Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Trucks and tweets; Truths and tall tales

I finally gave in to the temptation and blogged about what's happening in southern Israel. As always, I would be grateful for you to read, comment, agree or disagree as you see fit, and share with others.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bringing on the snow - literally: NEW BLOG LOCATION!!!

As many of you know, I now have the privilege of being on the staff of the exciting new English language news site, The Times of Israel. As a part of this wonderful opportunity I have also moved my blog from its previous location to the Times of Israel website - so here is my very first blog with our brand new online venture. As always, you are all invited to read it, enjoy, comment, and of course share my pearls with your family and friends :-)

Read it here (and check out the whole site while you're at it - it's really good stuff!)

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Confessions of a LIBERAL

So apparently, I am officially a “LIBERAL”. I never really thought of myself that way, but then again, as I’ve maintained since I launched this blog, I've never really thought of myself as fitting into any labels or pat descriptions. But last week I was accused (apparently it is a blemish on any self-respecting Jew) of being a LIBERAL – in caps because I was being yelled at (according to online etiquette).

The accusation came in an exchange on a thread in a Facebook group in which I responded to a picture which I personally believe is inaccurate. You may have seen this picture – it shows a man's back with the Israeli flag on it being stabbed, and on the arm holding the knife is written “Obama”.

I am not, and never have been a supporter of President Obama, and I do not believe that his policies and statements are favorable to Israel. I know that many people – Jews and others will disagree with this and that is certainly their prerogative – I have no intention or interest in debating the merits or implications of US policy towards Israel – but my personal opinion is that Obama is not one whom I would consider a “friend” in the international arena.

But that does not mean that he has “betrayed” us. Too many Israelis and American supporters of Israel seem to think that President Obama, and indeed the United States “owes” Israel their loyalty and support. But Obama was not elected to look out for Israel’s interests and he is in no way accountable or answerable to Israel. His mandate, as with every US president before him, is to do what he believes will most further American interests. If he honestly believes that it is best for the United States to support Palestinian statehood, then not only is it his right to do so, it is in fact his responsibility.

I realize that I am walking a fine line on this one, so I will do my best to be absolutely clear. I do not want to discuss whether or not Obama actually is a friend to Israel or whether or not he is giving priority to the Palestinian claims and cause over Israel's. That is really neither here nor there, and it is irrelevant to the point that I do feel is the important one here.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Obama’s positions are in fact pro-Palestinian. We can make a very strong case that would disagree with those positions, and we can make an equally strong case that supporting the Palestinian over the Israeli claims is in fact not truly in America’s best interests. But I don’t see how we can say that Obama is “wrong” for believing what he does if he truly believes it to be what is best for American interests.

We can say that he not a friend of Israel – he has many supporters who claim otherwise, but we have a right to disagree based on his statements and actions as president.

We can say that his policies and his stands increase the already incredible challenges that we have in struggling for our very existence.

But we cannot say that he is “stabbing us in the back”. For that to be true, he would have to owe us a certain loyalty and support. These are what he owes to his country, not to ours. Of course I would personally prefer that he gave us that support, not because he has to but because he would see that it is in the best interest of America as well as the world.

So that was my basic response to the picture (I didn’t go on nearly as long there as I did here, but that’s one of those pesky differences between a blog and a Facebook thread). At no time did I say, or even imply that I support Obama (because I don’t) nor did I say or imply that I think he is a friend to Israel.

But the response from one woman was quick and violent (well, as violent as one can get in a Facebook thread). She screamed (again – by using lots of CAPITAL LETTERS) that stabbing Israel in the back is exactly what (and now I quote) “Satan's son is DOING to his ALLY ISRAEL. He's nothing but a MOOZLEM Islam-loving TRAITOR!!!!!! DEVIL in Disguise”.

Once she made it clear what Obama is doing (apparently not merely her opinion, but an indisputable fact) she went on to attack me for having the audacity to voice an opinion – a wrong one at that – with which she does not agree, “And what BOTHERS ME in this above comment, is that I strongly sense your LIBERAL inclination…if you were to make such a Commie statement in our other CONSERVATIVE group, you would be banned on the spot WITHOUT a single DOUBT!!!”

So there! Not only am I a LIBERAL, but I am also a Commie!

For all of my attempts to clarify my position, this woman absolutely refused to calm down, she continued blasting me for being such a LIBERAL, refused my request/challenge to show what I had written which was so “LIBERAL”, and then even complained about my rudeness. Apparently the polite, gentlemanly thing would have been for me to humbly acknowledge that she was absolutely right (and I use that word in every sense of its meaning) and then go to my room to think about what I had done.

But who knows? In spite of the fact that I don’t see Obama as a friend to Israel, and as an Israeli I would rather see a US president who I feel is more sympathetic to Israel’s concerns, perhaps I still am a “liberal” (or, if it is in fact a curse, a “LIBERAL”). Let’s examine it for a moment.

If being a LIBERAL means that I support gay rights and gay marriage, then maybe I am a LIBERAL.

If being a LIBERAL means that I have seen a lot of the advantages of Israel's socialized medicine and would love to see a similar system operating in America, then maybe I am a LIBERAL.

If being a LIBERAL means that I believe that marijuana does not pose nearly the dangers of cigarettes and alcohol, and would be happy to see it legalized – albeit with certain restrictions and safeguards similar to those in place for cigarettes and alcohol, then maybe I am a LIBERAL.

If being a LIBERAL means that I believe that the government should have absolutely no say in a woman’s decision to abort a fetus, and thatno, it is definitely NOT “murder”, then maybe I am a LIBERAL.

But of course – none of those issues are the burning ones for me as an Israeli, so let’s expand things a little bit.

If being a LIBERAL means that I can accept the possibility that Israelis can have “left-wing” views - even ones which I do not share - without being self-hating enemies of Israel, then OK - I am a LIBERAL.

If being a LIBERAL means that I refuse to lump all Arabs and Muslims together under the umbrella label of “evil”, then OK - I am a LIBERAL.

If being a LIBERAL means that I don’t use my religious beliefs as a basis for my political views then OK - I am a LIBERAL.

And if being a LIBERAL means that I don’t see foreign leaders as “betraying” Israel when they do not share my view of the correct and just solution for the conflict here, then once again, I guess I am a LIBERAL.

There is no shortage of people with whose opinions I disagree – sometimes very strongly, yet never have I felt the need to label or insult those with whom I disagree or to invalidate their views. Maybe that makes me a LIBERAL.

Worse yet, I never feel the need to convince others that my view is the “right” one, and that they need to see things my way is what makes me a LIBERAL.

Don't get me wrong - I do enjoying sharing my views, hearing the views of others, and I enjoy the intellectual challenge of being forced to defend and reinforce my opinions and conclusions. And I am very happy to accept that I don’t agree with someone, and even worse – that they don’t agree with me.

That is just so damn LIBERAL of me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Bus on the Bridge

When it happened last week, I thought it was an anomaly so I let it slide. But when it happened again today I realized that I can no longer ignore it.

I have started going to Jerusalem for a new part-time job (too early to give details, but suffice to say that so far I am very happy with the work and am looking forward to seeing this turn into a long-term thing). Last Thursday and again today, I rode both the train and the bus within Jerusalem, both of which had several Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) male passengers and several women dressed in various stages of “modesty” – some with skirts above their knees, some in shirt sleeves, or in jeans/slacks – even one or two with some cleavage showing.

And then, on these local buses and trains within Jerusalem….

… (dramatic chord as per a wonderful Monty Python sketch)…

…nothing happened!

Before you object that this cannot be, I will tell you that I was shocked as well. But there you have it.

None of the Haredi men were so overcome with lust that they jumped the bones of these evil temptress women.

None of the women felt the need to brush up against, bend down in front of, or in any other way attempt to lure the poor defenseless men into abandoning their personal convictions of gender-relations.

There was no name-calling or shouting (at least not beyond the normal amount of name-calling and shouting that one expects to hear on an inner-Jerusalem bus or train), no anger, animosity or alienation (the Triple-A of Israeli society).

In short, everybody acted like decent people and nobody bothered anyone that may have been different than themselves.

If this does not strike you as odd, then clearly you have not been following the news recently from Israel. While there is a long history of tension between the Haredi community and the rest of Israel, in the past few months it has boiled over with several absolutely shocking incidents.

In Jerusalem many Haredi men have been trying to force women to sit in the backs of buses, and have verbally attacked women who have refused to do so. In certain Haredi neighborhoods the men have been working to segregate the streets so as to avoid any contact whatsoever with women. Jerusalem has also seen a “policy” in which has become forbidden to allow even pictures of women on advertisements, in newspapers, etc.

Most of the world was (rightfully) shocked and horrified when many Haredi men in Beit Shemesh (a bedroom community 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem) were yelling at, cursing, spitting on and physically attacking girls as young as 8 years old who, while religiously observant and modestly dressed, were not quite dressed to the standards that these men believed they should be (never mind the fact that these girls from religious families were not even partof teh Haredi community whose men were determining exactly how they should be dressed!).

Even the once-sacred IDF has not been immune as some rabbis have determined that their followers should not sit in military gatherings in which women sing, so they have ruled that the religious soldiers should walk out of these events. Understandably the IDF does not agree to make these events “optional” and will not allow soldiers to choose between their commanding officers and their rabbis. As a result, certain rabbinical leaders are calling on their followers to no longer serve in the IDF.

I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to say that in the 24 years that I have lived in Israel, and observed/experienced the tensions between the Haredi community and the rest of Israeli society, the tensions, mistrust and downright hatred has never been as prevalent as in the past few months. The resentment that the secular and National-Religious communities feel towards the Haredim feels to be at an all-time high, and the sense of attempted religious coercion from the Haredim onto the rest of Israel is stronger than ever.

Yet last Thursday when I was in Jerusalem and again this morning, I saw none of that.

This basically means one of two things. Possibly the tensions are not really as high as we have been led to believe, and the events which have been so well documented in the media have been blown out of proportion, Alternately it is possible – even likely – that while the fanatics are very real, and very loud, and not being reined in by their own leaders, there are still enough members of the Haredi community showing us that normalcy and co-existence are possible (yes, I know that we generally refer to “co-existence” as the ability of Jews and Arabs to live peacefully side-by-side, but the unfortunate irony today is that it is equally significant when discussing Jews living amongst themselves).

I am hoping and praying that we can return to the “normalcy” of what I have seen on my recent trips to Jerusalem. Peaceful co-existence within Israeli society (between Jews and Arabs as well as Jews among Jews) need not be rooted in universal agreement on religious, political and social issues, nor need it be based upon completely ignoring and avoiding one another.

Rather, it can happen when communities – and more significantly, individuals learn that respect and acceptance are not the same as agreement.

We don’t need to see eye-to-eye on issues – whether they be religious, political, social, or whatever as long as can find it in ourselves to accept and to respect the differences between us. What we especially need is a smidgen of the humility necessary to remind us that no matter how obvious the facts may seem to be, there is the outside possibility that we just might be mistaken. It’s OK if we are – it can happen to the very best of us. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in the blog Toy Store Theology, even the greatest leaders and heroes of the Bible were not above occasionally missing the proverbial mark, so if it turns out that it happens to me every now and then, I can live with that.

Tomorrow night there is a lecture taking place in my city of Modi’in, one which sounds very interesting and I wish that I was able to attend (I’m not, as it turns out). The lecture, being delivered by a rabbi, is entitled "Bridging the Gulf - Understanding the Haredi World.” One of the stated purposes of the talk is to offer a “glimpse into the Haredi world” and I am assuming by the title of the program that the idea is to enable non-Haredim to better understand Haredim and thus be more charitable in how they relate to Haredim, particularly in light of the recent tensions.

I’m all for the idea of understanding the “other” and therefore accepting without judgement our differences, but I cannot help but to wonder (knowing deep inside what the answer is) if a similar lecture ever could and ever would take place within the Haredi community. Would a Modern-Orthodox rabbi, let alone a Conservative or reform rabbi be invited and welcomed into a Haredi setting to give them a chance to understand how non-Haredim think? What about a secular Jew, or – God Forbid – a woman (even if she promises not to sing)?

Of course this would never happen. It seems that the only hope we have of “Bridging the Gap” is if the non-Haredi world makes an effort to understand and make allowances for Haredim. It’s a one-way street and seems to be leading nowhere.

The whole situation reminds me too much of an Emo Phillips stand-up comedy routine that I have always loved. His is possibly the most annoying voice I have ever heard, but his comedy is hysterically funny.

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! Don’t do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!"
He said, “Like what?" I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?"
He said, "Religious." I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
He said, "Christian." I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
He said, "Baptist!" I said, “Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
He said, “Baptist Church of God" I said, "Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God!" I said, "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"
He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!"
I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off.

This joke used to be much funnier before it started to feel like Israeli society is on that bridge, with the women being banished to the back of the bus and the bus heading right over the guard rail and into the water.

Hopefully the buses and trains that I have been on so far are the ones that will drive far away from the bridge. And we can find the budget to buy more vehicles for that particular route.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Inclining Towards The Evil In Me

We had a couple of role reversals in our home last night.

While most Wednesdays it is on me, last night Sharon had to pick up Limor, our 7-year-old from gymnastics, bring her home and get both Limor and 10-year-old Revital fed, ready for bed, finishing homework etc. while I had a doctor’s appointment.

And of course, with Murphy alive and well and enforcing his law in our home, since Sharon usually does not have to do the evening routine solo, last night Limor had one of her very rare major "melt-downs".

When I called to check in with things at home after my appointment, Sharon said that she could really use me there ASAP, so home I went. I walked in to hear Limor crying and yelling in her bedroom as Sharon was coming back into the living room to help Revital with some homework. So I asked if she minded me going in to talk to Limor (sometimes it’s best to let one parent deal with a crisis from beginning to end, and any intervention should always be agreed upon), and Sharon gave me the green light to go for it.

I walked into the bedroom, Limor was still crying very hard so I very calmly asked her “What’s going on? Why are you having such a tantrum tonight?” Her answer – through the tears, the crying and the near hyper-ventilation was “My yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination) made me do it”.

I should say here that in 10 years of being a father I have learned that possibly the most important trait necessary for good parenting is the ability to not break out laughing when your child is very sad, or angry, or both – no matter how life-threateningly funny what the child says may be!

And by that measuring stick, I definitely passed the “Good Daddy” test last night because I didn’t even break a smile, even though this was easily one the funniest and most gosh-darmed adorable things I have ever heard a child say.

I even managed to help Limor calm down and get to sleep not long after that. I told her that I know she is much stronger than her yetzer ha-ra, and if she feels that it’s too strong for her, then her body is telling her that she is too tired to fight the yetzer ha-ra the way she otherwise could. Surprisingly enough, she bought this, and agreed to finish her bedtime routine and go to sleep. Crisis ended, Peace once again reigns.

But the whole thing got me to thinking (a rare enough occurrence, by any measure). We never discuss with the kids the idea of yetzer ha-ra. Not that we don’t believe in it, but simply because it doesn’t come up in conversation. It does not play a role in our daily lives. Yet this was not the first time that Limor has brought it up, and not the first time that she has very recently used it to explain behavior that she knew she should not be exhibiting. The obvious explanation for it being at the forefront of her thoughts is that she is learning about it in school.

Our girls go to what is referred to in Israel as a “State-Religious school”. That is to say, a school that is under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Education, it meets the requirements for secular studies, while placing an emphasis on religious studies and the teachers serve as Religious Zionist role models. While this definitely works for us, it does present certain challenges.

When I first started this blog, I defined myself as a “Monotype” (if you feel like a stroll down memory lane, you are welcome to read here my "pilot entry" to this blog), as opposed to being a “stereotype” since I don’t really fall into any of the religious or political stereotypes, which in Israel tend to be very clear-cut. Enrolling the kids in a State-Religious school means that the education they receive embodies the “stereotypical” religious and Zionist approach, some of which is in line with our beliefs, and some of which puts me a little bit on edge.

For example – this whole yetzer ha-ra thing. I am extremely uncomfortable with my kids learning that when they misbehave, it’s really not their fault – it’s their yetzer ha-ra. They are innocent victims, and their “evil inclination” is the fallback plan to excuse whatever they’ve done. It’s almost like the all-too-over-played “temporary insanity” card used to acquit people of all sorts of heinous crimes.

I want the girls to understand the concept of yetzer ha-ra, and to understand that it is something with which we all must struggle. But ultimately, I want them to also understand that they are responsible for their actions, for their behavior, and for whatever the consequences may be be for their actions and behavior. Just as they receive (and deserve) the full credit for the good that they do (and Thank God there is no shortage of that with our girls), they are also accountable for their tantrums and misbehaving.

Similarly, the manner in which Torah is often taught, or Jewish and Israeli history, or the Jewish-Palestinian issue, all have good foundations from an educational standpoint, but are certainly not the only ways to understand these subjects, and not always in sync with how Sharon and I approach the issues and want our girls to learn them.

And so if falls on our shoulders to “balance” the education they receive in school. What makes this a particularly daunting challenge is that it all needs to be balanced with teaching the girls the proper respect for their teachers and rabbis. Yes, as they grow older the girls will learn that there are in fact appropriate times and appropriate ways to disagree with their teachers, but with that should also come the understanding that disagreeing does not mean completely disregarding - or disrespecting what is being taught.

I hope that what I said last night to Limor didn’t put into her mind to go to school today and tell her teacher that what she taught about the yetzer ha-ra was “wrong”, yet hopefully I was able to still give her an alternate understanding of what the yetzer ha-ra may or may not be.

While I know this challenge will continue, even increase throughout the years that our girls are receiving an education outside of the home, I can take a certain comfort in the knowledge that if I am in fact wrong in my attempts to “balance” out what they get in school that it’s probably not my fault – it’s just my yetzer ha-ra