News Digest — 4/22/19

Tens Of Thousands Gather At Western Wall For Priestly Blessing

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims made their way to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday (22nd) for a twice-annual blessing ceremony, held under heavy police guard.

The blessing was recited twice on Monday morning, one of the intermediate days of the Passover festival, with crowds of men and women spilling out from the Wall’s plaza to surrounding areas.

The ceremony, which sees male descendants of the Kohanim priestly caste gather to bestow a benediction, involves the raising of hands to perform the blessing, while wrapped in prayer shawls.

The Western Wall is the closest spot to the Temple Mount where Jews can pray.  Though they may visit the Mount, where the two ancient Temples stood, Jews are not allowed to pray at the holy site, which is overseen by a Jordanian custodian.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion attended Monday morning’s ceremony, which was held under tight security, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.  Rosenfled said police forces beefed up security in and around Jerusalem’s Old City last week ahead of the Passover festival, which this year coincided with Easter.



Israel Offers Aid, Joins World In Condemning Sri Lanka Terror Attacks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined other world leaders in expressing shock over a series of explosions targeting Christians on Easter Sunday (21st), which killed at least 290 people and wounded more than 500 others.  He also offered Israel’s assistance to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the attacks.

“In the name of the citizens of Israel, I express deep shock at the murderous attacks against innocent people in Sri Lanka,” Netanyahu said in a tweet in Hebrew.  “Israel is ready to assist the authorities in Sri Lanka at this difficult time. The whole world must unite in the struggle against the plague of terrorism.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder called the attacks a “heinous outrage” and a “truly barbarous assault on peaceful worshipers.”

“World Jewry – in fact all civilized people – denounce this heinous outrage and appeal for zero tolerance of those who use terror to advance their objectives,” he said in a statement,  “This truly barbarous assault on peaceful worshipers on one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar serves as a painful reminder that the war against terror must be at the top of the international agenda and pursued relentlessly,”



In Israel’s 2019 Election, Peace Was Not On The Agenda – Daniel Gordis

Very few Israelis hold Prime Minister Netanyahu accountable for the failure to achieve peace with the Palestinians.  In this year’s election, not a single party included peace in their campaign slogans or promises. In Israel’s 2019 election, peace was simply not on the agenda.  Many Israelis still hope for peace, but few imagine that there is any chance for it in the coming years. The Palestinians have already declared the coming U.S. peace plan “born dead.”

There is no “deal” now or in the foreseeable future primarily because the Palestinians have still not made peace with the idea that a Jewish state is here to stay.  When Hamas, which controls Gaza, started its “March of Return” last year, it promised that the march would mark the beginning of the “liberation of all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.”  The march, in other words, was simply the latest chapter in Hamas’ drive to destroy the Jewish state. Israelis take Hamas seriously.

Similarly, when Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas warned U.S. President Trump that any peace plan that does not establish a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders would be unacceptable, Israelis took him seriously, too.  Those borders, they know, are essentially indefensible; what Abbas is thus seeking is not a state, they believe, but the gradual destruction of Israel. To Israeli ears, peace has long been dead.

The writer is senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem.



Iranian Leader Appoints New Revolutionary Guards Chief

Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has replaced the chief commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, state TV reported on Sunday (21st), days after the United States designated the group a foreign terrorist organization.  The TV station did not give a reason for the change when it announced the appointment of Brigadier General Hossein Salami – who has vowed to destroy the State of Israel – to the position.

“The Supreme Leader has appointed Salami as the new commander-in-chief of the Guards, who will replace Mohammad Ali Jafari,” it said.  Jafari had held the post since September 2007.

President Donald Trump on April 8 designated the Guards a terrorist organization, in an unprecedented step that drew Iranian condemnation and raised concerns about retaliatory attacks on US forces.  The designation took effect on April 15.

The Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.  Tehran has warned that it has missiles with a range of 1, 242 miles, putting Israel and US military bases in the region within reach.

Salami, born in 1960, said in January that Iran’s strategy was to wipe “the Zionist regime” (Israel) off the political map, Iran’s state TV reported.

“We announce that if Israel takes any action to wage a war against us, it will definitely lead to its own elimination,” Salami said after an Israeli attack on Iranian targets in Syria in January, Iranian media reported.

Israel sees Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs as threats to its existence.



Mount Hermon Gets Passover Dusting For First Time In 22 Years

Mount Hermon was hit with a freak springtime snowstorm for the first time in 22 years on Sunday (21st), as unseasonable weather around the country dampened many Israelis’ plans to travel and hike during the Jewish festival of Passover.

Some eight inches of snow were measured at Hermon’s lower level, with the ski resort’s management deciding to close to visitors as snow was expected to continue throughout the day.

Snow also fell in the nearby village of Majdal Shams and in some locations in the Golan Heights.

Temperatures were colder than average and there were thunderstorms, heavy rains and hail in northern and central Israel.  Strong winds uprooted a tree in the city of Kiryat Yam, near Haifa, which fell on a parked car.

The Nature and Parks Authority said many outdoor holiday activities planned for Sunday (21st) had been canceled due to the weather.

Most of the Ein Gedi nature reserve near the Dead Sea was closed to hikers, as were many streams in the Judean Hills, amid fears of flooding.  Later this week will be the first anniversary of the Tzafit River disaster in which ten teenagers were killed in a flash flood.

The rare winter spell is expected to continue with rains on Monday (22nd).



Russia’s Largest Yeshiva Attacked With Arson And Swastikas Ahead Of Passover

MOSCOW, Russia – Jewish officials said Friday (19th) an arson fire was set at the largest yeshiva in Russia just ahead of the Passover meal celebration.  Swastikas were also sprayed on the seminary.

No one was reported injured in the early Friday (19th) fire at the Torat Chaim school in an eastern Moscow suburb.

Olga Esaulova, a spokeswoman for Moscow’s chief rabbi, was quoted by the Interfax News Agency as saying the fire was set in a storage area for kosher meat and that swastikas were drawn at the yeshiva’s entrance.

There were about 60 students, rabbis and guests in the building at the time, the state news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

While Russia has a long history of anti-Semitism, it has noticeably declined under Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Putin has made considerable efforts to reach out to Russian Jewish communities, both within the state’s borders and in Israel.  His country’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, is a close confidante.

He has encouraged the restoration of dozens of synagogues destroyed under communism and taken a hard-line on anti-semitism.