‘Iraqi Christians Are Infidels Who Must Be Killed or Converted,’ Says Top Shia Cleric

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

‘Iraqi Christians Are Infidels Who Must Be Killed or Converted,’ Says Shia Cleric

 

May 21, 2017 | 10:17 AM

About 200 Christian families in Iraq have filed a lawsuit against the head of the country’s Shia Endowment for inciting sectarian violence against the Christian minority by saying in a video that Christians should be converted to Islam or killed.

(Photo: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)Iraqis attend the first Palm Sunday procession in the burnt out main church of the Christian city of Qaraqosh since Iraqi forces retook it from Islamic States militants, Iraq April 9, 2017.

“Either they convert to Islam, or else they are killed or they pay the jizya [a tax on non-Muslims],” said Sheikh Alaa Al-Mousawi, who heads the government body which maintains all of Iraq’s Shia holy sites, in a sermon, according to a YouTube video uploaded by Middle East Monitor.

Declaring Christians to be “infidels and polytheists,” Al-Mousawi called for “jihad” against them. “Jews and Christians” must be fought and killed if they do not accept Islam, he went on to say.

The cleric is being compared to the Islamic State terror group, which is also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, which had asked Christians in Iraq’s northern provinces in 2014 to covert, flee or be killed. As a result of that warning, about 100,000 Christians had to flee at the time.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently met with Iraqi Christians during a visit to Jordan.

“People are divided from their children and families and have no idea what will happen. One woman has children in both Germany and the Netherlands, but has been refused entry to both so she doesn’t know when or if they will ever be reunited,” Welby said. “Young men are vulnerable to being recruited to extremist causes because their community and networks have been stripped away.”

Since 2003, as many as 1.5 million Christians, or close to 75 percent of all followers of Christ in Iraq, have fled the country, according to Josef Sleve, an Iraqi Christian lawmaker.

“The number of Christians living in the country now stands at between 500,000 and 850,000,” Sleve told Anadolu Agency earlier this month. “This means that over the past 14 years, some 1.5 million Christians have emigrated to other countries.”

IS has said it wants to wipe out Christians, and has beheaded, executed, tortured and enslaved thousands of people within its captured territory, which extends into Syria and other regions.

However, some Christians are now returning to their homes on the Plains of Nineveh in Iraq, and three major church groups have come together to rebuild more than 12,000 houses that were destroyed or damaged. The Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church have formed the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee to plan and supervise the rebuilding of the houses.

Security forces backed by a U.S.-led international coalition last year took back several cities in Iraq from IS and liberated eastern Mosul in December. They are now trying to liberate the western parts of the city.

In an interview with Fox News earlier this year, Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest known as the “vicar of Baghdad,” said the “time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some say Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited.”

He added, “If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help. And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot — food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything.”

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/iraqi-christians-infidels-killed-converted-shia-cleric-mousawi

 

Understanding The Bible’s Second Psalm

UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE’S 2nd PSALM

The 2nd Psalm: Coronation of the Lord’s Anointed

To me the Bible’s second Psalm is not a mystery, I do not say this as some sort of ‘brag’, I say it as an observation. I have studied the teachings of the Bible, Old and New Testaments since I was 10 years old, I am 60 now. During this time I have read through and studied through (there is a difference) the Bible many times. I am not going to say how many times I have done these things as studying G-d’s Word is not a ‘Cock Crowing’ contest. Studying the Scriptures is a practice of love just as Christianity is an act of love and obedience to our Creator. I ask you to please consider the definitions that I will give to you after I have completed typing in these 12 verses that make up the Second Psalm.

Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?

The Kings of the Earth set themselves, and the Rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed, saying,

Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

He that sits in Heaven will laugh; the Lord will have them in derision (ridicule).

Then shall He (G-d) speak to them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure.

Yet have I (G-d) set My King (Christ) upon My Holy Hill of Zion.

I will declare the decree: the Lord has said unto me , You are My Son; this day I have begotten Thee.

Ask of Me, and I shall give You the heathen for Your inheritance, and the utter most parts of the Earth as Your possession.

You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall break them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.

Be wise now therefore, O ye Kings: be instructed, ye Judges of the Earth.

Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss The Son, lest He be angry, and you perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

Bible scholars seem to have for the most part told us that King David of Israel wrote, or had a scribe do it for him, just about half (75) of Psalms 150 verses. 2nd Psalm is not one of those that is credited to King David. The 2nd and the 95th Psalm were not written by King David even though they are credited to an Israeli King. In the New Testament in the books of Acts 4:25 and in Hebrews 4:7 we gain the understanding that the King who pinned these two Psalms, his name translated into “Beloved of Yahweh”, and this was not King David. By the way, for the folks who do not already know it, Yahweh is the Hebrew name for G-d the Father. For those of you who are wondering why I have been spelling the word G-d this way is out of courtesy to my devout Jewish friends who do this out of respect to G-d just as some who even though they are quite fluent in the Hebrew language they tend to speak Yiddish, or some other language, again, out of respect to our Creator. Many feel that the average human is not worthy of speaking the “language of G-d”. Upon closing I bring you one other little tidbit of information concerning Psalms 2:7 and it’s fulfillment in the New Testament Book of Matthew 3:17, “G-d will declare Him to be His Son.”

Some folks think that the 2nd Psalm is talking about King David as David was indeed anointed by G-d to be an earthly King of Israel ( 1011-971 B.C.) David’s rule was temporal, when ‘The Christ’ descends from His home in Heaven the ‘New Jerusalem’ will have already been placed over the ruins of the current Jerusalem. ‘The Christ’ will sit upon His Throne upon ‘The Temple Mount’ and He will rule the whole world from there. At this time Christ will have banished Satan/Allah to His eternal home in the belly of Hell.

I hope you have enjoyed this short commentary and I hope that you will leave me any questions that you may have about this article, or pretty much anything else if you so wish. I did not get into the issue of Jesus being ‘The Christ’ as this issue easily makes for a longer article than this one all by itself so I will save that discussion/issue for another article. Thank you for taking of your time to read what I have written, I hope that you were able to enjoy the article.

Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

Workers of the health sector and opposition supporters take part in a protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello
By Anggy Polanco | SAN CRISTOBAL, VENEZUELA

Venezuela said it was sending 2,000 soldiers on Wednesday to a border state that is a hotspot of anti-government radicalism after a night of looting in which one 15-year-old died as political unrest rumbled on in the volatile nation.

Most shops and businesses in San Cristobal, capital of Tachira state on the Colombian border, were closed and guarded by soldiers on Wednesday, though looting continued in some poorer sectors, residents said.

People made off with items including coffee, diapers, and cooking oil in a country where a brutal economic crisis has made basic foods and medicine disappear from shelves.

Barricades of trash, car tires, and sand littered the streets, as daily life broke down in the city that was also a hotspot during the 2014 wave of unrest against leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

Hundreds of thousands of people have come onto the streets across Venezuela since early April to demand elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature.

Maduro’s government accuses them of seeking a violent coup and says many of the protesters are no more than “terrorists.” State oil company PDVSA also blamed roadblocks for pockets of gasoline shortages in the country on Wednesday.

In Tachira, teenager Jose Francisco Guerrero was shot dead during the spate of looting, his relatives said.

“My mom sent my brother yesterday to buy flour for dinner and a little while later, we received a call saying he’d been injured by a bullet,” said his sister Maria Contreras, waiting for his body to be brought to a San Cristobal morgue.

The state prosecutor’s office confirmed his death, which would push the death toll in unrest to at least 43, equal to that of the 2014 protests.

’21ST CENTURY JEWS’

With international pressure against Venezuela’s government mounting, the United Nations Security Council turned its attention to the country’s crisis for the first time on Wednesday.

“The intent of this briefing was to make sure everyone is aware of the situation … we’re not looking for Security Council action,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters after the session.

“The international community needs to say, ‘Respect the human rights of your people or this is going to go in the direction we’ve seen so many others go’ … We have been down this road with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma.”

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy Rafael Ramirez in turn accused the United States of seeking to topple the Maduro government.

“The U.S. meddling stimulates the action of violent groups in Venezuela,” he said, showing photos of vandalism and violence he said was caused by opposition supporters.

Venezuelans living abroad, many of whom fled the country’s economic chaos, have in recent weeks accosted visiting state officials and their family members.

Maduro on Tuesday likened that harassment to the treatment of Jews under the Nazis.

“We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued,” Maduro said during the cabinet meeting. “We don’t carry the yellow star of David … we carry red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity. And we are going to defeat them, these 21st century Nazis.”

The German Nazis and their collaborators persecuted and killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s.

Social media has for weeks buzzed with videos of Venezuelan emigrees in countries from Australia to the United States shouting insults at public officials and in some cases family members in public places.

Maduro’s critics say it is outrageous for officials to spend money on foreign travel when people are struggling to obtain food and children are dying for lack of basic medicines.

But some opposition sympathizers say such mob-like harassment is the wrong way to confront the government.

Graphic on Venezuela’s economic woes: here

(Reporting by Anggy Polanco, additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea, Brian Ellsworth, Girish Gupta and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations in New York; Writing by Girish Gupta and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay)

Rise of Hard-liners Alarms Moderates in Indonesia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

Rise of Hard-liners Alarms Moderates in Indonesia

Protesters take to the streets in Jakarta on April 28 to demonstrate against outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. (Goh Chai Hin/AFP via Getty Images)

Jakarta, Indonesia- In¬mid-February, Muhammad al-Khaththath, leader of the hard-line Muslim Community Forum, held court on the top floor of a Jakarta fast-food joint. With key deputies gathered around, he explained the direction in which he hoped to push relatively secular, democratic Indonesia.

Sharia would become the law of the land, non-Muslims would lose their leadership posts and thieves, in accordance with Islamic law, would have their hands lopped off, he said. He also criticized Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s pluralist president.

Widodo “isn’t a liberal Muslim,” Khaththath said. “He’s a Muslim who doesn’t get it.”

Six weeks later, Khaththath was detained on treason charges, accused of plotting a coup. But in an April 19 runoff election for governor of Jakarta, his preferred candidate, fellow Muslim Anies Baswedan, defeated the Christian incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, after a campaign laden with religious overtones.

Since then, hard-line Islamist groups have gained stature; their ability to mobilize huge crowds was considered crucial to securing Baswedan’s lopsided victory. But a strong backlash also has emerged, led by moderate Muslims who worry that conservative Islamists are wrecking Indonesia’s tradition of religious tolerance.

Khaththath had taken over as the leader of a powerful protest movement against Purnama, a Widodo ally, in the months leading up to the gubernatorial election, after the previous leader was summoned by police on pornography charges.

But police came for Khaththath in late March, escorting him from his hotel room to the detention facility where he remains. A few weeks later, on the eve of the election, Khaththath managed to send a letter to his supporters.

“From my detention room, I tap on the sky door,” Khaththath wrote. He hoped the tap would be felt by “every Muslim heart” and would persuade the faithful to “choose a Muslim governor.”

Not every Muslim heart felt the tap, but enough did to secure a clean victory for Baswedan. The high-stakes election campaign was marked by the largest conservative rallies in generations, as well as by intensifying — and controversial — legal efforts by the Indonesian government to rein in the hard-line groups’ leadership.

Now that the election is over, many moderate Muslim leaders say they are treating it as a wake-up call about the growing power of Indonesian hard-line organizations and the need to take stern action to stop them.

“I am not worried about the candidates who won,” said Sidarto Danusobroto, a former speaker of the Senate and key adviser to the president. “I am worried about the groups that supported them — the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir.”

“Islam is different from how the Islamic Defenders Front portrays it,” said Mohammad Nuruzzaman, head of strategic research for Ansor, a moderate Muslim youth movement that has been working with the police to break up hard-line Muslim gatherings.

In one of a number of efforts in the past few weeks to curb extremists, police officials and nationalist groups in the central Javanese town of Semarang prevented the Islamic Defenders Front from opening a branch.

“We have a tolerant city,” said Iwan Santoso, a representative from the Red and White, a group that takes its name from the colors of the Indonesian flag. “We don’t want students to be instigated.”

This past week, police in East Java, apparently acting at the urging of moderate Muslims or nationalists, shut down a planned university event featuring Felix Siauw, a Chinese Indonesian convert to Islam who has become a major hard-line preacher. In a Web video subsequently uploaded to his Facebook page, Siauw said, “We should have a nation of laws, and the laws should apply to all.”

But moderate Muslim and civil society groups increasingly are calling for bans on organizations that push for the creation of a caliphate. Nuruzzaman, of Ansor, compared such organizations to the Indonesian Communist Party, a boogeyman from Indonesia’s past.

“The goal of Communists and those who support the caliphate are similar — both want all countries in the world to be run under one system,” he said.

Last Tuesday, police announced that they were reviewing the legality of Hizbut Tahrir because of the international Islamist group’s embrace of a global caliphate. Muhammad Ismail ¬Yusanto, a spokesman for Hizbut Tahrir here, protested that its goal of establishing a caliphate does not violate the Indonesian constitution.

“All we do is convey Islam’s teachings,” he said in an interview. Besides, he argued, the constitution can be amended.

Hizbut Tahrir is banned in many countries around the world, including Germany, China, Egypt and numerous other Arab states. But it has operated for nearly 20 years in democratic Indonesia.

Some rights activists oppose banning the group. Andreas Harsono, Indonesia representative of Human Rights Watch, said that although Hizbut Tahrir’s ideology is deeply discriminatory — toward women, LGBT people and minority faiths — that does not mean the organization should be shut down.

“It is not illegal to say, ‘I want to discriminate against women,’ ” he argued, acknowledging that the case is “complicated.”

More worrying to Harsono are the Indonesian government’s efforts to pursue radical religious leaders for alleged offenses unrelated to their Islamist activism, or on exaggerated charges. Habib Rizieq, perhaps the nation’s most powerful hard-line figure, was brought in for questioning by police over pornographic images he is alleged to have exchanged with a woman who is not his wife, while Khaththath was charged with trying to organize a coup.

“It’s very concerning,” said Harsono, who said he knows of no evidence that Khaththath was plotting the violent overthrow of the government.

Marcus Mietzner, an associate professor at Australian National University, expressed concern that heavy-handed charges would harm Indonesia’s democracy.

“What they should not do is arbitrarily throw criminal charges at individual leaders that are either excessive, like the treason accusation, or unrelated, as the pornography case,” he wrote in an email. “This, in turn, will only increase the sense of victimization among conservative Muslims.”

That already appears to be happening. Achmad Sofyan, a Khaththath deputy who was also investigated by police, said: “It isn’t fair. The case was engineered.”

Mietzner suggested that the government has legal ways to handle hard-line groups but has opted for different tactics in part to avoid a messy public debate. If the state prosecuted these groups, “it would have to argue in front of the courts why Islam should not be Indonesia’s primary legal-political foundation,” he wrote.

For Nuruzzaman, it is crucial to oppose the hard-liners, whatever the difficulties.

“We don’t want the government to take repressive measures,” he said. Nonetheless, “we have to confront them.”

The Washington Post

Four Thoughts Of Philosophy; 2 From Scripture, Then 2 Thoughts/Questions from Me

 

Two of these peaces of thought are from two Old Testament Scripture, the first is part of a prayer from Moses in the Book of Psalms the 90th Chapter. I got this idea from another blog about 2 or 3 days ago but I don’t remember which one, this prayer was part of that article. In slots number 2 and 3 I am going to drop in a couple of pieces of thought that I have jotted down the past couple of days. Then I am going to finish off this article today with a ‘thought’ from the Prophet Daniel. Please feel free to leave me comments on your thoughts, it is good to try to learn what other people think, and sometimes maybe even why they think different from we do, or maybe the same as we do.

1). The very strength of age is sorrow. What then is its weakness? Covet not extreme old age; but know that if it comes God must be our portion, or else life will be a burden.

2). This is why the whole world needs to be under a Socialists system folks: because that at the end of the day the only thing counts is who made the most cash today! When the masses are not needed even if their labor were totally free. When you are not making anything and you are costing someone else, then why should the top .1% continue to pay your way. O, but now what? Do those “little people” get to live a free breath? Or to be allowed to breathe at all? If all do not care for each other than there is no chance for the whole to survive without massive bloodshed at some point in time to either eliminate, or to care for each other.

3). Should there be storage sheds filled with excess food set back for the wealthiest of the world’s population? Personally I don’t see anything wrong with that being reality for some people if that is what they wish to do. With one notable exception or disclaimer if you will. That being okay as long as there are no people in the world going hungry at this same snapshot in time. If I have extra food and water yet I allow my neighbors to die from starvation or thirst, I fear looking our Lord in His eyes if we are guilty of such at on our Judgement Day.

 

4). This is from the Book of Daniel 9:3-4

And I set my face unto the Lord, to seek by prayer an supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth and ashes:

And I prayed unto the Lord my G-d, and made my confession and said, O Lord, the Great and Dreadful G-d. Keeping the Covenant and mercy to them that love Him, and to them that keep His Commandments.

 

Just wondering what your thoughts on these pieces of thought are. I hope you are all able to have a great weekend, stay safe, God bless.

 

Is President Trump Bluffing Again? Or, Does He Actually Know Something?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

If Trump has a Strategy on Israeli-Palestinian Peace, it’s Remaining a Secret

If President Trump has a real strategy to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it’s such a tightly held secret that even the parties involved don’t seem to know what it is. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House this week, that mystery will be on full display.

“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said last week. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”

Setting aside the patent absurdity of that statement, what’s clear is that the White House is willing to devote time and attention to new Middle East negotiations and the president wants to be personally involved.

The problem is there’s a glaring gap between Trump’s high-flying rhetoric and his still-unexplained strategy. As the Abbas visit approaches, there’s no clarity in sight.

Last week, a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat traveled to Washington to prepare for the visit. The group met with Trump’s envoy on Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, as well as with White House and State Department officials.

Both sides are keeping expectations for the Trump-Abbas meeting low. Palestinian officials tell me the Trump team doesn’t seem to know exactly what Trump wants to discuss or propose. White House staff declined to say anything at all about their goals for the meeting. Some experts think that’s because there’s no depth to Trump’s approach.

“How you deal with Abbas is directly related to a broader strategy, which unless they haven’t announced it, they simply don’t have,” said former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller. “It’s hard to see that this is going to turn out to be much more than a stage visit.”

In truth, there really isn’t much Trump and Abbas can agree to. There’s little hope that Abbas will give Trump what the US side wants, namely a promise to address the issue of incitement in the Palestinian territories or a pledge to curb the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s policy of paying families of terrorists who have attacked Israelis and Americans.

Likewise, there’s no prospect that Trump will deliver what Abbas wants — a commitment to press the Israelis into a freeze of settlement-building that would meet Palestinian standards. The United States has secured an informal agreement with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to place some limits on building new settlements, a version of the “build up, not out” framework from the George W. Bush administration. But that falls short of what Abbas says is needed before negotiations can begin.

The meeting could be significant by itself, if Trump and Abbas can establish a personal rapport to build on in the future. But therein also lies a risk.

“The president has never met Abbas and that makes it an important meeting,” said former White House and State Department official Elliott Abrams. “But if he forms the opinion that Abbas is not strong enough to do a deal and then implement it, that will have a real impact on American policy.”

Sure to be present at the meeting is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is overseeing Greenblatt’s work. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, will reportedly join Donald Trump for a trip to Israel in late May.

Administration officials sometimes talk about an “outside-in” approach whereby a framework for peace negotiations would be arranged with Arab states and then folded into the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. Details of that plan are hazy, and the Trump team has yet to explain how it plans to incentivize Arab states to buy in.

Martin Indyk, who served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy on this issue, said Trump’s approach of trying to find avenues to pursue is positive but cannot overcome the inability of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make the political compromises necessary for real progress.

“Based on experience, there’s one principle that I operate on. By American willpower alone, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved,” he said.

There are things the Trump team can do constructively, including bolstering Abbas by promoting economic development in the West Bank, Indyk said. Making small progress on the margins could improve the chances for peace down the line.

But by going for headlines, not trend lines, Trump is raising expectations and putting his administration’s already-thin credibility at risk. There can be dangerous consequences in the Middle East when high-stakes diplomacy fails. The new administration would be better off recognizing that peace is not in the offing.

The Washington Post

Forgive us, we did not know. Forgive him, he does not understand (JCC Bomb Hoaxer)

The parents of the JCC bomb hoaxer accused of a vast, relentless two-year campaign of vicious threats and internet crime do their best to explain the inexplicable

Source: Forgive us, we did not know. Forgive him, he does not understand

Science helps verify an unbelievable Holocaust escape account

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

Jews digging a trench in which they were later buried in, after being shot, in Ponary, Poland. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)
The escape tunnel at Ponar is witness to ‘the victory of hope over desperation’

Science helps verify an unbelievable Holocaust escape account

The story of a band of Lithuanian Jews who dug their way to freedom was met with widespread skepticism over the years. A new TV program sheds light on their incredible tale

April 15, 2017, 8:38 am 4

LOS ANGELES (JTA) – A one-hour TV program airing next week on PBS links brings advanced scientific techniques to bear on an incredible Holocaust escape story.

“Holocaust Escape Tunnel,” a “Nova” production to be shown April 19, sheds new light on the attempt by 80 imprisoned men and women — mostly Lithuanian Jews — to make a break for freedom in the face of Nazi bullets. The show documents the application of scientific methods to verify what would otherwise be a nearly unbelievable story.

The documentary is set in and around Vilna, the Yiddish and Hebrew designation for Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. At its peak, before World War II and the Holocaust, the city boasted a Jewish population of some 77,000, had 105 synagogues, the largest Jewish library in the world and six daily Jewish newspapers.

The vigorous Jewish life in Vilna started to decline in 1940, when the Soviet Union absorbed Lithuania. It was almost completely destroyed after German armies attacked Russia in 1941, quickly conquering Lithuania.

Within a year Nazis shot and killed – in the days before Auschwitz-type gas chambers – most of the Jews and tossed their corpses into huge pits in the nearby Ponar Forest, initially dug by the Soviets to store fuel and ammunition. One pit alone held 20,000 to 25,000 corpses.

In late 1943, with Russian armies advancing from the east and partisans attacking German supply lines in surrounding forests, Hitler’s headquarters in Berlin decided to cover up the monumental massacre by ordering that all the bodies be cremated.

The Germans ordered the region’s surviving Jews, along with some Russian prisoners of war, to first chop down large trees in the forests, cut them into planks, form huge layers of wood, spread the bodies between the layers and then set them aflame. Methodically, the Germans formed 10 “burning brigades,” each consisting of 80 prisoners, mainly Jewish.

After a day’s work, the “burners” were held in pits and their feet shackled. One such unit, consisting of 76 men and four women, decided it was duty bound to pass on the truth to the world and future generations.

The prisoners freed their legs by cutting the shackles with a smuggled-in file and, for the next 76 days, using only spoons and their hands, carved out a 2-by-2-foot-wide tunnel extending 130 feet.

April 15, 1944, the last day of Passover, was set for the escape. As the first prisoners left the tunnel, guards opened fire and killed almost the entire group. But 12 made it out and cut through the wire fence. They joined a detachment of partisans commanded by the legendary Abba Kovner.

At the end of the war, all but one of the escapees were still alive and eventually settled elsewhere, mainly in pre-state Israel and the United States.

Among the thousands, if not millions, of post-Holocaust remembrances, the story of the Vilna escapees was met with widespread skepticism even by the future wives and children of the 11 survivors, said historian Richard Freund, who is prominently featured in the documentary.

The skepticism was fueled by the absence of any physical evidence of the alleged tunnel. Lithuania — already beleaguered by charges of its wartime collaboration with the Germans — showed little enthusiasm for further investigations.

In recent years, however, with a change of attitude by a new generation of Lithuanians, their government was ready to seek the truth about the Holocaust and invite outside experts to participate in the endeavor.

An initial contact was Jon Seligman, a leading researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority. Freund, of the University of Hartford, also was interested — he had directed archaeological projects at the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland, as well as at six ancient sites in Israel. In 2014, the two scholars decided to cooperate on the project, spurred by their similar ancestral descent from Vilna Jews. A third member of the documentary team with Jewish roots in Eastern Europe was Paula Apsell, the senior producer for “Nova.”

The infamous “Burning Pit” used by the Nazis to burn the remains of their Jewish victims in order to rid themselves of all evidence. (Ezra Wolfinger for WGBH/JTA)

The infamous “Burning Pit” used by the Nazis to burn the remains of their Jewish victims in order to rid themselves of all evidence. (Ezra Wolfinger for WGBH/JTA)

Seligman and Freund had initially set their sights on exploring the fate of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, once the center of Jewish worship and scholarship, which had been destroyed by the Germans. The Soviets later razed the remains and built a school there.

The two scholars — backed by other experts and teams of young volunteers — made some dramatic discoveries at the Great Synagogue site, but also were intrigued by reports on the escape tunnel.

In approaching the latter, the project leaders ruled out using the traditional method of digging into an archaeological site with spades and machines.

“Traditional archaeology uses a highly destructive method,” Freund told JTA. “You only have one chance to get it right and you can’t repeat an experiment. Additionally, in our case, we were determined not to desecrate the site and victimize the dead a second time.”

Instead, the teams used two noninvasive techniques that are widely employed in gas and oil explorations. One approach was through Ground Penetrating Radar, or GPR, which uses radar pulses to return images of objects found beneath the earth’s surface. The results were analyzed in Los Angeles by geophysicist Dean Goodman, who developed the GPR software.

In the second approach, called Electrical Resistivity Tomography, or ETR, scientists investigate sub-surface materials through their electrical properties. The same technique is widely used in medical imaging of the human body.

Thanks to these techniques, in 2016 the investigators were able to scientifically confirm the existence and dimensions of a wartime escape tunnel, as JTA reported at the time. The New York Times listed the feat as one of the top science stories of the year.

One of the successful tunnel escapees was Shlomo Gol, whose son Abraham (Abe) was born in a displaced persons camp in Munich, Germany. The elder Gol died in 1986 at the age of 77, and his son will be 68 in July. The family initially immigrated to Israel, then moved to the United States.

Abe Gol, who lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida, told JTA that friends recalled his father as a young man full of life and as a natural leader. However, the father young Abe knew “withdrew within himself” and did not speak of his experiences.

The little he learned of his father’s past came in two ways: One was the annual reunion, on the last day of Passover, held by escapees who had settled in Israel. At dinner, when shots of vodka loosened tongues, the men talked of the past, paying no attention to the boy listening in.

In later years, Gol discovered that his father had kept a written record of his past, which the son translated into English. One small recollection from the diary: the persistent stink from the combination of kerosene and tar the prisoners had to pour on the wood pyres to fan the flames.

At the time of the tunnel’s discovery, Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority wrote, “As an Israeli whose family originated in Lithuania, I was reduced to tears on the discovery of the escape tunnel at Ponar. This discovery is a heartwarming witness to the victory of hope over desperation. The exposure of this tunnel enables us to present not only the horrors of the Holocaust, but also the yearning for life.”

With the deaths of the last eyewitnesses of the Holocaust, Freund said, historians will have to rely increasingly on yet unknown scientific and technological advances to preserve and enlarge our knowledge of the great tragedy of the 20th century.

“Holocaust Escape Tunnel” will air April 19 at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times; 8 p.m. Central time. Check your local PBS station for details.

Jewish Passover: 4 Steps To Breaking Bad Habits

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHADBAD.ORG)

Passover’s 4 Steps to Breaking Bad Habits

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During the Passover Seder we recount in detail the plight of the Israelites as slaves in ancient Egypt, and we celebrate their eventual salvation. However, the Seder is not just about commemorating past events.

The Talmudic sage Rabban Gamaliel II called upon us to include a personal element in the rituals of the Seder. “In every generation, a person must see themselves as if they personally left Egypt,”1 he instructed, leaving it to us to figure out how to make this ancient tale of redemption relevant to us today.

One suggestion was offered by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, the third Rebbe of Chabad, also known as the Tzemach Tzedek. He viewed the rabbinic instruction to drink four cups of wine (or grape juice for those who avoid alcohol) during the Seder as a framework for achieving personal freedom.2

Each cup was instituted to reflect another expression G‑d used to promise the Jews that they would be rescued from Egypt and become a nation with the power to determine their own destiny.3 If we follow this path, the Tzemach Tzedek writes, it can lead us on a personal journey towards freedom from any negative practices that hold us back.

Here is my personal understanding of those four 4 steps to breaking bad habits, based on G‑d’s 4 promises:

1. Stop

G‑d’s first expression of redemption to the Israelites was, “I will take you out” of Egypt. Before you get clean, you must get out of the mud. The first step to breaking free from a habit is to simply stop doing it. Medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides says, “A sinner should abandon his sins,” and suggests that you control your thoughts before they trigger a repeat offence.4 Immediately stop, even if you have already gone at it again.

2. Adopt

After the Israelites left Egypt, they were ill at ease with their new identity. G‑d promised: “I will save you,” and supplied them with protective clouds of glory and manna from the sky. The second step on the path to breaking free is to immerse yourself in an alternative, positive reality. When dropping an old habit, adopt a new one to take its place and fill the void. Happiness researcher Gretchen Rubin says that it is much easier to form new habits after a change in life. Adopt your new activity steadily and continuously so it becomes the new you.

3. Rationalize

G‑d gave the Israelites the holy Torah on Mount Sinai as a roadmap to living a meaningful life. The expression, “I will deliver you,” alludes to the study of Torah, which spiritually and intellectually transforms you. The third step on this journey is to establish the ethical reasoning of your decision and an understanding of the new person you are trying to become. As the Israelites said after receiving the Torah, naaseh v’nishma (“we will do and we will understand”). After you “do” by adopting a positive activity, the next step on the journey to change is learning and understanding.

4. Internalize

As the Israelites wandered through the desert, G‑d promised them that He would bring them to the Promised Land. Knowing that they would have a place to call their own allowed them to establish an emotional connection with their new selves. This positive emotional bond is reflected in the expression, “I will take you as a nation.” The fourth step on this path is to not only rationalize and understand the person you want to become, but to also fully internalize the change within you, because emotion plays a big part in influencing the decisions we make.

“Through the story we are redeemed from Egypt,”5 the Tzemach Tzedek once commented. You have the power to make the Passover narrative your own success story.

FOOTNOTES

1.

Pesachim 116b.

2.

Ohr HaTorah, Shemot, vol. 1, p. 185.

4.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuvah, 2:2.

5.

Rebbe Rayatz, eve of 20 Kislev 5692; Sefer Hamaamarim 5710, p. 197.

Rabbi Yehuda L. Ceitlin is the outreach director of Chabad Tucson, and associate rabbi of Cong. Young Israel of Tucson. He coordinates the annual Yarchei Kallah summit of Chabad scholars, and was on the editorial staff at Chabad.org.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org’s copyright policy.

If The Haggadah Has Got It Correct Then Western Education Has It All Wrong

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHABAD.ORG)

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What’s So Wise About the Wise Child?

They say the Haggadah never ends. That makes sense, because the Haggadah is the classic Jewish guide to education, and education never ends.

So now that we’ve done our Seder for the 3,329th year, and while it’s still Passover, I’d like to open a discussion on how we educate our kids. And I’d like to start by listening to what the Haggadah is telling us.

It seems it’s telling us we’re doing it all wrong.

Here’s evidence: How do we test, monitor and measure the success of our students? By asking questions, right? (Like I just did.)

And indeed, the average middle-grade teacher asks around 400 questions a day. That’s about two per minute. After 15 years, a teacher has asked at least one million questions. The student has asked if he can go to the bathroom.After 14 and a half years, that’s a million questions. The average student, however, generally only asks two or three questions a week—most commonly, “Can I go to the bathroom?” In high school, not much better, with about ten questions a day. Compare that to preschool kids, who ask an average of 100 questions a day.

Some will tell you that’s the Socratic method. We’re attempting to elicit intelligence from students by battering them with questions they never thought of asking.

But the Haggadah does the opposite. Rather than evaluating children by their ability to answer, it identifies them in four categories by their ability to ask.

Questions Are Rich

That turns everything around.

For one thing, from a child’s correct answers, you often know very little. Maybe he simply has a good memory. Maybe he’s good at guessing what you want to hear. At very best, a child’s answers only tell us what that child knows.

But theA child’s answers tells us what he knows. A child’s questions tell us who he is. child’s questions provide a window into the child’s mind and soul. A child’s questions tell us who that child is.

Every child is on a critical mission to make sense of things, to find the meaning behind everything, to put the pieces together. But each child sees a different world, through different eyes. So each child discovers that meaning in his or her particular way.

So that only once we know what this child is looking for, and how he is looking for it, only then we can assist him to find it. And that is education—assisting the child on his or her particular journey of discovering meaning.

Ask! Please Ask!

Let’s start from the beginning: The Haggadah is designed to incite questions.The Haggadah is designed to incite questions. How does it do that? By breaking the routine.

Generally, a festive Jewish meal begins with a blessing on the wine. We then all proceed to wash our hands, return to the table, and say a blessing on the bread.

On the Seder night, we also start with the wine. And then the hand-washing. And we return to the table. And then we take small vegetable and dip it in some sort of liquid, and eat it.

Why the change?

You’ll hear all sorts of reasons, but there’s one definitive answer cited in the Code of Jewish Law: We do it so that someone will ask a question.

And if they ask, what do we answer? We answer that they got it right. They asked a question.

Which means that the question is of prime value, even when there is no answer. As the ancient rabbis said, “Even though we have no answer for this question, once the child is asking, he will ask more questions.”

And why is that important? Because, to those ancient rabbis, it’s obvious that you can’t teach a child a thing until the child has a question.

Passing by a ninth grade classroom in a yeshiva, I hear the teacher lecturing: “Okay, so the ultimate reason for the creation of all things is…”

The diligent students take notes. The rest stare into empty space. The teacher may as well be speaking about the average rainfall in Indonesia.

You can’t teach a thing until you have first awakened a question.

A question creates a vacuum, a space in the brain to fit new knowledge. Just like a car is useless if you live in a big city where there’s no place to park it, and a meal goes in the trash if there’s no one to eat it, so the most satisfying answer in the world is meaningless to the child who never had the question. He has no place in his skull to store it. It’s just a distraction and confusion for his mind from its true quest—to find meaning.

Yes, in case the child has no questions, we provide some, in the form of the Ma Nishtana—”Why is this night different from all other nights?”

But that’s Plan B. Plan A is that the children will ask questions of their own. And you, the parent, will wrack your brains finding answers for them.

Answering the Children

That brings us to another vital lesson from the Haggadah: We don’t answer the question.Don’t answer the question. Answer the child. We answer the child.

“The wise child—what does he say?” Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitchwould point out that in Hebrew, with just a slight change in punctuation, those words can read quite differently: “The wise child—what is he? He says…”

Through the question, we see the child. And that is who we answer.

The wise child articulates his question. He’s obviously thought it through well and knows exactly what he’s looking for.

If he’s wise, why does he ask? Why doesn’t he just have faith, like a good religious boy, and accept all his parents and teachers tell him?

He asks because he has faith. Like a scientist who believes that there will always be an explanation if we will just dig a little further, he believes that there will always be meaning, and deeper meaning, and yet deeper. His mind is not fettered by faith, but driven by it. And his faith, in turn, is enriched by his questions.

Something neat Rabbi Avraham Altein just pointed out: If there are no children to ask, no guests, nobody, the halacha is that you have to ask the question to yourself. According to Maimonides, even if the children have asked the questions, the parents must also ask.

Get that? You know the answer, but you have to ask again. Really ask. Revisit the darkness of “I don’t know”—as though you never knew. Because last year’s answer no longer satisfies you. That’s how you get to a new light. And that’s what it means to be wise.

All the Children

Which all explains why the Wise Child often ends up getting all the attention, while the others are left out.

But no, there are three more children in the room.There are three more children in the room. They are also our children. They are also our children.

Like the Wicked Child. He’s next in line in expertise at asking questions. After all, he has identified exactly what it is that is bothering him. Problem is, he’s not interested in an answer.

But he’s still number two, because something bothers him. The whole Seder bothers him. Which means he’s alive and kicking. Which means there’s something there to work with.

The Simple Child asks, but he’s not sure what he’s asking. He’s the one that is too often ignored. Since you don’t really get his question (because neither does he), he never gets an answer. In the times we live in, that’s a precarious situation. Because that may one day mean to him that there is no answer. And if so, he will have a different question: “Why am I doing all this if there is no answer?”

So the Haggadah instructs you to tell him stories of wonders and miracles. That is his world, that is what he sees. He is in wonderment. Go with it—take that wonderment and nurture it, all the way. Don’t give him any less than the Wise Child, or the Wicked One. And don’t demand that he become the Wise Child—lest you push him towards his cynical brother.

As for The Child Who Doesn’t Know How To Ask—In illustrated Haggadahs, he’s always a baby with a pacifier in his mouth. But that’s nonsense.The Inquisitively Challenged Child got 100% on his Haggadah test. I’ll bet he got 100/100 on his Passover Haggadah finals.

You know why I think that? Look at the answer we give him: “For the sake of this, G‑d did what He did for me when I left Egypt.” That’s a deep answer to an intelligent person.

So what does it mean that “he doesn’t know how to ask”?

Many of the ideas I’m writing here were sparked years ago by a conversation with an Israeli researcher, a student of renowned educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom, who visited our school along with many high schools across North America. At each school, the researcher would ask the principal, “Give me your best students, one by one, in a private room.”

When the student would enter, she would just sit there for a minute or two. Then she would ask, “Do you have any questions?”

Silence.

Then: “I’m visiting from Israel.”

More silence.

“I’m doing research.”

You get the gist of it.

But then, she would ask the principal to bring in the troublemakers, one-by-one. They would enter, and immediately break into, “Why am I here? Who are you? What is this all about? Israel? What’s that like?”

Open For This Child

So this child #4, a bright child who excels in school, why does this child not ask? Why is he not in search of understanding and meaning? What went wrong?

My guess? He went to school. There he was rewarded for answering questions just the way the teacher likes. But he was never rewarded for asking the really good ones that might disrupt the class, or the questions that the teacher might not have the answers to.

So Teach him, by example, that it’s even ok to question the most basic assumptions.for this child, “You must open for him.” Open his mouth. Teach him to ask. Teach him that it’s ok to ask. Teach him that it’s even ok to question the most basic assumptions. How? By example. By showing him how you yourself question assumptions.

That could explain another one of those Seder tidbits that should spark a thousand questions—or at least some annoyance. Immediately after the episode of the four children, a heavy chunk of Talmudic exegesis plops down upon us, seemingly telling us nothing of the Exodus narrative or the people sitting here.

Here’s the classic translation:

One may think that [the discussion of the exodus] must be from the first of the month. The Torah therefore says, “On that day.” “On that day,” however, could mean while it is yet daytime; the Torah therefore says, “It is because of this.” The expression “because of this” can only be said when matzah and maror are placed before you.

But Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abravanel (15th century) tells us it’s actually as relevant as you can get. It’s a response to that Inquisitively Challenged Child. It’s about opening his mind with a question that challenges the most unquestioned assumption of the entire ritual: Who says it’s Passover tonight?

Try reading it like this:

You: Hold on, maybe we were supposed to do this Seder on Rosh Chodesh—15 days ago on the first day of the month!

Child: Umm. Why then?

You: Because that’s when God told Moses about the mitzvah of Pesach.

Child: Okay, so we messed up.

You: Nope, it says on that day.

Child: Okay, so let’s get on. What do we say next?

You: Not so simple. Because then we should be doing it during the day. Now it’s night already.

Child: So it’s over. Let’s eat.

You: Not so fast. You see, it says, for the sake of this stuff. Meaning this matzah and bitter herbs that we eat on the night of Pesach. So we have to wait until we’re supposed to eat that stuff—and that’s tonight.

Child: Why on earth do we have to tell a story to food?

See? It worked!


So here’s what I’m taking from my Seder into the coming year:

Torah comes to us in a beautiful package, wrapped and tied. The only way to untie those knots and open up its treasures is by asking the right questions whenever and wherever they come to mind, and asking them without fear or shame.

How do we get ourselves,How can we teach the faith and courage it takes not to fear a good question? our children, other Jews, and everyone else who can benefit, to ask? How can we teach the faith and courage it takes not to fear a good question?

If we can find answers to those questions, we will have half of education nailed.

What’s So Wise About the Wise Child?

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman’s writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org’s copyright policy.