Oznia, a blog of Israel things

~Pope Benedict XVI: Not a Nazi, Never a Nazi by elan

Pope Benedict XVI, the current leader of the Catholic Church, is currently making a high-visibility pilgrimage to the Middle East. He first met with Jordanian monarch King Abdullah II and offered mass to Catholics in Amman. The Pope then traveled to Israel, touring holy sites, engaging in inter-religious dialog and meeting President Shimon Peres. (Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in Egypt for a conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.) Benedict vists Israel Pres. Peres

After briefly surveying the international media, it seems that the most contentious part of the Pope’s trip has been his visit to Yad Va’Shem, Israel’s national holocaust museum. Though not a religious or historic site, the Israeli government generally insists that all visiting foreign heads of state visit the solemn commemoration in order to appreciate and understand the necessity of a Jewish state and refuge. The Pope has been criticized for avoiding certain elements of the museum, including an exhibit that highlights the silence of the Vatican and Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust. In addition, Benedict has taken fire for his broad, general remarks at the museum and a general lack of acknowledgment and reference to the horrors of the calamity.

Whether the Pope was specific enough is a difficult call to make. Some go so far as to claim that the Pope spoke in generalities to mask his own involvement in the conflict. Benedict, then known as Joseph Ratzinger, was a member of the Hitler Youth and later, the German Army. However, it is clear that the Pope was never a Nazi. He was conscripted into the Hitler Youth like every other German teenager. As the German war effort collapsed, he was drafted into an anti-aircraft artillery group. One could hardly claim that a minor, forced against his will to fight, embraced the Nazi philosophy. Furthermore, it is dishonest to label the entire Wermacht as Nazi foot-soldiers. While the relationship between Catholics and Jews may not be particularly warm, it is disingenuous to lambast the Catholic leader.


~Gap Year in Israel by aklionsky

As December 31st approaches and the first of my college applications is officially due, I’m beginning to browse through another set of applications and supplements: the ones for Israel gap-year programs.

I’ve been told over and over again that “You’re never as free as  you are before college. During college there are classes, then there’s internships and jobs, and then maybe grad school, and then jobs, and a family, and kids… and it becomes harder and harder to pick up and travel.”

So I’m going to Israel next year. I haven’t decided yet which program/s to apply for. There are a lot of great ones out there, some affiliated with each movement of Judaism, others pluralistic, some specifically designed with social justice in mind, others for nature lovers, some for studying, others for volunteering, some for musicians, others for dancers, some for five months, some for ten, some for just Americans, some for people from all over the world.

The internet is probably the most fantastic resource for finding a program that’s good for you, and the Masa organization offers scholarships for many of the programs it advertises.

I want a program that allows me to live like Israelis: speaking Hebrew, making friends, meeting kids, going to museums. But I also want to learn. I want to travel. I want to gain a firsthand experience of what it would be like to be seventeen-going-on-eighteen year old living in Israel.

Check it out some programs, but do it soon. Bring up the idea with your parents (you can even play the maturity card: You’ll be living on your own thousands of miles away for a while year, making decisions and friends… it will give you a step ahead of your classmates freshman year of college, when they’re just starting to hold those responsibilities).

~Planting Your Trees (A little late) by shaynaschor
December 15, 2008, 6:05 pm
Filed under: religion, science/nature | Tags: , , ,


If you made a donation to the Jewish National Fund in the past year, you may have received a notice thanking you for your donation, but explaining that no trees would be planted in Israel or abroad for the year; 5768 was a shmita year. In different aspects of our Jewish lives, many of us have come across the concept of shmita, or the Sabbatical Year for the land. In the context in which I learned it, I thought it had marginal relevance to my life. I studied it biblically; I learned that in the Torah, God commands us: “For six years you shall sow your fields and for six years you shall prune your vines and you shall gather in their produce.  And in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord” (Leviticus 25). I remember thinking: I have no fields to sow, no vines to prune, no produce to gather, so why should I care? And, more importantly, why is the practice still alive today? Isn’t it impractical, counter-productive and tremendously risky for Jewish and Israeli farmers to take a break from production for a year? I could not understand.

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~2=204??? by ronshapiro
August 27, 2008, 2:31 pm
Filed under: opinion, politics, religion | Tags: , , ,

You don’t have to take an AP Calculus class to understand that 204 is way larger than 2.  So why would Israel “trade” 204 terrorists (199 dead, 5 alive) including living murder mastermind Samir Kuntar for 2 (dead) captured soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev?

By straight numbers, Israel is giving 102 times as many people as Hezbollah.  Hezbollah is also getting 5 living terrorists that could contribute to many more murders in the future.  When looking at the numbers, it seems like this “trade” is WAY lopsided.

But this equation is not 2=204.  It is 2+morality=204.  Israel is a country that prides itself on treating their soldiers and the parents of soldiers the right way.  These soldiers fought for THEIR country and deserve a proper burial.  The parents of the soldiers deserve to know the status of their children.

Israel just completed a mitzvah commanded in the Torah, pidyon shvuim (return of captives).  Although it is not a country solely run by the religious book, the government takes religion into consideration every day.  The exchange that happened over the summer was not a necessarily a “trade” but rather a “swap.”  The addition of morality and mitzvot can not be overlooked.

~More Obama Drama by lsarris
August 12, 2008, 5:08 pm
Filed under: opinion, politics, religion | Tags:

US Democratic presidential...

(From JPost.com)

On Thursday, July 24th, Barack Obama stopped at the Kotel during his visit to Israel, and paying respects to the holy site, he placed a note in the wall, as is traditionally done. Not long after he left the Kotel, a Jewish seminary student snatched what he believed to be Obama’s note from the Wall, and then sent it to multiple media outlets for potential publishing. The note said: “Lord – Protect my family and me, forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.”

When I first heard about what the student did, I was outraged. Since I was at the Kotel just a couple days before this incident, the sanctity and importance of this site was fresh in my mind. Not only was it completely disrespectful of the student and Ma’ariv News for making the note known worldwide, but it also reflects badly on the Jewish people. Yes, it was the actions of one person, but as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the Presidential candidate was disrespected and humiliated by the Jews. Even with the apology made by the student days after, it was still a wrong and unecessary act, despite temptations provided by Obama’s celebrity.

There is no doubt in my mind that Obama was excepecting this kind of thing to happen, but maybe we could have proven him wrong?

~Israel for the Very First Time by aklionsky
June 13, 2008, 3:03 pm
Filed under: opinion, religion | Tags: , , , , , ,

From 23 days, the countdown has come down to under 12 hours. I leave for my first trip to Israel in less than 12 hours. Actually, to be precise, I have to be at the airport for my first trip to Israel in less than 12 hours.

It’s exhilarating, exciting, and somewhat nerve racking: what should I expect? I’m not going on a tourist trip–although, of course, we’ll still visit the Kotel–and I’m not visiting family. I’m going with a program for high school journalists called Write On for Israel and we’re going to be meeting dignitaries, TV hosts, mayors, Knesset members, and other high-ra

nking officials.

I know it’ll be great, and I’m sure I’ll have “that moment” (that’s the only way I can describe it, forgive me) sometime when I’m there, but I honestly cannot imagine what it’s going to be like. Sure, I’ve seen our itinerary (“subject to change on a moment’s notice”), and I listen mostly to Israeli music, speak Hebrew and know a lot of people that live in Israel, but all of those things–even combined–I’m sure cannot measure up to visiting.

I’m so excited for this trip I can’t even begin to explain. I’ve got my camera, batteries, journal, and everything all set away, ready to be used all the time. I’m all ready to take a deep breath, get on a plane, and have the experience of my life.

Have a wonderful summer!

~Mixed Feelings by ozniablog
May 29, 2008, 2:32 pm
Filed under: opinion, politics, religion | Tags:

The above picture, one I took on a recent trip to Israel, presents great difficulties to me as a Religious Zionist. I can recall the emotions I felt as I photographed the candid scene of four Israeli soldiers gazing down at the Kotel (Western Wall). The obvious beauty in the sharp contrast of golden stones and green uniforms. The way the light played tricks on my eyes, allowing me for a moment to forget the Mosque towering above the Wall on my left.

The words of Moshe Dayan after the Six Day War came to mind: “Har Habayit B’Yadenu!” (The Temple Mount is in our hands!) I was overcome by the sheer luck I have at being able to stand at the exact spot my ancestors cried over, with fellow Jews guarding my steps. But seeing soldiers overlooking what I believe to be the holiest spot in Israel brought tears to my eyes for a different reason: it reminded me of the transience and uncertainty of Israel’s situation. Yes, Har Habayit B’Yadenu – but who knows for how long? Realism and Zionism collided for me as I stood, rooted to the ground, deep in thought.

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