Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Israel's Yad Veshem - Holocaust Memorial

"The Unknown Righteous Among the Nations"
Monument at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial & Museum in Israel

Although this was my second time to Israel's National Holocaust Memorial & Museum it had the same, if not more powerful effect on me. Once again, Elliott Chodoff provided incredible depth and insight to the tour. Moving through room after room of stories and artifacts that brought alive the tragedy that gripped the world not so long ago. I still can't help but feel the panic and helplessness for a population who were hunted down and exterminated by a major industrial world power of the time. The world stood by and watched as the Jews were systematically collected and killed. The Germans simply did not get rid of all of the Jews in Germany, they were set to find and eliminate all of the Jews throughout the entire world! 
The individual stories that were depicted were difficult to hear. The movie footage and pictures were attempting to give a sense of how the anti-Semitic wave came to a crest and crashed upon the world during the Nazi's regime.  Even with all of the artifacts, testimonials, pictures, movies, modern videos, government documentation, records, and the like it is still difficult to believe the extent of what occurred. Further more, it was perpetuated by educated "modern" thinkers, many of whom had doctorate degrees in humanities. 
Going here takes me to a dark place that is reminiscent of sublime, impossible nightmares of what hell must be like. A world gone mad. It made me think: We can't let things like this happen. We mustn't be the victims of these atrocities, nor must we allow ourselves to let fear and hate turn US into being the killing monsters of genocide. It is all too easy to fall down the slippery slope of dehumanization. This is why activating the idea of Universal Life Values is so important.

Where Ever I Go EVERYONE is Safer Because I Am There.
Where Ever I Am Anyone in Need Has a Friend.
When Ever I Go Home People Are Glad That I Am There.
It's a Better Life. 

~Robert Humphrey


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Personal Story at Israel's Mt. Herzel

Troops on parade at Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery

Mount Herzl has served as Israel's national cemetery since 1951, following a government decision to establish a cemetery for Israeli leaders and fallen soldiers. Mt. Herzl is the burial place of three of  Israel's prime ministers:  Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin (who is buried beside his wife Leah). Israeli presidents are also buried on Mt. Herzl, as are other prominent Jewish and Zionist leaders. Mt. Herzl is the venue for many commemorative events and national celebrations.

Although the cemetery is filled with countless hero's of Israel's past I want to talk about one very alive young man named Don (Name changed to protect his identity). I had the pleasure to meet and talk to Don, a young man Born in the United States who decided to become a Israeli citizen and join the Israeli army. He is currently completing his training in one of the toughest special forces /counter terrorist divisions in the world: Israeli Army's Duvdevan. He took time from his tough training schedule to talk to us about his life, why he decided to join the Israeli Army and what his life was like here. He filled us in on the history and realities of military life. He told us what it was like to live here from the States and live in the army. He loves what he is doing and although it is difficult he wouldn't have it any other way.

Keep going Don. I admire your courage.

Stay safe out there!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Krav Maga Training on Israel's Legendary Masada

Jennifer & Vanda learn how to escape from a rear choke using Israeli Krav Maga

We got an early start to drive to Israel's legendary Masada. Once there we prepared to hike up the side of the rock plateau to see the ancient structures and hear the legend of how a few hundred brave Jewish Rebels went head to head against the strongest empire of the day, Rome. The ancient palace and fortification on top of the natural rock plateau were originally built by King Herod in the Southern District of Israel on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. In the first century CE during the final push of the First Jewish–Roman War, the Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire led to the mass suicide of the Sicarii rebels. Until recently new IDF soldiers were sworn in on top of Masada by torch light. To put things into an American perspective, Masada is to the Israeli's, what the Alamo is to Texans. of the

The sun was hot, but not unbearable. Once in the shadow of the rock face it was actually pretty nice. The climb was a nice workout that felt good after being in the tour van for so long this week. Elliott stopped our accent a few times to fill us in on how the Romans would lay siege on to the Jewish Rebels of Masada. He showed us the ruins of the 7 foot siege wall, the outpost and command center that the Roman soldiers built around the entire rock plateau. Elliott explained how it only took the soldiers about one week to do this. It was amazing that their was still remnants of the structures left after two thousand years of erosion. Elliott went on to explain that the command building was positioned in such a way that the commander could actually talk to the people on top of Masada. I'm sure what was said between them was less than friendly. 

We continued to climb the steep stairs until we finally reached the summit. Looking down we could see the remains of the ramp that the Roman soldiers built that went from the ground below all the way up to the top of the plateau. The Romans used Jewish slaves to build the ramp to stop the rebels from attempting to harm the workers as they built the ramp. You can read about the rest of the story by clicking here

Vanda escapes her husband James hold on her Krav style!

As an intermission between Elliott's commentary, Mike Benson and I rounded the crew up for some Krav Maga training. I had the honor of introducing six Americans to authentic Israeli Krav Maga on the top of legendary Masada! Not a bad day at all! How many people can say that their first Krav Maga lesson was on Masada in Israel!? 

One of the main things that I wanted to get across regarding Krav Maga went beyond technique. It was about the attitude, so what better place to get that point across than on top of Masada!? That's the true essence of Krav Maga! Those people who stood up against the Roman's chose between really bad and and a whole lot worse. They believed it was better to chose to die in a manner that they controlled, a more dignified way than succumb to the fate that they would have at the hands of the Roman Army. A tough decision would be an understatement. 

Keep going,

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Israeli / Palestinian Controversy: A Conference With Jerusalem Post's Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh

  Khaled Abu Toameh

During a recent trip to Israel I had the unique opportunity to be part of an intimate conference with renowned journalist  Khaled Abu Toameh. Khaled is an Israeli Arab journalist, lecturer and documentary filmmaker. He is the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and U.S. News and World Report, and has been the Palestinian affairs producer for NBC News since 1988. His articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, World Tribune, and many other newspapers. Khaled spoke to us about his experience and opinions on the Palestinian / Israeli situation. Fascinating doesn't even begin to describe what the next couple of hours were.
The room was electric with both excitement and curiosity as each of us sat in our chairs, giving Khaled our undivided attention. He began by saying that there are currently 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel making up about 20% of Israels total population. These people are called Arab Israelis.  He went on to say that he used to work for a PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization)  paper as a journalist before he began to write as an Israeli and intentional correspondent. He said that the Palestine/Arab factions do not allow freedom of press and any reporter that is critical toward the government would be censored and in danger of imprisonment, violence or even death. Being a reporter in this part of the world can be very dangerous. The violence continued to ramp up and in September of 2000 it became very dangerous going to the West Bank and Gaza as a reporter. In 2006's Yasser Arafat went against the Hamas in an open election. The Hamas was a strong party that made promises and semed better than the PLO in the eyes of the people.  They promised the desperate Palestinians change and reform. This sentiment combined with the Palestinian people being mad at the PLO, believing that they were cheating them made the Hamas seem like a better deal, winning them the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. Currently 1.5 million in Gaza are run by Hamas.

This discussion made me wonder, so what happens when a free democratic election elects a terrorist organization or dictator to take power? It's happened before. We think of free democratic elections as being good, however is that always the case?

Khaled  feels that if the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) were to leave the West Bank that the Fatah (PLO) would be removed by Hamas. Fatah is the largest faction of the PLO. For those of you who are wondering, Hamas runs the Gaza strip and Fatah runs the West Bank. He continued to say that there were two basic types of Islamic groups in Palestine: Radical: Those who want all the Israeli land back and Israel to be destroyed. Moderate: Those who want to see Israel give back all the land that they acquired 1967's 6 day war. Both of these groups want an "all or nothing" deal and Khaled firmly believed that they would not compromise in the slightest. Khaled explained that both groups know that this would be impossible which fuels their continued resistance, however, any concessions would not be considered.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Israel: Rugged People, Warm Hearts

As you have been reading in my blog, Time Magazine, USA Today or watching CNN, you may get the impression that Israel is full of dangerous places and people. Well, I must admit, to a certain degree that is true, there are plenty of things that have happened, are happening or have the potential to happen that are of grave concern, however there is also a beautiful side of Israel. A side that is too often overlooked. Beneath the fighting and unrest lays a prosperous land and wonderful people who are living in an uncertain world, yet they face each day refusing to give up hope. The strength and perseverance that I see in the eyes of the people that I have met is humbling. It won't be much longer that I will be back in the good ol'e U.S.of A where we have things so good that we can let entitlement, pettiness and useless drama rule our lives. - Earlier today I was in Ashkelon, Sderot and (viewed) the Gaza Strip while Elliot Chordoff (an American born Israeli who is a government expert on terrorism) briefed us on the history of conflicts fought between Israel, its neighbors and residents. Later, I went to a local school and youth center. These people are amazing. Their strength in the midst of war is inspiring. The threat of terrorist attacks is something they live with every day. Over 10k rockets hit Sderot in the past decade. The last one only one week ago, they choose to survive and continue to live their lives every day in the face of this reality! If you ask me, it makes my crappiest day look pretty good. Everyday these people are wondering if they will lose their own life or the life of a loved one at the hands of a terrorist, while we in American get ticked off if our Starbucks Latte isn't the right consistency or temperature (not to say that isn't important, but common, really?!? Are you kiddin' me!?!)ridiculous! - The hospitality has been amazing. Under the rugged exterior of these tenacious people are warm hearts, laughter and hutzpa! The hospitality and food has been so great I am going to have to lose 10 pounds when I get back home! The hummus is off the hook! - It is difficult not to admire the strength of these people when you experience their humor, and realistic no-non-sense view of life. I am already looking forward to the next trip out here! More on this later. All the best, -Craig

Friday, May 18, 2012

IDF Soldier lets me take a look at his M4 while on Israeli Army Base near Lebanon boarder - - - - Quite the busy day yesterday. We began with Elliot Chodoff giving us the the rundown of the Lebanese / Israeli conflict(s), past present and (possible) future. We stood just off the deserted road listening to Elliot give us the intimate details of the things most people only see on CNN. We could see the Pale UN boarder marker on the Israeli/Lebanese border and felt the wind from the IDF armored patrols as they sped by us in their converted Hummers. Looking up on the hill above us was a Hezbollah outpost close enough to almost touch. It's one thing watching this on the news, it's another thing seeing it up close. The feeling was rather eerie. Once again I found myself in this strange sublime place between worlds; the West and the Middle East. Two very different places. After being properly briefed by Elliot, we were taken to two IDF Military Bases that were on the boarder between the two warring countries. Both of the bases were operated and commanded by young Israeli's. The women (mostly between the ages of 18 and 21 yrs old) were running the command center and young men were at the other base who were responsible for maintaining the sometimes violent boarder. As we were visiting the fortified machine gun and surveillance bunkers we witnessed a small unit of the soldiers respond to and investigate a possible security threat that occurred just below our position. We watched intently as the soldiers got out of their Hummer and surveyed the area where the disturbance was reported. The small three man team fanned out in formation and secured the area. Luckily it was nothing to be alarmed about, however the Major who was commanding the outpost said that there have been ambushes and Car bombs in the past and it was always a possibility... Once again I was reminded that we're not in Kansas anymore Toto! After we got out of the bunkers, we had lunch with the soldiers in their mess hall. The food complete with ample supplies of hummus (of course) was really good! Once we finished eating, The Conquerors International Strength Team's Mike Benson and Greg Molchan put on a brief feats of strength show and voiced support toward the troops and Israel. After the show we all talked and got pictures of everyone. To our surprise the troops let us try out their M4's... Well, we didn't get to shoot them, but we did get to handle them as youncan see from the pictures. They gave Mike and I some pointers on proper positioning while in the standing position. The troops seemed to be moved and gave us embroidered hats from their unit. Now let me explain something about the hats; these weren't just any hats, these hats were the soldiers very own hats, the one's that they were wearing themselves that they gave as appreciation for us coming out and showing them our support. As we left, the Maj. Of their base told us how much it meant to the soldiers; it really boosted their morale regarding their purpose and having our support. It helped them to feel less alone out there in the eyes of the world. Each of us were moved. - - Stay tuned! More to come! - - Stay safe, -Craig

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Northern Israel: Golan Heights and the Lebanon & Syrian Boarders

Tank Mines near the Syrian / Israeli Boarder

Here we are, day two of Israel. The group got kicked out of Capernaim... Shorts not allowed! St. Peter won't you let me in!? =) Since that planned Went FUBAR we decided to continue exploring the Golan Heights of Northern Israel by the Lebonan / border. Being careful to avoid the mine fields left behind by the Syrian army (With help from the Russians) we viewed some of the old and new dividing lines between these often warring countries. Major Elliot Chodoff explained some of the critical battles. He took us step by step through the strategy, tactics, and outcomes of these conflicts, which shaped the State of Israel. It was difficult to conceive all of the fighting, terror and death that was witnessed here while we toured with friends on such a beautiful day. The birds were chirping, the wind blowing, the sky was blue, the weather perfect and in spite of all of this, the tales of what unfolded in this place lead me to think and attempt to put my mind around the gravity of what was sacrificed and fought for over the years. - After we came down from our discussions of the various battles of Israel's not so distant past, we loaded up in some off road Jeeps for some four wheeling in the Golan Heights. I rode shotgun next to Joseph who was driving his Baja style Jeep. Joseph reminded me of an Israeli version of a surfer. A Cool dude! He was a very happy guy who has a wife who is expecting their fourth kid, they live on a kibbutz and although being 45 years old, he still volunteers in the IDF. As a matter of fact, he was telling us that he was just doing some counter terrorism training this past weekend. They were practicing extracting people from barracks in the kibbutz. He was very excited about still serving in the IDF. We enjoyed a nice conversation and I appreciated his attitude toward life! - After a half day of off roading, we stopped back in the middle of nowhere, walked back through the woods and had a great homemade picnic inside of an ancient Arab wheat mill. The food which was made by Joseph's wife, was excellent and the location was incredible as well! - We explored some other sites and saw firsthand some of the cities in Northern Israel that are still directly threatened by Lebonan terrorist organizations. It is sublime to consider the threat that these people live under while they carry on their day to day lives. - After going back to the hotel to freshen up the group talked about Middle Eastern Politics, Jewish tradition, Biblical translation, and pretty much anything else under the sun, while we ate at this restaurant on the Sea of Galilee. This place called Decks was out of this world. It is located on an open air deck (of course) and served course after course of the most fabulous food yet! Great conversation, food and ambiance! The perfect end to a perfect day! - And now it is time for me to hit the hay! Tomorrow it's off with Elliot to an IDF Base near the Lebonese border to meet some of the troops and view the facility. - Good night all. Stay safe, -Craig

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Israel 2012... Back in The Land of Krav

El Al Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel

Touched down in Tel Aviv this morning about 12:45 am (Israeli Time), up at 7am for a day of touring and talking with Israeli Defense Force Maj. Elliot Chodoff. What a great day! A Huge Thanks to The Conquerors for having me accompany them on their tour. The day began with a tour of Caesarea, built by King Herod of the Roman Period. The extensive seaside ruins include structures from the Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader time periods. We explored an amphitheater, Crusader harbor, 12th Century ramparts and Recently uncovered hippodrome. Amazing! After the tour we ate an incredible kosher lunch at an Italian restaurant at the site. Our next stop took us to a 2nd Century Jewish cave burial ground. This site was first discovered in the 1930's and continues to be excavated uncovering more sarcophagi. Another interesting thing I find with some of these site in countries as old as Israel, is that they are often found in the middle of everyday life like in this case, a regular neighborhood. After getting a better look at the Jezreel Valley we then toured and had a wonderful homemade dinner at Ofer and Atcilit's Moshav, Nahalal. Nahalal is a small agricultural town (Moshav). It was founded in 1921 on land that was purchased by the Jewish National Fund. It's founders we're Eastern European Jews who wished to create a communal cooperative community enabling each settler personal fulfillment in his home, farm And family life. The first settlers initially worked in Kibbutz but felt that keeping their individual family structures were also important, so they broke away and formed Israel's first and only Moshav. The hospitality was simply amazing as was the freshly grown and prepared vegetarian dinner! Throughout the day Elliot shared insights and stories of his experiences fighting Israel's war against terrorism in the Second Lebanon War, Gaza Strip and other military operations. It is hearing stories like Elliot's and (once again) experiencing Israel directly that gives me a much deeper understanding of what Krav Maga is about. It has more to do with attitude than it does with technique. Tomorrow we are off to the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights! Talk to you all later. Best, -Craig