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The Basilica of the Annunciation is one of the most important places in Christendom. It is located in Nazareth (Israel) and was built over an archaeological find, ruins of an ancient home thought to belong to Mary, mother of Christ. According to tradition this is where the Anninside the Basilica of the Annunciationunciation took place.

Actually there are two Churches “of the Annunciation” in Nazareth. The first, larger one belongs to the Roman-Catholic church but there is also a second smaller church that belongs to the Greek-Orthodox Christians. The Greek-Orthodox Church of the Annunciation is built on the location of underground springs (there is an ancient bathhouse right next door). It is thought that Mary drew water from those springs and that there she was first visited by the angel who told her that she was destined to be the mother of Christ.

The local Christians have settled the contradiction in stories with the explanation that Mary was visited by the angel twice – first by the spring where she got scared by the enormity of her future and ran home where the angel appeared again, explaining that her fate was sealed.

Both churches, like other religious sites in Israel are places of daily worship and pilgrimage for countless tourists each year. They are interesting, special and attractive places and I am sure, for believers, very moving. I however am Jewish, so what does this have to do with me?

It’s really simple. It’s about freedom of religion vs freedom of speech. Where does one end and the other begin?

Basilica of the Annunciation - outside 2014

This picture shows what visitors to the Basilica of the Annunciation see as they approach the church. The grey steeple in the background is the roof of the church. In the foreground there is a tiny mosque (see the green roof with the crescent of Islam on top?). On top of the mosque is a tower of loudspeakers, there for the sole purpose of blasting the Muslim call to prayers five times a day. In the heart of this Christian city, practically on top of this extremely important church, the local Muslims found it necessary to create a Muslim atmosphere. I’m not sure how many Muslims pray at this mosque or even how many of the people in that neighborhood are Muslim. The proximity of the mosque is certainly not due to demographic demands, it is about dominating the area.

The signs posted in English are additional evidence of this. These signs are for tourists to see, not the local Christians who, like the Muslims, are Arabs that speak and read Arabic.

These are the words that stare Christians (and Jews) in the face when they visit the Basilica of the Annunciation

signs in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation

Israel is a democracy, the only true democracy in the Middle East. In the Bible it says that the Nation of Israel was chosen to be a “Light on to the Nations.” Those that hate us interpret this as an arrogant declaration of superiority. Most Israelis consider being a “Light on to the Nations” a very serious, often unpleasant and very difficult job. We believe in freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. A people that has known oppression, we consider it our duty to provide freedom. As custodians of the Holy Land, a land denied us for many years at different times throughout history, we consider it our duty to provide protection to all holy sites and free access to all those who want to worship at those sites.

Our beliefs and ideals are being used against us. Moreover, they are being used against us by people who believe that freedom is an invitation to evil and that the only correct way is submission to the will of Allah.

To them there is only one right way however they have no qualms about using OUR beliefs in order to get their way. The religious battle being waged on the Basilica of the Annunciation is just one example of this. Freedom of religion says it’s ok to have to places of worship, side by side. Freedom of expression says that signs, no matter how provocative (read obnoxious) their content, are allowed. Freedoms provided in our democratic society are being leveraged to encroach on those freedoms and, ultimately, take them away.

As a Jew I have to care about this. As a person who believes in freedom and desires to live in a free world, I have to care about this.

Slowly the entire western world is allowing our freedom to slip away – and all under the guise of providing freedom. How ironic.

Now, while writing this article, I decided to look through my archives to find the picture I took outside the Basilica of the Annunciation in 2011. I know there have been signs there for years now and wanted to see how they have changed since the last picture I took. What I saw amazed me.

Do you think the Islamic State is a new organization? Do you IS and their ideology is confined to Syria, Iraq and a few “lone wolves” scattered around the world?

The writing is on the wall. Literally.

Outside the Basilica of the Annunciation 2011

Remember this image is from 2011! The sign here is brown and white, not black and white (perhaps it faded in the sun) but the writing is very clear, even to those who do not read Arabic. In the English sign above you can again see the IS flag and the symbol of the hand holding up one finger in the air, signifying the one God, Allah – the same pose you see over and over with IS fighters.

These symbols are now illegal to display in Israel. The fact that the current signs do not sport IS symbols does not mean the ideology is gone. Nazareth is one of the places in Israel that is known to have IS supporters and it is not the only one…

I hope that the western world will recognize the danger before it is too late. The Basilica of the Annunciation is just one example.

Our freedoms are slipping away. We are allowing them to be taken away. Pretending that the Islamic State isn’t Islamic will not solve the problem. Pretending that bombing some terrorists in Iraq or Syria will eliminate the danger is a very dangerous tactic. It is the ideology that is the problem, not the individuals committing acts of terrorism. Creeping Sharia is a tactic being used against every western country.

Freedom of speech is being used to take away our freedom of religion.

This is not the problem of one country, it is the problem of all countries. This is not the problem of one nation or religion. This is the problem of every individual who wants to live in the free world.

It has to be stopped or we will ALL be silenced.

I will never understand why so many people prefer to believe awful lies than see a beautiful truth.

I am glad Kasim took the time and effort to see for himself and hope others will do the same!

 

It is now Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are called the High Holy Days. They are more holy days, than holidays, a time for introspection more than a time of celebration.

The Jewish tradition says that every year God reviews the lives of all of humanity and decides what will happen in each life in the year to come. God decrees life or death for each person, inscribing all who will live in the Book of Life.

On Rosh Hashana Jews wish each other a happy holiday and good year to come. In the time between the New Year and Yom Kippur the traditional blessing is “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.” The exact translation of the Hebrew reflects Jewish cynicism (and negative experiences throughout our history) saying “May your name be well written, all the way, in the Book of Life” and basically expresses the sentiment: “I hope you don’t die next year and nothing terrible happens to you.”

It’s kinda funny and terrible at the same time.

Cultures around the world have different New Year traditions, ways to celebrate and times of the year that are considered “New Year.” I don’t think there is any culture that marks the New Year with the same level of introspection about the year that passed and the upcoming year, in the same way Jews do. How many people do you know that truly reflect on the quality of their lives, what they have contributed to their fellow man and the possibility of dying in the upcoming year?

Jewish tradition says that before being right with God people have to be right with each other. During the time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur individuals reflect on their actions during the past year and ask forgiveness from people they may have hurt during the previous year. People ask God to forgive their sins AFTER humans forgive each other for hurting each other. This is a very different emphasis than that of other religions and cultures. Religious figures, God or prayers do not have the power to absolve Jews from their sins, it is only by taking personal responsibility for previous wrong actions and asking forgiveness for the person that was wronged can healing begin.

Jews don’t need to be good just to other Jews; we believe that it is crucial to be good to all people, everywhere, to provide help where it is needed, to right wrongs wherever possible, to make life better.

I am proud that Israel upholds these ideals throughout the year, providing humanitarian aid around the world as well as innovations that affect the lives of people everywhere – everything from agricultural inventions that provide food and clean water in third world countries to the modern day conveniences people in the western world no longer know how to live without. One of the most disparaged nations on earth, we probably provide the most to people worldwide (this is absolutely true when Israeli & Jewish contributions to humanity are calculated per capita).  We do our best to do the right thing for each other, for our nation and for the world. We will continue to do so, whether others recognize this or not, whether this is appreciated or not.

May the year ahead be a safe and happy one for everyone, Jews and non-Jews in Israel and around the world.

The “Guardian” referred to in this quote from the Psalms is God. “My help is from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Israelis tend to believe that God helps those that help themselves, thus Israel has many guardians, constantly striving to protect her from the sea of enemies that surrounds us. Our guardians are not the protectors of some vague ideology or even a political entity. They are watching over the lives of family and friends, protecting homes and ensuring that our people have a future in a very uncertain and unstable “neighborhood”.

There is only one correct answer to the question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

YES!

When Gil-Ad Shaer (16 years old), Neftali Frenkel (16 years old) and Eyal Ifrach (19 years old) were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, the entire country came together. The people roared “Bring back our boys!” Not THE boys. OUR boys. The entire country searched, prayed and counted the moments till the three could be brought home to their parents. When we discovered that bodies were being brought home for burial the entire country mourned. Thousands attended the triple funeral.

Our Prime Minister vowed that the murderers would be brought to justice. Israeli security forces strived tirelessly to find the hiding terrorists. After three months of searching, today the murderers were eliminated. There was one single person in the entire city of Hebron who knew where the murderers were hiding. There are thousands of Hamas members and supporters in Hebron. Only one had the information that was needed and the Israeli security forces found him. The murderers were hiding in a bunker type hole in the ground. Surrounded, they came out shooting, making it impossible to arrest them…

Racheli Frenkel, the mother of murdered Neftali said: “The death of the murderers doesn’t bring my son back but I’m glad they can’t hurt anyone else. It’s also good for my other children to see how the people that took Neftali ended up.”

Today Israel’s newest nuclear capable submarine docked in Haifa. Our thanks to friends in Germany that helped make this possible. It is right and good that Germany help ensure that Israel has the most sophisticated tools available to keep the Jewish people safe.

Today Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet that invaded our airspace. Vigilance is necessary on all our borders. The Syrian civil war is on our northern border. Israelis can sit on the hill and watch the “rebels” (Al-Nusra, the supposedly moderate Syrian version of Al-Qaeda and the Free Syrian Army) battle the official Syrian army – that’s how close the fighting is. It is assumed that this fighting will not be turned against Israel in the near future however this may change after the “rebels” receive more arms and training from America.

Yesterday the Mossad launched their first internet campaign. Today I saw their recruitment video for the first time (see below). It ends with the words: “This is my world. This is my mission. Is it yours too?”

Those that want to degrade and destroy this country should take note of the events described here. Maybe it will make them think twice. The guardians of Israel neither slumber nor sleep…

Imagine meeting Steve. He tells you: “Hi! My name is Steve and I’m an engineer at the car factory.” Steve pulls out his phone and shows you video of the factory where he works, pointing out Joe, Tom and Larry, his colleagues. He tells you: “We all really love cars; we think they are fantastic and if you want to be happy you should get a job with us.”

Would you then turn around and tell Steve that his name isn’t really Steve and he’s not an engineer at the car factory?

Over and over we hear westerners, from Mr. Obama to the brother of David Haines, a British aid worker beheaded by IS, declare: “Islam is a religion of peace” and “Islamic State does not represent Islam”.

These, to me, seem to be truly bizarre statements. Islamic State is an organization that strives towards the creation of a worldwide Islamic State, guided by sharia law. All their activities, including the beheading of David Haines are done in the name of Allah.

Thousands of people across the world, Muslims and converts to Islam, are flocking to the black flag of the Islamic State. They are not “lone wolves,” they are “true believers.” They are not misguided INDIVIDUALS they are an army of THOUSANDS that is growing daily.

Erick Stakelbeck, considered by many to be the leading authority on the issues of terrorism, radical Islam and the Middle East sat down to interview Anjem Choudary the spokesman for Islamist group, Islam4UK. In this clip Anjem Choudary explains that “it cannot be said that Islam is a religion of peace.” Stakelbeck, in turn, explains the difference between Choudary and other Islamic leaders who the opposite: “Anjem Choudary tells the truth.”

Personally I believe it is extremely disrespectful to deny someone their name or their beliefs. When people declare their goals, they should be taken at face value and the true measure of all of these is – actions.

The actions of Islamic groups around the world speak for themselves. Al-Qaeda (in all its versions), Al-Shabab, Boko-Haram, IS, Hamas and Hezbollah all declare that their actions are in the name of Allah.  If all these are “radicals” that belong to a “twisted version of Islam”, the silence of the supposed “moderates” is deafening. Where are the Muslim demonstrations insisting that atrocities not be committed in the name of their religion? Where are the Muslims that publicly say they do not want to live under sharia law? Where are the Muslim demonstrations against IS massacres in Iraq and Syria? Against beheadings of Americans and British?

Islam means submission, not peace but you don’t have to take my word for it. There are Muslims like Choudary (and even more ex-Muslims) who will explain it in their own words.

Please watch this enlightening video!

This video is important to watch. It’s not new and you may have seen it before, even so it bears watching again. It clearly explains 3 basic things about Islam most people don’t know and should.

Understanding these 3 things makes it a lot easier to comprehend what is happening in the world today.

“Why did you want to do it?” the reporter asks 14 year old Husam Abdul from Shechem. The teenager had been sent to explode himself in order to kill Israeli soldiers.

The reporter tries to put words in the Husam’s mouth: “You did it for Paradise right?” but as children often do, Husam blurted out the inconvenient truth: “Because the people, they don’t love me.”

This story is one of millions we see here in Israel. It happened years ago but it will never leave me because it is a vivid example of the problem that is currently overwhelming Israel and the rest of the free world.

No one wants to look at this. It’s too ugly, too horrible to comprehend. We westerners like to believe that everyone is the same; everyone has the same morals and ideals. Everyone loves their children the same etc. Unfortunately that is just not true.

During Operation Protective Edge Israelis tried to explain to the world that Hamas uses women and children as human shields, that teaching children to aspire to martyrdom is child abuse. I don’t think people outside Israel, even those that follow what happens here, truly understand what this means. No one wants to comprehend something so twisted…

14 year old Husam was sent to blow himself up by grown-ups. He didn’t go off on a whim; this is not a childish prank. Grown-ups took a child, strapped a bomb on him (you will see in the video how difficult it is to remove the suicide belt, after all it’s not meant to come off) and then sent him off to die. Someone significant in this boy’s life convinced him that dying would raise his value in the eyes of the people closest to him – his father, brother, cousin, uncle…

Someone that knows that Israelis consider children precious, picked a child to go kill Israelis, coldly calculating that softhearted Israelis would let this boy approach close enough to explode, killing himself and IDF soldiers or, if he had gotten through the checkpoint – Israeli civilians.

This is not a problem created by a single sick person, it permeates the society. Life is not precious and the end justifies the means – even if that means sending your own child to die.

Please watch this video. Notice the details, particularly the contrast between the behavior of the soldiers and that of the boy, considering the mission he was sent to accomplish. At the end of the video you will see that it says there were “four similar attacks attempted at that checkpoint within months and children are no longer a surprise”. The English subtitles are not written professionally but I think the English is clear enough to understand – Husam’s case is one example amongst many. It no longer surprised anyone that a child was sent as suicide bomber because it had happened before. Since then this type of child abuse has become more frequent and even more extreme (for example the terrorist that attacked IDF soldiers in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge with a baby in his arms).

So many people around the world decry Israeli checkpoints. Does watching this video help you understand why checkpoints are necessary?

Golda Meir once said: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

She was right.

And it is only when this is understood worldwide that there will ever be any hope for peace.

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