Yochi Rappeport is not someone I would expect to see handing out campaign flyers on Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street. And certainly not with the messaging screaming from the page she handed me as I was doing my Friday morning shopping.

Yoshi Rappeport supporting the “Jerusalem Union”

Rappeport is the executive director of Women of the Wall, the feminist group that meets monthly at the kotel(the Western Wall). But the flyer had emblazoned on it photographs of Itamar Ben-Gvir, Aryeh King and Avi Maoz, three of the most right-wing and, in the case of King and Maoz, virulently homophobic politicians on the scene today.

These three henchmen of the liberal apocalypse would be among the first to protest the Women of the Wall. So, why was Rappeport promoting them?

Avi Maoz, Aryeh King, Itamar Ben-Gvir

“Oh my!” she exclaimed when my face fell. “You’re looking at the wrong side!”

And there, on the flip side of the flyer, were the politicians Rappeport supported – members of the new Jerusalem Union list for city council. Their shining, pluralistic punems were meant to counter the scowling hate from the back of the same flyer. The warning (in Hebrew): “It’s time to choose: A messianic Jerusalem or an Israeli Jerusalem?”

The front side of the flyer

I met Rappeport in the run-up to the original date for municipal elections in 2023 (before they were delayed due to the war with Hamas). Since then, the Jerusalem Union’s messaging has been updated; it now asks, “Do you want a liberal, Israeli Jerusalem or an ultra-Orthodox one?” 

That’s led some critics to question if that argument is still appropriate after October 7 when “unity” has become the national watchword. Given the continued divisive politicking by members of Knesset – in particular, the anger at the haredim after funding for yeshivot was increased despite wartime budget cuts along with frustration that the ultra-Orthodox are still pushing for a blanket exemption from IDF service while, at the same time, a proposal is being discussed to lengthen service requirements for non-haredi soldiers – the Jerusalem Union’s position, sadly, remains relevant.

Rappeport is not simply a campaign worker; she’s no. 9 on the list which was formed through the merging of four different parties – Yossi Havilio, the list’s candidate for mayor, is a long-time Jerusalem activist and head of the “Saving Jerusalem” list; Laura Wharton, of “Democratic Jerusalem,” was Meretz’s representative on the Jerusalem city council; Ye’ala Bitton de Langa joined the Jerusalem Union on behalf of Yesh Atid; and Eran Ben-Yehuda did the same, from the Labor Party. Tomer Mintz, from the anti-judicial coup movement A New Contract, is also on the list. 

It’s not just the candidates. The Jerusalem Union’s talking points speak to me. 

“For 30 years, the elected mayors have insisted on basing their coalition on the local versions of Maoz, Ben-Gvir, and [Yitzhak] Goldknopf [current head of the United Torah Judaism party in the Knesset],” Havilio told The Jerusalem Post. “I pledge that after I am elected mayor, I will form a coalition that will be based first and foremost on the liberal factions.”

None of this is to say that I’m necessarily displeased with how the current – and most likely returning – mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, has managed the city. He promised to clean up our streets and stuck to his word. He promised to build far and wide and – like it or not – he’s doing that, too. Many of us were afraid he’d be too beholden to his religious coalition members, but he’s worked hard to be (mostly) fair to all sectors of Jerusalem’s delicate mosaic.

At the same time, the majority of the 30 seats on the current Jerusalem city council are in the hands of the haredi parties which, just doing the math, never mind specific policies, doesn’t bode well for pluralism. A counterbalance was – and still is – desperately needed.

Havilio wants to cancel the automatic property tax deductions for homes where there is “unemployment by choice” (code for “studying full-time in yeshiva or Kollel”); he believes state and state-religious schools should not be closed even if enrollment drops; and he emphasizes that only schools that teach the core studies of math, science and English should be opened in non-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Does all that make the Jerusalem Union an anti-religious party?

“I’m religious myself,” Rappeport stressed to me in our Emek Refaim chat before adding that, despite the fact she wouldn’t use public transportation or eat in a restaurant on Shabbat, those options should nevertheless be kept available. 

I’m not so naïve as to believe that SuperBus will soon be operating an officially-sanctioned line to ferry paying passengers to the beach on the Sabbath. But I appreciate Havilio’s and the Jerusalem Union’s fighting spirit.

When it comes to the environment, Havilio says all the right things, too: that new construction will not be approved in green areas and that the pace of work on the light rail will be accelerated (although I’m not sure he has any real control there).

If elected mayor – a long-shot to be sure – Havilio insists that in any coalition he leads, “I will make a U-turn from the poor, extreme, and non-Zionist direction in which the city is moving…I will take this city away from deterioration into the abyss of chronic poverty, extremism, bigotry, and racism.”

Laura Wharton adds, “We united to change the equation in Jerusalem and free the city council from the fanatics and extremists who are trying to take control of it. The time has come to take back the reins.”

To that, I say, “Get out and vote!”

Municipal elections will be held this coming Tuesday, February 27, in Jerusalem and all across Israel. 

The Jerusalem Union website: https://jerusalem-u.co.il/

Read the original article on The Jerusalem Post website.

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The Jerusalem Post’s Bini Ashkenazi reported earlier this month on an alarming document that began circulating at the Israeli Justice Ministry. It warned that, if war breaks out against Hezbollah, employees should prepare for several days of electricity blackout. 

A separate warning, from the National Emergency Authority, meanwhile, suggested that at least 60% of Israel’s population would face a 24-to-48-hour electricity cutoff, with the possibility of it “lasting up to 72 hours in some areas.” Israelis should prepare an emergency stock of food and water and have a radio receiver with a battery and a first-aid kit on hand.

All this is in keeping with what our military and political leaders are keen to remind us: that, compared to the infrastructure, training, tens of thousands of missiles (many with precision guidance systems) and, yes, another “underground metro” of tunnels Hezbollah has built in Lebanon, Hamas is like mere kindergartners. The big fight with the Iranian proxy to our north will be like nothing this country has ever experienced before.

Where is Marjorie Taylor Greene when you need her?

Marjorie Taylor Greene

The conspiracy theorist and QAnon-enamored U.S. Representative scandalously quipped in 2018 that California’s devastating wildfires that year were caused by some kind of “space laser” that set parts of the state ablaze.

While Taylor Greene didn’t call them “Jewish” space lasers, her dog whistle pinning the financing of this alternative reality on, among others, “Rothschild, Inc.” leaves no doubt who she believes is behind these deadly new weapons.

Taylor Greene’s post on Twitter (X)

But here’s the thing: I need those Jewish space lasers to be real. Because if Israel goes to war with Lebanon using the same methods we used in Gaza – or, frankly, operational plans common to any conventional war – we will be shattered. We need something new, something surprising, something never before seen, that will deliver an unexpected and devastating blow – without endangering our own troops and minimizing civilian casualties.

It turns out we Israelis have been working on just that kind of weapon. 

Our Jewish laser is a bit more mundane – it doesn’t fire from space but from more terrestrial locations – and is meant to complement the existing Iron Dome which knocks enemy rockets out of the air but requires expensive projectiles ($50,000 each), of which we must ensure a steady supply from overseas.

At the Abu Dhabi International Defense Exhibition in 2022, the Rafael defense contractor debuted a full-scale version of its “Iron Beam” laser system.

“We can focus the beam to the diameter of a coin in a 10-kilometer range,” explained Ran Gozali, executive vice president of Rafael’s land and naval division. By using a laser instead of traditional kinetic interceptors, the Iron Beam has an unlimited magazine, a low cost-per-shot and creates minimal collateral damage, according to Rafael, which has signed an agreement with Lockheed Martin to jointly develop a laser system for use in the United States.

The Iron Beam is a more limited solution compared with what U.S. President Ronald Reagan proposed in 1983: a full-on “Star Wars”-like defense system. (The formal name was the “The Strategic Defense Initiative.”) 

Reagan’s Star Wars never got off the ground – in 1987, the American Physical Society concluded that at least another decade of research was required to know whether such a system was even possible – and the plan was ultimately scrapped until 2019, when space-based interceptor development resumed under the Trump administration.

While recent years have seen the incremental deployment of more powerful bombs, anti-ordinance protection systems for tanks, and autonomous drones, we simply haven’t had any kind of truly game-changing jump in war technology, well, since the nuclear bomb (which, despite some idiot Israeli MK spouting his mouth off, Israel is not planning to use…not that we have one anyway).

At the same time, I’m aware that my longing for a weapon like this is a kind of magical thinking. 

Or to put it in a more Jewish context – am I becoming a messianic Zionist?

Zionism – regular plain Zionism, not even its religious variant – essentially marketed to the Jews of the Diaspora the possibility that all their problems could all be solved. 

Pogroms in Europe? Move to Israel. 

Antisemitism on campuses? Zionism will keep the Jewish people safe. 

And not just safe – we’ll shine with innovation, creativity, and new Sabra soldiers who are more fulfilled defending the homeland than protecting the walls of the yeshiva.

Messianic Zionism is everywhere these days. 

The battle cries – “We will utterly defeat Hamas,” “We will get back all the hostages,” “United we will win” – are essentially messianic. 

Rebuild the settlements in Gush Katif? Capture Hamas terrorist leaders Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif and put them on trial for the actual crime of genocide? Flood the tunnels and end the war in one fell swoop? 

All magical thinking, something to grasp onto in our desperation.

The only problem is that, as our texts so often suggest, Messiahs take their time. They tarry. Too often, they turn out to be false.

What if I can’t have my magic Messiah? What if my Zionism needs to be ratcheted down a rung, from “Messianic” to “realistic?” How do we continue to function as Jews in the Holy Land if Zionism can only keep our people “relatively secure” but not entirely safe in a world where, as it has become crystal clear, there is no love lost, to reverse paraphrase author Dara Horn’s latest book title, between the antisemites among us and living, breathing, fighting Jews.

Shalom Hanoch’s hit song from 1985 declares that, not only is the Messiah not coming, he’s not even picking up the phone.

Anyone have Marjorie Taylor Green’s number? It seems we may need those Jewish space lasers now more than ever.

I first shared my thoughts on Jewish space lasers in The Jerusalem Post.

Image of MTG: House Creative Services, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Jonathan Telsin (from his WhatsApp)

Israeli music student, Jonathan Telsin, a 21-year-old trumpet player from Tel Aviv, has been living in New York City since the fall where he’s studying jazz at The New School in a joint program with the Tel-Aviv-based Israel Conservatory of Music. 

Jonathan was looking forward to an amazing opportunity: Getting to learn from top teachers and students; performing at world-renowned jazz clubs and sitting in at jam sessions around town; the excitement of being at the epicenter of the jazz world.

Then October 7 happened, and nothing has been the same.

Following the devastating attack on Israel by Hamas on that “Black Sabbath,” other New York City universities – Columbia, NYU and Cooper Union in particular – have been in the spotlight for antisemitic and anti-Israel activism. Reports of threats, intimidation and physical and verbal violence against Jewish students have been logged on campuses across the country, culminating in the Congressional farce where the presidents of Harvard, MIT and Penn could not state clearly that calling for the genocide of a minority group violated their schools’ codes of conduct.

But things have been just as horrific for Israeli and Zionist students at The New School. 

Jonathan has been compiling images and videos of what’s been happening on campus since October 7. Among the clips – which Jonathan explains is just a small sample:

— Posters plastered around campus including those screaming, “Zionists f-off.”

— Several videos of masked pro-Hamas protesters inside The New School’s front gates – on private property, not on the street where it could be argued they’re within their right to free speech – holding signs accusing Israel of “genocide” and “Intifada until victory.” 

— At the same rally, protesters chanted, “Is it right to rebel? Israel, go to hell.” To paraphrase a skit from Eretz Nehederet (the Israeli equivalent to Saturday Night Live)“If it rhymes, it must be true.”

— The New School’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards published a letter saying that blocking school entrances was against The New School’s policies. Antisemites annotated that letter to read, “F- all the Zionists that go to this school [and who are] taking pics of us. Sincerely, go to hell.” Well, at least they were sincere.

— More F-bombs: A video of a man outside The New School with a megaphone shouting “F-you Israel” and “F-you bitch.”

— In the ninth-floor girls’ bathroom: “Abolish the settler state.” In a boy’s bathroom: “Zionism is terrorism.”

— A group dubbed “the socialist revolution” makes clear the anti-Western bias of many of the protesters as they promote an event that “will cut across the imperialist lies and provide the communistic perspective for Palestinian liberation.” 

— Perhaps most egregiously for Jonathan, protesters barred the entrances to three separate New School buildings with large Palestinian flags. In one video, a woman pleads off camera, “Let me in, I have class.” A protester flashes a sign at her that reads, “Support decolonization.” Or else what, you can’t study? 

Amin Husain at The New School

Inside the walls of the campus buildings, things were not much better as Jonathan shared a video of Amin Husain, a professor at NYU who has built a reputation for spreading hate speech in his lectures. In the video, Husain was invited into a New School classroom where he claimed that all the atrocities Hamas meticulously documented – the murders, rapes, mutilations, and beheadings – were all “fake news” and “Zionist propaganda.” 

Jonathan pointed out that Husain was once a member of the Palestinian group Fatah (the PLO) who proudly proclaimed his participation in “resistance” activities during the first Intifada in Israel including throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. 

The irony of the antisemitic activity happening at The New School is that the institution was originally founded in 1919 by progressive educators who were frustrated by quotas that kept Jews and other minorities out of elite universities. In 1917, for example, Columbia imposed a “loyalty oath” related to World War I upon the entire faculty and student body. Professors Charles A Beard and James Harvey Robinson subsequently resigned from Columbia to join the faculty of The New School, which had adopted a deliberate color- and race-blind admission policy. 

Jonathan saved some of his most strident vitriol for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) which he says is not some innocent home-grown pro-Palestinian group. He pointed to a 2020 study by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy that revealed “a direct correlation between donations to universities by the country of Qatar and other Gulf States and the presence of SJP groups on campus.” 

According to a report by Gabriel Diamond, a political science major at Yale, in The Hill, following the 9/11 terror attacks, Qatar began pumping money – some $4.7 billion over two decades – into American universities.  “It naturally follows that university administrations sitting on cash piles from Qatar would take a hands-off approach to SJP,” Diamond writes.

Note, too, that Hatem Bazian, a co- founder of SJP and now a lecturer in the department of ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, also founded American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), which is linked with the shuttered Holy Land Foundation which sent millions of dollars directly to Hamas before it was declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 2008. 

While the Holy Land Foundation no longer operates, AMP is still going strong and shares “a striking resemblance to the Hamas charities that were dismantled here more than a decade ago,” according to Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The New School administration attempted at one point to bring in a mediator for the Israeli students – an American rabbinical student, Louisa Solomon. While she seemed supportive during the meeting, Jonathan reported, he later saw her at a rally to denounce Israel.

Solomon also boasted on her Instagram page about being “proud to be arrested [in October 2023] demanding a ceasefire to prevent genocide in Gaza.” In separate social media posts, she described herself as “an anti-Zionist future rabbi” and claimed that stating that most Jews might feel similarly on a topic – for example, support of Israel following the most horrific massacre since the Holocaust – is in itself an “expression of antisemitism.” 

Louisa Solomon on social media

Was this really the best representative The New School could come up with?

Has Jonathan felt personally threatened? While he hasn’t physically been punched or hit, one protester thrust a megaphone up to his ear and began yelling. “I tried to move but he just went to the other side.” 

The climate of hate against Jews and Israelis at The New School is so pervasive, he relates, that one Israeli student said she didn’t feel safe coming to campus for weeks after the antisemitic protests started. “She was afraid for her life.”

Another Israeli student in the drama department at The New School was “canceled” from a play she was supposed to star in after she confronted a pro-Hamas student tearing down posters of kidnapped babies. 

“You’re no longer welcome due to your political views,” she was told just days before her final performance – one which she needed to pass the course.

Political commentator and editor Andrew Sullivan lays the blame on the West’s obsession with seeing the world in binary terms.

“If a member of an oppressor class says something edgy, it is a form of violence. If a member of an oppressed class commits actual violence, it’s speech,” says Sullivan on his SubstackThe Dishcast. “That’s why many Harvard students instantly supported a fundamentalist terror cult that killed, tortured, systematically raped and kidnapped Jews just for being Jews in their own country. Because they have been taught it’s the only moral position to take.”

Back at The New School, Students for Justice in Palestine published a list of “demands” of the university including ending the partnership between The New School and the Conservatory of Music in Israel, along with a “public acknowledgment” that Israel is a “settler colony” that must be denounced “for apartheid in Palestine and genocide in Gaza.” 

SJP ends its letter with the threat that, if the group doesn’t receive a response by its so-called “deadline,” we will “assume that this university is willingly invested in the genocide of the Palestinian people, and we will respond accordingly and by any means necessary.” (Emphasis is the writer’s.)

Of all the twisted language and epithets that have arisen after October 7, “to find yourself accused of genocide after undergoing a kind of mini-genocidal experience is so profoundly disorienting that I don’t know what world I’m living in anymore,” notes Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi on the Shalom Hartman Institute podcast For Heaven’s Sake.

Evoking genocide is the ultimate dehumanization, he said, even before South Africa began making those claims at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It’s the reason why people are tearing down posters of kidnapped Israelis, Klein Halevi explains. “The notion that Israel has any humanity opens up the possibility that maybe we have a case. And so, to see pictures of kidnapped babies is a threat to a worldview in which there can be no space for Israel’s legitimacy.” 

What does Jonathan want from The New School? 

“We want to be protected. We ask the school to take measures against students who violate their code of conduct, to not give an opportunity for students in an academic institution to call for the elimination of an entire population or community.”

Jonathan said he’s been attending “up to three meetings a day” with The New School administration – to no avail. “They crossed the line long ago. When a student says to another student, ‘I wish you had been in Israel on October 7 so you would have been raped, too,’ or ‘I hope you get stabbed on the street,’ the meaning does not rely on understanding the ‘context.’ Someone has to stop that student and let him know there will be consequences.”

Instead, a New School administrator told Jonathan to “get out of here, leave the building, it’s too dangerous for you now.’ I said, ‘if you think it’s dangerous for me, why don’t you do anything?’ He just gave me a blank look.”

That jives with what Shai Davidai, an Israeli professor at Columbia, has been saying in videos and articles that have gone viral since October 7. “Jewish students are encouraged to stay in hiding while those who celebrate Hamas are allowed to hold their events,” he notes.

Does Jonathan regret choosing to come to The New School? No, he says. “I came here to study music. It was a legitimate choice. But now I’m spending all this time in meetings. Tomorrow, I have an exam. I have so many papers to write and projects to do. But it’s our obligation to fight, for ourselves and for other students – and not just the Israeli and Jewish students – because they will be next.”

I first wrote about antisemitism at The New School for The Jerusalem Post.

All images were provided by Jonathan Telsin, including links to Louisa Solomon’s Instagram posts.

Update: Since I wrote this article, Amin Husain has been suspended by NYU for denying the October 7 atrocities.

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I was that guy

by Brian on January 13, 2024

in Cancer,Health,Politics,War in Gaza

We’ve all seen that person. The one who feels unwell at a concert or a public event. As he or she lies on the ground, a crowd of gawkers assembles. Eventually a doctor materializes, and the stricken person is whisked away by ambulance. 

On a recent Shabbat, I was the guy on the floor. 

My wife, Jody, and I were invited to a kiddush at a local synagogue when I started to feel faint. I sat on a bench but soon needed to lie down, too. I was nauseous and thought I might throw up, but when I tried to get to the bathroom, my vision blurred, and the outdoor space spun around me. 

I lay down again, this time on the hard pavement, aware of the spectacle I was creating but with no real option to sit up, lest I wanted to pass out.

This being a shul full of Jews, it was inevitable that there would be a doctor in the house. My pulse was dangerously low, he warned. He asked me to count from one to ten. No confusion but he still felt I needed to get to the ER.

“I don’t want to go,” I whispered to Jody. “I don’t want to spend the whole of Shabbat in the hospital.”

But it was too late. The ambulance had already been called. My blood pressure was a paltry 80/40. Hoisted onto a gurney, I was whisked off to Hadassah Ein Kerem.

The Emergency Room was efficient – they hooked me up to an IV, checked my heart with an EKG, did a chest X-ray and took blood and urine. Everything came out normal.

“It’s probably dehydration,” the doctor pronounced, as he hooked me up to a saline drip.

That didn’t make sense to me. I’ve had plenty of times where I haven’t drunk enough but nothing like this had ever happened. I had a couple of sips of Scotch at the kiddush – could it have been that?

My own diagnosis: I was having a panic attack. The symptoms were consistent: dizziness, shortness of breath, low blood pressure (although to the doctor’s cautious credit, those same symptoms could indicate a heart attack).

Anxiety has been my watchword since the October 7 “Black Sabbath” attack on Israel’s south. The minute-by-minute reports of fighting in Gaza that fill my WhatsApp feed, the deep depression over the fate of the Israeli hostages in Hamas’s hands, the escalation in the north, has everyone on edge.

Now, add to all that some unexpected health news and maybe it’s not so surprising that I collapsed.

Remember the “boom-boom” radiation I received over the summer? It, unfortunately, didn’t work. At first, the tumor we zapped shrunk, and I was optimistic. 

But a follow-up PET CT was shocking: The tumor had grown back – and then some. New tumor sites appeared, as well. 

My doctor recommended that we start treatment again. 

Follicular lymphoma is a chronic cancer. For most people, it won’t kill you, but it nearly always comes back, requiring more treatment. I had chemo and immunotherapy in 2018 and went into remission – but just for six months before I relapsed. If there’s a silver lining, I went treatment free for five years since, with follicular lymphoma, you don’t treat until the tumors get large enough or if you’re having “B” symptoms. 

Was my near-fainting in shul a “B” symptom? My hematologist didn’t think so. But the disease is now clearly progressing and treatment in 2024 has become unavoidable.

That’s where I am now – at the beginning of months of cancer treatment which will, hopefully, knock out the lymphoma for a good many years.

Part of what gives me confidence is a new kind of treatment that has emerged that will, in the coming years, likely become the standard of care for blood cancers like mine. No more chemo. The new drug of choice is known as a “bispecific antibody,” a form of immunotherapy. Mine in particular is called Mosunetuzumab.

A quick primer: Antibodies are a protein component of the immune system that circulates in the blood, recognizes foreign substances like viruses and bacteria, and neutralizes them. Immunotherapy, unlike chemo, which indiscriminately kills both cancer and healthy innocent bystander cells, harnesses the body’s immune system to fight any malignancies. Scientists do this by engineering antibodies in a lab and then injecting them into the patient.

Antibodies tend to have a “Y” shape. Most engineered antibodies are “monocolonal” – they have the same function on each “arm” of the Y. For lymphoma, they seek out a protein called CD20 that’s expressed by the tumor cells. 

Bispecific antibody “Y” shape (YouTube screenshot via The Jerusalem Post)

For bispecifics, the two arms have different functions. One still searches for CD20 proteins, but the other binds with CD3 proteins which are expressed by T-cells in the immune system. 

Because the two arms of the Y are tethered to the same stem, they pack a powerful punch. Unlike with monoclonal antibodies, where the T-cells have to search somewhat randomly throughout the body to find the cancer cells that the monoclonal antibody has marked, with bispecifics, the antibody basically says, “Hey, T-cells, I found a tumor. Here it is. Go get it.”

The result can be dramatic, with tumors obliterated sometimes as fast as a matter of minutes. We don’t know how long the remissions will last – bispecifics are so new there’s no long-term follow-up date on them – but the prognosis is encouraging.

By this time next year, I should be done with IVs and meds. I can only pray that our country will be in a similar remission from the war and the divisiveness that preceded it, and that we will have eradicated our enemies – both internal and external.

I first shared my latest health news at The Jerusalem Post.

For a good overview on how bispecifics work, this video from the Lymphoma Research Foundation is excellent.

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On the night of October 6, our two-year-old grandson, Ilai, had a sleepover at Saba and Savta’s house. Our plan was to give his parents a night off. We would take our precious little boy to Simchat Torah services the next day and his parents would join us whenever they woke up.

Merav and Gabe with baby Roni

Instead, we spent much of the morning of October 7 running up and down the stairs to our bomb shelter.

Nine weeks later, we were babysitting overnight again, this time because Ilai’s parents were at Hadassah Medical Center as our daughter, Merav, was in labor to deliver Ilai’s baby sister.

As we set out for synagogue on Friday night with Ilai in tow, I had an evil premonition. 

“I bet there will be another siren,” I said to my wife, Jody, “since Ilai is with us again for Shabbat.”

Maybe I should have put out into the universe a more positive intention.

No sooner had we arrived at shul than, true to my paranoid prediction, there was a siren – a cynical way for Hamas to “welcome” the Sabbath Queen. 

We calmly filed into the adjacent safe room and started the service there. We waited for the booms of the Iron Dome, then returned to the main sanctuary. 

Meanwhile at Hadassah, Merav and Gabe had to flee temporarily into the stairwell. Fortunately, her contractions weren’t too tough at that point.

24 hours later, Roni Maayan was born.

Her name – like everything these days – is infused with significance. We had wondered, for example, whether Merav and Gabe would pick a name that related to the war somehow. Indeed, they did, and then went even further.

“Roni’” in Hebrew can be translated as “Ron sheli” or “my song, my joy.”

“We are giving her this name in the hope of having the tools to light up the dark times of the world into which she was born and to bring song, love and peace into it,” Merav wrote in a social media post announcing Roni’s arrival.

Roni is also named after Ron, Merav’s great-grandfather and Jody’s father, who passed away two years ago. 

Her middle name, Maayan, references our cousin Marla Ann Bennett, who was killed in the terror attack at Hebrew University in 2002. 

“I was so close to Marla,” Merav explained. “I knew, one day, if and when I had a daughter, I would name her after Marla in some way. We connected ‘Marla’ and ‘Ann’ to form ‘Maayan.’”

This is not the first time someone in our family has received a name relating to real-world events.

We gave Merav the middle name “Yonit” when she was born in 1993, to mark the Oslo Accords and treaty with Jordan. “Yonit” means “little dove,” a fitting expression of the hope for peace. 

While Oslo didn’t quite work out as those of us who supported the accords expected, Roni’s message of hope is more universal. In years to come, when Hamas is presumably vanquished and a new reality has taken hold in the Middle East, Roni’s “song of joy” will be even more appropriate.

Another change for Roni’s birth: Merav and Gabe chose Hadassah in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood, rather than St. Joseph, which they had used when Ilai was born. (See my article about St. Joseph’s here.)

St. Joseph is an Arab-run hospital located in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. Two years ago, St. Joseph was the “in” spot for Jewish Israelis in the Jerusalem area wishing to give birth in a less invasive, quieter environment than the city’s two main medical centers – Hadassah and Sha’arei Tzedek. 

About 15% of the patients at St. Joseph at the time were Jewish women. The rooms have crucifixes or a depiction of Jesus, but the staff would take those down if it made the birthing couple uncomfortable.

Things started to change at St. Joseph when Sister Valentina Sala, the hospital’s head midwife, who was dispatched from the Vatican to Jerusalem to establish the new ward, was reassigned earlier this year to replicate the St. Joseph model in Europe. Reports from Jewish parents who labored at St. Joseph since then reported the atmosphere was not as congenial as it had been previously.

But it was the war with Hamas that sealed the decision to opt for Hadassah. East Jerusalem didn’t feel comfortable anymore. 

Ironically, the doctor who delivered Roni at Hadassah was an Arabic-speaker. 

Roni and her parents are now home where Ilai is adjusting (read: considering how best to act out) to his new family situation. Roni is quite delicious and I’m sure she and Ilai will eventually become good friends. (Emphasis on the word “eventually.”)

When Ilai was born in 2021, I wrote here that, while it’s a cliché to say I fell in love with the little guy the first minute I met him, sometimes cliches are true. 

“It’s not his witty jokes, his seamless repartee or his physical actions that led to this love affair,” I said at his brit milah. “It’s a visceral, subconscious feeling that seeps over you with an intensity that’s different than even having your own children. Is it his sweet baby smell? Those little baby noises he makes that are so adorable? His perfect, beautiful lips or his incredibly soft skin? I may not be a religious person, but the first thing I thought of when I saw him was, ‘He’s a miracle.’”

The same has been true for Roni.

I wish Roni, her parents, big brother, uncles, aunts, cousins, and of course, her doting grandparents a life free from hardship, full of meaning, and imbued with light. If it takes a village to raise a happy and healthy child in today’s world, we are delighted to be that village.

I first wrote about the convergence between war and new life for The Jerusalem Post.

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