Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Savo 5776


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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Savo 5776

Shabbos is Truly a Day of Joy

Introduction

The commentators grapple with the idea that Shabbos is a day of happiness, as we recite in Shemone Esrei yismichu vimalchuscha shomrei Shabbos vikorei oneg, they shall rejoice in Your Kingship – those who observe the Shabbos and call it a delight. Yet, throughout Jewish history, the Jewish People have suffered greatly and the day of Shabbos was not an exception. In this week’s parashah, the Torah discusses the consequences that will befall the Jewish People if they do not adhere to the Torah. It is said (Devarim 28:47) tachas asher lo avadata es HaShem Elokecha bisimcha uvituv leivav meirov kol, because you did not serve HaShem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant. The Gerrer Rebbe, the Bais Yisroel, writes that the Gemara (Chulin 101b) states that Shabbos is kivia vikyama, permanent and stationary. This alludes to the idea that despite the fact that the Bais HaMikdash has been destroyed, the power of Shabbos remains in a permanent state for the Jewish People. The Sfas Emes writes that the destruction was a result of the Jewish People not serving HaShem out of joy. It then follows that when the Jewish People are in exile and lacking abundance, and still they serve HaShem with joy, they will merit the Ultimate Redemption. The Bais Yisroel continues by saying that although it is said (Devarim 28:65) uvagoyim haheim lo sargia, and among those nations you will not be tranquil, this refers to the weekday. On Shabbos, however, the Jewish People will find peace. This idea, however, still requires further explanation. Have we not seen that even on Shabbos the Jewish People have suffered? During the Holocaust, Jews were at times tortured on Shabbos even more than they were tortured during the week. How, then, can we always be instructed to be joyful on the Holy Day of Shabbos? Perhaps the answer to this question can be found in our understanding of joy and redemption. While it is certainly easier to be at rest and full of joy when we are not persecuted by our enemies, there is a concept of inner joy that exists even at times of persecution and suffering. The Sefarim (Degel Machanei Ephraim quoting Tikkunim) write that although we read the tochacha, the rebuke that is found in this week’s parasha, as curses, concealed within the curses are blessings. The Bais Yisroel writes that one can overcome the curses by cleaving to HaShem. This, he writes, is reflected in Shabbos, as Shabbos is a blessing, and a curse cannot become attached to a blessing. It is noteworthy that the end of last week’s parasha discusses the commandment to eradicate Amalek, the nation who attacked us without warning when we left Egypt. The beginning of this week’s parasha discusses the commandment of bringing Bikkurim, the first fruits, to the Bais HaMikdash. When one brings Bikkurim, he opens his declaration of gratitude with the words (26:5) arami oveid avi, an Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. Thus, at a time of heightened jubilation, we invoke the painful memory of destruction and exile.

The Shabbos Connection

This is parallel to the idea that is reflected in Shabbos, where we demonstrate that despite the apparent curses that surround us, we are truly ensconced in blessing, and the curse will never be associated with the blessing. Thus, the idea that we must be joyful on Shabbos is not just a fantasy, but a reality. Shabbos is a day of joy, and HaShem should allow us to merit the ultimate joy, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkienu, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Dror Yikra

The composer was Dunash ben Librat, the famed medieval grammarian and paytan who lived from 4680-4750 (920990 C.E.). He was born in Baghdad and, except for twenty years in Fez, lived there his entire life. He was a nephew and disciple of Rabbeinu Saadiah Gaon and was acquainted with many of the Sages of his time. Rashi and Ibn Ezra quote him extensively. His name appears four times as the acrostic of the stitches in stanzas 1,2,3, and 6. This zemer is a prayer to HaShem to protect the Jewish People, destroy its tormentors, and bring the Nation peace and redemption.

וְלַמַּזְהִיר וְלַנִּזְהָר. שְׁלוֹמִים תֵּן כְּמֵי נָהָר, to the exhorters and the scrupulous, give peace as flowing as a river’s waters. When the entire Jewish world will observe Shabbos, the world will be at peace. Indeed, the Gemara (Shabbos 118b) states that had the Jewish People only observed the first Shabbos in the Wilderness, no race or nation could have assailed them. Hashem should allow us to all observe Shabbos properly and bring everlasting peace to the world.  It is noteworthy that the words זהו וְלַמַּזְהִיר וְלַנִּזְהָר equals in gematria the word תרי”ג, alluding to the idea that one who observes the Shabbos is akin to having observed the entire Torah.

Shabbos Stories

All the Healing is in my Wife’s Merit

At the turn of the 19th century, before the First World War, there were still great rebbes that could heal; there was the Kerestirer Rebbe, Reb Yeshaya. He did not place his hands on a person or speak – but if you ate food in his house, you went away healed. When his wife Sarah died, the Rebbe wept terribly and would not be consoled. He told the Chasidim, “You probably thought that people who ate in my house were healed because of me. That’s not true. It was because of my holy wife, Sarah. Now that she’s gone I can tell you. Listen to this story of what happened. ‘In our younger days we were desperately poor. If we ate one meal a week we would have food to eat on Shabbos, but we wouldn’t be able to have any guests. So we fasted from Shabbos to Shabbos. Then we had enough food for ourselves and for some guests. One week, my holy wife was cooking on Friday for Shabbos, when a drunkard knocked on the door and was invited in. He was reeking of alcohol but he said to my wife, ‘I’m starving, do you have anything to eat?’ We had not eaten that whole week, but who knows how long he had been without food, and when someone says they’re starving, how can you not feed them? So my wife gave him from the food she had prepared for Shabbos. After finishing what she gave him, however, he asked, ‘Is there more?’ Each time he ate whatever was put before him and asked for more, until she said, ‘There’s not a crumb left.’ She gave him everything she had prepared for our Shabbos meals. She gave him everything gently and respectfully, because she was doing a great mitzvah and good deed. She didn’t judge him by how he looked or for his crude behavior, for who knows what troubles he had suffered? “Then this drunkard did something unusual. He asked, ‘Can I speak to your husband?’ My wife came to my room and told me about his request and, when I agreed, my wife sent him to me. When he came in, he no longer smelled and he didn’t appear drunk. In fact, his face was glowing, and I realized at once that this was Elijah the Prophet. He said to me, ‘I only came here to bless your wife. Her kindness has made a great impression in heaven. But we wanted to give her a final test to see if she was worthy of the great blessing we have in store for her. She passed the test.’ “What was the great blessing? It was the blessing of healing.” And that,” said the Rebbe, “was why the food my holy wife served healed whoever ate it.” [Mai Ber Yeshayahu, pp. 43-44.]

When Rebbe Yeshaya of Kerestirer was on his deathbed and close to his final hours, he called over one of his intimates and whispered, “In a little while there will be a ‘funeral’ here and many people will be coming from far away. So please put a very big pot on the stove and boil a lot of potatoes, and then cook them with a lot of chicken fat, because I want all those Jews to have some tasty food after their long trip.” [Reshumim Bishimcha, p. 360]

Shabbos in Halacha

Wringing and Laundering

 Two melachos that pertain to washing dishes and cleaning spills on Shabbos are סחיטה; wringing, and כיבוס: laundering. Previously we discussed sechita as it applies to extracting juice from fruits. Here we will discuss the halachos of wringing liquid from an absorbent fabric. We will also briefly discuss the laws of laundering as applied to common situations.

  1. Wringing Liquid from a Fabric
  1. The Prohibitions

 One is prohibited from squeezing out liquid from a fabric in which it was absorbed. Depending on the person’s intentions, this can fall under two Torah prohibitions: If one wrings out a fabric in order to salvage the liquid, i.e. for washing, he violates the melacha of סחיטה: wringing; if one wrings out a fabric in order to cleanse the fabric, he violates the melacha of כיבוס: laundering.  There is a significant conceptual difference between these two types of wringing. In the first case one accomplishes the acquisition of a liquid; this is similar to extracting juice from a fruit. In the second case, one improves the quality of the fabric by expelling liquid; this is a completely different accomplishment.

If one performs wringing with neither of these intentions, it is still prohibited by Rabbinic Decree. Thus, even if the liquid will go to waste and the fabric will not be cleansed, one is prohibited from squeezing out any liquid.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Ki Savo 5776

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New Stories Ki Savo 5776

A Survivor of Iraqi Horror

Elisha Cohen’s family was the victim of unimaginable terror under Saddam Hussein. But he survived to tell the world.

by Yossi Krausz

“It’s very important for people to know what happened to my parents – what happened to my mother, what happened to my brothers and my sisters. No one heard their voice.”

Elisha Cohen speaks clearly and confidently when discussing the history of his family in Iraq, but there are moments when you can hear the emotion permeate his voice. Some of those are when he discusses the tragedies and vicious persecution that they faced under the Baath party and Saddam Hussein, and some of those are when he talks about his faith in the face of events almost too terrible to contemplate.

Elisha was imprisoned at a young age and forced to endure the murder of much of his family.

Imprisoned at a young age and then forced to endure the murder of much of his family, Elisha, known as Marvin in English, survived and escaped, eventually making his way to his present home in Perth, Australia. In his book My Salvation, which was transcribed by Andrew Blitz and published in 2014, and in speeches he’s given in Australia, he has continued to make people aware of the fate of the Iraqi Jews who remained in the country until the later years of the twentieth century.

A Turbulent History

Iraq’s Jewish history dates back to events recorded in Tanach; Nevuchadnezzar’s exile of the Jews to Babel established a community that would exist for thousands of years. The periods of the Amoraim and Geonim were golden ones in Babel, the area of modern-day Iraq, for the Jews. But even as the centers of Jewish life moved elsewhere and the rise of Islam created hardship and suffering for Jews, there was a strong Jewish presence in Iraq. That would all change in the twentieth century.

The early years of that century were relatively good for the Jews, particularly under the British Mandate during the 1920s. In fact, the first finance minister and one of the architects of the modern state of Iraq, Sassoon Eskell, was an Iraqi Jew.

During the 1930s, Iraqi Jews were subjected to increasing persecution. Nazi propaganda had made its way to Iraq from Europe, partially promoted by the Mufti of Jerusalem, an associate of Hitler.

During World War II, attacks on Jews intensified. Rashid Ali, who had become the prime minister of Iraq for the second time in 1940, worked on an alliance with the Nazis, hoping that they could help drive the British out of the country. He eventually initiated the Anglo-Iraqi War, a series of battles during 1941 that ended with a British victory and Rashid Ali fleeing the country. Immediately after his defeat, his followers carried out a pogrom in Baghdad against the Jews. Known as the Farhud, the riots killed close to 200 Jews, though some estimates put the numbers higher.

The Farhud was not the end of major Jewish life in Iraq, though some would later look back at it as the beginning of the end. But in the late 1940s, the numbers of Jews in the country remained in the hundreds of thousands.

The period after the establishment of the state of Israel saw an increased level of violence against Jews, and accusations of Zionism led to public executions. From 1948 until 1950, Iraq refused to allow the Jews to emigrate, claiming that they would increase Israel’s strength. But in March of 1950, Iraq reversed the decree and Jews began leaving the country in a mass exodus. Around 120,000 to 130,000 left in an Israeli campaign known as Operation Ezra and Nechemia, over a period of a few years, with the possessions of many of the Jews confiscated by the Iraqi government.

Elisha told me that there were more Iraqi Jews left in the country than official statistics showed, in some cases because they had thought they were going to be able to leave and weren’t able to. Many were able to get papers as Christians, rather than Jews, though they kept in contact with the Jewish community. Official numbers showed only several hundred Jews in Iraq during the late twentieth century, but Elisha stated that he believed there were as many as 20,000 living under assumed identities as Christians and other ethnicities.

And while for most Iraqi Jews the end of their time in the country had come, for a small minority, like Elisha Cohen’s family, Iraq would remain their home.

Family Ties

Elisha’s family was, as were many Iraqis, both rooted in the country and cosmopolitan at the same time. Though both of his paternal grandparents were born in Iraq, they met in Germany in the 1920s, where many Iraqi Jews traveled to for business. His maternal grandfather, on the other hand, was a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who had entered Iraq after the war, where he married Elisha’s maternal grandmother in Baghdad.

Elisha’s mother also traveled for a time to Europe, where she studied in France to be an ophthalmologist. “My experiences have left me with some difficulty in remembering our childhood,” Elisha writes. “I have vivid recollections of the last time I saw my brothers and sisters, however my memories of how we grew up together have since been disturbed.”

Elisha and his seven siblings grew up in a large house in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. He had three older brothers, a twin brother, then two younger sisters with a younger brother in between them. Only the two oldest brothers attended school; the rest of the children were taught at home, as Jews were not anymore allowed to attend Iraqi schools.

Elisha’s sister was given to his aunt who was living under an assumed identity as a Christian.

Elisha and his twin were born in 1974. The Baath Party had taken control of the government in the 1960s, and Saddam Hussein had already taken much of control of the party and the government by the time of Elisha’s birth; he would officially take control in 1979.

Elisha recounts that the dangers in being Jewish at the time were so great that when his youngest sister was born, she was given to his mother’s sister, who was living, like many other Jews, under an assumed identity as a Christian.

Elisha’s family was fairly well-off; his grandfather and father were all in the international gold and jewelry trade and owned real estate, as well. Unfortunately, that would not spare the family from grief.

Lost Childhood

The government grew gradually more hostile to his family. Real estate belonging to his father was confiscated in 1978; jewelry stores were taken in 1983. “They did it slowly just to humiliate my father,” Elisha said

Soon they had confiscated the passports of Elisha’s parents. Saddam Hussein’s government tightly controlled the movements of all Iraqis, especially out of the country, but the confiscation made clear that the government had decided that the Cohens would not be allowed out.

“My parents wanted to leave but could not. The government didn’t want you, but they didn’t let you go,” Elisha told me.

The church took possession of Elisha, forcibly baptized him, and kept him there for a year before his father could secure his release.

Elisha had an early traumatic experience. When he was eight years old, in an emergency, his father had asked a non-Jewish neighbor to watch Elisha. Out of fear from the authorities, the neighbor took Elisha to the safest place they could think of: a local church. But the church took possession of Elisha, forcibly baptized him, and kept him there for a year before his father could secure his release.

But the next year was hardly better. Elisha’s father now had started keeping Elisha with him while he worked, and one day, Iraqi soldiers arrived at the office and took them both away. Even before the Osirak reactor had been bombed by Israel in 1981, the Iraqis had accused Iraqi Jews of being spies for Israel. Afterward, it was practically a given.

Torture was systematical and ubiquitous under Saddam Hussein. The government’s totalitarianism promoted informing; disloyalty to the regime was punished by detention and horrendous torture. Everything from acid baths to the burning of limbs was employed on prisoners. One of his sons had his own private torture chamber for his own enjoyment.

The BBC’s correspondent for Iraq at the time, John Sweeney, described some of the torture victims he’d seen and the fear that such behavior had created: “I have been to Baghdad a number of times. Being in Iraq is like creeping around inside someone else’s migraine. The fear is so omnipresent you could almost eat it. No one talks.”

Elisha’s father was not spared – and neither was the young boy.

“They started to beat [my father] in prison,” Elisha writes, “and after he refused to confess the crime of spying, they also started to beat him in front of me. I was both shocked and scared. My father did not want to show himself as weak in my presence, so he held his head up and refused to show emotion. He told me afterward not to be scared, to remember that King David would sing and cry out to God when in times of trouble.”

The two of them would be held in prison together for four or five years.

Elisha describes the privation they suffered in captivity, his father softening the hard bread they were given to eat in water, and then passing it to him. Both of them were tortured, with everything from beatings to electrocutions. “I didn’t do anything in prison, just accepted the fact that I had to suffer,” Elisha writes.

My father told me not to be afraid of death… they could kill my body, but they couldn’t take away my soul or my faith.

But he also describes the faith that his father instilled in him. “He taught me to keep my faith under any situation. He wanted me to be strong. We had no choice. Even though I was only a child, I had to be tough and understand the danger that surrounded me.”

He mentions further: “I used to ask my father what would happen if they would kill us. I wanted to know what happened to people after they died, and my father told me not to be afraid of death. He told me that they could kill my body, but they could not take away my soul or my faith. My father told me that these people could harm my body, but not my mind. This is given to us by God and taken from us only by God.”

Bar Mitzvah and Unimaginable Terror

Elisha is uncertain why, but one day his father and he were handcuffed and driven away from prison. They thought that they were likely being taken to be killed, but instead, they were dropped off at the side of the road, with nothing in their hands but once again free.

They cautiously made their way back home, only approaching the house under cover of dark. “We could hear the locks of the door opening. It was my elder brother Naftali, and he could not believe we were back. All my brothers came out, and then my mother stepped forward and immediately started to cry.”

Elisha’s youngest brother had been born shortly after he and his father had been imprisoned. It was the first time they had seen him. The two of them had not been allowed any visits from their family for the entire duration of their imprisonment.

They were still wary from the years in prison, but Elisha’s father began plans for a bar mitzvah for the twins; Elisha had already turned 13 in prison.

Public celebrations were dangerous, so they snuck out of the city; Elisha’s father did not tell them where they were going. They traveled to a solitary house in a remote field; inside the house, they entered a trapdoor to reach a secret underground room. Soon, a number of men showed up, including a chacham (rabbi), who gave everyone an arachina, or kippah. Then a man brought forward a sefer Torah.

This was the first time the boys had been in a synagogue. As they celebrated inside, several men from the group would stand guard outside, armed and looking for any sign of danger.

That special day was soon followed by some of the most horrific ones.

That special day – ”the best day of my life” – was soon followed by some of the most horrific ones.

As an openly Jewish family that had some wealth, the Cohens were obvious targets for a regime that regularly brutalized Jews.

In 1988, Elisha’s oldest brother Naftali was working in their father’s office on the day of Purim with a Christian man when soldiers entered. They handcuffed the Christian to a chair, then proceeded to tie up Naftali and viciously mutilate and kill him. The Christian was released with the instruction to tell Elisha’s father what had happened, and then the men took Naftali’s remains, bundled them in a bag, and threw them in the Cohens’ garden.

“My father found the bag in the garden first. He instinctively knew that it was the body of my brother because he hadn’t come home from work.”

Elisha’s father took him to bury Naftali outside the city, and then they returned and told his mother what had happened.

At that point, Elisha’s father resolved to try to leave the country, but he was unable to. Contacts that he had made in European countries and to whom he had sent money for safekeeping did not answer his pleas.

And then tragedy struck, again and again and again. Elisha’s next two oldest brothers were murdered, one shot on the road by Iraqi police and the other arrested while trying to buy food, then mutilated and stabbed to death like the oldest brother; his remains were shoved in their garage, wrapped in an Israeli flag. Both of these brothers were buried in their garden.

“In February 1990, the authorities came and arrested my father. They took him to prison and he was killed there in the same month. The authorities came to the house one day and knocked on the door,” Elisha writes. They were there to tell him that his father was dead; all of his body that they would give him was his eyes.

“I looked at them and knew I had to say the right thing, otherwise they would arrest me and the remaining members of the household, so all I said to them was ‘Thank you.’” Elisha buried what they had given him in the garden, next to the graves of his two brothers.

Elisha decided that he needed to get his family out of there. He took his twin brother north to a Christian family that had been close to his grandfather and left him there. Then he returned to Mosul and took his younger brother and sister (one sister was already in hiding with his aunt) to a local Catholic family and left them there. But his mother refused to leave the house.

“About five hours later into the evening, I heard a noise outside in the street.” When Elisha went to an upstairs window, he saw that a number of government cars had surrounded the house. “Someone rang the front door bell, but I did not open the door. All of a sudden, I heard a loud crash and realized that one of the cars had slammed into our garage door.”

The Iraqi agents broke into the house, grabbed Elisha’s mother, and pulled her out to the street, where they tied her behind a car and dragged her in the street. After they were done, they brought her back to Elisha.

“She was alive but barely conscious. They untied my handcuffs and I took my mother in my arms for a few minutes and said to her, ‘I am sorry I couldn’t help you but I am here with you now.’”

A few minutes later, she died, in her son’s arms.

 Prison and Escape

Elisha was taken to prison once more, where he was beaten and questioned. When he gave them no information about other Jews, they sent him to the prison northwest of Mosul known as Badush, where he was put in a cell with a Christian pastor.

Days in prison were spent in backbreaking work, usually in a quarry. Food was barely edible. And the torture and interrogations continued. Elisha describes his reaction to a water torture: “I felt like my head was going to explode. My body would feel very cold and I thought I was losing my mind. It felt like every drop weighed 100 kilos. I screamed from the pain; it was driving me insane. I just screamed and screamed.”

Elisha endured further terrible tortures. But one day they stopped. An officer who had tormented him mercilessly and had threatened him with worse was killed in a car accident, and the next officer assigned to him saw it as a fulfillment of something that Elisha had said during the torture sessions. Instead of inflicting pain on Elisha, he would make it sound like he was, and Elisha would scream, and instead nothing would happen.

“I thanked God for hearing me and saving me from more torture.”

A prison escape engineered by an Iraqi tribe angry with the government ended with all the prisoners who had escaped being recaptured and re-imprisoned. But several months later, the pastor who shared the cell with Elisha arranged that he be rescued from the prison, by bribing guards and arranging for them to bring him out of the prison and release him into the custody of others who were being paid by the pastor.

Elisha’s first attempt to escape the country almost ended in disaster. While attempting to cross into Turkey – which was the only country that was a feasible transit to Europe – from Iraq with a group of smugglers, Elisha was washed downstream, so that he ended up in Syria. It took him several months, as well as a period of internment in a refugee camp, before he was able to make it back into Iraq to once again attempt crossing the border into Turkey.

There and back again

Life as a refugee was not easy, Elisha found. His travels – undertaken with fake passports, subterfuge, and other survival techniques he improvised or learned from others – took him from Turkey to Hungary to Vienna, Austria, where he found sanctuary with a Christian couple and Chabad rabbi Dov Gruzman. Along the way he had altercations with Muslim refugees, escaped from a Hungarian refugee camp, and evaded border police on a cross-European train.

But despite all of this, Elisha soon began thinking about how he could get back into Iraq, to rescue his siblings. He was looking for a country that he could receive papers in that would allow him better legal coverage for travel in and out of Iraq.

After an abortive attempt in Germany, Elisha decided to try Australia. He flew to the continent using a fake passport, then destroyed it enroute and declared that he had no passport and had come directly from Iraq.

With the help of the Jewish community, including contacts given to him by Rabbi Gruzman, Elisha was allowed to stay in a detention area in Pert, where there was a Jewish community. Elisha was eventually granted residency in Australia.

But even though he had found some stability, Elisha was unwilling to remain there while he still had hope of rescuing his relatives. He applied for Australian travel documentation, which would allow him to travel to Europe and back even though he did not have an Australian passport.

His plan was, to put it mildly, audacious. He would travel back to Europe, back into Turkey, and slip back into Iraq, where he would find his twin brother and send him back with the identification, since they looked the same.

As it was, almost all of the plan went off as he hoped. He even was able to find a family that had been helping his brother, who was hiding in a cave in the mountains, near the burial place of the Prophet Nachum.

But he received devastating new, as he waited for his brother to come down from the mountains. The couple asked a shepherd to go up into the mountains to find Elisha’s brother.

The shepherd found my brother lifeless at the foot of a cave.

“He found my brother lifeless at the foot of a cave,” Elisha writes. He had been suffering from a heart condition, which may have been the cause of his death.

The shepherd brought the body back to town and buried it, though Elisha writes that he was unable to visit the grave because the area was under surveillance and it was too dangerous for him.

Elisha managed to return to Turkey and then fly back to Australia, where he began to make a life for himself, eventually finding work as an auto mechanic

He attempted to help his youngest sister, who had been hiding as a Christian, escape Iraq, as well, by attempting to arrange funds for her to hire a smuggler to get her across the border to Jordan. But he learned, after losing contact with her for a month, that she had been caught by Jordanian border guards and turned back, where she was assumedly killed by Iraqi soldiers. Her children would eventually leave Iraq in the 2000s, and Elisha was able to meet them in Europe in 2010.

There are still relatives that Elisha is working on getting out of Iraq, but he is unable to discuss the cases due to his concerns about their safety.

Shocking Events

That these horrifying events, reminiscent of the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, happened just a few years ago is shocking – as is the fact that the world doesn’t know more about them. Elisha noted that Israel is often berated for its treatment of Muslim terrorists without any remembrance of what Muslim countries have done to the Jews, and what such terrorists are capable of.

In January 2012, Elisha traveled to Israel for the first time. One experience he had, which he admits was questionable according to Jewish law, was ascending the Temple Mount. Because he looks Middle Eastern and is a native Arab speaker, he was able to enter the Dome of the Rock without any problems. And he returned there on a trip in 2013. Elisha sees his presence there as a defeat of his enemies, the enemies of the Jewish people.

Elisha’s story is incredible; the fact that he survived his travails is amazing. But perhaps even more amazing is that his faith in God survived, as well.

I asked Elisha whether his experiences have left him adversely affected. He told me the opposite was true.

“Actually, my past makes me stronger every day. You have to know if I was not Jewish I would not have survived.”

He told me that he sees his survival as having been in the hands of God. “I was in His hands wherever I went. If you look at my book, it was not me escaping; it was me going from one trouble to another trouble. But God always sent me someone to help. There always was someone there. It was like I felt I was in His hands.”

Reprinted with permission from Ami Magazine (www.aish.com)

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