Sniffing for chametz in India

April 24, 2011 - 4:22 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion, Travel 

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted – that’s because we just got back from our long-planned family trek to Nepal and India. We all arrived home safe and sound on Friday. Our luggage was less fortunate. As I write, it’s still sitting in the Mumbai airport.

Normally this wouldn’t be so unusual – bags get lost all the time. “Maybe there wasn’t enough time for your suitcases to clear customs,” the harried but surprisingly polite El Al representative at Ben Gurion Airport offered. That hardly seemed likely – we had an 8-hour layover in Mumbai.

Moreover, as transit passengers coming from another airline, I had to personally identify our luggage. I saw it tagged and put on the carousel belt. We answered questions from the El Al security guy and sat with the airline personnel who hand wrote our boarding passes. So, Indian bureaucracy notwithstanding, where could the bags have gone?

Here’s a thought, which I can’t substantiate but seems plausible nonetheless, especially since we flew during hol ha moed, the intermediary days of the Passover holiday: our bags were flagged for containing chametz.

Chametz, of course, is any kind of wheat product that has risen, forbidden during the festival of unleavened bread. While normally one’s bags are checked for contraband like explosives or weapons, perhaps in our case the dogs sniffed out our various candy, Cliff and granola bars. Or was it religious El Al workers waiting for nightfall, then poking around with a candle and feather as one does during the last minute check for chametz before the holiday? That would surely have made our bags miss the loading deadline.

There was more evidence. As we boarded the plane, a printed sign informed us that El Al had kindly cleaned the plane of any chametz and that all food would be strictly kosher for Pesach. We were served matza instead of the usual hot El Al pita and bagels (my favorite part of flying with Israel’s national carrier). Indeed, our bags could easily have caused a Knesset coalition crisis had they been hoisted into the hold.

UPDATE: My religious conspiracy theory, unfortunately, turned out for naught. Our bags arrived earlier this morning, in plenty of time for the final day of the holiday. However, in deference to our doughy cargo, we decided to unpack only on Monday night, when it’s officially OK to eat as many chocolate waffelim as you desire.

Happy Pesach…I’ll have more to report from our trip (and some surprising Israeli connections) after the holiday.

Not just any third birthday

November 19, 2009 - 9:44 AM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, Israeliness, Life, Religion, War 

habad mumbaiOne of the most quickly forgotten aspects following any terror attack is the survivors. We all mourn the victims, obsess about the perpetrators, and move on, as those left behind attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Three-year-old Moishe Holzberg has proven to be the exception. A year ago, Moishe’s parents, Rabbi Gavriel Holzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28, were killed along with 170 other victims when Pakistani Islamic terrorists carried out a series of attacks in Mumbai in India. The Holzbergs, who had lived in Mumbai for six years as official emissaries of the Chabad movement were killed with seven other people at Chabad House.

The two-year-old life of Moishe was saved when he was spirited away from the attack by his Indian nanny Sandra Samuel. He’s been raised at Kfar Chabad near Tel Aviv by his grandparents for the last year. And on Wednesday, the community hosted a memorial ceremony for the couple, which was attended by 2,000 people. During the event, Moishe celebrated his first haircut, a coming-of-age event for three-year-old boys, known as an “upshirin” in Yiddish or “chalaka” in Hebrew.

“Moshe may be without biological parents, but the entire Chabad family has adopted him,” the head of the Chabad Youth Organization in Israel, Rabbi Yosef Aharonov, told The Jerusalem Post which attended the event.

Across a blue-grey curtain on the wall of the womens’ section of the tent, dozens of blue and white balloons spelled out “Moishe, three years old.” Moishe himself was carried in by Sandra shortly before the beginning of the event, and stood before a gaggle of reporters and cameras, calmly, even lazily, taking in the spectacle.

Rabbi Holzberg’s father, Rabbi Nachman Holzberg, said that the outpouring of support for his family has been tremendous over the past year, and that Moishe was doing very well. Holzberg also expressed his hope that the tragedy “will only bring the entire world closer to redemption.”

Samuel, surrounded by a sea of reporters and swarmed by well-wishers from the moment she entered with Moishe, said that she was feeling a mix of emotions at the event, both great happiness that Moishe was doing well and sadness at the fact that his parents could not be with him.

Samuel said that “the baby is fine, he’s a normal kid, he plays, he jumps.”

With a mixture of sadness and joy, which, after all, is a regular recipe in Israel, the shortened lives of the Holzbergs and the hopefully long life of their son Moishe was celebrated in the only way Israeli know how – with all their hearts.

Israeli arms dealer goes Bollywood – uh oh

March 11, 2009 - 2:37 PM by · 11 Comments
Filed under: Blogging, Business, General, Movies 

Sometimes, just now and again, a YouTube video comes along that is so crummy, that it’s almost a masterpiece. Dubbed the worst marketing movie ever made by the blogosphere, an honor it undoubtedly deserves, this piece by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has got to be one of the most ill advised advertisements an Israeli company has ever made.

Undoubtedly, if you’re a defense company it must be hard to keep coming up with new and interesting ways to sell your products. I mean how many ways can you sell a missile?

Rafael execs decided they had to do something different, and so for last month’s Aero India 2009 show, they took their weapons, sprinkled them liberally with a seasoning of Bollywood and voila! A Bollywood-style movie featuring a man (Israel), and four dancing girls (India) in full Bollywood costumes dancing between a range of Rafael’s phallic shaped missiles.

I guess most missiles are shaped like this, but it’s not usually something you think about until you see men and women skipping suggestively between them.

The women sings: “I need to feel safe and sheltered. Security and protection. Commitment and perfection. Defense and dedication.” And the man chimes in: “I promise to defend you, fulfill your expectations. Shield you and support you. Meet my obligations.”

And the unforgettable chorus to this meaningful exchange? “Dinga dinga dee…”

Oh dear, oh dear.

The truth is Israel’s defense relationship with India is pretty darn strong these days – Israel recently became the country’s main defense supplier. And the government-owned Rafael is in a particularly good position. Just last August Rafael and Israel’s IAI signed a joint $2.5 billion deal with the Indian Ministry of Defense.

After a period of circling one another tentatively, the two countries have realized they have much in common – particularly in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack last November.

But that still leaves us with a question. Whatever possessed Rafael to make this movie? It’s a question Saurabh Joshi of the Web site StratPost asked a company representative at the Rafael stall. He was told that the video was intended to “help build familiarity between India and Israel and Rafael.”

Not everyone sees it like that. On Wired’s Danger room blog, Noah Shachtman called it “the most atrocious defense video of all time.” While on the blog DEW line, Stephen Trimble, called it a “catastrophic collision of Bollywood and the arms industry, and dared his readers to watch the video “and, if you’re able, immediately erase the awful tune from your brain.”

It’s harder than you think. Dinga dinga dee.

Foto Friday – Chabad in India

November 28, 2008 - 3:30 PM by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Foto Friday, General, Israeliness, Life, Religion 

There isn’t that much to say. Chabad Houses are known stops for Israeli backpackers on their post-army service trips. Whether in Katmandu, Bangkok or Mumbai, these are places where travelers can drop in, get a hot meal, perhaps even celebrate Passover or Sukkot with friends from home. Whatever animosity secular Israelis may hold towards the local haredi community all but vanishes when it comes to parents wanting a safe haven for their kids as they wander the big wide world. Now that sense of security has been irrevocably shattered. Here are a few images of Chabad in India from quieter times, taken from
Chabad House sign in Goa, India
A sign in English and Hebrew points the way to Goa, India’s Chabad House. (Photo: Meir Alfasi)

Mumbai Chabad House exterior
School children run outside the Chabad House in the Colaba Market area of Bombay, India. (Photo: Menachem Gansbourg)

Israeli lays tfillin in Goa
One of Goa’s many Jewish visitors prays while wearing tefillin. (Photo: Meir Alfasi)

Chabadnik helps Israeli lay tfillin before days end
A Jewish man puts on tefillin in the last minutes before sunset. (Photo: Meir Alfasi)

Israelis will doubtless continue their love affair with all things Indian, and Israel’s strategic relationship with India will undoubtedly be strengthened. Chabad-Lubavitch will continue to grow. But the greater ramifications of this traumatic event — an attack on Israel and Jews, Americans, Britons, and, by extension, Western civilization — are as yet unknown.
For those wishing to give immediate help, a fund has been established in memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg.


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