Monday, October 20, 2014

Daughters tell it like it is about Metropolitan Opera 'Death of Klinghoffer' is an injustice to our father's memory

Very little could be more painful to the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer than a play that attempts to justify his murder.

Here is his daughters' take on the Metropolitan Opera's presentation of "Death of Klinghoffer."

'Death of Klinghoffer' is an injustice to our father's memory | Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer | The Blogs | The Times of Israel

The Metropolitan Opera should be embarrassed by this production.  Shame on the MET.

Stephen M. Flatow

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sukkot thoughts by the parent of a victim of terror

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in the Jewish year to one of the most joyous. Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it is commonly referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as Z'man Simchateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing.

Sukkot is marked by the construction of temporary dwellings as mandated in the Torah.  For a fuller discussion, see Judaism 101.

In any event, I was invited to speak before Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey on the second day of the holiday.

My written remarks follow.  Translations are indicated by italics.

* * *

The sukkah is life

           Rabbi Baum, thank you for this gracious invitation to speak from the bimah today. 

          I have spoken from this bimah before, the last time when I recited the first sheva bracha [seven blessings] under the chuppa [wedding canopy] when Gail married Binyamin.  We are still arguing over who got the better of that deal.

          We were all busy the last few days preparing for the chag [holiday].  We located the pieces of the sukkah in our basements or garages, then stood on ladders joining together corners, then taking them down when we realized they were upside down.         We tried to remember which way the windows opened or whether the canvas was on the right side of the frame, and kept saying to ourselves, did I do it this way last year?  

          We found the s’chach [covering] or bought new when we realized we didn’t have enough although we had enough last year.

          And, finally, we watched with pride as the decorations so laboriously made by our children, or bought by our wives, went up and, miracle of miracles, the timers and lights worked. 

          Of course, you could have done what I did, that is call my local Chabad guys who sold me the sukkah in the first place and have them put it up in exchange for a modest contribution.

          Those of us who learned their preliminary Judaic traditions from the Jewish Catalogue could easily refer to the instructions it contained on how to build a kosher sukkah.  You will find the instructions on page 129.  It discussed how many walls it needed, what to use for the walls and covering, and even contained a parts list of cinder blocks for the corners, 2 x 4s and 1 x 2s.

          In 1979, using the back wall of my house as the 4th wall, our first sukkah went up in the backyard of our first home in West Orange with the cinder block corners, the wood supports, walls made out of bamboo strip fencing that came in a 40 foot roll, and branches from the backyard trees for the s’chach.  We were set to go.

          As the marginal notes in the Jewish Catalogue tell you, “never make the sukkah overly comfortable.  It should shake in the wind.”[i]  And boy was it uncomfortable and it didn’t so much shake in the wind as the walls rippled in a wave from one end to the other depending on the wind direction.  But who cared, it was our first sukkah and we slept in it the first night.

          Sukkot is a special time for children, they like the decorations, and they like to see what their friends have done. As your daughter gets older, she goes on a sukkah hop and comes back to tell you in a whisper that she didn’t think the sukkah at one of the houses was 100% kosher.           

          Why?  “It looked like a part of the s’chach was under the shade of a tree.”  With alarm I asked, “What did you do?” 

          She answers, “You’re silly daddy, I made the bracha [blessing] in a part of the sukkah that I was sure was kosher.”

          Not a bad answer, I thought, from a child getting a yeshiva education at a cost of $2,500 per year.  [Oh, before you start making noises, bear in mind I was making $25,000 per year then.]

          As our children progress in their studies, we learn, too.  And as we advance down that path things change.  It was then that I learned that the shulchan aruch [Code of Jewish Law] is full of dos and don’ts when it comes to building the sukkah and the s’chach.  No more a sukkah built from scratch.  Our next one had to be one made out of steel poles, with blue walls, and bamboo poles for the s’chach.  And, yes, during the second year, I realized that I had lost the assembly instructions.  So, it was up and down the ladder for me.

          As your family expands, you go for the wood panel job, with a door on hinges, and now you have graduated to bamboo mats, the kosher kind, of course, for the s’chach. 

          And when your family gets still larger, and you want to be able to have guests join you for a meal, you add a panel to each side.

          All is well for many years, and then, as if overnight, the kids are married, and wonders never cease, begin having children of their own, and you begin to spend yom tov with them in Bergenfield.  You no longer need the 20’ x 10’ sukkah with the 4 bamboo mats.  You find that an 8 x 10 is more than enough for a few days of chol hamoed  [intermediate days of a holiday.]

          There is a discussion among the rabbis as to what the sukkah symbolizes.  Does it recall the protection of the clouds that hovered over the children of Israel in the desert?  Or does it recall the actual construction of temporary booths built during the wandering?  The Talmud in mesechta Sukkah daf beit amad aleph is clear that we are required to leave our permanent dwelling and live in a temporary one throughout the chag. 

          Of course, being that we are talking about a tradition, there’s a third understanding—that both interpretations are true.[ii]

          The temporary nature of the sukkah poses a problem.  Sometimes the wind is very strong.  Sometimes it causes the s’chach to fall in our heads while we’re in the sukkah.  Other times, we awake in the morning to see mats on the ground, or a wall collapse.  Heartbroken, we run to the rav to get instructions on when we can and how we can repair the sukkah.

          I would like to suggest a third reason for the sukkah.  And that is the sukkah represents life. 

          For life, like the sukkah, can be uncomfortable, it can shake as if blown by the wind, and sometimes the s’chach collapses around you. 

          At the end of the day, despite our cinder block corners, despite our metal cross bars, despite the snap-in joints, the sukkah is not a solid structure.

          Neither is life.  And as we marry and create a family structure, we must admit that sometimes we put the pieces together backwards, or upside down, and we may have to go up and down ladder many times, or take apart the poles and reassemble them.

          Life happens to all of us.

          A week before Pesach [Passover] in 1995 I exchange emails with Alisa who tells me she wants to go with friends to Petra to see the Nabataean city famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. 

          She asks if she has enough money in her credit card to pay for it.  She writes in what was to be our final email exchange, “I like America,” which to me was her at long last admission that she liked her allowance and the privileges we had given her.

          Yet, it turns out that her proposed traveling companions did not have the funds to make the trip.  So Petra is out, and she plans a trip to the Israeli community in Gush Katif on the shore of the Mediterranean in Gaza.

          When I last spoke to Alisa late motzei Shabbat on April 8th, Sunday morning her time, she was telling me about her trip to Gush Katif and I asked her what was so special about the place.  She said that the beach has separate swimming and sitting areas for men and women, that the weather was going to be 80+ degrees and that she wanted to get a sun tan before Pesach began at the end of the week.

          We reviewed the traveling rules I had given her and, approving of them, I told her to have a good time, and to call us when she returned to Jerusalem on Wednesday.  I hung up the phone and went to bed.

          The next morning, while in shul, the phone rang.  I went to answer it because I knew it was for me. 

          You see, as I drove to shul that morning I heard of a bus bombing in Gaza.  And although I did not hear the sound of the explosion or anyone’s cries of pain, I knew that Alisa was involved and that only God could help at this point.  I didn’t want to alarm my wife Rosalyn, so instead of turning around, I continued on my way.

          Now, Roz was on the other end of the phone.  She had just gotten a call from the mother of one of Alisa’s traveling companions who happens to live not too far from here.  The girls had been in a terrorist bus bombing and her friends were taken away from the scene so quickly that they became separated from Alisa and didn’t know where she was.  I returned home.

          In an hour or so, we located Alisa in a hospital in Beer Sheva.  Having two doctors tell me that she was injured in the head and I should come right away, I flew to Israel that afternoon.  And 48 hours after last speaking to her, I was at Alisa’s bedside. 

          While there had been no encouragement when I spoke to the doctors on Sunday, I didn’t ask if her injury was life threatening.  They now explained that Alisa was dead because she was no longer breathing on her own.  At the recommendation of Rabbi Moshe Tendler, we called in a rabbi, a pediatric neurologist who writes books on Halacha and medicine, for his opinion, and after ordering additional tests, he concurred.

          The daughter who would roll her dark brown eyes and laugh at my stupid jokes, who taught me that  blue socks don’t go with a black suit, and who crocheted my first personalized kippah, would no longer roll her eyes, laugh at me, teach me how to dress or crochet another  kippah.

          While we agreed to transplant her organs to give life to several Israelis, the s’chach had just fallen on my head.

          When the s’chach falls in this way there is no shulchan aruch to turn to for the dos and don’ts.  Your rabbi can tell you that your daughter died al Kiddush Hashem, in the sanctification of God’s name.  But that’s only a start.

          Instead, you have to find your own way to rebuild the s’chach.

          You can do that by taking on the foreign country that financially sponsored your daughter’s murderers.  You then find yourself fighting your own government which appears to be taking the side of your enemy.

          You rely on your own resources and realize that you are part of a 2,000 year old chain of events that has caught up the Jewish people.  You can think about the survivors of the Holocaust who put back together their lives after losing families.

          You can remember that for the past 100 years the Jews of, first, Palestine, and now, Israel, have been caught up in a genocidal campaign waged by the surrounding Arab population.  When you realize that more than 20,000 Jews have been murdered in Israel, you have to pause and consider that each victim had a family, and they got up from shiva, got dressed, went to work, raised families and built a nation.  I had no right to hide under the covers.

          Every now and then, someone will ask if I have any regrets about that last telephone call.  Yes, I say, and they think I am going to regret that I allowed her to go to Gush Katif.  Instead, I tell them I regret that when I finished talking to Alisa, I didn’t say “I love you.”

          I squandered the opportunity for my last words with her to be something meaningful to me and I hope to her.  My heart would still have been broken but perhaps the pain would have hurt just a little less.

          As I sit in the sukkah this year, as I have done for the past 19 years, I will watch the walls move gently in the wind, and I will look up to see the stars twinkling through the permitted space of the s’chach.

          I will see the sukkah of olam habah and the table set by the Almighty for those murdered al Kiddush Hashem. It’s a long table but a beautiful one.

          I see that it is set with the finest linen, gold cups and silver candlesticks, and it overflows with the food that He provides. 

          I see Alisa dressed in her finest.  She has a big smile on her face, her eyes shine and her dimples are deep.  Her face glows as she passes the challah dipped in honey to Naftali, Eyal and Gilad.  And I will hear her laugh as she tells the boys, “it’s OK, make the bracha, the s’chach is kosher.”


יהי רצון


          May it be G-d’s will that he spread his sheltering cloud over us and klal Yisrael, that our  s’chach be kosher and quickly repaired when it falls in on us and that we never miss the opportunity to say I love you.

          Chag sameah.       





[i] P. 129, Siegel, Richard, Strassfeld, Michael and Sharon, The Jewish Catalogue, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1973
[ii] For a detailed discussion, see Introduction to Succos- its Significance, Laws and Prayers; Artscroll Mesorah Series; Brooklyn, Mesorah Publications, 1982.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Iraqi terror victims confront terrorists

France 24 has released a video news report about the Iraqi police bringing terrorists to the scene of their crime for the purpose of understanding how the attack is carried out.

You will see what happens when a victim confronts the terrorist.

Here's the link:

What do you think?

Stephen M. Flatow

Sunday, September 7, 2014

When burning Jews isn’t news

When burning Jews isn’t news

By Stephen M. Flatow/

On Aug. 30, Palestinian terrorists set a Jewish man on fire in Jerusalem, and on Sept. 1, other Palestinian terrorists tried to set an entire bus full of Israeli Jews on fire.

Yet I couldnt find any mention of these horrific attacks in the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any other major American news outlet. Why is it that news about burning Jews is not considered fit to print?

The first of the firebomb attacks took place in Jerusalems City of David neighborhood. A Molotov cocktaila flaming bottle of gasoline which explodes upon contactwas hurled through the window of a historic 19th-century house known as Beit Meyuhas. One of the residents, a 45-year-old man, was struck by the firebomb and set on fire. He suffered first and second-degree burns to his face and head. Second-degree burns often result in permanent scarring and require skin grafting.

Burning one Jew is not enough to satisfy the appetite of Palestinian terrorists. On Sept. 1, two firebombs were thrown at an Israeli bus traveling on Route 505, between the towns of Migdalim and Kfar Tapuach. The attackers goal was to set the entire bus on fire and burn all of its passengers alive. They almost succeeded. The flaming bombs exploded as they crashed through the front windshield of the bus. Flying glass slashed the driver. It was only by a miracle that he was able to stop the bus without crashingand that the flames did not spread through the entire vehicle.

Palestinian terrorists sometimes use rocks instead of firebombs. Stoning is, after all, a time-honored method of execution in that part of the world. Recently, they certainly have been trying to do just that.

On Aug. 20, Palestinian rock-throwers attacked an Israeli automobile traveling near the Yitzhar junction. An 11-month-old baby was wounded. Medics on the scene were quoted as saying that it was a miracle she survived, since the rock that hit her was the size of a fist.

Three days later, Yedaya Sharchaton, his wife Hadassah, and 1-year-old daughter Nitzan were driving in the Gush Etzion region. Arab rocks smashed through the front windshield, causing Yedaya to lose control of the car. It flipped over. All three family members were injured; Yedaya suffered internal bleeding.  It turns out that my family was on the same road as the Sharchatons just a few days before as we headed to celebrate my granddaughters bat mitzvah by serving hot dogs to Israeli soldiers at a base in the Hebron hills.

On Aug. 29, a mob of Palestinians emerging from prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalems Temple Mount threw rocks at Israeli police officers. It would be interesting to know if anything in the sermons they had just heard encouraged them to try to murder Jews. Two of the rock-throwers were arrested; they were minors. One wonders what they are learning in school about the idea of stoning Jews to death.

The next day, Palestinian rock-throwers targeted Israeli policemen in another section of Jerusalem. Three of the officers were injured. Their names were not mentioned by the Israeli media. Nor were the extent of their injuries. Did one of them lose an eye? Was one of them permanently disfigured? Three more anonymous, forgotten victims of Arab terror.

On Sept. 1, the rock-throwers chose the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev. Spotting an Israeli bus coming down Uzi Narkis Street, from Pisgat Zeev to the adjoining Arab neighborhood of Shuafat, the would-be killers attacked. The rocks smashed the windows, one striking and injuring a 3-year-old girl. The Magen David Adom paramedics who rushed to the scene to provide emergency treatment knew that the difference between life and death for that little girl was just bad aim.

So once again, they are burning and stoning Jews. Yet the New York Times and the others are not interested. Why? Because it doesnt fit their preferred narrative.

Most of the editors and reporters in the mainstream media subscribe to a narrative of the Israeli-Arab conflict in which the Israelis are the aggressors, and the Palestinians are the victims. That narrative supports the political outcome that most editors and reporters personally endorse: an Israeli retreat to the 1967 lines, a division of Jerusalem, the rise of a Palestinian state.

But when you report about Palestinians burning and stoning Israelis, that changes everything. Americansfrom the average person in the street to Members of Congressregard such behavior as barbaric. They naturally conclude that giving a state to such violent extremists is crazy. Telling the truth about Palestinian behavior makes it harder to mobilize pressure on Israel to give in. Thats why in the editorial offices of the New York Times and so many other newspapers, news about burning Jews isnt fit to print. Sadly, its that simple.

Mr. Flatow, a New Jersey attorney, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 1995.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Algemeiner, via Mosaic, Jewish Survivors and Their Progeny Against Israel

The phenomenon of Jews speaking out against other Jews and the State of Israel is not new.  1,600 years ago the sages who composed the parts of the "shemoneh esrei," the 18 benedictions said three times a day by Jews at prayer, added a prayer inveighing God to act against, in my prayer book, "traducers."

That word blew my little mind as a 12-year old because I didn't have enough sense to look it up in the dictionary or the context in which the prayer was added to seek protection from them.  Loosely translated, a traducer is a heretic.  But, when added to the prayer book it was designed to protect the Jews from those would inform the Roman authorities of the Jews' secret prayer services.  In essence, they were rats who wished for the destruction of the then-existing Jewish community.

Edward Alexander's column in the Algemeiner reissued by Mosaic points out
The Jewish enemies of Israel, if they are sufficiently profligate in the expenditure of claptrap, often come to the aid of her defenders.
In this case, the enemies of those Jews claiming to be
“Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors” and also “friends of survivors,” “friend of many survivors,” “cousins of survivors,” “cousins of victims of Nazis in Ukraine,” “the great niece of an uncle who shot himself,” “spouse of hidden child,” and “relative of victims”  
have taken out full page newspaper ads to protest Israel's war against Hamas and to equate Israel with the Nazis.  Lovely.

Jews?  Maybe, maybe not.  As quoted by Alexander, the question has been answered by
the Hebrew novelist Yosef Haim Brenner when he said that “A Jew is someone with Jewish grandchildren.”
Read the full article in Mosaic here.

What do you think?

Stephen M. Flatow