says that we cannot make personal requests on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. So how could it be that the High Priest asked for sustenance? There is a Midrash that says that when Esau and Jacob were in the womb they fought over who would inherit this world and who would inherit the world to come. Jacob won the world to come and Esau won this world. Therefore, a descendent of Jacob doesn't have a right to the material pleasures of this world. If we do utilize materials of this world we are subject to attack from Esau for stealing his portion.

However, we need the tools of this world to survive. What is the solution? The key is its purpose. If we use this world for sake of the "next world," i.e. our spiritual pursuits, then Esau is unable to attack. Our request for sustenance on Yom Kippur is to enable us to focus on our ultimate spiritual purpose.

Our stability and direction should be placed in spiritual goals, with the necessities of this world as mere tools to help us achieve eternity.

In the Adon Olam, we say that G‑d is the "rock of my pain in time of my distress." In these economically difficult times we can be comforted that the One who gave abundance will surely provide again and know that our ultimate purpose lies far beyond our employment.

Everyone should have success in their path for spiritual greatness and be blessed with the physical sustenance to make that journey possible.

Face painting or the moonbounce?


It seems kinda arbitrary—what to do first? Face painting or the moonbounce?

2:30 p.m. Chanukah Wonderland of the Chabad of the Five Towns.

We made our way through what seemed like hundreds of kids, parents, and staff... booths, crafts, legos, and activities... So much was jam-packed into such a small space, we could start our fun anywhere, and it would be just right.

So, what to do first? Face painting or the moonbounce?

Well, if anyone would have made a shortlist of what my son Uriyah might enjoy at an indoor carnival, the moonbounce would definitely be on top of the list, followed by legos and crafts, for sure. For some reason, I took him to get his face painted.

We stood gingerly on line as my husband Yossi took our daughter Ma'ayan to the toddler area. We were on line for ages. I even let someone nudge ahead of us. About seven girls, and Uriyah, the lone boy, waiting patiently for his turn. I met an old friend of mine—she was ahead of me on line with her daughter. As the menorah was barely finished on her daughter's face, she announced that she's going to the moonbounce. I watched her walk off.

Once seated, Uriyah wanted a green dreidel on one cheek and a blue menorah on the other. And that's what he got. Once we finished, I traded with Yossi—I took Ma'ayan to nurse her, and Yossi took Uriyah to... make a candle. Of all things.

I made my way to the other side of the room to some benches, within earshot of the rally that was being telecast at the time. I saw another old friend of mine... we chatted about small stuff. Of course, it all seems small in light of what happened next. I was looking at the window diagonally across, when suddenly, a car drove through the glass, driving so, so fast, legos flying through the air, as it collided into the moonbounce...

I can tell you so much, and yet still too little, about the next moments... How I, by the Mercy of G‑d, found my husband and son safe, and so quickly, while others were screaming for their loved ones; how my husband ran off to help the injured, while I ran outside with the kids, when he found us later, his shirt was bloodstained, his face soaked with tears; running on glass, cradling my kids, looking for our coats, trying to keep calm, all the time murmuring, "Thank G‑d, Thank G‑d," while others were searching for their kids, their mothers, their fathers, everyone's faces tear-stained.


All I could think was—is this what its like in a terrorist attack, all the mayhem, all the sadness, the fear, the 'it-could-have-been-me" feeling, or worse, the 'it-could-have-been-my-kids" feeling? If I got a taste of that today, then I can't even imagine the pain and trauma so many others have been through, in travesties so much larger.

After what seemed like an eternity, we left the 'Wonderland' and made our way to the Ohel, the Rebbe's resting place, to ask for mercy for those who were critically injured, and to thank G‑d for the sweet kindness He showed us today.

It's still very raw. Very sad. Very scary. Seems so arbitrary. Are we ever safe? Why did we have to see this? I just wanted to give my kid a good time, a little face painting, maybe a little moonbounce, and now he's afraid, tells me it's "scary at the Chabad House."


The night before, Yossi and I had gone to a Chanukah party at the Pinsons in Carrol Gardens. In a dark candlelit room with huge brass chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings, Rabbi Dov Ber Pinson asked everyone to meditate on the Menorah lights... Four flames shining against a brick wall, beautiful gold flames flickering with pride. Half the Menorah lit—the other half, still dark. The image of that menorah became embedded in my mind's eye.

And tonight, after the face painting, and car crash, and crying, and holding, and caressing, and praying, after all of it, we lit the Menorah at home. Five lights. Four plus one: half the menorah lit, plus one more light on the other side.

I remember last night's Menorah as I stare at tonight's. Something's changed for me, and my family, as we traveled in time, and space, from the fourth night of Chanukah to the fifth; from the right side of the menorah, past the shamash, to the fifth light. Something unexplainable and totally vulnerable...

Right now, it feels like the difference between face-painting and the moonbounce.


Editor's note: For more on this traumatic event, see:

Five Injured After Car Slams Into Long Island Chanukah Workshop
Long Island Community Musters Support for Victims of Traffic Accident
Children in Long Island Accident Return Home From Hospital

Moderator’s Note: Though—thankfully—Bin Laden isn’t in the news these days, the following insight is definitely worthy of a news-oriented blog.—N.S.

It’s a safe bet you’ve not traveled to Hadhramaut, never mind heard of the location. Yet it does exist, though it may not feature high on the list of places to visit before you die. Hadhramaut is an ancient region, located somewhere in the hardscrabble deserts of eastern Yemen. Its name, according to many linguistic scholars, stems from the Arabic words for “death has come.” An old fable related to this name would suggest a locale with a morbid fascination with death.

I learned of all this, and a lot more, from a book I recently read. A book dedicated to tracing the origins of a well-known family that hails from this region: the Bin Ladens. A seemingly well-suited name for the native land of a person who has wreaked havoc and destruction, and caused an untold number of deaths.

Interestingly, the Torah mentions a locale with a similar name, which may very well have been the inspiration for the name of this region, or may even be the region’s original name.

In describing Noah’s offspring born after the flood, the Torah (Genesis 10:26) speaks of an individual named Chatzarmavet—or “Courtyard of Death.”

It would seem to be very poor judgment on the part of parents to name their child “Courtyard of Death.” Imagine the psychological effects on a child in a playground setting saddled with a name like this! What is even more curious about this narrative is that according to our tradition, the father of this child, Joktan, was a fine fellow, not to mention a humble and upstanding citizen!

Our sages address this question by teaching that Chatzarmavet was not the given name of Joktan’s son, but the name of the location where he settled. And it is a testament to the profound effect this person had upon his community that he earned the accolade of having an entire region named for him.

The citizens of Chatzarmavet were known for their inclination to forgo the instant gratification of transitory consumerism that plagued the milieu they lived in—favoring instead a life of enduring value and infinite existence. These were a good, simple folk, unfazed by credit crunches, toxic debt, or loss of equity and monetary value. These people lived a simple and austere lifestyle, eschewing a life of glitz and glamour in favor of a thrifty but happy existence.

They personified the teaching of our sages (Talmud, Shabbat 153a), “Repent one day before you die.” Since we never know when that day will come, we must always be repenting . . . They always contemplated death—i.e., that since life is so fragile and temporary, it is foolish to waste time on acquiring, or worrying about, possessions that are of fleeting value. Instead they chose to focus on permanent and lasting ideals, those that will be of enduring value long after the soul departs the body.

Thus they were named “Courtyard of Death.” They eschewed the temporal “life” that so many pursue.

But from Hadhramaut comes one who chose to be defined by the literal meaning of the name of his ancestral home; hence a 9/11 atrocity is conceived and executed, resulting in the wanton murder of thousands of innocent people.

From Chatzarmavet, however, comes an idea of personal responsibility, of an ethos that ensures the perpetuation of a people focused on values that reject temporal materialism and the flavored soundbites of mass consumerism—in favor of a more difficult, yet ultimately more rewarding task of spiritual and moral growth, ensuring that we will overcome Hadhramaut with Chatzarmavet.

What do lawyers who oppose menorahs on state property think of the Chabad rabbis who put them there?

What do Pakistani Muslims feel about Jews and America?

And how do Greeks feel about Chanukah?

I have just finished participating at the pre-Chanukah menorah lighting at California's State Capitol together with a glowing and friendly Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. During the de-light-ful ceremony, special mention was made of our dear colleagues, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg, agents of good who were murdered during the recent Mumbai attacks.

It was a peaceful and friendly Chanukah experience, where people of all faiths and backgrounds celebrated the religious freedom afforded by America—even the "lefty" Jewish lawyer who happened to be walking past during a recess in his trial case. He stopped by while we were setting up and decided to register his protest against religious symbols on state property. I asked him how his family was doing. He smiled and told me all about them—an unmistakable touch of pride in his voice.

After the ceremony he gave me hug. He was inspired, he said, to share the light and warmth, after hearing the amazing story of young Moshe Holtzberg's miraculous survival—as told by the Governor.

I then rushed off to the airport to get on the standby list for a flight back to Los Angeles—as the cross-country storms continued to wreak mayhem on air-traffic time tables. I jumped into a cab, but the driver claimed that he does not know where the airport is... The second cab driver tells me that he does not accept credit cards. A sign from G‑d or what?!

The third cab driver was happy to take me.

He was from Pakistan. Of course you can guess where our conversation went.

Well, you are probably wrong.

He was a warm and friendly person; I asked him how his family was doing, and how long he's been in America. He told all about his family, and his love for life and his beautiful country—the USA. As we approached the airport I finally asked him to share his thoughts on the Mumbai attacks. My pre-conceived notion was wrong. Rahim was very upset at what had happened. In broken English mixed with Punjabi, he said, "No Pakistani likes this; this is so, so bad, I am sorry for this..."

I arrive at the airport and luckily they book me for a flight. As we await the plane, Dennis Prager entertains us and shows us a video he had just filmed of himself with the Governor smoking a cigar. "If you want to make it with people," he says, "don't talk to them about their work or politics. Speak about their hobbies and their families."

How appropriate, I think to myself, as I recall my conversations earlier that day.

I got on the plane; I'm seated next to a Greek woman. She serves as a psychologist in California county jails. She wanted to know what the Amish were doing in town... I laughed and told her that we were actually Jewish, rabbis lighting the Governor's Menorah.

She wanted to know the story of Chanukah. Well, she is Greek, but I told her anyway...

But then she tells me how her maternal grandfather was killed by the Nazis for resisting them and how her paternal grandfather hid Jews in their village house, thus saving their lives. She told me how she had seen some religious Jews before and wanted to ask some questions but felt uncomfortable.

Why do we judge? Why the stereotypes?

Maybe it's time to tear down some barriers and share the warmth of life, in this kind, loving world that G‑d created.

Happy Chanukah!

Thoughts on the Blagojevich Scandal

Another Illinois politician is in the headlines. One month after the world was focused on the celebration of a newly elected president right here in Chicago, the press is back in town investigating the criminal allegations against our governor.

I'll let you in on a little secret. Here in Illinois, coupled with the disgust, is an inverse sense of pride at the history of our elected officials' audacity. After all, the previous governor of Illinois is currently serving time in a Federal Penitentiary; he's the third Illinois Governor to do so, while the current governor seems destined to be number four.

At the time of the last governor's sentencing we were told that it sent a strong message that the era of corruption was over. A lot of good that did. (And for the partisans out there, the last governor was a Republican and the current a Democrat.)

So the upshot is: "That's the way it was, is and forever will be; we might as well laugh at it." It's just a contest to see who can get away with the most, for the longest, because after all, "everybody does it."

Is that indeed so? Are we to resign ourselves to eternal dishonesty; winking and chuckling at the impudence of our leadership?

And on a more personal note, how about the "government" of our character? How's it to conduct its business? I'm referring to the internal perpetual battle within each of us between the competing powers of good and evil—are we to expect failure? And then dismiss it as inevitable because after all, the argument goes, that's just the way it is?

In his classic work of chassidic teaching, the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad, describes a completely different reality. Rabbi Schneur Zalman makes the argument that sin, failure and disappointment is bizarre and unreasonable.

He quotes King Solomon's description of the dominance of light over darkness as a model of the supremacy of the G‑dly soul over the instinctual self-centered animal soul. By law of nature, evil should melt away when confronted by goodness, just as darkness vanishes when light is introduced. In fact, due to the G‑dly soul's inside track, Tanya is forced to explain how the animal soul ever scores a victory. (In short, it has to do with clever trickery—the animal soul hoodwinking a person into believing that the act he or she is about to do isn't so awful after all...)

And it is this question, perhaps more than the intricate answer, that is so key to achieving success. When we reshape our attitude to be stunned by sinning, we have adopted G‑d's perspective. We should expect constant and continuous success. Struggle will always be present, yet challenge should never be misinterpreted as surrender, or tolerance for disregard for our mission.

So while power may go to your head, it need not manifest itself in corrupt behavior; we can, and therefore we must, resist every temptation that plagues us.

On a similar note, 2,000 years of exile threaten to condition us to expect it to continue forever, to resign ourselves to eternal disappointment. We don't want to be disappointed any more, so we learn to expect it.

The message of Rabbi Schneur Zalman is the message of geulah, redemption. The world can be a great place to be, nice guys don't have to finish last. Despite our personal history we can and will end the culture of corruption and create an ethical society and make the world a G‑dly place.

Once again, the news is abuzz with yet another politician who allegedly abused his position. Allegedly, Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich conspired to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-Elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder. According to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, Blagojevich was caught on his wire tapped phones trying to get money, campaign funds, high-paying positions for his wife, and even a cabinet position or ambassadorship for himself, in exchange for the prestigious Senate position.

If these allegations are true, these actions constitute a major betrayal of the public trust. Clearly, appointments to positions of influence should be based on aptitude, not on deep pockets. It is also equally clear that anyone who was willing to pay for the seat is guilty of attempted bribery and should also be prosecuted.

But here's my question. Blagojevich's motives are obvious: he wanted the money. But what would inspire someone to pay substantial money for a Senate seat? I have to believe that the amount that would have been paid to Blagojevich would have been considerably less than the "paltry" $170,000 salary given to senators. More importantly, anyone with the capability to pay the kickback that Blagojevich demanded probably is an individual of considerable means, and doesn't really need the senate seat to put bread on his or her kitchen table...

By now, most of you are thinking that I'm awfully naïve. Of course it's not about the money! It's about the prestige and power! It's about membership in one of the most exclusive "clubs" in the world!

Well, allow me to suggest a radical alternative explanation...

But, first a little Jewish history.

In the first Holy Temple, the high priests were righteous men, truly worthy of their positions. They merited unusual longevity, with only nine high priests serving throughout the 410 years the Temple stood.

For much of the Second Temple Era – the most of which the Jews were subject to Greek and Roman rule – the position of high priesthood was up for sale to the highest bidder, which allowed many corrupt people to occupy the coveted position.

These impious high priests had very short tenures, for they would regularly die upon entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. The holiness of the location couldn't tolerate the presence of anyone who was less than absolutely righteous. In fact, the Zohar tells that before the High Priests would enter, they would be attached to chains—which is how their lifeless bodies would be dragged out of the Holy of Holies!

Thus, the 420 years of the Second Temple saw more than 300 High Priests! It was during this time that a new name was coined for the High Priest's personal office in the Temple: the Parhedrin Chamber. A "parhedrin" was a government official whose term lasted twelve months...

In one of his talks, the Rebbe points to an obvious question. These people weren't all delusional. They were well aware that they weren't worthy of the holy position they aspired to – in fact, many of them weren't even priests! – so what impelled them to pay huge sums of money to occupy a position that would ensure their ignoble demise after one year?!

Is the craving for power and fame so consuming?

Or... perhaps...

Yes, these were unworthy people. But even the most "unworthy" of Jews yearns to enter the Holy of Holies. G‑d's inner sanctum. The one place where heaven met earth in a palpable and obvious way. To connect with G‑d just once—even if it comes at the cost of life itself...

Not surprisingly, the Rebbe chooses the second option.

Now back to Blagojevich's cronies.

Is it possible that what they really want is to be of service to the public, to serve their people?

(Even if true, this doesn't exonerate them from what they allegedly did—just as history doesn't look kindly at those who bought their way into the high priesthood. But...)

Maybe we can learn just a little to adopt the Rebbe's outlook. To always try to find the positive, no matter how concealed it may seem to be.

There's so much beauty within every person. We need to find it. Within ourselves. And within all others.

What a beautiful world we can uncover.

As the economy slows and sales decline in the automobile sector, automakers lobby their governments for bailout packages. Here in Canada, Chrysler has petitioned the Government for an emergency loan of 1.6 billion dollars and added that if the loan is not approved Chrysler would be forced to shut down a number of Canadian plants.

When I first heard this news I reacted with a sympathetic nod to the several hundred workers who would lose their jobs. After all, such news is no longer new to Canadians who have suffered a number of plant shutdowns in the last few years. But then the Worker's Union Representative came on the radio and shifted my perspective. He reminded us that plant shutdowns affect the entire economy.

When one plant stops making cars other plants stop manufacturing parts. When other plants stop manufacturing parts further plants stop supplying materials such as metals, plastic, leather and glass. When parts and supplies are no longer required, the machines that produce them become unnecessary. The mechanics and engineers lose work as do the workers who build these machines. When all these factories reduce their manufacturing, there are fewer parts and products to deliver. This affects shipping, rail companies and, of course, truck drivers. Fewer ships, trains and trucks reduce demand for fuel. This, in turn, affects the markets at large and the jobs of workers at oil rigs and gas pumps. When any part of the economy shuts down the ripple effect is felt throughout the economy.

One Good Deed

There is a principle in Judaism that everything in life can serve as a lesson to us in matters of religion and faith. When we consider the (perhaps over-dramatized version of the) trickledown effect of a single plant closure we gain an entirely new appreciation for the far reaching effects of a single mitzvah.

Let us consider the mitzvah of charity. Imagine a poor man comes to your door and you invite him in for dinner. This simple action, which took perhaps ten minutes of your time and some of your pantry's contents, has far reaching effects that you might never have considered.

When you served this man his dinner, you and he engaged in a mitzvah. The divine energy of G‑d's will flowed through both giver and recipient for His will was fulfilled through both of you. When you reflect further, you realize that the food you served and the plates on which you served it also became carriers of the divine will. On further reflection you realize that the pots in which the food was cooked and the energy invested in cooking the foods are also elevated by this mitzvah. Furthermore, the energy invested in shopping for the foods and the money expended in purchasing them have also become holy.

To expand the concept even further: The workers who manufactured the food you purchased and the cartons in which they were stored as well as those who manufactured the bills and coins that you expended also become carriers of the divine will. Furthermore, the food eaten by, and the clothes worn by, these workers were also uplifted for they enabled those workers to manufacture the items you used in your mitzvah. Of course this means that those who prepared food and made clothes for those workers are also touched by your mitzvah. Every link in this chain of mitzvah is nourished by a preceding link, reaching back almost to the beginning of time.

When you think about it you realize that there are, in fact, multiple chains, each one striking out in a different direction and each one subdividing into many more sub chains. There is the chain of those who manufactured each food item used in the mitzvah, which subdivides at each level into the chains of those who enabled the manufacturers of these items. There are separate chains for each pot, plate, cup and piece of cutlery that was used. There are chains of those who delivered these items. There are separate chains for those who built the house in which the mitzvah was performed, the stove on which the food was cooked, the table on which it was served and the chair in which the poor man sat. Each chain multiplies into many more chains till the number literally exceeds the reach of the human mind.

Who ever thought that a single mitzvah can literally touch the whole of humanity?

Each segment of these many chains performed their part without knowing that they were part of a multilayered chain. But G‑d knew. G‑d orchestrated this complex production of parts over the course of decades, centuries and even millennia. Each part of the many chains merged seamlessly with the others finally coalescing on that momentous occasion that brought the poor man to your door.

That was your moment of decision. You would determine whether the countless hours of effort and energy would be elevated or wasted. It seemed like a simple choice at the time: Invite the poor man in or send him on his way. Little did you realize that centuries of toil, myriads of angels, all of history and G‑d Himself were waiting with bated breath to see whether their investment would prove worthwhile. One simple choice can validate the whole of history. Conversely, one simple choice can put all of history to waste. These are momentous decisions and we make them all the time.

Maimonides writes (Laws of Repentance 3:4) that one must always imagine that the entire world is equally balanced between good and evil and that any one deed will tilt the scales one way or the other. The afore-explained idea lends an entirely new perspective to these words.

Love In The Strangest Places

When I first started on the road to observant Judaism, one of my main motivators was the concept of Ahavat Yisrael. Love of a fellow Jew. I was so impressed with the way my Chabad rabbi spread his love and joy to the people around him, I felt like I had to be a part of it.

So, when I arrived for my second visit to Beit Hashalom, the disputed house in Hebron, I was surprised to immediately feel what seemed like Ahavat Yisrael. I expected to see the same frustrated, upset faces from my first visit. Instead, there were looks of hope and happiness surrounding me. The settlers were full of a vibrant energy, as if they could accomplish anything.

As soon as I arrived, I heard the sound of someone playing the guitar. As I searched it out, I came upon a group of four settlers sitting down and singing together inside of the house. Hanging out as if it were a normal day, they played different Jewish songs about peace and togetherness. About Ahavat Yisrael. It reminded me of a spontaneous jam session when I was in college.

As time passed, more and more settlers streamed into the room and danced and sang together. Within moments, it turned from a small jam session into a full dance party. People brought out more instruments, danced in circles, and sang songs out to the world. Soon, everyone streamed outside, and the party truly exploded.

Love was in the air.

The next day was no different. It started with the entire group settlers praying together in the study hall they had constructed in the house. Even a soldier came in and prayed with them. Seeing them all praying together in their tefillin was a powerful reminder of the power of prayer and its ability to connect Jews together.

As the day progressed, the settlers came outside and spent the day playing soccer and relaxing. What was really fascinating to me was how everyone there got into the spirit. The journalists would kick the ball back to the settlers if the ball ever came to them. The mood was infectious.

I spent the rest of the day talking to and interviewing some of the leaders of the Beit Hashalom community. They talked proudly of their accomplishments, and gave clear, concise responses to every question. It soon became obvious as journalists and photographers surrounded the house that the leaders had now become quite proficient at being interviewed. They were veterans.

It seemed like any other day in Israel, except with a few more journalists around. The feeling of Ahavat Yisrael was in the air. Everything was cool.

Until we started to hear screaming.

It Begins

After my first visit to Beit Hashalom, the sound of people screaming there didn't bother me as much. Usually it just meant that some people were arguing with a soldier.

It was only when I saw someone running past me that I started to get worried. It wasn't the fact that he was running that worried me, it was his face. He looked like he was running for his life.

Before I had a moment to react, two vans screeched to a halt in front of the house, followed by dozens of soldiers. The soldiers, in less than a few seconds, formed into a line and linked arms. Immediately following them came a large group of riot police, dressed in blue armor and holding huge shields. If any settler, such as the boys who had been playing basketball and soccer, happened to be unlucky enough to be in their way, they were shoved violently into the group of soldiers and then shoved again outside of the linked group soldiers so that they could not interfere with the evacuation.

Because everyone was so surprised by the evacuation, most people were easily taken from the building. The first people to emerge from the house were two girls, both crying and holding each other. At first, it seemed like most people would leave like they were. Upset, but hopeless.

But as more people filed out, more and more began to resist. Eventually, it was clear that this would not be a simple evacuation.

I remember reading after I returned home that the evacuation was "swift" and "relatively painless." The truth is, the police and soldiers were able to remove most of the people quickly, but that was when the difficulty truly began.

As the young settlers were taken away from the home and set outside the "arena of operations," they began to notice that there were still people that had managed to barricade themselves in the house. The families. As soon as the settlers saw this, and saw the riot police sawing through the door, protecting themselves with their shields like Romans, they fought – from behind the police – with renewed energy and anger.

Every few minutes, a settler would begin counting down.

"Sheva! Shesh! Chamesh! Arbah! Shalosh! Shtayim! ECHAD!" ("Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! ONE!")

On "echad" the settlers all ran at once into the riot police. With wild abandon, they ran straight into the shields, straight into the batons that the police struck at them. As the settlers kept pressing forward, a policeman would sometimes lose control of himself and start hitting someone particularly hard and begin yelling at him. Person after person was either arrested or beaten.

As the beatings continued, something like a chant seemed to happen. Every time a soldier attacked a settler, settlers would all come to help the person and scream, "Al tigah boh/bah!" ("Don't touch him/her!")

As I watched this all in shock, trying to take as many pictures as I could, I suddenly felt myself being grabbed and thrown to the ground. A policeman looked at me and yelled, "Get out of here! Go away!"

I screamed back that I was working. But the very thing that let me come close to the settlers was what made the police attack me. They thought I was a settler. And so, I began to accept that I would be treated like one.

It was around this time that I saw the girls suddenly start crying. Their faces went from defiant and full of force to red and puffy. Then I felt myself crying, as if something had gotten into my eyes. And then it started to hurt. That's when I realized the soldiers had shot tear gas somewhere. Journalists and settlers ran. Some settlers passed out onions to combat the tear gas and kept fighting.

As I tried to take more pictures, a soldier came up to me and began yelling. He pushed me with all his force and screamed at me to get further away from the house. As I moved away, I spotted a boy, fifteen or sixteen, laying on the ground, his hand covering the side of his head. A friend of his lay over him whispering to him. As I came closer, I saw the boy raise his hand for a moment for a moment, and noticed blood. Some people and I screamed for an ambulance for him.

A paramedic came up to him. Someone asked how he was.

"It doesn't look good."

On the street below me, I saw one girl, clearly one of the main instigators, screaming at a soldier.

"How can you do this to Jews?!"

The soldier pushed her. She kept repeating her screams.

As I took more and more pictures of settlers resisting, being dragged, beaten, and yelled at by the soldiers, a soldier came up to me and started yelling at me. Every time I stopped to take a picture, every time I stood still this process repeated.

At one point, a soldier threw a flash grenade at me. It hit me on the leg and bounced a foot away. I and the settlers around me ran. I jumped as I heard a huge explosion behind me.

I joined a crowd of settlers who had been rounded up by the soldiers, and finally thought I was safe. We were probably the only group standing peacefully.

At that moment, I suddenly heard a soldier scream at the whole group, telling us to move back. He and another soldier took out their wooden batons and started pushing us further away from Beit Hashalom. I tried to move, but since I was at the front of the group, I couldn't move forward without hurting someone else. So, the soldiers started hitting me and the other people at the front with their batons. The group ran.

As we stood on the road, waiting to see what would happen, about a dozen soldiers came and linked arms together, blocking the entire road off, so that no one could get back to Beit Hashalom. Settlers that had been resisting the soldiers at Beit Hashalom were dragged and thrown in with us. It soon became clear that the soldiers intended to keep us here as prisoners. Instead of bars, we were kept hostage by other Jews.

At first, the spirit of the settlers was high. They fought over and over to get through the chain of soldiers. Again and again someone would begin a countdown to rush the soldiers.

"Shalosh! Shtayim! ECHAD!"

Every time, the soldiers held their ground. And every time, someone was injured. Person after person fell to ground. Medic after medic came to help them. Some people were hit with batons, their arms broken, some fell to the ground, hitting their heads. Some fell to the ground and cried after a flash grenade exploded by them.

Yells of "Al tigah boh!" rained down throughout the day.

With each rush at the soldiers, the soldiers pushed us further and further down the road. As I moved down away from the soldiers' batons, I heard a crack, like I had heard earlier. Confused, I looked around.

And then I heard someone yell, "The Arabs! They are throwing rocks!"

Looking up, I saw Palestinians standing on their roofs looking down at us.

A soldier ran up and threw a flash grenade on the roof.

As time passed, the Palestinians would again come out and throw more rocks at us. With each push by the soldiers, we came closer to the rocks.

A thought flashed through my mind "This is a war".

This thought made me suddenly wake up. I was so busy recording everything, that I hadn't taken a moment to really take everything in. I started to notice little details I had missed from earlier. I saw girls all around me, sitting on the side crying. I saw a soldier all the way on the side of the other soldiers, holding back tears as he talked to a settler. I saw a soldier that looked as if he had just turned eighteen, no taller than five feet, linked with the others. I heard settler after settler ask the same question I had heard before.

"How can you do this to Jews?!"

Some soldiers were clearly very disturbed by the question and reacted angrily.

"We're more Jewish than you will ever be!"

"You're pathetic."

"Shut up."

Some soldiers just stood there and tried not to cry.

More soldiers came and put a stop to the rock throwing.

But this did not stop the settlers. They rushed the soldiers over and over again.

Flash grenade explosions, yells of "Al tigah boh!", and soldiers screaming back at the settlers became routine. Every time a settler was taken away by an ambulance, more were brought from Beit Hashalom. Eventually, I no longer jumped when a grenade exploded near me. I no longer reacted when rocks fell from the sky. The only thing that still brought tears to my eyes was when I saw person after person get injured.

Finally, hours later, as less and less people were being brought over to our group, and more and more people were injured, people began to lose energy. And the ones that hadn't lost energy realized that it was hopeless to fight the soldiers, so they ran the opposite way. For some reason, the soldiers hadn't blocked the settlers from escaping into Arab-populated Hebron.

I began to wonder how long the soldiers planned to keep us here. My friend and I asked around, trying to figure out how we could leave Hebron. The only option, apparently, was to go through Hebron.

We sat and waited. As our nerves cooled a bit, no longer feeling in survival mode, my friend and I sat together and comforted each other. We hugged, happy to have someone near us to give us comfort. It was probably the only time since the evacuation that I had felt any sort of love from anybody.

What ever happened to the love?

At a certain point we noticed that the soldiers were letting civilian cars through, and realized that if we could get a ride, the soldiers might let us leave. This seemed to be the only other choice we had, other than being arrested, injured or walking through Hebron.

Luckily, many Jews were leaving the area because of the chaos, so we were easily able to find a ride out of Hebron.

When we finally left the town, I felt my entire body shake. A day's worth of chaotic tension slowly left my body. I tried to hold back tears.

For the last year and a half, since I had begun becoming observant in Judaism, I had always felt as if Jews inherently had a connection to each other. Would inherently treat each other with dignity. Would be able to see the humanity within each other. To see that they were brothers.

On December fourth, the seventh of Kislev, that vision disappeared. I saw Jews beating each other, yelling at each other. I saw Jews telling each other that they weren't Jews.

At a certain point, my camera had run out of memory, so I had to go through my old photos and delete them. Every time that I had to do this, I would look at my old life. I would see moments of when I visited home, of my parents, of my old girlfriend. Pictures of when my fellow students and I went on a Shabbaton to Santa Barbara. Of Jews dancing and smiling together.

And with every picture of a Jew beating another Jew or a Jew yelling at another Jew, I deleted them. It seemed that my old life, my old way of looking at humanity, and at Jews, was disappearing before my eyes.

Before taking the bus back to Jerusalem from Kiryat Arba, my friend and I stopped at a sandwich shop to eat something. We were starving.

As we ate our sandwiches at a shop that was close to the border of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, we began to realize that most of the people around us had been at Beit Hashalom. Either settlers or soldiers.

Settlers and soldiers. Eating together. Talking together. Smiling together. The same exact people who had just yelled at each other, hit each other, fought with each other.

I still don't quite know what to make of that. Most of the settlers seemed so calm after something so intense. As if this was day to day life.

I guess that's what it has become. I guess that's why the soldiers and settlers in Israel are able to take this chaos with such stride. Just as flash grenades, stones and bullets no longer scared me as time passed, the people of Israel, unfortunately, see chaos and anger as a normal part of daily life.

But, on some level, no matter how extreme their feelings, many seem to acknowledge that, in the end, we are all connected. Our fates are intertwined. Just like our souls.

Yesterday, I saw people acting uglier than I've ever seen. I will never forget the children crying, the people injured on the ground. The chaos that spilled into the city.

But I will also never forget that last hour in Kiryat Arba. The tiny, pathetically small sliver of Ahavat Yisrael that still hung on by a thread.

It is up to us to pull on that thread. To pull it and realize that beyond it is the infinite love that we are unaware of. It is up to us to us to not allow the darkness of the last week to overshadow the reality behind it all. We are Jews. We share the same soul.

We are one.

What's the latest news? For that information, check your local or national news outlet. In this blog we will discuss the "why?"

Not "why did this event occur?" but "why did I find out about it?" There must be a reason. It must contain a lesson I can use to better myself and my surroundings. Together we will find the lessons...