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Washington - U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, met on Wednesday with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud about Israel and the Palestinian territories, as Kushner readies the administration’s Middle East peace plan. At the meeting, also attended by U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, they discussed strengthening ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia and providing humanitarian relief to Gaza, according to a statement from the White House. Kushner held a similar meeting on Tuesday with Jordan&r...
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A brief conversation with BJLabout the Jewish community with Councilwoman Vicki Almond Q: Councilwoman Almond, with a large segment of your councilmanic district serving as the home to several thousand Jewish families, we thank you for your two terms of service in the County Council. In a few words what would you say are the most unique aspects of representing the Jewish community? A: First, thanks for this opportunity! To answer your question, I can’t tell you how many cherished relationships I have forged with the leaders and members of your community over the last eight years. Working with people like Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, the leaders of the Baltimore Jewish Council, Rabbi Neuberger, and other rabbis and heads of organizations, we have tackled issues ranging from stormwater manage...
MOSCOW (AP) — The Latest on Wednesday at the World Cup (all times local): 11:46 p.m. The English Football Association has condemned a video purportedly showing fans at the World Cup performing Nazi salutes and singing anti-Semitic songs. The videos posted on Twitter and identified as being taken at a pub in Volgograd, where England played Tunisia on Monday, and were shared on social media by former England player Stan Collymore, now a broadcaster. The FA says "we strongly condemn the actions of the people in this video. We are working with the relevant authorities, including the UK Police investigations team, who are making enquiries to identify the individuals involved and take appropriate action." The governing body added that "the disgraceful conduct of the individuals in thi...
Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, the revered mashgiach and Ba’al Mussar was once riding in a cab and the Israeli driver related the following story: “Rebbi, when my friends and I completed our army service, we decided to go on a world tour. We found ourselves in the jungles of Africa one night when suddenly one of my friends woke up screaming. a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck.  We tried as much as we could to pull the snake off, but with no success. He was turning blue; close to death.  We didn’t know what to do.  At that point, one of us shouted to him, ‘Yigal, you’re going to die, at least say Shema.’  Yigal started saying Shema.  As soon as he finished the first pasuk, the snake released himself and slithered away.&rdquo...
LONDON (AP) — U.K. prosecutors say an Islamic State adherent plotted a suicide bombing targeting British Prime Minister Theresa May at her Downing Street office in London. Authorities say Naa'imur Zakariyah Rahman, 20, thought he was just days away from carrying out the attack before his arrest last November. He was snared in a social media sting by an undercover operative for Britain's security services posing as an Islamic State official in Syria Prosecutor Mark Heywood told jurors at London's Central Criminal Court that Rahman intended to inflict violence "at the very heart of the United Kingdom government." Heywood says Rahman's objective was "a suicide attack, by blade and explosion, on Downing Street and, if he could, upon the Prime Minister Theresa May h...
THE FOLLOWING IS VIA YWN A serious MVA in the Catskills left one person with critical injuries on Wednesday afternoon. The crash was on the Harris-Bushville Road around 2:45PM – right in front of Catskill Regional Medical Center (Harris Hospital). It took more than 40 minutes to successfully extricate the driver from one vehicle – reportedly in critical condition. The driver from the second vehicle is in stable condition. Read more at YWN
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Washington - A former campaign manager for Donald Trump is doubling down on his dismissive comment regarding a girl with Down syndrome. Corey Lewandowski tweeted on Wednesday that he “mocked a liberal who attempted to politicize children” after he appeared Tuesday on Fox News Channel to discuss President Trump’s hard-line immigration policy. Trump’s policy has led to the practice of taking migrant children from parents charged with entering the country illegally. When another Fox panelist mentioned a story about the 10-year-old disabled girl being one of the children, Lewandowski responded with “Wah-wah.” Lewandowski says in his Wednesday tweet that “the MSM doesn’t want to talk about these policies were started under Obama.” The zero...
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook's Instagram service is loosening its restraints on video in an attempt to lure younger viewers away from YouTube when they're looking for something to watch on their smartphones. The expansion announced Wednesday, dubbed IGTV, will increase Instagram's video time limit from one minute to 10 minutes for most users. Accounts with large audiences will be able to go as long as an hour. Video will be available through Instagram or a new app called IGTV. The video will eventually give Facebook more opportunities to sell advertising. It's the latest instance in which Instagram has ripped a page from a rival's playbook in an effort to preserve its status as a cool place for young people to share and view content. In this case, Instagr...
Washington - Bowing to pressure from anxious allies, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday ending the process of separating children from families after they are detained crossing the U.S. border illegally. It was a dramatic turnaround for Trump, who has been insisting, wrongly, that his administration had no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of federal law and a court decision. The news in recent days has been dominated by searing images of children held in cages at border facilities, as well as audio recordings of young children crying for their parents — images that have sparked fury, question of morality and concern from Republicans about a negative impact on their races in November’s midterm elections. Until Wednesday...
DALLAS (AP) — American Airlines and United Airlines say they have asked the Trump administration not to use their flights to carry migrant children who have been separated from their parents. The CEOs of both airlines said that the administration's recent immigration policy of separating migrant families conflicts with their values. "We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it," American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in a statement. United issued a statement in which CEO Oscar Munoz said the company's purpose is to connect people. "This policy and its impact on thousands of children is in deep conflict with that mission and we want no part of it," he said. A spokesman for Homeland Security Department criticized the airlines i...
Parsha Hashavua
Parshas Chukas - Blind to the Blessings

Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, the revered mashgiach and Ba’al Mussar was once riding in a cab and the Israeli driver related the following story:

“Rebbi, when my friends and I completed our army service, we decided to go on a world tour. We found ourselves in the jungles of Africa one night when suddenly one of my friends woke up screaming. a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck.  We tried as much as we could to pull the snake off, but with no success. He was turning blue; close to death.  We didn’t know what to do.  At that point, one of us shouted to him, ‘Yigal, you’re going to die, at least say Shema.’  Yigal started saying Shema.  As soon as he finished the first pasuk, the snake released himself and slithered away.”

The cab driver continued, “Rebbi, do you know that because of that incident my friend Yigal became a baal teshuva! Today, he is frum with a beautiful religious family. They keep kosher, his wife covers her hair and his kids all go to cheder.”

Rav Levenstein responded, “That’s amazing.” He paused for a minute and then suddenly asked, “and what about you?”

“Me?  Oh no,” said the cab driver, glancing away from the road. “It didn’t happen to me.  It happened to him.”

A man confronts a life-threatening experience.  He prays and, wonder of wonders, God hears his prayer and delivers him to safety.  The man, to his great credit, recognized the hand of God in his salvation and resolved to change his life.   But those who witnessed this miraculous event?  They acknowledge the event but not the miracle!  As a result, they are left not with lives transformed but merely a gripping story to be told during a random cab ride. 

After witnessing the miracles that freed them from Egypt, B’nai Yisrael quickly became acrimonious.  They whined and complained incessantly.  Their journey was too arduous.  Moshe was too bossy. And, oye, always something to say about the food!  It was not long after the Children of Israel had complained yet again about their desert “menu” that God sent snakes and serpents that bit and killed “multitudes from among them.” 

That got their attention. 

However, while the simple reading of the parasha suggests that God punished the Israelites by “sending” the snakes and serpents, Rabbi Yitzchok Alderstein in his comments on Parashat Chukas suggests that rather than punishing the Israelites, God was in fact simply withholding the gift He had been bestowing upon them all along.  He did not “send” the serpents so much as free them to do as their own natures dictated.

After all, as Rabbi Alderstein notes, God did not create hordes of snakes with the intent to bedevil Jewish targets.  Instead, He simply removed the restraints He had imposed upon them and allowed them the free rein to act as snakes could reasonably be expected to act and bite these clumsy and clamorous intruders!

The wilderness is filled with dangers, not least of which was the, “…snake, poisonous serpent, scorpion, and thirst where there was no water…”  That is, poisonous reptiles were as much a part of that landscape as water was lacking from that arid expanse.  God did not arrange for some special agents of death to do His bidding because of the Israelites foolish behavior. Those fatal instruments were already in place, naturally part of the scenery.

Which is precisely the point of this episode, according to Rabbi Alderstein. Without God’s merciful protection from the existing dangers, the Israelites could never have gotten to where they were. Too many would have succumbed to the dangers that made the wilderness inhospitable to people.  But, in their failure to cherish what God had done for them – and did for them continually – they “convinced” God to take back His gift. 

And then what did the people do?  They hurried to Moshe to plead for their lives.  Despite knowing their nature only too well, Moshe once again prayed on their behalf.  In response to his prayer, God gave him the following instruction, “Make yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole and it will be that anyone who is bitten will look at it and live.”

“Without His merciful protection, they could never have gotten to where they were...”.  

So blind to the gifts God graced them with!  The people were lost in their narcissistic bubble… until God “took His gift back.”  How easy it is to complain and ignore the blessings from the safety those very blessings confer upon us.

The wilderness of the Israelites was real.  However, just as the narrative of our emancipation from bondage describes an historical event, it is also an allegory for each of our lives.  Each Passover we remember that God took “you” out of Egypt.  Like the Israelites, we journey through the wilderness and its inherent dangers are held at bay not by our ability or our intelligence or our strength but by God’s grace and mercy.

Like the Israelites of old, we too are surrounded by “snakes and serpents”, by dangers and threats.  We are beset by dangers that threaten our hearts and our souls.  In the most comfortable home and community, the threat of addiction lurks.  Our dear children, driving so attentively in the safe, late-model cars we purchase for them, are not match for the drunken driver, or the brief diversion of a text. 

A nuclear power plant just north of New York City could cause untold death and destruction were it to fail.  Tankers carrying all manner of hazardous materials speed along our highways and suburban roadways, an errant driver away from flipping over and turning whole communities into “hot zones.”  A hurricane inundates major cities with water and waste.  An explosive eruption of volcanoes displaces thousands in Hawaii and causes many more to die in Guatemala. 

We, like the Israelites of old, tarry in the wilderness and, like them, are in danger not because God might “punish” us but because He might see fit to simply withhold His grace, allowing the dangers inherent in the world to run amok.

“Make yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole and it will be that anyone who is bitten will look at it and live.”  The Mishnah, in Rosh Hashanah, asks, “But does a serpent kill or restore life? What is the meaning of looking at the serpent?” A simple reading of God’s command could be misinterpreted as a suggestion of idolatry.  “Rather,” the Mishna responds, “when Israel gazed upward and subjugated their heart to their Father in Heaven, they were healed; but if not, they perished.” 

This explanation makes clear that it was not gazing upon the copper snake itself that provided protection for anyone bitten by snake or serpent.  Rather, it effectuated a spiritual repentance, reflection and introspection, “a subjugation of the heart.”

The Maharal teaches that looking at the copper snake high upon the pole accomplished two goals.  It caused the person to look heavenward, ensuring his realization that he was totally dependent only on God and, by viewing a representation of that which caused him harm and pain, his prayers would be more intense and focused. 

In his teaching, Maharal conveys an important lesson in prayer.  When engaged in tefilah, one must feel and clearly visualize that for which he is seeking God’s intervention.   It is not enough to simply utter the words.  He must feel the experience.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch goes even further than the Maharal.  In referring to God’s command, he argues that the point was not to look beyond the snake and into the heavens but rather to look directly at the snake and by doing so fully understand the wildness of the snake and the environment he found himself in.  By looking directly at the snake, he would understand exactly the dangers of the Midbar years and therefore provide the obvious answer to the question, “Who leads you through the great and awesome wilderness – of snake, fiery serpent and scorpion?”  (Devarim 8:15)

In other words, you are in the midst of constant danger and challenge.  It is only God’s benevolence and protection that keeps the scorpion and snake at bay.   

The generation of yotzei mitzrayim, whose voices were raised in a constant protest, needed to look at the high Nes – not “pole or banner”, but Nes meaning miracle.  God is saying to the Children of Israel, “Look at the miracle that surrounds you every minute of your long sojourn in the dessert!”

The serpent cannot kill or restore life.  That is for God alone. 

It is not enough to tell the story.  One must see what is essential in the experience.  The cure and protection from the snake is a nes, miracle.  It is God.

Our cabdriver would do well to see beyond the boa constrictor around his friend’s neck to realize we are all in the midbar unless we look beyond the danger to see God’s protection.  And like him, we all must realize that nothing “just happens”.  There are no random events, no coincidence.  No “dumb luck”.  All is directed from above.  All we need to do is look, think, reflect and try to understand

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Washington - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reconsidering its plan to label pure maple syrup and honey as containing added sugars. Maple syrup producers had rallied against the plan, saying FDA’s upcoming requirement to update nutrition labels to tell consumers that pure maple syrup and honey contain added sugars was misleading, illogical and confusing and could hurt their industries. After receiving feedback including more than 3,000 comments on its draft plan, the FDA said Monday that it would now come up with a revised approach. “The feedback that FDA has received is that the approach laid out in the draft guidance does not provide the clarity that the FDA intended. It is important to FDA that consumers are able to effectively use the new Nutrition Facts label t...
New York - Once again, travelers making their way up to the Catskills on Thursday nights will be able to stop for Mincha and Maariv minyanim as of Thursday, June 21st at the Sloatsburg Rest Area, located on the northbound Thruway between exits 15A and 16.  The gathering area will be open from 5 to 11 PM each Thursday night throughout the summer travel season. Travelers are advised to: • Park only on the upper level of the parking lot, the most private part of the rest area which creates the least disturbance to other travelers, making it the ideal location for minyanim.  • Refrain from parking in handicapped restricted areas unless they have the proper permits.• Pray only in the designated Mincha area and not in any other locations in the parking lot.•...
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State Sen. Bobby Zirkin faces a strong challenge this year from retired attorney Sheldon Laskin, who has galvanized the support of many progressive voters in the county who believe the incumbent is wrong on crucial issues. In some respects — such as bail reform, on which Mr. Zirkin has been a skeptic — we agree with them. But Mr. Zirkin, the chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, isn’t easy to pin down as conservative or liberal. While he championed legislation this year that many thought was too focused on discredited, tough-on-crime strategies, he was also the driving force behind Maryland’s decriminalization of marijuana. He also has a strong environmental record, including leadership in the state’s decision to ban fracking. Mr. Laskin would be a g...
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Two people have been charged for April crash that killed Yisroel Levin & Elisheva KaplanHere are the charges for both suspects combined:- Three counts of Aggravated vehicular homicide (a B felony)- Vehicular Manslaughter in the first degree (a C felony)- Two counts of Vehicular manslaughter in the second degree (a D felony)- Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol- Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs- Driving while ability impaired by the combined influence of drugs or of alcohol and any drug or drugs- Two counts of Manslaughter in the Second Degree (a C felony)- Four counts of Assault in the Second Degree (a D felony)- Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree (an A misdemeanor)- Reckless DrivingBail was set at $1 million bond or $500,0...
New York - Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that two Brooklyn men have been indicted for assault as a hate crime and other charges in connection with an alleged attack against a Jewish rabbinical student who was walking home at night in Crown Heights. The defendants did not take any property or cash, including a charity box the victim was holding, and allegedly stated that they were irritated because he was speaking in Hebrew on the phone – leading to the hate crime charges. District Attorney Gonzalez said, “We allege that these defendants decided to assault a man for the sole reason that he looked different than them and spoke a different language. I will never tolerate bias-motivated crimes in Brooklyn, and will investigate and prosecute them vigorou...
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Trump signs executive order to keep families together at border, says 'zero-tolerance' prosecution policy will continue.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said he would be signing an executive order later Wednesday that would end the process of separating children from families after they are detained crossing the border illegally. "We want to keep families together. It's very important," Trump told reporters during a White House meeting with members of Congress. "I'll be signing something in a little while that's going to do that." The effort would mark a dramatic departure for an administration that has been insisting, wrongly, that it has no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of the law and a court decision. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the president and other officials have repeatedly said the only way to end the practice is f...
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NEW YORK (AP) — The mouse is chasing the fox. Disney is offering more than $71 billion for Fox's entertainment businesses in a counterbid to Comcast's nearly $66 billion offer . The battle for Twenty-First Century Fox reflects a new imperative among entertainment and telecommunications firms. They are amassing ever more programming to better compete with technology companies such as Amazon and Netflix for viewers' attention — and dollars. The bidding war comes after AT&T bought Time Warner for $81 billion. Disney's move had been expected since Comcast made its bid last week. Disney said it's raising its offer because Fox's value increased due to "tax reform and operating improvements." "After six months of integration pl...
THE FOLLOWING IS VIA YWN Initial reports spoke of 30 rockets fired from Gaza towards Israel, but when the night ended and the damaged tallied, it was realized that number rose to 45 rockets fired. Seven of the rockets were intercepted by the Iran Dome system. Three rockets landed in Gaza, falling short of their intended targets. Shortly after midnight the Israel Air Force announced it targeted three Hamas facilities in Gaza in retaliation for the rocket fire. Shorty thereafter the Red Alert sirens were heard throughout Gaza border communities. Shortly thereafter, the IAF struck another 8 Hamas facilities. Hi, how was your night? In #Israel, over 1,000,000 people were forced to seek shelter, after #Hamas fired over 45 rockets & mortars from #Gaza. Do...
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