LA Jewish Home - 10-31-19

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The Week In News


OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home




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The Week In News

OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home




Dear readers, My father-in-law, Rabbi Eliezer Lipman Dubrawsky, a”h, used to say that one of the biggest punishments Hashem can give is to take away someone’s faith. Alternatively, one of the biggest assets a person can have is rock solid faith. With faith, we can excel in success, stand tall in times of stress, and get back on our feet if we ever fail. Tishrei was a month of faith. By the time we were sitting in the sukkah, you could almost touch it with your hand. Then came the dancing around and around again—and again!—arm in arm with our fellow Yidden, k’ish echad b’lev echad. Then came the creation of the world all over again. Hashem formed a world that feels independent to eventually become His home. Mankind didn’t exactly respond the way it should have, and here we are still at the same job we were given thousands of years ago. When reading Chumash, you realize how far we’ve gotten. Yes, our world is far from perfect, but we’ve come a very long way from the days of cannibalism, open immorality, and slavery. Today, there’s a widespread belief in a Creator. Most human beings look at kindness as a virtue. And most would press a button to have world peace if there were one. Huge changes are happening at such a fast pace that we can easily overlook what’s happening right in front of our eyes. Let’s stay focused as we head toward the culmination of the Creator’s master plan, may it be in the very near future. Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos,


T H E P R E M I E R J E W I S H N E W S PA P E R H I G H L I G H T I N G L A’ S O R T H O D OX C O M M U N I T Y The Jewish Home is an independent bi-weekly newspaper. Opinions expressed by writers are not neces­sarily the opinions of the publisher or editor. The Jewish Home is not responsible for typographical errors, or for the kashrus of any product or business advertised within. The Jewish Home contains words of Torah. Please treat accordingly. FOR HOME DELIVERY, OR TO HAVE THE LATEST ISSUE EMAILED TO YOU FREE OF CHARGE, SEND A MESSAGE TO EDITOR@JEWISHHOMELA.COM

TheHappenings Week In News

OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home

Upcoming Israel Gap Year Fair to Offer a Wide Range of Opportunities Yehudis Litvak dor roles, and they continuously post photos, videos, and descriptions of their learning, trips, and other activities. Eventually, AIGYA plans to have an ambassador in every program presented at the fair. While the ambassadors’ social media posts can help potential students get a better feel for the program, they also con-

The American Israel Gap Year Association (AIGYA) is once again hosting its Annual American Israel Gap Year Fair on Thursday, November 21, at 6:30 – 9:00 pm, at the Shalhevet High School. As usual, the fair will feature a wide range of gap year programs in Israel, from traditional learning institutions, such as yeshivos and seminaries, to co-ed travel and community service programs. The fair is non-denominational and is the only one in the country to offer such a diverse selection of gap year opportunities for Jewish students of all backgrounds. “The gap year is really a bridge year,” says Phyllis Folb, Executive Director of AIGYA. “Everything that came before was the foundation. This year is the launching pad, where students take ownership of their Jewish identity and their relationship with Israel.” She adds that spending time in Israel is especially important for students heading to college, where they are likely to encounter negativity towards Israel. “They become eyewitnesses to Israel’s strengths, and they come back to college campuses with the tools to have a conversation about Israel with their professors and peers.” In addition, secular colleges encourage students to go on a gap year, as it’s been shown to lead to greater academic success, better focus and retention, and lower likelihood of changing one’s major. “During the gap year, students are able to get in touch with what they want and with who they are,” says Mrs. Folb. “For Jewish students, it’s an opportunity to connect to Jewish values and history, to ask themselves what kind of Jewish life they are going to live.” At the fair, students and their parents will be able to meet with representatives of various programs and ask questions. There will also be two topic sessions: Gap Year 101 and Money Matters, which includes information on scholarships. There are specific scholarships available only to fair attendees, awarded based on the student’s passion and direction for the year. This year, the AIGYA launched its ambassador program, where students currently in Israel for their gap year chronicle their experiences on social media in real time. This year, fifteen students attending different programs committed to ambassa-

nect and empower the ambassadors themselves. “Being on this ambassador program already made me feel like I have a community of friends that I will connect to throughout my year,” said Sarah Pape, one the Lead Ambassadors, in a press release. To get the most out of the fair, Mrs. Folb encourages the participants to regis-

ter in advance. A detailed schedule of the presentations and topic sessions will be emailed to all participants, so they could best plan their evening before they even get there. For more information and to register, please visit



Torah Musings The Week In News

OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home

True Stories of Kids Acting Kind Sarah Pachter

Someone once told Henny Machlis, a righteous woman who hosted hundreds every weekend for Shabbos meals, about a woman suffering from cancer. She immediately pulled out her tehillim and davened throughout the entire night for her recovery. That’s right: She did not sleep at all that night in order to pray for a stranger. Henny Machlis has since passed away, and her neshamah’s departure from this Earth left a tremendous void. When I read this story about her, I had mixed emotions. I felt incredibly inspired and awed by her greatness but deflated when I compared it to my own spiritual ladder. Although stories about gedolim can be inspiring, their actions raise the bar so high that I’m often left wondering where that leaves someone like me. Will I ever reach even the bottom rung of their accomplishments? I do believe that hearing “out of reach” stories have a positive impact on our soul. However, I must admit that sometimes I find it more empowering to hear about acts of greatness coming from a layman rather than a Torah giant. The fact that a regular person performed an act of kindness causes it to feel more doable. I imagine that when children hear inspiring stories about adults, it also feels “out of reach.” Perhaps they would feel more empowered if they heard about great acts performed by kids their own age. The goal of this article is to share acts of kindness performed by children so that your child can read them and then strive for more. Additionally, not only can reading the stories below provide our children with a stepping stone of possibility, but maybe they will also give us a schema in which to visualize what can be possible in our own children. The Mysterious Five Dollars The Greenberg* family was hosting a parlor meeting for a new tzedakah organization in their home. They invited several philanthropists to join and discussed the organization around their large dining room table. When the night was over, and all the guests had left, the host and hostess opened the donation envelopes for an accounting of the evening. The pile reached high, and each envelope was labeled with the donor’s name. Midway through the pile, between the envelopes, they discovered a five-dollar bill that had been crumpled and flattened. They were mystified and looked at one another, wondering who would have given the five-dollar bill.

It turned out that their eight-year-old daughter, Shira, had secretly slipped the bill into the pile. With a heart of gold, she took the only bill from her wallet and shared it in order to partake in the mitzvah of tzedakah. Her only goal was to perform this mitzvah anonymously. I Hate Recess One morning during circle time, Yoni, a meek child in the class, shared that he hated recess. When circle time was over, Jake, a more confident boy, approached Yoni privately and asked, “Yoni, why do you hate recess?” Yoni shuffled his feet and timidly responded, “Because no one ever wants to play with me.” That very afternoon, Jake gathered the entire class of 23 boys, and created a new, imaginative game specified to what he thought would be Yoni’s liking. He knew Yoni liked a certain type of book and incorporated characters from the book into the game. He encouraged all the children to play together, and most importantly, made sure that Yoni was included and happy. With sensitivity beyond his years, he made sure that Yoni wouldn’t realize it was Jake orchestrating the game just for Yoni. Jake never mentioned a word about it, but the teacher saw what he had done. A few days later, when the teacher followed up with Yoni about recess, he replied, “It’s going great! I haven’t had a problem since I mentioned it in class.” Yoni was able to maintain his dignity because of Jake’s humble act. After You Ben was enjoying his bar mitzvah party when it was time for the buffet lunch. Ready for a good meal, many of the kids swarmed and began to pile the food onto their plates (a topic for a different article altogether). One of the adults, Dr. Kaufield, was standing near Ben, and they approached the smorgasbord simultaneously. Ben, with utmost grace, looked up at Dr. Kaufield and said, “After you. I hope you are enjoying the bar mitzvah!” This child had the perspective to allow adults, his guests, to partake first at his own celebration! A true mensch! Flower Power Avraham is a boy who loves to perform acts of kindness. His mother shared the following story. Every time a meshulach comes to our door, Avraham speaks with grace and immense kavod and offers him or her a drink. He then proceeds to run to his room and bring back Coffee Bean cards or Amazon gift cards in order to give to the person waiting on the other side of the door. If it wasn’t for me stopping him, he would lit-

erally give collectors his personal shoes, ties, coats, and whatever else detaches easily from the house. He is the child that brings the gardener water on a hot day and thanks the housekeepers profusely for their hard work. He constantly thanks Uber drivers repeatedly for driving him. The drivers never fail to look perplexed at Abraham’s maturity. Whenever I am driving with Avraham, he asks me to pull over and buy flowers from the women selling them on the corner. One hectic Friday afternoon, I suggested simply giving the lady money instead of buying flowers. Avraham, with his piercing grey eyes, looked at me and said, “Mommy, that would make her feel like a charity case. She is selling something as opposed to just asking for a handout. Just giving her money might insult her or degrade her. Please, can we let her have the kavod of earning it?” That is one of many Avraham stories I could tell. Pizza Pizza One Thursday evening, Aaron’s family ordered pizza. Starved, as soon as the pizza touched the counter, Aaron’s siblings raced towards the steaming box. They put the slices directly on their plates and chowed down, barely making it to their seats first. Aaron, the oldest, calmed the crew down and said, “Wait! Wait! I need to take first!” He proceeded to put the slices on the plate, but rather than taking it to his spot at the table, he walked it over to the housekeeper and said, “Here, I want to make sure you have some first!” The housekeeper was beaming, and a kiddush Hashem, a mitzvah of the highest caliber, had been performed. The Lone Bar Mitzvah One weekend, in a thriving Jewish community in New York, a boy named Reuven was invited to three bar mitzvahs on one Shabbos. Two of the bar mitzvahs were located in Spring Valley, and the third was located in Forshay, a different neighborhood altogether. Usually, the schools have a schedule that does not allow for more than one bar mitzvah per weekend, and if there ever is more than one bar mitzvah, they usually make sure the boys attend equally. For some reason, these rules were not in effect for this particular weekend. Reuven’s mother, a close friend of the family celebrating, was also invited to a bar mitzvah in Spring Valley. She suggested to Reuven, “Why don’t we spend Shabbos in Spring Valley, and that way you can attend two bar mitzvahs and at least make two of the three boys happy?” Reuven usually loved packing up and going to Spring Valley for Shabbos, but this time, he only quietly agreed. Later that night, he said, “Mommy, I need to call my rebbe. I have a sheilah, for him.” He did not tell his mother what the sheilah was.

Privately, he called the rebbe and explained his predicament. “I know my mother wants me to come with her to the bar mitzvahs in Spring Valley, but I want to make sure that the boy in Forshay has friends going.” The rebbe checked in with the parents in Forshay, and it turned out that not one child was going to his bar mitzvah! The rebbe planned to walk over for it, at least. Not wanting to upset his mother, Reuven said, “Mommy, I do not have the heart to not attend the bar mitzvah in Forshay. Not one boy from our class is going. Would it be okay with you if I went to that one?” Proud of his sensitivity to the Forshay bar mitzvah boy, his mother gladly agreed, and Reuven walked one hour with his rav in order to participate in that child’s bar mitzvah. Her Foot Hurts Us Many have heard the famous story of Rabbi Aryeh Levine’s wife. She hurt her foot, and she and her husband traveled in unison to the doctor. “What’s going on?” the doctor asked them. The rabbi replied, “My wife’s foot hurts us.” This story expresses an incredibly high level of empathy and love towards one’s spouse and certainly gives the reader something to aspire to. However, I was amazed when a good friend called to share a similar story from her daughter. One evening, she found her two daughters crying upstairs in their room. Expecting that they had been fighting, she asked, “What happened to you both?” She was gearing up to referee some sort of confrontation. Shayna announces, “I fell and hurt my leg!” “Oy, Shayna, would you like some ice?” Her mother responded. But, before going to get her ice, she checked in on Sarah, who was crying as well. “Sarah, are you also hurt? Do you need ice, too?” Sarah responded with sincerity, “I’m crying because Shayna hurt her leg.” Great acts of chessed are not reserved for a select few. Perhaps we, and our children, can perform magnanimous acts of kindness as well. If we remember these stories and revise our goals to become more reachable, we too can reach great heights. When reading these stories with our children, we can ask them which story they think might be the easiest to imitate, or which they believe to be the greatest. Who knows, perhaps they will have a story of their own to share with you. *These stories are collected from the author’s friends and family. All names and identifying details have been changed in order to protect the privacy of those involved.

The Week In News

OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home


BeAuTY BeAst &



For Women Only The JWRC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. A portion of the proceeds go to Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles JFS HOPE.


The Week In News


OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home

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The Week In News

OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home

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Emotional Health The Week In News

OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home

The Courage to Be Rabbi Dov Heller, LMFT

At age 32, Jim sat with tears rolling down his face. He was finally able to acknowledge the truth about his life. “I never felt I had a right to exist, as strange as that sounds. I grew up in a home where I felt I could do nothing right. I tried to fit in and please my parents, but I constantly felt I was disappointing them. Although they said they loved me, they always found ways to let me know that I was falling short in their eyes. I felt I was always fighting for their approval and failing. They are both highly educated and successful in their careers. School never appealed to me. They were into their religion, which I rejected, but only with great guilt and shame; to reject my parents’ values is one thing, to reject G-d is another! “I tried to discuss my feelings about things, but most of the time they couldn’t hear me. I remember feeling depressed at a young age and started to feel that my very existence was a source of pain to them. I’ve suffered my whole life feeling I’m wrong for being me. I began to wonder why I was

born. Was I born to suffer? “ Perhaps the most serious of all psychological and existential issues is a person’s questioning whether he or she has a right to exist. To some this might sound strange, yet there are many who live a life doubting their right to be, questioning their worth as a human being. People who feel this way almost always grow up with consistent, rejection, judgment, and invalidation. Those individuals who grow up in such an environment are very likely to wake up every day feeling they must defend their right to exist and their value as a human being. One might think that it should be fairly easy to overcome such a core belief and start believing in oneself once the problem has been identified. Unfortunately, for people who suffer with such self-negating beliefs, it can take an incredible amount of work, time, and help to discover and embody a new more affirming way to see oneself and to find the courage to be. Perhaps the ultimate example of someone who was able to affirm himself in

the face of rejection and invalidation was Abraham. Our tradition tells us that “Abraham stood on one side of the world while the rest of the world stood against him.” He was alone in the world, a world that rejected everything he stood for. Even his own family disowned him. Abraham surely could have given up, could have felt he was wrong and shouldn’t exist, but he found the inner strength and courage to maintain his lonely stand and affirm his right to exist in spite of all the annihilating voices around him No matter what emotional battles or trauma we’ve been through, no matter how much we feel the people who should have loved us did not, we must never give up. We must never give in to their invalidation and lose ourselves. The ultimate source of affirmation and validation for anyone who feels that he does not have the right to exist is the knowledge that the Creator of the universe affirms our existence. How does one tap into this source of ultimate affirmation and

validation? Every morning when a Jew wakes up she says, “Thank you for giving me life again today, the living and enduring King. Great is Your belief in me.” The very fact that we are alive is proof that the Creator wants and desires our existence. The fact of our existence means that in the eyes of the Eternal we have value and absolute worth. Our every breath attests to and validates our being. No matter what, we must never stop believing in our right to exist. We must never let ourselves bow to the invalidation of others and become self-doubting. We must never forget that each of us is unique and exists to fulfill a special purpose that belongs us alone. Each of us has a unique destiny to claim and a special story to write. Rabbi Dov Heller is in private practice offering psychotherapy and personal mentoring for individuals and couples. He can be contacted at You may also visit his website at

Book Review

My Name is Isaiah by Debbie Strom (Feldheim Publishers 2019) Historical Fiction, 272 pp. Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon

Get ready to be transported back to the time of sword fights, secret passageways, and thunderous horseback-riding in Debbie Strom’s adventure novel My Name is Isaiah. Set in the time of the Portuguese inquisition, My Name is Isaiah is action-packed and unpredictable, yet with deeper messages carefully woven within the fabric of an exciting plot. First serialized in the Yated Ne’eman newspaper, the story is told through the eyes of Johanne De Sabato, a young Portuguese man who has just turned 18 and considers himself, “[S]on of a nobleman. Companion to the prince. Destined for wealth and title.” However, Johanne’s dreams fall apart when he realizes the truth—his family is Jewish. They, like many families in their town, are conversos (secret Jews). Johanne was an infant when his family was forced to convert to Christianity. Secretly, his parents never accepted the conversion. They

this information to Johanne’s brother and him on his 18th birthday; but Johanne is horrified and refuses to accept the fact that he is a “lowly Jew…earmarked for persecution and death.” Johanne thinks, “At best, they (Jews) were to be pitied. At worst, hated. I couldn’t be one of them. It wasn’t what I was meant to be.” While Johanne, whose real name is Yochanan, has an incredibly difficult time integrating this information, his brother Osvaldo (who immediately begins calling himself his name, Isaiah) does not have the same conflict. In fact, Isaiah is excited to learn about Judaism and start practicing secretly with his parents. From the outset, Strom does a wonderful job conveying the brothers’ personality clash, shown through their different desires and ways of behaving. This conflict and ultimate resolution is one of the strongest points of the book. While some works of historical fiction spend an inordi-

nate amount of time describing the setting and can be plot-driven, Strom works hard to build the characters; their relationships are of primary concern, while the history is the well-done backdrop. Other relationships are well done, too; the mother’s relationship with Johanne, the strong connection Isaiah builds with the other conversos, and the father’s relationship to his sons. Even the relationship between Johanne and the prince, his good friend, is intriguing, becoming even more so when Johanne’s struggle with his identity comes to a climax. Of note is this struggle—Johanne having to question who he thought he was, what he thought of the Jews and non-Jews around him, and what he wants for his future. The twists in the plot keep readers guessing and in suspense as they root for Johanne to do the right thing while feeling the struggle. The book is well-paced, with the ac-

tion picking up about halfway through and leading to a surprising ending. Both young adults and adults will enjoy this book; however, for young readers a few places might be a little scary, especially the description of the public ceremony where a Jewish man is to be executed. Strom does an excellent job bringing the reader to the horror of the time of the Portuguese inquisition, and we walk away from the book grateful for the ability we take very much for granted—to publicly and proudly live Jewish lives.

The Week In News Feature

OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home


OCTOBER 29, 2015 | The Jewish Home

“He Died Like a

C ward” The Leadup and Execution of the Daring Raid to Kill Terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi By Tzvi Leff


time was 5 p.m., and the fleet of eight helicopters was racing towards northern Syria. Flying low to the ground, they were packed with commandos from the U.S. Military’s elite Delta Force special operations unit along with a team of Army Rangers to be used as backup. The target? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the infamous Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The bearded 48-year-old jihadi had headed the brutal organization since 2010 and had played a key role in transforming it from a small militia into a highly effective terrorist group that shocked the world with its brutality. Claiming to hail from Muhammad’s

tribe of Quraish and a descendant of the prophet’s grandson, al-Baghdadi had both prerequisites needed to be the caliph that leads global Islam. His spiritual authority and talent for mass murder had turned him into the world’s most wanted terrorist and the most prominent jihadi since Osama bin Laden. The troops had taken off from an airbase in western Iraq, and the risk was enormous. Al-Baghdadi was known to always wear a suicide vest and was commonly surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards who would fight to the death. The troops would also need to overfly territory teeming with insurgents well skilled in using rocket propelled grenades (RPG) and

shoulder-launched missiles that could easily shoot down the choppers. And as it was, the firefight started well before the Chinook helicopters arrived at the fortified compound in Syria’s Irbil province on Saturday. Soon into the seventy-minute flight, U.S. troops began taking incoming fire and responded by showering militants with missiles from accompanying Apache helicopter gunships. Yet the highly trained commandos couldn’t let themselves get bogged down in a firefight. After years of attempts, the U.S. finally had actionable intelligence on al-Baghdadi’s location. The terrorist mastermind needed to be taken out this time, and nothing could get in the way.

“We flew very, very low and very, very fast. It was a very dangerous part of the mission. Getting in and getting out, too. Equal. We…took an identical route getting in and getting out,” recounted President Donald Trump in a press conference on Sunday morning. Finally, the aerial armada reached the Syrian safe house. Dismounting from the choppers, Delta Force operators blew open an entrance in a side wall in order to refrain from going through the front door which they knew was boobytrapped. And then, in Trump’s words, “all [chaos] broke loose.” The detonation had awakened the ISIS insurgents holed up in the compound, and they greeted the soldiers



The Week In News Feature

with gunfire and missiles. Handling the armed men was the job of the Army Rangers, who split off from Delta Force to engage. The intense firefight lasted for over 10 long minutes until the threat was finally extinguished, with at least two ISIS members killed. Meanwhile, Delta Force operators hunted al-Baghdadi within the compound. Sweeping through the house amid the din of the surrounding shootout, the troops finally found their prize at the end of a large tunnel. Trapped with the three children he took along with him as human shields, and with U.S. forces closing in, al-Baghdadi acted as expected. Detonating his suicide belt, he finally achieved his oft-stated dream of going to the next world as a shahid (martyr). The most wanted terrorist in the world was dead. “He reached the end of the tunnel, as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children. His body was mutilated by the blast. The tunnel had caved in on it,” described Trump. “He died like a dog,” the president said. “He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place.” The mission was accomplished but was not yet over, for the troops needed to make sure al-Baghdadi was, in fact, dead. The Iraqi jihadist had been reported killed multiple times in recent years, only to reemerge months later. In order to positively identify him, troops spent 15 agonizing minutes running DNA tests. They brought back some of his body parts for further analysis. The elite soldiers then cased the now-shattered house for intelligence. What they found was a bonanza. “They took highly sensitive material and information from the raid, much having to do with ISIS – origins, future plans, things that we very much want,” President Trump said. Finally, the twin rotor CH-47s lifted off. Pausing only to level the now-assassinated al-Baghdadi’s lair, the teams flew back on the same route they had used to arrive. The entire operation had taken only two hours. “The raid was successful. We pulled our troops out. We had two minor casualties, two minor injuries, to our soldiers but a very successful, flawless raid,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper

OCTOBER 31,|2019 | The Jewish Home The Jewish Home OCTOBER 29, 2015

A photo of President Trump, Vice President Pence and other leaders in the Situation Room watching the raid unfold

told CNN. A service dog brought along for the mission was injured as well. Meanwhile, rumors of the mission had already begun to filter out. “Something BIG has just happened,” tweeted Trump, further stoking speculation. Confirmation came a few hours later, and further details emerged in a celebratory press conference Trump held on Sunday morning. “Last night, the United States brought the world’s No. 1 terrorist leader to justice,” Trump announced. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. Capturing or killing him has been the top national security priority of my administration.”

The Metamorphosis of a Terrorist Mastermind The U.S. had been hunting al-Baghdadi for years and had put locating him as its highest priority, labeling him as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and upping the reward for information leading to his capture to $25 million in 2017. Yet he had proven elusive and succeeded in evading Kurdish and Western intelligence time after time. There had also been doubts whether he was even still alive. Numerous reports in recent years had alleged that al-Baghdadi was killed in a coalition airstrike, by his own men, or during battle. The high price the U.S. was willing to pay for his killing or capture was a result of his role as the commander of the notorious ISIS terror group. Born in Iraq in 1971 as Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al-Badri, the terrorist had spent almost his entire life involved in extremist political Islam. Yet his career as an insurgent took off

following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. After Saddam Hussein was toppled, chaos reigned in Iraq. The fiercely secular Hussein, who had never permitted radical Islam to rear its head, was gone. Suddenly, extremists of every stripe could operate unhindered. And the infidel U.S. forces occupying Arab


new Iraqi military, leading him to be arrested in 2006 by the U.S. and imprisoned in Camp Bucca. Yet, despite his role as the founder and leader of the JJASJ, U.S. intelligence remained unaware as to what extent al-Baghdadi played in the insurgency. Classifying him only as a “civilian detainee,” al-Baghdadi never joined the high value security prisoners jailed in Guantanamo Bay, and he was eventually released in 2009 after the U.S. military decided that he was only a low-level risk terrorist. Intelligence officials would rue this mistake for years to come. Al-Baghdadi’s extended sojourn behind bars transformed him from a local warlord into the head of an organization whose members numbered in the hundreds of thousands. With the enhanced credibility the jail sentence gave him, and with the tactical acumen he learned from his terrorist brethren, the newly-free al-Baghdadi would come back to haunt the West with a vengeance.

Saturday’s operation was the most consequential U.S. military raid since the operation to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011. Iraq, anathema in Islam, provided an easy target. It seemed like Sunni Islamic militias were sprouting up like mushrooms. Both to defend their people and to fight Iraq’s rival Shi’ite population and to force foreign troops to leave, the violence spiraled out of control. Radical and heavily armed fighting forces were everywhere and al-Baghdadi was at the heart of the budding sectarian bloodshed. Leaving his job as a run of the mill mosque imam, al-Baghdadi founded the militia Jaamat Jaysh al-Sunna was-I-Jamaah (JJASJ). Under his tutelage, the JJASJ perpetrated a slew of attacks against coalition troops and the

Soon after his release, al-Baghdadi became the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), which was then al-Qaeda’s Iraqi division. Leaderless and adrift ever since founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike a few years prior, the organization soon began to thrive under its new leader. The attacks were not long in coming. Between March and April 2011, ISI pulled off 23 suicide bombings in Baghdad alone. The number almost doubled three months later. Not only was ISI succeeding in growing its rate of bombings, it was increasing its operational ability. Within a year, ISI went from committing an average of three attacks a month to launching simulta-


The Week In News Feature

OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home OCTOBER 29, 2015 | The Jewish Home

neous coordinated bombings in multiple cities. Al-Baghdadi led ISIS for three years. His “big break,” though, was yet to come. As a result of an ideological falling out among senior al-Qaeda members, al-Baghdadi split off in 2013 and announced the formation of a new organization named the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. ISIS had arrived. The timing was auspicious. Neighboring Syria was then engaged in a fullblown civil war between the secular Assad regime and religious fundamentalists. Many Muslims viewed ousting the heretical Assad government as a religious duty; extremists from all over the world were streaming to Syria to do their part. Taking advantage of the chaos, al-Baghdadi persuaded other midsized jihadi groups to merge and fight under ISIS’s bloody umbrella. Lavishly funded with Qatari and Saudi Arabian money, ISIS recruited former generals in the Iraqi military to establish a truly terrifying military machine. By 2014, ISIS had become a household name. With the organization’s

ISIS terrorists marching in Syria

ISIS continued to grow. Seizing advanced American weaponry abandoned by the Iraqi army, the organization threatened the Assad regime itself. Meanwhile, ISIS committed a slew of high-profile terror attacks in Europe, including the Bataclan attacks in Paris back in 2015 that left 138 innocents dead. As ISIS grew, so did al-Baghdadi’s ambitions. In 2014, he announced that he was now a caliph. The job title is tra-

Al-Baghdadi’s extended sojourn behind bars transformed him from a local warlord into the head of an organization whose members numbered in the hundreds of thousands. gruesome public beheadings and unimaginable brutality, the black-clad jihadists conquered vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, including major cities such as Tikrit and Mosul. At its height, ISIS controlled over 34,000 square miles, an area larger than Great Britain, and had an estimated 200,000 fighters.

ditionally reserved for the leader of Islam, and his decision to take upon himself the role raised hackles throughout the Muslim world. Criticism of al-Baghdadi was fierce, with even al-Qaeda denouncing the move. But under Islamic Law, disobeying a caliph is punishable by death, and al-Baghdadi’s newfound

caliphate gave ISIS fighters religious legitimacy to murder fellow Muslims who opposed his rule.

Hunting in Holes It was ISIS’s success that spelled its downfall. Alarmed by the wanton bloodshed, the U.S. began an aerial bombing campaign that quickly crippled its ability to use heavy weapons such as tanks. Meanwhile, Iran sent hundreds of thousands of Shi’ites to Syria in order to eliminate the Sunni insurgents. The relentless campaign by the U.S. on one side and Iran on the other began to show results. By 2016, ISIS was controlling only a fraction of the territory it ruled only two years prior. Its money dried up, and the foreign volunteers stopped coming. Throughout the fight against the ISIS menace by the U.S. and other powers, al-Baghdadi remained out of sight. Taking stringent security measures such as shunning any device that could be connected to the internet, the bearded murderer successfully evaded the massive intelligence effort aimed at tracking him down. The beginning of the end for al-Baghdadi came last month. That was when the U.S. received a tip as to al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts. Likely provided by Kurdish intelligence, the information enabled the U.S. to use its considerable resources and keep him under 24-hour surveillance. As September turned into October, the United States was finally able to pinpoint his exact location. From there, the road to the commando operation was swift. Following

three separate aborted missions to capture or kill the radical leader, the choppers finally lifted off on Saturday evening. “We knew a little bit about where he was going, where he was heading. We had very good information that he was going to another location,” recalled Trump. “He didn’t go. Two or three efforts were canceled because he decided to change his mind, constantly changing his mind. And finally, we saw that he was here, held up here. “This was one where we knew he was there, and you can never be 100% sure because you’re basing it on technology more than anything else. But we thought he was there, and then we got a confirmation,” Trump added. Saturday’s operation was the most consequential U.S. military raid since the operation to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011. The operation showcased the United States’ impressive military might. Carrying out pinpoint assassinations is notoriously difficult from an intelligence perspective; unlike traditional military targets such as bases, ammo dumps, and airports, raids such as this one demand actionable intelligence. In other words, intelligence officers not only need to know where the target is currently – an extraordinarily difficult feat – it must figure out where he will be in the future in order to allow commandos to train and arrive at the scene. With wanted jihadists such as al-Baghdadi avoiding electronic devices, the formidable National Security Agency (NSA) couldn’t hack him or his associates. As a result, CIA and military intelligence needed to rely on human sources, a field with which the American intel community has traditionally struggled.

The End or Split of ISIS? Al-Baghdadi’s successful liquidation comes following President Trump’s much maligned decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria in order to enable Turkey to massacre the Kurds. However, the withdrawal is also seen as a boon to ISIS and could very well allow the group to make a comeback. Amid the chaos of the hastily planned pullout, 3,000 ISIS high value prisoners were freed from a U.S. holding facility in Syria. In addition, Trump’s drawdown of forces can



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The site of the raid after U.S. forces leveled the compound

now let ISIS fight unhindered by U.S. operations and airstrikes. Al-Baghdadi’s death will likely have only a negligible effect on the organization’s functioning, which is influenced more by external factors than by who stands at its head. Leaders of terror groups generally fall into one of two categories. Either they are “spiritual” leaders who inspire attacks and recruit followers due to their religious rhetoric or they are blessed with tactical acumen allowing them to pull off spectacular attacks with a high death toll. An example of the former would be Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a quadriplegic who couldn’t even hold a weapon yet founded an organization that now controls the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, an example of a leader who rose to prominence for his military skills is Imad Mughniah, the Hezbollah chief of staff who was considered the world’s deadliest terrorist before the Mossad killed him Damascus. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was unquestionably a spiritual leader. His involvement in actually planning attacks and other operational activity was low, and he generally delegated daily military matters to subordinates. As a result, his removal from the head of the terrorist group will then have little effect on ISIS’s military capacity, its force structure, and its ability to acquire and transport weapons. Finally, pinpoint assassinations of terror bigwigs have historically had a negligible effect on the organization’s

overall ability to function. During the second intifada, Israel sent hundreds of terrorists to their Maker. While the constant removal of terror commanders proved to be a setback to the groups in question, it never deterred their long-term ability to function. The examples are many. In 1988, commandos from the IDF’s vaunted Sayeret Matkal Special Forces unit killed Fatah co-founder Abu Jihad in Tunisia. Today, Fatah is alive and well. In 1995, Mossad operatives assassinated Palestinian Islamic Jihad founder Fathi Shkaki in Malta, yet the terror group currently possess more missiles than Hamas in Gaza. Neither did the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in an airstrike 15 years ago prevent Hamas from continuing to build itself up to the point that it now runs the Gaza Strip. However, this is not to say that there aren’t any benefits in assassinating al-Baghdadi. The raid was a valuable victory for the U.S. and the free world overall. In addition, the leadership vacuum the assassination will cause can result in the group splitting apart in a succession battle. An illustration of what is liable to happen to ISIS can be seen in Mexico’s war on the drug cartels. After declaring war on the country’s narcotics industry in 2006, Mexican officials based their strategy on targeted assassinations and arrests of cartel leaders. Yet instead of reducing the killing, the pinpoint assassinations had the opposite effect. Rather than disappear after

a successful liquidation, the heavily armed cartels would split up and fight a violent succession battle between their former leader’s deputies. This led to skyrocketing bloodshed and is a major reason why over a quarter of Mexicans have been killed since 2006.

While ISIS is not a cartel and Syria is not Mexico, a similar result isn’t out of the cards. Time, of course, will tell if al-Baghdadi’s death will spell the end of one of the bloodiest terrorist organizations around.

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The Week In News

OCTOBER 31, 2019 | The Jewish Home

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