Sunday, May 30, 2010

Letter to the Minister of Agriculture

Below is a letter that I just sent to the New Zealand Minister of Agriculture.

I will keep you posted if I get a response…

Hon David Carter,
Minister of Agriculture,

Dear Mr. Carter,

I read with dismay news reports of the new code of welfare for commercial slaughter which came into effect 28 May 2010.

According to the MAF web site ( ), all commercially slaughtered animals will require stunning before slaughtering.

As the minister is no-doubt aware, this will make Shechita (Kosher slaughtering) impossible in New Zealand, making New Zealand the only country in the world with a Jewish Community where kosher meat cannot be slaughtered locally or imported from neighbouring countries at a reasonable cost.

This issue has already received a lot of negative publicity globally, particularly in the Jewish and Israeli media.

As a New Zealand born Orthodox Jew who has elderly parents living in New Zealand who only eat kosher meat, I found it very distressing to hear that New Zealand, which has always prided itself on tolerance and acceptance of minorities, is now in effect making it practically impossible for people to observe the Jewish religion in the country. This will have a large impact on the daily life of my parents.

This is a sad break with the warm welcome that the New Zealand Jewish community has experienced in New Zealand for over 150 years, and is especially distressing in light of the high number of Jewish tourists or potential immigrants who will now feel unable to visit New Zealand without compromising their religious standards or being forced to adopt vegetarianism.

I realise that it is legal to import kosher beef (but not chicken) from Australia, but the Minister must be aware that the cost of imported meat is prohibitive and not a realistic option for many kosher-observant families in New Zealand.

As far as I am aware, there is no solution at all for Kosher poultry in New Zealand.

I hope that the minister will implement a clarification or solution which will safeguard the rights of the New Zealand Jewish community.

Yours sincerely,


Michael Sedley
Modi’in, Israel

Something’s not quite Kosher in New Zealand

Growing up in New Zealand, from time to time I would work as a Mashgiach for the schichta of chickens.

Every few months I would drive up to a large industrial chicken processing plant together with the Shaliach (who was also a shochet) and a few other individuals, and in the course of the morning we would process about 1000 kosher chickens which would serve the needs of the Jewish community for the next several months.

There were a few times that I also watched cows being processed (although not shechted) when the regular mashgiach was unavailable.

There is only a small kosher community in New Zealand (which includes my parents), however according to news reports (and in the JPost) recent legislation that just went into effect will make kosher chickens completely unavailable in New Zealand and kosher beef or lamb would have to be imported from Australia, making it prohibitively expensive (details of legislation here).

According to the reports, Shcheta will be completely banned in New Zealand, and the import of chickens will continue to be banned. There will be no exceptions, in spite of the fact that page 45 of the new regulations notes that:

NAWAC (the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee) is obligated under s. 73 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to take into account "the requirements of religious practices or cultural practices or both."

It is also agains the2001 recommendations of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (which is under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry).

There are currently very few Western countries that have banned Shechita, and the few countries with Jewish Communities where kosher meat is not available locally, such as Norway and Sweden, are able to import kosher meat from neighbouring countries at a reasonable cost.

Because of the geographic isolation of New Zealand, importing meat from Australia in the small quantities required for the Jewish community is unreasonably expensive. I cannot even imagine what the cost would be in running an event like a Bnei Akiva Shabbaton or camp, or a communal seder for the thousands of Israeli tourists who visit New Zealand each year.

That the New Zealand government would pass such legislation without considering the needs of a small minority of its citizens is nothing short of outrageous.

The New Zealand Jewish Council and the local rabbinate are currently appealing the law, I certainly hope that the government backtracks on this decision and an apology, or at least a clarification is forthcoming.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

3000 Years New

You’ve gotta hand it to Haaretz for continuing to lobby against Jewish history.

In a shocking editorial on Yom Yerushalayim, which criticizes Bibi for visiting Merkaz Harav on Yom Yerushalayim (but failed to mention that almost all senior politicians have been at Merkaz Harav every year on Yom Yerushalayim, including such radical right wing extremists as Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak).

However the most shocking quote was the following which actually criticized the Minister of Education for encouraging schools to visit Yerushalayim (emphasis added):

… Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, [has] doubled the number of schoolchildren visiting the Temple Mount and the City of David, from 200,000 two years ago to 400,000 since the start of the current school year. Under a new program drafted by the Education Ministry on the minister's orders, students are obligated to visit Jerusalem at least three times during their 12 years of school.

In theory, there is nothing wrong with this. Yet the visits tend to focus on sites like the Old City's Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall tunnels, Zion Gate and the archaeological excavations of the Temple Mount's southern wall - all disputed areas that are on the agenda during negotiations with the Palestinians, and are also associated with new Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem

Got that – the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is associated with “New Jewish Settlement”.

In case Haaretz really have no clue of Jewish History, Jewish Settlement in the current Old City dates back to the Second Temple period (it is much older in Ir David [Silwan] just to the south which Haaretz didn’t mention).

With the exception of a few years after the destruction of the city in 70 CE, a brief period during the Crusader Period when non-Christians were barred from the city, and the 19 years from 1948-1967 when Jordanians forbade Jewish access to the city (in breech of the Ceasefire agreement) there has been a continual Jewish presence in the city for over 3000 years.

If Haaretz was to describe the American presence in Washington or even the British presence in London as “New Settlement”, this would be closer to the truth than to describe Jews as newcomers to Jerusalem.

Whether the city should be divided is a political question that can be debated (although until recently there was a consensus in Israel on the topic), however to deny basic History can only lead to hardened positions by those who wish us harm, and makes any chance of a negotiated peace deal even more remote.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A tribute to my Grandmother

Tonight my niece is celebrating her Bat Mitzvah.

She is named after my paternal grandmother, Susan (Zsuzsa) Jane Cegledy, better known to my siblings and me as “Anya”. My brother asked me to say a few words about her at the dinner tonight.

I was always close to Anya. As a teenager I often walked over to her place on Shabbat afternoons, just to talk. Towards the end of her life, when she was interviewed by the Hungarian Consul he asked her about the Best memory of her life, she replied:

One of my best memories was when my second grandson just dropped in on a Saturday afternoon, just to talk to his grandmother. He might have been about 15, and he just dropped in. When they were little they liked to come and stay here. He doesn't travel on Saturday, but they don't live far, so he just dropped in.

Q: What do you talk about?

This particular grandson loves to hear about my memories, about old times. This was such a lovely experience.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t spend more time with both my grandmothers, recording their recollections of history.

Anyway – here is the tribute that I plan to share with my niece at the Bat Mitzvah in a few hours….


Anya, your father’s grandmother, your great-grandmother, whose name you carry was a very special person.

Anya was born December 12, 1905 at the beginning of the 20th century in Budapest Hungary. One of four sisters Anya was to see worlds destroyed and rebuilt within her lifetime.

Anya’s family were almost pioneers in women’s education. Her older sister Ella was one of the first Jewish women to be accepted to the Gymnasium, (High school that teaches Latin and Greek). Five years later when Anya was high school age it was already more acceptable for Jewish girls to go to high school.

Anya married Apa in 1930, but soon after their marriage their world was turned upside down. When they married, Anya and Apa lived what could be described as a middle class life. They lived in a respectable neighbourhood and had access to Anya’s parent’s summer house just outside the city in Matyasfold (not to be confused with Mattesdorf), however the Great Depression, combined with war reparations after World War One destroyed the Hungarian economy. Soon after they got married, Apa lost his job, and went through a series of less prestigious jobs until the anti-Semitic laws of the late 1930s made it illegal to employ Jews. At that time Apa set up a small business selling household products, like toothpaste, soap, and cleaning products, selling these to little corner stores who would not be big enough to have an account in their own directly with the manufacturers

During the NAZI occupation of Budapest, when Apa was taken away to a labour battalion and later to Mauthausen Concentration camp, Anya had to watch over her two young sons (your Grandpa and Uncle Janos) as well as care for her parents.

In the final months of the War, Eichmann made it a personal priority to destroy the last remnants of Hungarian Jewry. At that time Anya was called to report to a brick factory in Obuda (October). From there they rounded up the Jewish women who reported for work and marched them Eastwards in the general direction of Auschwitz.

By that late stage in the war, the trains were no longer running, but Eichmann’s plan was to march as many Jews as he could in the direction of Auschwitz until they died of exhaustion.

Anya and her friend Malvin (my Godmother) survived this death march together. For a few nights they were billeted in a barn or pig sty of a peasant in the town of Kophaza, some 200 km outside Budapest. One of Anya’s few memories that she shared with us of those years is that the peasant woman on whose property they were staying risked her life to sneak them food in the middle of the night. Had she been caught, she would almost certainly have been executed. What impressed Anya was not that this woman risked her life to bring them food, which probably saved their lives, but the fact that she made a point of brining the food a new bucket, one that had never been used to feed the pigs and treated them with respect and dignity. It was this act of humanity that impressed Anya and she stayed in touch with the woman for many decades after the war.

From Kophaza they were marched to the town of Lichtenwörth in Austria, about 40 km away, where the NAZIs had set up a temporary camp in a warehouse. It was in this concentration camp that Anya spent the remainder of the war until her liberation by Soviet soldiers on April 2, 1945. Over 2000 Jewish women were taken to Lichtenwörth Concentration Camp, only about 400 survived.

Anya and Malvin were amongst the survivors (Your grandma’s aunts, Liza and Klari, Helen’s mother were also there. Liza survived emotionally damaged, Klari died of typhus after liberation). Anya and Malvin gradually made their way back to Budapest where they found that both her children and her parents had survived. Later she was to find out that Apa was amongst a handful of survivors of Mauthausen. An entire Jewish family surviving the war was almost unheard of in Hungary, or anywhere else in Eastern or Central Europe.

After the war, Anya and her family left Europe behind to start a new life in New Zealand, the furthest corner of the World.

They arrived in New Zealand with almost no money and Anya was the only one in the family who spoke English. However it was Anya’s optimism and determination that helped them re-establish themselves in this strange land. When their belongings were held up in Antwerp because of the currency restrictions, Anya personally called the office of the Minister of Finance, Walter Nash, to get him to intercede on behalf of their belongings (which he did, on the condition that the belongings were shipped to New Zealand on a New Zealand ship).

Anya and Apa began their new lives in Palmerston North where they established a large circle of friends and often hosted guests in their home.

As the boys grew and your Grandpa went to university, they moved to Wellington in 1954.

In 1976 Apa departed this world and left Anya on her own. After his death Anya took up travelling, making a trip to Janos in Japan almost every year and also visiting her sisters in New Jersey and Budapest. After Janos settled in Japan, Anya started learning Japanese through the Correspondence School, making her the oldest high school student in the country.

In spite of the difficult times that she lived through, Anya was the ultimate optimist. In an interview in 1990 she summarized her life as follows:

It seems like boasting if I say I'm lucky, but I'm lucky. My children married well, I have lovely grandchildren. My husband was 75 years old when he died. I was only 70, but people were left on their own as widows at a younger age. I've had a fortunate life. I never expected much, but I had a fortunate life. I have always appreciated what I had. I had a lovely childhood. I had this positive outlook; you have to be born that way. But my sisters are also like that. We had a good childhood, and we are still alive.

On February 11, 1993, כ׳ בְּשְׁבָט תשנ״ג a few weeks after her eldest grandson, your Aba got married, Anya returned her soul to her Creator. She will always be remembered fondly.

May Her Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life.

Mezuzot? Not in our school!

In recent weeks there has been a lot of discussion in the media about lack of secular education in Charedi schools, and the (in my mind legitimate) arguments that if a school is funded by the government, the government should be able to dictate what the school teaches.

While I believe that every school should be required to teach basic life skills (at least English and Maths), schools should also be required to teach basic Jewish and Zionist values and history.

If Israel is to continue as a Democratic Jewish State, democratic Jewish values must be part of every publically-funded school in the country. (How Zionist ad Jewish values should be taught in the Arab Public schools is an interesting topic for a separate post).

This morning I was amazed to see an article on Page 2 of Yediot Achronot about a school in the North that catered to secular Kibbutzim in the area which until now did not have Mezuzot on the school buildings.

Recently, as they accepted students from other towns, they agreed to put Mezuzot on at least some classrooms, and even invited Chief Rabbi Metzger to fix the Mezuza on the door of a 7th grade classroom.

The response of some of the senior students was to circulate a petition to students, teachers, and parents that read in part;

“The school is identified with the “Hashomer Hatzair” movement, which is identified with secular culture and the left wing. Affixing a Mezuza in our school symbolizes the victory of Religion.”

To me it is shocking that the question of whether to affix a Mezuza should be up to the school. Just like every school should teach English, Science, and Math, it should teach Tenach, Jewish history, Israeli history, and Jewish Values and Practices.

There are many Jewish customs that are observed by almost all Israeli Jews. Brit Mila, Matzah on Pessach, Chanukah Candles, and Mezuzot to name a few of the Mitzvot observed in one way or other by over 90% of Jewish Israelis. These aren’t always practiced as a Religious statement, often they are seen as cultural symbols or as a way of identifying with the Jewish People.

Almost all businesses and public buildings in this country have a Mezuza, including army basis and government offices.

If the Ministry of Education feels that these values should be left to the discretion of the individual school, than as a nation we are failing our children.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Happy Yom Yerushalayim

Tonight, the 28th of Iyar is Yom Yerushalayim, marking 43 years since the city of Jerusalem was reunified, Jews were again able to access our Holy sites, and for the first time in Jerusalem’s history, all religious groups were given control over their own holy sites.

The date of 28 Iyar appears a few times in Jewish History:

  • It is the date that we fought the war with Amalek in the Dessert, it is fitting that our first military victory as a nation was the same date that we had one of the biggest military victories in the modern era.
  • It is the Yhartzeit of Shmuel HaNavi, and it is fitting that it is also the day that we liberated his burial site and were able to return to Nabi Samuel.
  • It is the date that Rav Kook made Aliya, and 28 Iyar was always celebrated as a full holiday by Rav Kook and his family, little did he know that within a generation the entire Nation would join his family in celebrating this date.

According to the Rabbanut, Yom Yerushalayim is a full holiday and should be celebrated by dressing in Holiday clothes and full Halel and other special Tfilot.

Just as we merited to whiteness the beginning of our redemption, may we soon see the completion of the Redemption, with true Peace and Unity in the Land.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Happy Monty Python Day

Apparently today is International Monty Python Status Day.

In honour of this momentous occasion, and Lag B’Omer a few days ago, I give you the following interpretation of Shabbat 33b where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai give his opinion of the Romans (with a little help from John Cleese).

For those who wanted to see the original, as only Soncino could translate it:

For R. Judah, R. Jose, and R. Simeon were sitting, and Judah, a son of proselytes, was sitting near them. R. Judah commenced [the discussion] by observing, 'How fine are the works of this people! [The Romans] They have made streets, they have built bridges, they have erected baths.' R. Jose was silent. R. Simeon b. Yohai answered and said, 'All that they made they made for themselves; they built market-places, to set harlots in them; baths, to rejuvenate themselves; bridges, to levy tolls for them.'

Or for those who prefer the real original:

רבי יהודה ורבי יוסי ורבי שמעון ויתיב יהודה בן גרים גבייהו פתח ר' יהודה ואמר כמה נאים מעשיהן של אומה זו תקנו שווקים תקנו גשרים תקנו מרחצאות ר' יוסי שתק נענה רשב"י ואמר כל מה שתקנו לא תקנו אלא לצורך עצמן תקנו שווקין להושיב בהן זונות מרחצאות לעדן בהן עצמן גשרים ליטול מהן מכס

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What you can learn from children

Thought for the day:

You can learn a lot from spending, time around small children – assuming that you don't already know what a cow says or what the wheels on the bus do all day long.

(With thanks to Ruminations)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Still Waiting for you Ron Arad

When I made Aliya in 1992 I remember that that when you got off the plane, right before you reached passport control the airport had a large banner saying “Waiting For You Ron Arad”. Since then, not only is the sign gone, but the airport terminal has been replaced, yet the fate of Ron is still unknown.

Life in Israel and Lion of Zion posted a reminder that today is Ron’s 52nd Birthday. It is also 8603 days since he was captured.

May this be his last Birthday in captivity, and may we soon welcome Ron back home, together with our other brothers who are still missing in action,

Rabbi David Forman ז”ל

I just read with great sorrow that David Forman passed away.

I worked for David many for several summers when I was a Mecahnech for NFTY’s Israel Summer Tours.

I had many ideological disagreements with David, but always regarded him as an outstanding educator and as a passionate committed Jew.

I have many fond memories of those Summers I spent working with Reform American Teenagers, and my interaction with the NFTY Staff, particularly David was an exposure to a whole segment of the Jewish World that I as an Orthodox Jew I would not normally interact with.

May his wife Judy and daughters Tamar, Liat, Shira and Orly be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and may they know no more sorrow.

What is a Jew

I just listened to an interview with Anti-Zionist Jewish Australian Antony Loewenstein with Radio New Zealand.

He makes a number of predictable statements, that Israel and a Jewish State should be dismantled and replaced with a bi-national state; that Israel’s “Occupation” is immoral and illegal; and that “Resistance” to occupation is legitimate or at least legal in international law.

The interviewer, Kim Hill asked a lot of good questions, including a question about the following quote from DR. PHILIP MENDES:

Most Jewish anti-Zionists do not positively identify as Jews in terms of any connection with other Jews. Rather, their Jewish identity Jewish identity is solely negative based on a fanatical rejection of Zionism and Israel, and their sympathies and loyalties lie with the Palestinians whom they see as defenseless victims.

“Can you see yourself in that at all”

Mr Loewenstein replies that he doesn’t feel that the quote represents him, but does admit that:

  • He is an “Atheist-Jew” and doesn’t have any Religious belief in G-d or Jewish Texts.
  • He regards himself as “Jewish Culturally”, that he enjoys Jewish “Culture” and “Jewish Food”.
  • That he does not have a “great many” Jewish friends, but has Jewish family, some of whom he gets on with better than others
  • Philip Mendes is wrong that there are only a “handful of definitions as to what being a Jew is”

He then goes on to say that many Jews have little connection to Israel or Judaism and have inter-married and therefore, you can make up any definition that you want for being Jewish.

Well guess what, it seems that Philip Mendes has exactly described Lowenstein and many other Anti-Zionist Jews. There seems to be nothing Jewish about Lowenstein’s self-identity.

Lowenstein basically says that no one has the right to determine what the meaning of the word “Jewish” is. I.e., the word ‘Jew” is quite literally meaningless – the word has absolutely no definitive meaning whatsoever.

Mormons, “Jews for Jesus”, and other groups define themselves as “Jews” would he agree that their definition of “Jew” is equally valid to his definition?

He also seems to claim that words like ‘Self Defence” or ‘Resistance” can have any meaning that you want to apply.

The fundamental problem with this type of argument is that if words have no meaning, it is impossible to have any type of discussion.

I once asked a Reconstructionist Rabbinical student if she believed in G-d, her response was “Yes I do, but I believe that god is that inner voice within me”. In other words, “I reject your definition of G-d as ‘Creator’, or ‘Divine Being’, so I have applied a new definition of the word to mean something else”.

Be redefining terms, she was making any type of discussion impossible, as we are talking about two different things when we use common terms.

Mark Twain once said that if we decide to call a horse tail a “leg”, how many legs would a horse have? – FOUR, changing the way we use words does not change reality.

I wish Loewenstein well, and hope that his latest book is successful. But if he really wants to have a meaningful discussion about Israel and its right to exist, I think that he needs to take a long hard look at his own relationship with the Jewish People, or at the very least admit that liking Jewish Food and having some Jewish Family, does not necessarily make you a spokesperson for a the Jewish Nation.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

אני יהודי – I am a Jew

Given that today is Lag B’Omer and one of the themes of the day is Rabbi Akiva and ואהבת לרעך כמוך it was nice to see a new remake of Lenny Solomon’s song אני יהודי.

A translation of the original lyrics is as follows:

When they ask me who am I (I will say)
I am not Ashkenazi, Sefaradi, Taimani or Tzarfati (French)
I am not Morrocan, American, or Russian

Chorus: I am a Jew

When they ask me what am I (I will say)
I am not religious or secular, left wing or right wing,
Not an optimist nor a pessimist, naive, Chorus…

All of Israel are connected to each other
All of Israel are brothers
We live here together, we live with hope
And more important than anything is love

We are citizens, we are soldiers, people, yes we are human beings,
We stride and move ahead, we believe, we hope, and we do not lose hope
We are Jews

The remake is much more Israeli, with a whole spectrum of Israeli singers, and they completely rewrote the lyrics as follows:

When I ask myself "Who am I"?
I'm a little Sphardi, a little Ashkenazi
A little Israeli, a tiny drop of galuti (exile mentality),
maybe I’m religious, maybe secular
But between me and myself,
I am a Jew and that’s special.
Not better than anyone else, not worse,
Simply a Jew.

Sometimes a soldier, sometimes a student,
I have a lot of past and I see the future.
Sometimes a Mitnaged, and sometimes a Chasid,
Maybe materialistic, maybe spiritual, but always, always
I am a Jew and that is special.
Not worse, not better, a bit different,
Simply a Jew

Suddenly I came back from a afar, so that we can be here together.
I will be secure, I’ll return to laugh,
live comfortably without fear.
I am a Jew and that is special.
Not better than anyone else, not worse,
Just a Jew.

Nothing will break me my brother,
My soul is a part of Eternal Light Above.
To repair the world – that’s my motto,
I was born this way. I am a Jew.

Basically, Jews, just like other religions,
I have have festivals, Shabbatot, customs and Mitzvot.
Even though everyone says that they are right,
In the end we are all Jews before the Heavenly Throne.

I am very afraid of baseless hatred,
Love my land and love my nation.
I was here and there all over the world,
I have two opinions on what to ask and a third opinion,
Because I am a Jew and that is unique.
Not worse, not better, a bit different,

Simply a Jew

כששואל את עצמי "מי אני" ?
אני קצת ספרדי, קצת אשכנזי,
קצת ישראלי, טיפ טיפה גלותי,
אני אולי דתי ואולי חילוני אבל ביני לביני,
אני יהודי וזה ייחודי.
לא טוב יותר מהאחר לא רע יותר
פשוט יהודי.

לפעמים חייל, לפעמים תלמיד,
יש לי המון עבר וגם רואה עתיד.
לפעמים מתנגד, ולפעמים חסיד,
אולי גשמי, אולי רוחני, אבל תמיד תמיד
אני יהודי וזה ייחודי.
לא רע יותר, לא טוב יותר, טיפה אחר,
פשוט יהודי.

פתאום חזרתי מרחוק, שנוכל להיות כאן ביחד.
שיהיה לי בטוח, שאחזור לצחוק, שאוכל לחיות בנחת ללא פחד.
כי אני יהודי, וזה ייחודי.
לא טוב יותר מהאחר, לא רע יותר
פשוט יהודי.

שום דבר לא יצליח לשבור אותי אחי,
הנשמה שלי היא חלק מאור עליון נצחי.
לתקן את העולם - זוהי מהותי,
נולדתי ככה אני יהודי.

פשוט יהודי כמו בשאר הדתות
יש לי חגים, שבתות, מנהגים ומצוות.
למרות שכל אחד בטוח בצדקתו
בסוף כולנו יהודים, לפני כסא כבודו.

אני מאוד פוחד משנאת חינם,
אוהב את ארצי ואוהב את העם.
הייתי פה ושם ובכל העולם,
יש לי שתי דעות על מה שתשאל וגם דעה שלישית,
כי אני יהודי, וזה ייחודי.
לא רע יותר, לא טוב יותר, טיפה אחר,
פשוט יהודי.

It’s a Great song…

Hat Tip: Life in Israel