Friday, November 4, 2011

From Abraham Down To Asher

We're going to Be'er Sheva for Shabbat. Known as the "Capital of the Negev" (the Negev is the desert in the southern half of Israel), Be'er Sheva was one of the first modern cities established in the Negev, as well as the biggest. We have several extremely close friends there so we try to visit whenever we can, and we always have a wonderful time. This Shabbat will be extra special because one of the families with whom we are close is celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of their oldest son, and we will be joining in the celebration.

While we always look forward to our time in Be'er Sheva, this time I'm also a little bit wary. Over the past week or so, Israel was (once again) on the receiving end of a lot of missiles lobbed at our cities in the south, including Be'er Sheva.

I honestly don't know how much this has been reported in the States and Europe. Maybe I'm being cynical, but it seems that in order to get the international media to report attacks on Israel, we need to first respond to the attacks and have the Palestinian leadership cry out to the world for help because they are being bullied. Then the world takes notice that something is going on, they call for "restraint" by all parties, and complain to Israel for a "disproportional response" to the attacks (what exactly IS a proportional response to unprovoked attacks on our cities and the civilians who live in them? The world has yet to share that tidbit with us).

Of course, nobody accused Israel of a "disproportional response" when we recently agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian terrorists – many of whom with Israeli blood on their hands – in exchange for one Israeli soldier. You can argue (and most Israelis still are) whether or not this was a "good" deal, but it's pretty clear that this was definitely a "disproportional response."

Anyway - back to Be'er Sheva: for the first half of this week, schools throughout the south were closed – children and their parents stayed as close to home as possible while still trying to maintain some sense of "normalcy" in their daily lives while making sure that they and their loved ones were at all times close to a bomb shelter.

For the last couple of days, things seem to have quieted down a bit. Much to their chagrin (but to the delighted relief of their parents) children went back to school on Wednesday, and for now life is continuing in the south.

And we're willingly spending Shabbat there.

For a very brief moment earlier this week, the thought entered my mind that maybe it would be smarter for us to stay home this weekend. I mean – who willingly puts themselves in the landing range of missiles being sent over by enemies with no regard for human life? Well, I guess anyone who spends any time in Israel does – that's who.

During Israel's Second Lebanon War in July 2006, I was working in Incoming Tourism, and the drop in groups and families coming to Israel was so severe that after spending about a month cancelling reservations with hotels, guides and suppliers, my office back to 80% time, and we all worked four days/week for about 5 months until tourism picked up again.

Even this wasn't as bad a hit to tourism as what happened with the Second Intifada, which broke out in September 2000. Many Israeli tour companies went out of business due to the tremendous drop in tourism for the following several years. Others were forced to lay off very large portions of their staff.

During both of those wars, many Israelis were very upset by the fact that so many tourists – particularly Jews, stopped coming out of fear. Don't get me wrong – those were some scary times, and I can't really blame anyone who doesn't live here for not wanting to put themselves into the middle of it. But it still felt as though we were be "abandoned" to our fate. It was almost as though our brothers and sisters around the world were telling us "It's great that you live there – Up with fulfilling the Zionist Dream! And as soon as it's safe, we'll be back to show our love. In the meantime – you guys keep that flame burning for us!"

It felt a little bit like we were designated to live the brave and daring lives for them.

But as tenuous as the relationship between Jews in Israel and abroad can be regarding the dangers of being here, it gets even more complicated when we talk about just those of us within Israel.
Our friends are celebrating their son's Bar Mitzvah. This is a huge deal. It is one of the most special and memorable moments in the life of a young Jew as he transitions into adulthood. How could I possibly say to them that I can't travel the one hour and 15 minutes to them because of what might happen to me there, but that I hope they have a great Bar Mitzvah while facing the risks and dangers?

More significantly is that while the missiles being fired from Gaza have a limited range to the south, I would be naïve at best and downright stupid at worst were I to assume that not going to Be'er Sheva, that I'm "safe" from terrorism. The number of attacks throughout Israel since before I was living here have made it very clear that anything could happen at any given time, and the only way for me to ensure that my family and I could never become victims of terror would be to move to a remote mountaintop far away from the Middle East.

That might keep us safe, but we certainly wouldn't be living our lives – where we want to be, with whom we wish to be and doing what we want to do.

Barring that extreme, the only real option is for us to continue living our lives, as we see fit, in the Land that we love and with the friends and the people that we love.

This is not a matter of courageously facing the dangers inherent in living in Israel. Rather, it is a matter of being as realistic and pragmatic as possible, and of teaching our children that life is for living, not for cowering.

Even putting aside the potential attacks from extremists in Gaza, just getting around is scary as hell. Sharon and the girls drove down to Be'er Sheva last night, and as anyone who has ever seen many of the drivers here in action can attest, that was risky in and of itself. I'll be taking a bus into Tel Aviv early this afternoon, and then another bus from Tel Aviv to Be'er Sheva. Again – the way too many people here drive, that's a bigger risk to life and limb than spending Shabbat in Be'er Sheva could ever be. The number of fatalities on Israeli roads every year is absolutely mind-boggling (314 deaths on Israeli roads in 2009 and 352 in 2010. To date in 2011, nearly 300 people have been killed on the roads here).

So what should we do? Never go out of town for fear that we might join those statistics?

Should we have our groceries delivered, and home school the children in order to decrease the amount of time they spend outside where real dangers await them?

Don't get me wrong – I am even remotely suggesting that we throw caution to the wind – not for ourselves, and especially not for our children. But I am saying that sometimes we have to accept that there are fears and potential dangers out there – some of them, like the terror attacks would make international headlines, and others, like the traffic accidents would warrant – at best – a short blurb towards the back of the local newspaper.

And we have to be aware of these dangers – both from within and from without, but we continue to embrace life and to live it to the fullest.

This Shabbat, the weekly Torah portion tells us of Abraham (still referred to as Abram in this earlier stage of his life). According to Genesis Chapter 12, he is instructed by God to pick up, leave his homeland and the house of his father and to set off to "the land which I (the Lord) will show you". Despite the inherent dangers and hardships of this undertaking, Abraham understood that in order to his life to its fullest, and in order to reach the heights which God was setting for him, he had to take certain risks, and face certain unknowns.

Yet, even with God's promise that Abraham would become a great nation, Abraham was still cautious to take steps to ensure his own safety and well-being when he and his wife Sarah went to Egypt to escape the famine which was in the Land of Israel (how he went about doing this is an interesting discussion for another time – there are many scholars both modern and ancient who take exception to Abraham's actions upon entering Egypt with Sarah).

The point is that Abraham was forced to find the proper balance between his faith that he would be protected and using his own resources to take his life into his own hands.

To live in Israel today, I think means finding specifically that balance. We cannot be stupid and unmindful of the very real dangers that we face both as individuals and as a nation. Yet we also cannot let the fear of those dangers prevent us from being and becoming all that we are meant to be and to become. The moment we allow that to happen, we've allowed the terrorists to defeat us.

In the meantime, I'll join our friends in celebrating the wonderful milestone in the life of their son. Because that's also what living life is really about.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Nation of Sophies

There's an old joke about two Jewish guys having an argument who go to their rabbi to decide who's right. The first guy gives his side of the story, and the rabbi says "You're right".

But then it's the second guy's turn, and when he gives his side of the story, the rabbi looks at him and says "You're right."

The rabbi's wife overhears the entire exchange and asks her husband "Nu, so how can he be right and he be right?" The rabbi looks at her and says "You're right."

For the nearly 24 years that I have lived in Israel I have often felt that this country is the national personification of that joke – and never have I felt that more strongly than over the last few days.

Gilad Shalit is home. After 1,941 days, Gilad and his family can finally put their nightmare to rest.

But what a price we've had to pay for his freedom! 1,027 Palestinian terrorists – many of whom with blood on hands yet no remorse in their hearts are going home as well. As I wrote in this blog the night before Gilad was released, most Israelis are extremely torn regarding the conditions of the exchange.

To stay with analogy of the above joke – the first guy says to the rabbi "We have to do everything we can to bring back our soldier – he didn't volunteer, he was drafted, like every other Israeli. How can we allow our sons to stay in the hands of murderous animals? How will other soldiers feel knowing that if the same were to happen to them we would abandon them to their horrible fate? We have every obligation – moral and halachic (according to Jewish law) to bring him home!"

And the rabbi, if he is wise and caring, will say to him "You're right"

Then the second guy will say "But Rabbi – how can you say that? If we release all of these murderers for this one soldier – no matter how dear and important to us he is – we are telling the terrorists that this is the way to get the rest of their friends home! They will know that the price of Jewish blood is cheap, and a few years in jail is a small price for them to pay for killing our family, friends, children, neighbors! Most likely they will return to terrorism, and kill more of our people! We cannot decide that the life of one Israeli soldier is more valuable than the lives of countless others that may be killed in the future by these terrorists, nor can we expose our other soldiers to the risk of enduring what Gilad has endured for the past 5 years! This price is too high, and it will cost us more lives than just that of Gilad Shalit!"

And again, the rabbi – in his wisdom and understanding, will be forced to say "You're right."

The analogy was even stronger for me yesterday when I read two opinion pieces in the Jerusalem Post – one written by Sherri Mandell, whose 13 year-old son Koby was murdered by Palestinian terrorists on May 8, 2001 and the other written by Esther Wachsman, whose son Nachshon was a soldier kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists and was held for 6 days before being murdered by his captors during a failed rescue operation on October 14, 1994. Interestingly, Mrs. Wachsman's article was entitled "A Mother's Prayers" and Mrs. Mandell's was "A Mother's Pain".

In discussing the extraordinarily lopsided prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit, Esther Wachsman writes "… my family has become the focus of local and international media inquiries. “What do we think about the release of our son’s murderer? What did we think about the protest of other bereaved families who oppose this particular deal? How many more soldiers will be held hostage as a result of yielding to terrorist demands?” Our solid reply is that at this moment in history, God has been merciful, has listened to our prayers and said “yes” (in contrast to when our Nachshon was kidnapped, when He heard our prayers but decided the answer would be “no”)."

She goes on to write " All the questions about negotiating with terrorists and yielding to their blackmail, the high price we paid for one soldier, the threat to our security, the weakening of our judicial system, the perceived weakness of our leaders and the biggest question of all - future policy - should be dealt with after Gilad Schalit is home."

I LOVE this. Her point is that the Shalits have an opportunity which she herself did not have – to hold, kiss and talk to their son. To finish watching him grow up, and Please God, get married and have children. Any policy discussion can wait a little until after this precious gift is received.

And she is absolutely right.

Sherri Mandell writes equally beautifully and equally eloquently. She discusses the very long-term pain, grief and suffering of the families whose loved ones have been murdered by terrorists. She writes that the sheer duration and length of that suffering is what anyone who has not shared this experience can understand the least. "In the aftermath of a prisoner exchange, this isolation will only be exacerbated. So will the feeling that our children’s deaths don’t matter. When people tell me that my son Koby died for nothing, I always used to say: No, it is our job to make his death mean something. But now I am not sure."

Mrs. Mandell also writes that "Cheapening our loved ones’ deaths only enhances the pain. If Israel is willing to free our loved ones’ murderers, then the rest of the world can look on and assume that the terrorists are really freedom fighters or militants."

She too is absolutely right.

No matter what Israel would have done regarding Gilad's freedom, it would have been right. And it would have been wrong.

To me, this is the worst thing that Palestinian terrorism has done to us. Beyond the killings, the kidnappings and the complete disregard for any sliver of humanity – they have put us in the position where there is no right answer. We have absolutely no possible response that we know in the depths of our hearts is the "right" one.

They have turned us into Sophie, from William Styron's 1979 novel (and 1982 movie) "Sophie's Choice", the story of a Catholic woman who survived the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. Upon arriving at Auschwitz with her two small children, a Nazi doctor forced Sophie to choose which of children would live (albeit in Auschwitz), and which would go directly to the gas chamber. Sophie sacrificed her seven-year-old daughter, Eva, a decision with which she lived the rest of her life in mourning and ridden with guilt.

The low regard for life held by Palestinian terrorists, and particularly by the current Palestinian "leadership", has turned Israel into a Nation of Sophies. Just like the title character in the story, the "choices" that we make are ours. And just like in the story, it is impossible for any of our "choices" to be seen as better than the alternatives.

Yet we are forced to make the choices all the same, and while we rejoice in what we gain, we also spend the rest of our days mourning our losses and feeling the guilt for what we have been forced to sacrifice.

The late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was quoted as saying that "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us."

My prayer is that no matter what happens, we never come to hate the Arabs as much as we love our children.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Find The Cost Of Freedom

Besides the fact that I am finally blogging again after a very extended break, this is going to be an unconventional blog for me. Usually, when I have something on my mind, I have a general idea what I believe, and what I hope to convey. How I'll get there is usually less clear when I begin writing, but it takes shape as I go along. Tonight, however, I still haven't decided what I believe, and I am hoping that putting it in writing will help me reach some conclusion.

For anyone not in the loop of recent events in the Middle East, it was announced last week that a deal has been reached to release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas in June 2006 and has spent the last 5 years and 5 months in captivity. In exchange for this solitary Israeli soldier, 1,027 Palestinian terrorists will be released from Israeli prisons – many of whom have blood on their hands, and most of whom have shown zero remorse for the death and destruction which they have wrought.

With the amount of debate about this deal and the high level of emotions surrounding it, I would have expected the Israeli public to be fairly evenly divided on the prisoner swap. So I was more than a little bit surprised to see a poll which was released yesterday in which 79% - nearly 4 out of every 5 Israelis support the swap. When the Israeli cabinet voted last week on the deal, the support was an overwhelming 26 votes to 3.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that we are even divided on the question - if not as a nation, then as individuals. Each and every one of us.

The conventional wisdom is that negotiating with terrorists is wrong. It is capitulating to blackmail, and it sets a deadly precedent for the terrorists to continue doing what they do in order to get what they want.

I don't know anyone who would disagree, or who could disprove the logic of this wisdom. It is an accepted "given".

At the same time, I also don't know any Israeli who has not been hoping and praying every day since June 2006 for Gilad's safe return home. When Israelis are victims of terror, the entire country feels it. We all mourn with the families of those killed and we all feel the loss on a very personal level. This is even truer when the victim is not murdered, but kidnapped, and held prisoner by animals who have no regard for human life, whose only value seems to be death.

Gilad Shalit has been on the minds, on the tongues and in the hearts of Israelis since June 25, 2006 – nearly 2,000 days. Who in Israel will not rejoice to see Gilad in the arms of his family? Who would deny him or his loved ones that happening?

Yet, we are torn. Deeply. The price for Gilad's freedom is absolutely astronomical. Not in terms of actual numbers, but in terms of repercussions.

Nobody doubts that many of the terrorists being freed tomorrow in exchange for Gilad Shalit will return to terrorism.

And nobody doubts (and Hamas leadership has already said as much) that in light of the prisoner exchange to which Israel has agreed, there will be more kidnappings in the future in order to release the remaining Palestinian terrorists in our jails.

Gilad is scheduled to come home tomorrow, and about 450 Palestinian terrorists will be released at the same time. The remaining terrorists are to be released in about two months.

Will these released prisoners return to terrorism? Most likely, yes. Maybe some of them will decide that they are no longer willing to risk Israeli prison, but the majority of them will gladly risk whatever it takes, including (or especially) their own lives, in order to kill Israeli civilians.

But it seems to me that when these terrorists were in prison, it didn't lead to drop in terror attacks. Any decrease that has been is a result of Israeli security measures, not a "shortage" of volunteers. So perhaps the number of attacks will not really be affected by the release of these prisoners. We can always hope…

An additional thought is that Israel will undoubtedly keep a very close eye on these released terrorists and if we need targeted hits to prevent them from killing again, then we know how to do that. Just ask any of the Hamas leaders who spend their lives hiding from us (apparently their high regard for death does not apply to their own – only those of their people).

The other argument which I have heard against the deal is a very emotional one. What about the families of past terror victims, whose murderers are set to go free? Don't they deserve to see the monsters that tore their lives apart rot in jail forever?

Of course they do.

But how can anyone say to Noam and Aviv Shalit that the son they have not seen, held or kissed for nearly five and a half years, should stay in the hands of the animals holding him captive so that other families can feel justice in done for the murder of their loved ones? While every Israeli mourns with the families of past terror attacks, no amount of "justice" will bring them back their children. How can we deny the Shalits this chance that the others cannot have? No matter the possible – or even probably – cost.

So, it would seem that I have come to some conclusion of my own. I was uncertain when I began typing this blog an hour or so ago, but I have now decided that in spite all of the air-tight arguments against paying the price for Gilad's safe return, I'm glad that we are doing it. More than that, as an Israeli I am proud of my country for the value that we as a nation place on every human life.

I cannot pretend to know everything that went on in the more than 5 years of negotiations for Gilad Shalit. I have no doubt that the Israeli representatives involved in the negotiations for Gilad's freedom were even more aware of all of the dangers and pitfalls of this prisoner exchange than I am. Yet, they were "there" – they knew what was going on, and they determined that this was the best, if not the only chance of ever bringing Gilad home alive. A part of me has to trust that they honestly did what was best for Israel.

There is one additional clause I would love to see added to this prisoner swap tomorrow. As soon as Gilad is safely back in Israel and the 450 murderers are safely back in Gaza, the leadership of Hamas should be forced to announce to the world, in both English and Arabic, that this deal is absolute proof that one Israeli soldier is worth more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists.

Every Israeli, as well as most right-thinking citizens of the world already know this to be true. But it would be nice to force Hamas to publicly acknowledge it as well.

After all – as long as we're paying such a heavy cost for freedom, they should at least pay a little bit.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Remember Always

Just one week after commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day with a 2-minute siren for which almost all of Israel came to a complete stand-still (see this blog), tonight we had yet another siren and moment of silence as Israel ushered in Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. Officially to date, 22,867 soldiers have lost their lives defending the state of Israel and 2,443 civilians have been murdered in terrorist attacks.

For all that the Holocaust is regarded as the even larger tragedy than Israel's wars and terror attacks (and rightly so – even the numbers of Israel's fallen soldiers and terror victims pales next to the millions of victims murdered in the Holocaust), nevertheless, for me at least, the Memorial Day which we began observing tonight is more "real", and touchable.

Israel is a country with extremely challenging cultural differences, tough-exterior Sabras (native-born Israelis) with little or no regard for personal space, a permanently shaky economy, endlessly horrendous bureaucracy, non-stop international and media vilification, and a constant state of heightened security, tension and war.

And for all that, just over 23 years ago I made a decision to build my life in this crazy country, and I haven't regretted even a single day of that decision.

But the decision has come with a price.

Most Israelis, especially if they have been here for at least a few years, have attended at least one funeral of somebody close to them – family members, friends, colleagues, army buddies, who have been killed either in a military battle or a terror attack. And we have friends and colleagues who have been to their share of these funerals as well.

And because of this price that we pay, we feel more connected to the mourning, and the emotions, and even the promise to Never Forget. We are less removed from it than we are from the Holocaust, whose murders and horrors finally ended 66 years ago.

I was very fortunate to have had an essentially boring time in the Israeli army. Of course, I absolutely hated my one year of military service, and to a lesser degree my 15 or so years as an active reservist, but while my military time did have some "interesting" times (as per the famous Chinese curse), with the exception of one very minor injury suffered by a buddy in my reserve unit about 15 years ago, I have also don't have any of the army stories of how my platoon barely escaped with our lives. Yet, while I was blessed with a basically uneventful military career, just knowing that I was in situations which could have been much worse helps me truly appreciate what those who have fallen in defense of Israel did go through.

I have been even luckier that in my 23 years of living in Israel I have only had two funerals to attend as a result of terror attacks.

The first was in September 1995 when Danny Frei was murdered in his home by a terrorist who came in during the night when the family was sleeping.

The second was Gila Sarah Kessler, a young woman serving her national service (in lieu of army service, an option exercised by many religiously observant girls). She was standing at a crowded bus stop on the outskirts of Jerusalem in June 2002 when a suicide/homicide bomber killed her and three others. An hour earlier she and I had been joking with each other in the office where I was working at the time and she was fulfilling her national service.

Yet, I know that having "only" two friends murdered by terrorists in 23 years of living here is relatively few. Too many folks have known far more, and I have friends who have lost people much closer to them than what I lost – friends who have buried their husbands, their wives and their children.

And for all that I recognize and am grateful for how relatively sorrow-free my life has been, barely a day goes by when I don't wonder "what if…?" There have been countless attacks – both in the so-called "occupied territories" as well as in Israel proper, both reported and known about, as well as kept under wraps. The attackers have not bothered to filter out their targets – age, gender, political leanings – are irrelevant. Whoever's there is good enough for them. And so every day, when I put my kids into bed, give them their kisses and lock our doors, I am thankful to have had yet another day without knowing tragedy and sorrow.

Hence my deeper connection to Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism than to Holocaust Memorial Day. The Holocaust was so massive that we cannot even begin to comprehend it in its entirety, nor can we really relate to it on a personal level. The Holocaust ended in 1945 – the death camps and the SS cannot reach me here and now.

But those who have fallen in defense of Israel and those who have been murdered solely for the fact that they were Israelis living in their homeland – that's part of my day-to-day reality for living in Israel.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, the phrase which we use most when commemorating the day is "Never Forget". It's almost as though as we get further and further removed from the reality of the Holocaust we have to instill within ourselves a negative command – Don't forget the Holocaust in order to never allow it to happen again.

But with Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism, it's different. Rather than imposing upon ourselves what not to do, we are far more connected to what we can do – can and must do.

And that is to remember.

We remember those who have given their lives so that we may live free – as Israelis and as Jews, in the Jewish homeland. While we remember them, we also remember those who are grieving the memories of their loved ones on this day above all others.

We remember that nothing should be taken for granted. Every day that we have here, and every day that we wake up, are able to go to work, to school, to the mall, is a gift. Every day that we are able to see our friends, hug our spouses and tuck our children safely into bed is another day that we have succeeded in living our lives in our home.

We remember the price Israel has been forced to pay for this existence and this freedom, and the price that we will continue to pay until we are finally able to find a peaceful coexistence with those around us who, so far, have been determined to hate and to destroy.

Most of all, we remember the 22,867 soldiers and 2,443 civilians to whom this day is dedicated. And we remember to live our lives to the fullest – for ourselves and for them, so that their sacrifice will never be in vain.

May their memories always be a blessing.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Never Forget Our Past, But Look Ahead To Our Future

The scene was almost surreal; it was as though I was looking at a painting. Cars and busses were all at a standstill, with people standing outside of them completely immobile. Along the sidewalks pedestrians were also as still as statues.

And in the air – almost complete silence. Almost.

Only the high pitched wailing of the siren which continued for a full a full two minutes was heard. Nothing else. No sounds. No movement.

Like looking at a painting.

But of course, it wasn't a painting, and it wasn't even surreal. It was very real. It was the view from in front of our building this morning at 10:00 when the siren sounded commemorating Yom HaSho'ah, Holocaust Memorial Day.

What I saw, was similar, albeit on a smaller scale, to what was seen all across Israel at the very moment. In Tel Aviv on the busy city streets and the malls and coffee shops, in Jerusalem along the outdoor pedestrian malls and in the Machane Yehuda shuk. And everywhere else in the country – in Haifa, Be'er Sheva, Tiberias, Metulla in the far north and in the southern tip of the country in Eilat. On kibbutzim, moshavim, settlements large and small, towns and villages and on the roads in between – the entire country came to a complete halt for two full minutes.

Every year when we observe this silence in honor and in memory of the 6 million Jews and 5 million others slaughtered by the Nazis, what strikes me the most is not the two minutes of silence, but rather that immediately when the siren ends, life goes "back to normal".

People get back in their cars and busses, they sit back down to their coffee at the sidewalk cafes, they take out their cell phones and make that call, go back into the store to buy whatever it was they were buying, and life goes on.

Jews in general and Israel in particular are often accused of dwelling on the Holocaust. Apparently it is the boogeyman on our shoulder guiding our every abuse of the Palestinians, our constant cry for sympathy from the world and our excuse for every one of our personal and national neuroses.

Yet for all of our alleged obsession, the "highlight" of our annual Holocaust observance is two minutes of respectful silence and then back to the daily grind.

Of course, there are many other things we do here all day to commemorate Yom HaSho'ah, and these are all very powerful and very meaningful.

Very moving ceremonies are held in the evening when we begin the commemoration of Yom HaSho'ah as well as in the morning immediately after the national siren. In schools across the country ceremonies are held commemorating the day, and in addition to the regular lessons, time is set aside for lessons and discussions about the Holocaust.

The radio stations all play somber, day-appropriate music, and the TV channels – including the cable and satellite stations – either stop broadcasting for the day or devote all programming to Holocaust-related material. I was extremely impressed, even moved to tears when my daughter came home from school today, and as she usually does, turned on the television for a little bit of relax before homework. She turned on the Disney Channel, and the programming was child-oriented Holocaust educational shows. Even better, the two shows that I watched with her were both extremely well made – sensitive, age appropriate, but without pussy-footing around the seriousness of the topic.

But life does indeed go on. And while we must never forget those who perished in the Holocaust, and we must always be on guard to prevent anything like it ever happening again, the fact that we observe the two minutes of silence and then return to whatever we were doing highlights for me the fact that we do have a proper perspective of the Holocaust and it's place in history.

We have just entered what for me is the most powerful and emotionally moving week-long period of the year.

Beginning today with Yom HaSho'ah, a week from today we will observe Yom HaZikaron - Israel's Memorial Day Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. Immediately when Memorial Day ends, Israel's Independence Day begins.

For many people this is a difficult transition, to go from the heaviness and mourning atmosphere of Yom HaZikaron straight into the joy and celebration of Yom HaAtzma'ut - Independence Day,

But I don't agree.

Only by first remembering the price which we have paid to have the State of Israel can we truly appreciate what it means to have it. By paying proper tribute to those who have died in order that we can live here the celebration of independence means more than fireworks, barbecues and concerts (although those are also wonderful aspects of the holiday).

In some ways it even means that our joy in the celebration is less than it would otherwise be. And even that's OK too. Jewish tradition teaches us that when God parted of the Red Sea, the angels in heaven wanted to sing, but God wouldn't allow them. He said that when His children (i.e. the Egyptians) were dying, celebration was not appropriate. Even with the Egyptians receiving the punishment that they deserved, it does not negate the point that God was in a position that He had to kill His children and that was a cause for mourning, not celebration.

The same holds true for celebrating Israel's independence. We are happy, and we do celebrate what we have – but it is not a bottomless pit of joy. As we do not let ourselves forget the Holocaust in order to keep it from ever repeating itself, we also do not forget that in order to have our State we have been forced by neighbors and by circumstances to kill other of God's children, and to have many of our own killed as well. And we continue to pray for the day when that killing might come to an end, and that we can all celebrate without limits. And live in peace.

Monday, April 18, 2011

So THIS is freedom...?!?!?!?!?!?

So, Passover officially starts in a couple of hours, and while there's a lot to do, we're close enough to being ready that I've been hoping to share a few thoughts before the Seder begins. Of course, if you don't see me online for the next several days, it means that I was caught blogging just hours before the holiday and Sharon took exception to the choice that I've made…

But in all honesty, it's very hard for me to have so many thoughts about this very major holiday without sharing at least some of them.

Passover traditionally marks the Exodus from Egypt – which signified the end of generations of slavery and the beginning of the new reality of a free people, subservient only to God and not a human king. Equally importantly, the Exodus from Egypt marks the transformation of the Jewish people into a nation from a family, the Children of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel).

In so many ways, the significance of this holiday is meant to be one of great joy and celebration. We are commanded to "re-live" the story of Passover as though we personally were among our ancestors when they were redeemed from slavery, and shortly after departing Egypt, received the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Unfortunately there are too many people who are unable to enjoy the holiday as it should be. I don't mean those who have no family or community Seder of which to be a part (although that is in and of itself a very real issue within our society).

Rather, I am talking about the people who allow themselves to get so caught up in the details of preparation for the holiday that by the time the holiday arrives they are too exhausted to appreciate the beauty of what we are celebrating. Worse yet, from several weeks before the holiday even begins they are dreading everything that needs to be done in order to celebrate their supposed "freedom".

Make no mistake, there are a lot of extremely detailed laws regarding the Passover preparation. We must clean out our house of all chametz (leavened bread), and we spend 7 days (outside of Israel it's 8 days) being very careful about eating no chametz at all, which includes nothing with any chametz ingredients. For those who observe the laws of Kashrut (kosher), all year long finding food which we can eat is enough of challenge – the week of Passover is much harder. We have to replace all of our dishes (2 sets – one for dairy, one for meat) with dishes used only for Passover, we clean and scrub the refrigerator, the oven, the stove and anything else used for food preparations (some things we don't clean, we just put them away and replace them with their Passover counterparts). We then scrub and clean very well all of the countertops, table tops, cabinets, etc.

Additionally, for those who are hosting a traditional Seder, they need to have the kitchen cleaned out several days in advance and make sure that all of their food preparation is only with ingredients certified as Kosher for Passover, and with dishes and utensils which have not been used at all for chametz.

This entire description is actually the "short" version. Basically, preparing for Passover is hell of a lot of work, and it's no surprise that many people get easily overwhelmed by it.

But then we have a problem. We are commanded by Jewish law to enjoy this holiday. We do treat it as one of celebration and of thanks, and if we are so exhausted and overwhelmed by it, then how can we be expected to enjoy it?

At the risk of (once again) being branded a heretic, I would offer that much of the extra work which we do is not really as necessary as many folks believe.

Yes, we need to clean the house well. But what if we miss a couple of crumbs in the cracks behind the draining board? Have we violated the commandment of having chametz in our possession? Absolutely not!

According to Jewish law, whether or not something needs to even have a certification of Kosher for Passover is determined by whether it is fit to be eaten by a dog. I seriously doubt if any crumbs caught in the netherworld of my kitchen after I have run soap, boiling water and whatever cleaning solution that I use, is something that a dog would eat.

But it gets better. Religiously observant Jews sell their chametz from the morning before Passover until the evening that it ends. This is an interesting symbolical process which I won't go into details now, but it effectively allows us to keep the chametz in our house (although covered up – out of sight, out of mind) while it has been temporarily sold to a non-Jew. So we've covered up the chametz which we will use after the holiday and rendered inedible the crumbs that we may have missed cleaning up.

Moreover, on the morning before Passover, we ceremonially burn whatever chametz we have left in our possession. During the burning of the chametz we recite a paragraph which announces that any chametz still in our home which we may have neglected to clean, sell or burn, whether knowingly or not, is hereby designated as dust and no longer even considered chametz.

So, with all due respect to the work that goes into preparing for Passover every year, and with all due respect for those who are as exacting as they can be in following the letter of Jewish law, it seems that many folks have allowed this observance to jade their overall Passover experience, and they have allowed the big picture of what the holiday is really about to be lost in many of the minute details of its preparations.

I would encourage people to do the cleaning – allow yourself the extra time for clean and for preparing for the holiday, because when extra time and love is dedicated to Passover, we are able to appreciate the beauty and specialness of the celebration. But at the same time, don't allow yourself to lose sight of what this freedom is which we celebrate tonight. Don't drive yourself so crazy, nor run yourself so ragged, that be the time you sit down with family and friends at the Seder you can barely keep your eyes open, or that you can't participate in re-living the Exodus from Egypt, and feeling the transformation from slaves to a free nation.

Because if you can't truly experience that freedom, then all of the cleaning and cooking with which you enslaved yourself was for naught.

Wishing all who celebrate Passover a joyous, happy, healthy and Kosher holiday. May we all merit the freedom for which our ancestors fought so hard and for which they sacrificed so much.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Under-dressed Palestinian

I haven't blogged anything in the last three weeks. It turns out that the combination of a busy life and writer's block really can be a bitch. I love being busy, but still…

And the kicker is that there has really been a lot to blog about. In Israel we've had terror attacks, responses; Goldstone has retracted his report, then not quite retracted it. That's some good stuff to go off on. On the personal front, my mother was here for a wonderful visit, we spent a fantastic weekend at the Bar Mitzvah of a cousin, and Passover is just around the corner.

Basically, there's been no shortage of what to blog about, and hopefully I'll get myself writing about the backlog of topics, events and thoughts that have been bouncing around inside my head.

But today, I simply have to write.

I can almost hear you asking "Asher, what happened to finally break your writer's block and make you take a step back from your oh-so-busy life and blog again?"

Well, I'll tell you - Apparently, I am a Palestinian! Who'da thunk it?

Don't get me wrong – there isn't anything inherently wrong with being Palestinian. Once you weed through the supporters of terrorism and those who wish for the destruction of all Jews in Israel and abroad, you are left with a hell of a lot of very fine Palestinian people. I know this for a fact.

Even better, if I had been born 30 or 40 years earlier than I was, and if I had come then to the Holy Land, there would have been no question that I was a Palestinian because that's what Jews who lived in Palestine (which was not an autonomous independent country) were called.

So, discovering that I am a "Palestinian" isn't necessarily in and of itself a negative thing – it just came as a bit of a surprise to me for a couple of reasons – because it was based on a lie, and because of the source.

The lie is that Modi'in, Israel, the city where I live has been described online as "Modi'in, Palestine".

Put aside political arguments for a moment, and the question of "occupied territory in the West Bank". There is no country, nor has there ever been, called "Palestine".

It used to be the name of this strip of land which was controlled by the Romans (who gave it the name "Palestine"), then the Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamaluks, Turks and finally the British until 1948 when Israel became a State. Until then, it was always a territory – never had a government, never had its own leaders, never had a flag, a national anthem, or independence.

But even if one accepts the idea of "occupied West Bank", no matter what your politics, Modi'in does not fall within its borders. We have a Green Line, which distinguishes between "Israel proper" and the "West Bank" – or if you prefer, outside of this Green Line are the "disputed areas" and inside the Green Line are the "non-disputed areas". And no matter how you slice it, Modi'in is inside the Green Line.

Why is this so relevant? Because if Israel were to decide tomorrow to give the Palestinian Authority what they claim to want – a return to the pre-1967 borders and statehood, Modi'in, Israel would still be a part of Israel (albeit very close to the Palestinian border), and not part of the deal.

But, according to the website which I saw, this little tidbit of reality simply is not relevant. Modi'in is in Palestine.

But the even more ridiculous / amusing / downright sad part of this is the source of this Revisionist history and geography. It is not, as one might think, a Palestinian website. It's not Al Jazeera, not J-Street, and not even a British "news" organization.

No, my friends, this source of history, geography and politics is none other than

That's right – I have had the link to AccuWeather's forecast for Modi'in in my Internet Favorites for several months and until last week, it was listed as Modi'in, Central Israel. Apparently the city upped and moved one night while we were all asleep and when I checked the weather forecast one morning I discovered that Modi'in is now in Palestine.

Go figure!

Now, I really want to give AccuWeather the benefit of the doubt. After all, they are all about the Weather and about being Accurate, right? That's even in their name! So I looked at the URL for the site, and I saw that the weather was based on a settlement about 10 minutes away from Modi'in called Mevo Horon.

OK – now we're getting somewhere. Mevo Horon is in fact outside of the Green Line and is in what is considered by many to be "disputed territory". In the scenario that I offered earlier that we return to pre-1967 borders and established a Palestinian state for the first time in history, then Mevo Horon would be included in the new state of Palestine (at the land itself would be, the residents would probably have alternate arrangements made for them).

But something still doesn't make sense to me. Doesn't it usually work that weather stations are placed in the larger cities and used as the basis for weather forecasts in the smaller towns and villages surrounding that large city? I mean, we don't check the weather in Kibbutz Shefayim in order to determine the forecast for Tel Aviv, do we? Or check Reston, Virginia to determine Washington, DC?

So why is the weather in Modi'in, a city of 80,000 residents and still growing based on Mevo Horon, a small moshav with about 1,200 people? Is it just me or is this a little bit backwards?

Still, no matter where Mevo Horon is located, and no matter what your political views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are, there is still no official entity called "Palestine" and if there were, Modi'in would not be considered a part of it.

As I said, AccuWeather – by its very name, is supposed to be about two things, and two things only – Accuracy and Weather. So, can anybody explain where revising geography or expressing a political opinion falls into that?

Even if one accepts the political view in and of itself – and I recognize that the majority of the world does accept this view, it is by all accounts a political opinion, and therefore not within the realm of what AccuWeather has a right or place to be expressing. Their role is share accurate weather (again – just look at their name if you have any questions about that). I really don't give a damn what they think regarding the very delicate and complicated political reality of the Middle East.

Of course, there is another ramification for me of how AccuWeather describes Modi'in – if they cannot even know with any accuracy what is happening here on Earth, how can I trust them to know with any accuracy what is happening miles above the Earth in the stratosphere where the weather is determined?

So, maybe what really bothers me isn't being a "Palestinian", but not really being able to trust AccuWeather to know what I should wear and how I should dress the kids every day…

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Beauty From Within Darkness

This past Friday night the civilized world was shocked and horrified by the despicable and cowardly terrorist murder of the Fogel family while they were sleeping in their home in the Jewish settlement of Itamar. Along with thousands of other bloggers, I wrote my two cents’ worth in what I called Moment of Truth. I felt (and still feel) that across the board, everybody with a role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – from the Palestinians, to the international media, the UN, the governments around the world, the Israeli Left and the Right – all must face their particular role within the conflict, and all must take certain steps to help prevent the situation to further spirally out of control.

While I still hold by that view, I have also come to realize a very serious mistake which I made in that last blog.

When there are attacks such as the one last Friday night, it is virtually impossible for any decent human being to not see the depths of depravity to which people are capable of sinking. When I wrote what I believe should be the responses by groups of people on all sides of the spectrum, I was thinking of them as exactly that - groups of people. I neglected to think in terms of individuals.

But today, I saw something on Facebook (which is one of the most reliable sources of Israeli news) that enabled me to see how mistaken I was in forgetting the individual Israelis.

I have mentioned in other blogs the process that Israelis tend to experience whenever there is a terror attack. When the smoke has cleared, (both literally and figuratively), Israelis collectively feel the loss of every terror victim. We feel the pain, the shock, and the sorrow. If even for just a few days, we all are one with the families who have lost loved ones to the senseless hatred. Those who can do something for the families, do it – from providing food for them while in mourning, to visiting and sitting with them to comfort them, and so on.

This week, one particular individual has displayed one of the most beautiful acts of loving kindness, of giving and of selflessness that I have ever seen.

Rami Levy established a chain of supermarkets in Israel, which now has branches in 13 cities in Israel. Apparently, Mr. Levi has been coming every day to the home where the family is observing the traditional 7-day mourning period, and has personally been bringing food for the family and the visitors there to offer their comfort. When a family member expressed thanks, Mr. Levy said that they will be seeing much more of him – he plans to stock their home with food every week until the youngest of the surviving children (who is 2 years old) has turned 18.

In my previous blog about the attack, I wrote that while many people said that they had no words to express what they felt, I had plenty of words. This time, the words elude me. What words could fully describe the beauty and the power of a very successful entrepreneur like Rami Levy extending a hand in love and support for the Fogel family?

In a blog that I posted last November, I referred to the book “Faith after the Holocaust” by Rabbi Eliezer Berkovitz, z”l (published, 1973). In the book, Rabbi Berkovitz responds to the idea that the Holocaust is the ultimate proof that God does not exist. He writes that for all of the documented stories of man’s un-natural and inexplicable inhumanity to his fellow man, there are also many documented stories (from the Holocaust) of an equally un-natural and inexplicable love for his fellow man, and despite all that was happening, the steadfast refusal of many people to abandon their belief in God.

Rabbi Berkovitz brings examples of people in the death camps who would give what little bit of food they had to somebody else that seemed even more starving than themselves. People who offered hope and encouragement – and love – to others when all around them was hopelessness and death. He argued that there were so many acts of loving-kindness, and of faith, that in the death camps were every bit as unnatural and abnormal as were the acts of depravity and wonton hatred and cruelty.

If the un-natural inhumanity can prove the absence of God, why can't the equally un-natural humanity prove His existence?

Perhaps this is the reminder that we are being given now. Terrorists entered the home of a family, murdered the parents of 6 children, then 3 of the children – an 11 year-old boy, a 4 year-old boy and a 3-month old girl. That there are people who do not see this as a monstrous act of butchery, and that there are people who justify and even celebrate the murder of this family could be construed as a lack of any all powerful supreme being of love.

But then there are people who have committed to being by this family’s side, people like Rami Levy who had never met the Fogel family. This can just as easily be the proof that there is a Supreme Being watching over us, giving us the strength, the love and the resources to continue living our lives on our land.

We essentially have two choices right now: We can focus on the depths to which monster terrorists can sink, or we can focus on the heights to which others are capable of rising.

I know which I choose.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Moment of Truth

Shabbat, the Sabbath – the day of rest. According to biblical tradition, God created the world in six days and on the seventh day, Shabbat, He rested. From just before sundown on Friday until just after sundown on Saturday, religiously observant Jews take a break from using our phones, computers, televisions and radios. We use the day to focus on family, friends, and community. Besides festive prayer services in the evening and morning, the day is spent eating, sleeping, then eating a some more.

For one family in the settlement of Itamar in Samaria, this Shabbat was horribly different. Five members of the Fogel family were murdered in cold blood by a Palestinian terrorist (or terrorists) as they slept. The victims were the parents and three of their six children, 11 and 4 year-old boys and a 3 month old baby girl.

Obviously, the response in Israel has been one of shock, horror, fury, and most of all, sadness. Many Israelis have posted links to articles, op-eds, and pictures and even more people have mentioned the tragedy in their Facebook status updates. One of the most common comments that I have seen written about the murder is people saying that they are “speechless”, “at a loss for words”.

Not me. I am far from speechless. If anything, I’m going to have a struggle in keeping this blog from going on too long for all that I have to say about this.

The world has reached a proverbial Moment of Truth. All of us. And so far, we have failed miserably.

The Palestinian “leadership”
These are the people responsible for the atmosphere of hate emanating from their people. As usual, they have issued a very bland cover-all “we categorically oppose violence and terror, regardless of victims', perpetrators' identity" – as if the suffering and the level of violence have been equal from both sides.

WHOA!!! Reality check.

The instances of an Israeli randomly killing Palestinians civilians are few and far between. More significantly, when they do happen, the full weight of Israeli law comes down on the perpetrators. Compare that to the response of Palestinian lawmakers, and the general Palestinian public: If the murderer (or murderers) of the Fogel family make it safely to Palestinian Authority territory; they will be regarded as “heroes”. If they are caught by Israeli security forces, they will be “martyrs” who will appear on any and every list of prisoners whose release the Palestinian leadership will demand in the future.

In the rare instances that and Israeli has murdered Palestinian civilians, they were roundly condemned by Israeli society as a whole (with the exception of the very extreme right). Compare that to Gaza today, where candies were handed out to children celebrating the killing in Itamar. (By the way, for anybody trying to justify this based on the enmity between Palestinians and Israelis, please note that this was also the response in the streets of Gaza on 9/11.

It really should come as no surprise how little value these so-called “leaders” have placed on the lives of Israelis. They have shown so little regard for the lives of their own people that how could we possibly expect them to regard lives of people not their own any better? How else can one understand the manner in which martyrdom is encouraged, and even embraced. While many Israelis are willing to fight and to die for that in which we believe, I have never heard an Israeli leader, whether political or religious, encourage anyone to actively martyr themselves. It is simply unheard of. Human life is far too precious for that.

The majority of Palestinian civilians who have been killed by Israeli military operations were killed because the terrorist leaders established their bases in the center of civilian enclaves. They have essentially used their own people as human shields knowing that Israel had to choose between not responding to attacks on her citizens and attacking the terror leaders at the risk of civilians being caught in the crossfire. When Israel has no real choice but to retaliate the Palestinians have all of the PR material they could possibly hope for – the world is outraged at the powerful IDF attacking a building where innocent families live. Never mind that the same building also houses the masterminds behind ruthless attacks on Israelis. Only Israel is to be held accountable.

Now is the time for somebody - anybody within the Palestinian corridors of leadership to stand up and decide that human life is a higher value than any land, more precious than any historical “rights” (which may or may not be based on reality or accuracy).

Israeli leaders have already taken this step. They have pulled the IDF out of 97% of the land in the “West Bank” where Palestinians live, and have risked Israeli civil war by completely pulling out of Gaza in the hope of some kind of peaceful reality. Moreover, whenever Israel has been forced to launch counter-attacks against Palestinian terrorist leaders, they have made every effort to minimize civilian casualties – sometimes with more success, other times with less. But the efforts have been made. The statement of the value being placed upon human life is clear.

The World Media, the UN, and world governments
One of Israel’s responses to the terror attack was to approve building more housing in the area commonly known as The West Bank. I could probably write an entire blog (or three) on the pros and cons of this move, and I have a lot of mixed feelings about the decision – but as a response to a cowardly terror attack, there certainly is a logic to it.

This evning, I looked at three international news web pages – CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Every one of them had a headline about the”approval of new settler homes”. Only by reading the articles themselves can you learn that the decision was made as a response to Friday’s terror attack. Of course, God Forbid that the terror attack itself would warrant a front-page headline (but let one Palestinian youth be killed by Israeli security forces, and that will be on the front pages for a week!)

Even worse - the CNN article referred to the incident as a “terror attack” – with the quotation marks. It’s as though it’s not a real terror attack, except in the eyes of us paranoid Israelis.

The UN has typically declared that Israel’s new building proposal "is not conducive to efforts to renew negotiations and achieve a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Really??? Building houses is what stands in the way of peace negotiations? In my naïve ignorance, I would have thought that the wanton and intentional murder of civilians and the celebration over the killing of children in cold blood was more of a roadblock to successful negotiations and peaceful coexistence. Apparently I was mistaken – that’s only the “natural” reaction of people who haven’t gotten everything they want.

Now is the time for the world media, the governments and the UN to acknowledge that no matter what the political and historical ramifications of the land dispute in the Middle East, absolutely nothing can ever justify the murder of civilians, particularly of children, and even less can ever justify the celebration over such murders.

The Israeli Left
So far there have been several left-wing organizations, bodies and individuals who have condemned the attack, but there are far too many who have remained silent.

The left wing in the country is in a very precarious position. They are Zionists (contrary to what many on the right would have us believe) and they do believe in the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State. They have a different idea of how that State should look and what should be the place and the relationship of Palestinians visa-vis the State, but whether I agree with them or not, I do not call into question their love of Israel or their hopes for a State based upon Jewish ideals.

The left has been known for vigils, protests, meetings – you name it, to protest the deaths of Palestinians and the continued building of homes in the settlements. Would it really be too much to expect a similar reaction to the murder of the Fogel children? Can the left possibly see this as any less horrendous as they see anything done by Israel against the Palestinians?

This is the chance for the left to show the rest of Israeli society that their beliefs, their hearts and their values do lie in the same place as the Right. Their vision of the relationship between the peoples may be different, and their ideas as to how to achieve the final status may be as well, but as Israelis who do care about the land and it’s people - ALL of its people, this is the time for them to stand up.

The Israeli Right
In many ways the Right has the biggest challenge of all. They have to hold on to their humanity in the face of the inhumanity which has been perpetrated against us.

It is very easy, perhaps even natural to respond to cowardly terror attacks such as this as representative of all Palestinians. To many folks this is typical of how all Palestinians see us, and our response needs to be against all Palestinians. There have been reports of Jews attacking Arab villages today (nothing like the scale of the murder of the Fogels, but randomly attacking, all the same), and I have seen and heard many Israelis express satisfaction and justification for those attacks.

This bothers me. More than that, it scares the hell out of me. I have often written within my blog that I believe we must distinguish between the Palestinian so-called “leadership” and the Palestinian people themselves. Yes, I know that the people themselves are the ones we see celebrating the murder of Jews, and yes, I also know that the people themselves have shown an overwhelming support in surveys justifying violence against Israelis. But I firmly believe that they – and their racist, hateful views – are a product of the atmosphere which their leaders have created. These people have been kept down by the very leaders supposedly responsible for their well-being and they have been blinded and brain-washed into seeing Israel as the source of their wretchedness.

Any of these individuals who actively try to kill Israelis deserve to be fought and killed to prevent them from succeeding, but attacking people for their beliefs when they have not acted upon them, smacks of a modern-day McCarthyism. And collective punishment against an entire nation for the actions of individuals hits much too close to what has been done to Jews for centuries.

The Right needs to hold on to their humanity, to their value of human life. The Torah teaches us that if a person rises up to kill us, we are completely justified, even obligated to kill him first. It is absolutely crucial that keep sight of the boundary between self-defense and wide scale demonization. Our immediate enemies are those actively rising up to kill us. Our long-term enemies are the “leaders” who enable the immediate enemies to commit their heinous crimes. Our responsibility – for ourselves, for our children and for our people is recognize those enemies for who they are, and to focus on erasing their threat to our existence.

In doing so, we would be doing our best to make sure that something positive can come out of the pain and the sorrow of this past Shabbat.

May the memories of the Fogels – Udi (age 36), Ruth (35), Yoav (11), Elad (4) and 3-month-old Hadas – always be a blessing. And may God, and all of Israel, watch over the 3 orphaned children who were spared one tragedy but now face a lifetime of another one.

And may we somehow, someday merit seeing a true peace in our land.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Irishman In Me

This song is one of the most beautiful, one of the most powerful that I know. And having chosen to make my life and build my family half a world away from my own family, I completely relate to the song on many levels.

The song was based on actual letters written by a father to his son who emigrated from Ireland to America in the mid 1800’s. Throughout the five verses I am particularly struck by several subtle (and perhaps not-so-subtle) points.

While the father obviously misses and loves his son, at no time does he berate him for leaving to find his fortunes across the sea. The same is true regarding the possibility of the son visiting home. According to the first verse, dated 1860, the son travelled to America with the intention of working for a while before returning home. The parents express typical parental concern of what type of work should be avoided.

By the second verse, dated 1870, the young man was married and had four children, so it was clear that he would be staying in America. In the following verses, the father mentioned how wonderful it would be if the son could visit – they would all love to see him and meet his family. No guilt, no rebuke – just love of a father who misses his son.

It is clear throughout the song that the son never did visit in his father’s lifetime, and the final verse, written by the man’s brother sharing that their father had passed away, also does not complain about the man living in America – rather the final line written by the brother is “Oh, why don't you think about coming to visit, we'd all love to see you again”.

Obviously there are several differences between the family featured in this very moving song and myself. For one thing, even before internet, Instant Messenger, emails, video calls and low-cost inter-continental phone calls, the communication available to me and my family have always been light years ahead of what was available in the second half of the 19th century.

Yet for all the differences and for however much easier it has been for me than for the son of the letters, this song still touches me to my core.

Sharon and I have been very lucky in so many ways. Like the father in the song “Kilkelly”, our parents have always been very supportive of our decision to live in Israel. Unlike many of our friends, we have never had to answer the “how could you abandon us” questions, or "when are you coming home" queries.

Also unlike the son in the song, we have also had plenty of opportunities to visit our families, and for our parents and siblings to know our kids – more important, for our kids to know the family in America. It has been made even easier by the fact that one of Sharon’s sisters lives in Israel, so besides the long-distance relationships with most of their cousins, our girls have been able to establish a very close and very loving relationship with the four first-cousins living here.

Yet even with the wonders of modern communications, living 6,000 miles from my family is not an easy thing.

Seeing our parents once or twice a year is a treat, but of course we would love for it to be more often. And Sharon and I see our siblings (except for the one in Israel) much less often - and that's hard for us.

The kids knowing all of their aunts, uncles and cousins from afar works as well as can be expected, but as we’ve seen with the family that we do have in Israel, it’s far from ideal.

And even with the ability to communicate, and see one another on webcams, the distance will be a real problem if there is ever an emergency. This lesson was driven home for me years ago, before telecommunications had become what it is today.

In the summer of 1991, while I was serving in the IDF, my mother underwent surgery for breast cancer. The surgery was successful, and after long treatments afterwards, she has been cancer-free for very many years, but at the time, I felt that my hands were completely tied while she was undergoing surgery.

I know – there is nothing that I could have done had I been there. But I would have been there – with her, with my family, just as I would hope my kids would be there for me if I ever go through something similar.

Instead, I was stuck on a base in the middle of the Judean desert, waiting to get a collect call through to America (pre-cell phone era) and finally reaching my father a day and a half later – and only being able to talk to Mom several days after the surgery once she was back at home.

So the song still resonates.

2010 is nothing like 1860, and moving from America to Israel is different in almost every way imaginable than moving from Ireland to America. I came to Israel for ideological reasons, tinged with cultural and religious overtones, whereas those who moved from Ireland to America moved for financial reasons – period.

Yet the longing and the love written from a father to his son in 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1890 still strike a chord with the guy who misses and loves his family in North Carolina.

Moving to Israel from America without family presents so many difficulties - financial, cultural, political, just to name a few. But the real price we pay is the distance from our family, our most natural support system. That is what we sacrifice in order to build the life in which we believe.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Our Wonderful Melting Pot

This morning I had the privilege of going with my 9-year old daughter Revital to a gathering and performance of school choirs from all around our city. The aspects of it which involved adults – the speeches, the “organization” of the morning (a term which I use very loosely here), and so on, was pure torture. The mayor came in (made a real entrance in the middle of one of the songs being performed), then gave a 10 minute speech which was much more geared towards the 50 or so adults in the room than the 300 or so kids who were in theory the focus of the morning). There were a couple of other speeches, one of which went on for more than 15 minutes and essentially repeated everything that the mayor had already said. The emcee of the morning had a few times when a choir started coming to the stage for their turn, then she apologized for forgetting to tell them to wait before coming up because there was something else on the program (a lecture, or sing-along, or whatever) before they were supposed to come up. All in all, it was an organizational mess.

On the other hand, the aspects of the morning involving the kids were an absolute delight. We got to see about 6 or 7 school choirs, with kids between 2nd and 6th grades, each perform two songs and it was simply wonderful. Besides the fantastic songs, the performances drove home for me the beauty of living in Israel.

Here were kids, the very overwhelming majority of whom were born in Israel, many of whose parents were also born here and many others whose parents, like myself, came to Israel as adults. Besides the kids, like mine, whose parents (i.e. me) are native English speakers, I saw children whose families are originally from Ethiopia, from Russia, from France, from Spanish speaking countries, and more. Yet these kids, having been born in Israel, are sabras - every bit as Israeli as those whose grandparents were born here. The sabra, for those who don’t know, is both a cactus plant fruit and the word used to describe a native born Israeli. The stereotypical Israel is very much like the cactus fruit, in that he is “tough and prickly” on the outside, but very sweet on the inside.

The theme of the songs sung by the various choirs was older Israeli music (with a couple of very nicely done exceptions), and the songs being sung really emphasized for me the common denominator shared by all children growing up in Israel. It’s something that those of us who moved here as adults will never really, no matter how “Israeli” we consider ourselves, but the children do share it – whether their parents are from America, Europe, the former Soviet bloc or Africa.

During the performance I was sitting next to a friend of mine from our synagogue whose son was performing with his school. When I mentioned my observation about the kids there whose families were from all around the world, he commented that it was exactly the same for him growing up. He is a sabra whose parents immigrated to Israel from Morocco.

As one who moved to Israel as an adult, I am fully aware, and I accept that there are certain areas in which I will always be at a disadvantage.

For example, my kids are learning songs in school and in gan (kindergarten) that Israeli children have been taught since before Moses went up Mount Sinai, but since my childhood was spent first in Maryland then in North Carolina, I was never taught these songs. Whereas children of sabras can have these songs reinforced by their parents who know them as well, my kids have to teach their parents who have an enormous gap in their childhood education.

This carries over into other areas as well – even in subjects things that I did learn just as kids learn today. While my Hebrew is very fluent conversationally, and even for studying in Hebrew at university, there are terms that I’ve never needed to know in Hebrew, which is particularly evident when I am trying to help Revital with her math homework. Of course I understand the concepts involved, but she and I have different vocabularies when it comes to discussing those concepts.

I also know and accept that no matter how fluent my Hebrew is, I will always have something of an accent – and my kids will very likely always have a good laugh at how I pronounce certain words. No way around that, so I’ll roll with it and even join them in laughing at me.

The biggest disadvantage is that no matter how many years I live here (so far it’s been 23) serving in the army, paying the outrageously high taxes, I will always be regarded by native Israelis as an “American” rather than an Israeli. This is especially ironic because growing up in America, people were more likely to refer to me as a Jew rather than an American. It would seem that to be seen as an "American" I had to move to the Jewish homeland. Go figure!

What it all boils down to is that being born and raised elsewhere, on some level I will always an “outsider”.

But I take comfort in knowing that by deciding to build a life and raise a family in Israel, my children will be “insiders”. They are currently receiving all of the childhood references that their children will eventually have – they’ll know the songs, the poems, the traditional ways of celebrating holidays in school, and they’ll know exactly how to say “add, subtract, multiply, divide and fractions” with the same terminology their kids learn.

And some day, when my grandchildren are participating in some kind of performance, some future immigrant will look at their parents, i.e. my kids as the native Israelis with all of the advantages and acceptance that they – these future immigrants – will be building for their children.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

When The Shark And The Fish First Met

I really love the evenings when getting the kids to bed is going smoothly, while our 9 year-old Revital is reading to herself in bed, I’m reading a book to our 6 year-old Limor.

Tonight was such a night. And when Revital was settled in with her book, Limor brought out for me a book entitled (in Hebrew) “When the Shark and The Fish First Met”. The story was very cute – about a shark and a small fish that met, and the shark wanted to eat the fish. The fish swam away as fast as he could, with the shark chasing him. When the shark was just about to eat the fish, the fish yelled “Wait! Why do you want to eat me? Why don’t we play together instead?” and the shark agreed.

They spent the entire day playing together, and when the shark went home that night, his mother asked “How many fish did you eat today?”, and he answered “None. I made friends with a fish and we played.” Of course, mother shark was very upset, and told her son that fish are for eating – not playing with.

The little fish had a similar reaction at home. When he told mother fish that he spent the day playing with a shark, she was very angry and told him that sharks are not friends – they ate your father and your brother, and you are never to play with one again.

Neither of them went out to play the next day, and several months passed before they saw one another again. When they did, they both swam away as fast as they could.

After several more months, they met for the third time, the shark said “You’re my enemy, but maybe can make up?” so they did.

After several months of playing together, one day they went together to speak with the mother fish and then with the mother shark. The book ends with “And from that day, sharks and fish live in peace. The end”.

It’s a very sweet book – nothing too heavy, deep or sophisticated. Perfect for a 6 year old to hear about the dream of two very different species deciding that it’s nicer to live together in peace than in fear and hatred of one another. And I was all ready to send Limor on to bed with that nice message of hope, when she asked me, as she occasionally does, to read what’s written on the back cover of the book.

I often don't pay attention to the name of the author when I read to Limor. This time, I wouldn’t have noticed who it was had I not read the back cover. The book was written by Gilad Shalit.

For those who don’t know, Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas terrorists in June 2006, 2 months before his twentieth birthday. He has spent the past 56 months - nearly 6 years - in captivity, despite all efforts and calls to secure his release.

Gilad wrote the story “When the Shark and The Fish First Met” when he was in the fifth grade, 9 years before his abduction. While I was reading the book, I had no idea that he wrote this. Afterwards, reading the back cover to Limor, I was almost too choked up to finish it.

The significance about what is written in the back cover was not lost on Limor, even if she didn’t understand all of it. She looked at me and asked if Gilad is still alive. I told her that none of us really know, but we hope so. She asked what happened to him, and I told her that he was kidnapped by very bad people who won’t let him go.

Most of my Israeli friends whose political views are left of center make every effort to empathize with the plight and the situation of the Palestinians. They express understanding, and extend a hand in friendship, a willingness to let the past be in the past and to look ahead, together, to a brighter future. Part of me truly respects this approach and outlook. It is a beautiful thought.

Yet another part of me cannot help but to see the irony of it all. For those in Hamas dedicated to the destruction of Israel, any Israelis whom they are able to kill or capture represent a victory. It makes no difference if that Israeli is a right-wing settler who hates any and all Arabs sight unseen, or if he is a left-winger who "feels the pain" of the Palestinian people.

I should emphasize here what I have also mentioned in previous blogs – on the Palestinian side of the conflict, I hold the leadership (or what passes for such) responsible, and not the average “joe in the street”.
I know the counter argument to that view only too well. Many people look at the polls taken of the Palestinian populace which show an overwhelming support for the terrorist actions, the mass rallies and celebrations when Israeli civilians are killed (very much like what we also saw after the 9-11 attacks).

I have my own take on what we see from those rallies and polls. I wrote in this blog that I personally believe that the Palestinian has spent the last 40 years brainwashing the average "man in the street" by providing very limited (and directed) access to news, and a very skewed view of the complexity of the current situation. I honestly believe that the Palestinian leadership has broken the hopes and dreams of their own people while depicting Israel as responsible for their reality. With that happening, it's no wonder that the average Palestinian who doesn’t really know the bigger picture of the regional geo-politics will express views against Israel, and of course he’ll rally and celebrate victories over those who he has been convinced are the source of his hopeless existence.

Which brings me back to Gilad Shalit. Here is a young man who grew up believing, as is shown by the book he wrote at the age of about 10, that people can put aside their differences, and what they have been taught is supposed to be in their “nature” and find a common ground – no matter how different they are on the outside. If the story he wrote as a child was any indication, he would have been more than happy to sit down with the Palestinian people and say “Why do we have to kill one another? Why can’t we just play?”

Whether he was right or wrong, how can anybody not love, and even wish for the sentiment?

Yet, his five and a half years of captivity have been a period in which we have seen not only celebrations but even re-enactments of the “victorious” abduction of this supposed “enemy” of the Palestinian people.

We have been given “conditions” for his release – over 1,000 Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands in exchange for this one Israeli soldier.

This is an extremely sensitive issue for all Israelis. On the one hand, the idea of negotiating with terrorists and giving in to their demands turns the stomach of every one of us. We know without any doubt that each time Israel agrees to a deal such as these (and we have done so in the past), it sends the message that we will do so again and guarantees that more Israelis will be taken in the future.

On the other hand, for all of the mistakes and shortcomings of current and previous Israeli governments, I love the fact that each and every Israeli life is so valuable to us that we have made such concessions in the past. This is a testament to how we deeply cherish our soldiers and our civilians – as individuals, as people.

The one justification that I can see in exchanging Gilad Shalit for 1,000 murderers is that this one soldier of ours, who wrote in the 5th grade about peace and understanding, is easily worth 1,000 terrorists who celebrate in killing civilians solely because they are Jews and Israelis.

Let me hear the so-called Palestinian "leadership" publically acknowledge that, and maybe the price will have been worth paying.

Here’s to praying that we can all see Gilad return safely to his family. And soon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's A Kid's Life

I was in a coffee shop this morning waiting for a friend, and I saw a young guy who looked to be about 15 years old. He was short, maybe 5’6, and sort of reminded me of the stereotype 98-pound weakling that we used to see depicted on the old Archie comic books getting sand kicked in his face before doing the Charles Atlas body-building program and kicking the bully’s ass.

I looked at his face, with its remnants of obvious pubescent acne, and wondered why, at 9:30am, wasn’t he in school? Then I noticed his IDF uniform. I figured, OK, I misjudged his age and he’s probably 18 and a recent recruit. But no, even then I was mistaken, because on his shoulder, rather than wearing the colored strip of electrical tape signifying a private in basic training, he wore the shoulder bar insignia of a Second Lieutenant.

So for the second time I re-assessed the age of this baby-faced officer as being at the very least 19, and probably closer to his next birthday than his last one.

I understand and accept the reality that in Israel kids are forced to grow up so much faster than in most Western countries, but this morning it really hit me looking at this kid. Actually, it would be more appropriate for me to refer to him as a young man, and if I had known him during my regular IDF service, I would have called him “Sir”.

One of my very favorite things about life in Israel is also one of my least favorites. Young men and women enlist in the army at the age of 18 – men for 3 years and women for 2. Most of the polls that I have seen show that the vast majority of Israelis are very motivated to serve in the IDF, and that many would do so even if it were not mandatory. I love that Israeli youth feel such a connection to and a responsibility for the State of Israel, and I honestly believe that the time spent in military service will most of the time help mold these young people into more responsible adults.

{I know – here is where we could easily insert a very long blog-within-a-blog about many typical (and negative) Israeli behavioral patterns which make us both laugh and cringe, and they would pretty much be on the money. That being said, I stand by my above statement regarding the positive aspects of Israelis serving in the IDF because, even if the “good” Israelis are not the ones we typically see – and hear – in the street, I believe that they do make up a higher percentage of Israelis than the ones we have all come to know and avoid.}

On the other hand, it tears me up how much young adulthood is being taken away from these fine young men and women while they are trained for an art that none of us really want. There is no question in my mind that these kids would prefer never knowing a thing about weapons and attack maneuvers. They would just as soon not know how to fight. Just about every one of them would choose going to college, or the beach, and hanging out with their friends over being in the position where they have to either kill or be killed.

But considering the reality with which are dealing with by living here, these kids do what they have to do. They still manage to find the time for the hanging out, going to the beach, and so on. And from the age of 21 or 22 many of them do get moving on whatever their career track is – whether via university or jumping into the job market.

I served in the IDF for one year when I was 26, which was both lucky, and horrendous.

It was lucky because I had already gone through the period of being 18 in the way that American society had taught us to be 18 – the college experience (although mine was not a successful one), the parties, the various and sundry part-time and summer jobs. Most importantly, I had the time to get to know myself a little bit – I had lived on my own for 8 years, and I had moved halfway around the world to Israel. I basically had experienced much of the young adulthood which I see Israelis being denied.

But the experience was also horrible. Even though I was 26 and had been living as an alleged “adult” for 8 years by that point, I was in a “regular” call-up and serving with 18 year-old Israeli kids, all of whom were living away from home for the first time in their lives.

Some of these guys thought that it was very cool that I was there – I had left America to live in Israel and I was serving in the IDF, in a combat unit no less, going through all of the rigors and pains and crap that they were going through just to be a part of this country and society. The others thought that this made me the biggest idiot they had ever met and they couldn’t even begin to understand me.

Physically the experience was hell, because let’s face it – a 26 year old body, even one in reasonably good shape is not the same as an 18 year-old body. I managed to do everything these kids did, but it usually took me several more hours to recover afterwards than it took them.

But no matter how difficult a time I had physically in the army, socially it was even worse. I was simply not in the same “place” as these other guys. I was never really accepted by them as “one of them” – not even by those with whom I was friendly. But in the eyes of the drill sergeants and commanding officers – I was one of these guys. Just because I was 8 years older than them didn’t make me any different in terms of my role as a soldier in the unit.

But the truth is, that no matter how terrible a time I had during that year, if I had the chance to go back – and knowing what I now know in retrospect choose between doing what I did or doing the shortened service usually served by immigrants (one month of basic training and 2-3 months of reserve duty), I would still do the one-year service with the 18 year-old kids. I would be miserable the entire time all over again, and I would do so willingly.

My one year of serving in a unit with 18 year-old Israelis was probably equivalent (or sure as hell felt like it) to the 3 years that these guys had to do as well. And I cannot think of any better way for me to have learned Hebrew to the level that I speak it, to learn Israeli culture and Israeli mentality as well as I get them, and I would not have gained the feeling that I have given of myself for this country.

I feel as though I have earned the right to feel a certain “ownership” of Israel, that I have paid my dues and earned my rights of citizenship. And I did it for the very reasonable price of giving one year of my adult-life when I had nothing else pressing at the time, and I paid with a few months of awkward social interactions and jokes about my age and excessive body hair. All in all, not a bad deal for me (although I realy hope that I never again hear the stupid joke about wearing my sweater in the shower).

Then I look at the young baby-faced officer who I saw this morning, and I can truly appreciate what he’s doing and what he is sacrificing for the State of Israel. He is giving so much more than I did, and if he has already passed the officer’s training course, then most likely he has signed on for additional time beyond his mandatory 3 years.

The pride I feel when I see young men and women like this is overpowered only by my hope and prayer that one day, we will be in a position that we don’t need to expect this of them. When these kids will have the opportunity to be 18 year-old kids as I was able to be a lifetime and a half ago.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Role Model For Life In Israel

This blog has been updated and moved to a new location:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gay Marriage and You

So, apparently, the fabric of our society is in grave danger. Marriage, the institution upon which our family-oriented society is based is being threatened. The threat is coming from the fact that there are people who want to show their love and commitment to members of the same sex as they are.

I have to admit that this came as a real shock to me. I mean, I have been hoping for years to hear exactly how the sanctity of marriage is lessened by gay marriages and still have no clue. But it’s what I keep hearing, so it must be true, right?

In my ignorance, I would have thought that the institution of marriage was being threatened by the fact that so damn many of them end in divorce. In the United States over 50% of marriages end in divorce and the average first marriage lasts about 8 years. Doesn’t that undermine the holy institution?

Now, it really isn’t fair that we look just at the divorce rate, because, to be honest, there are marriages that really should end – for the good of everybody involved.

So an even more telling stat from a recent poll that I saw is that 57% of married men and 54% of married women admitted to having extra-marital affairs. Worse – 74% of men surveyed and 68% of women said that they would have an affair if they were sure that they would never be caught.

But not even the obscenely high rate of marriage infidelity is as big of a threat to marriages as Gay Marriage is.

In my naiveté, I might have even blamed Hollywood for the threat to the sanctity of marriage.

It’s confession time.

I have a “guilty pleasure” which I occasionally partake when the family is either out of the house or asleep. I like to close the windows and shades, turn the lights down, the TV on, and watch E-TV (Entertainment network). So that you don’t think that I’m a completely immoral sleaze-bucket, I will say that I don’t watch most of the shows on that station and none of the really stupid ones (at least not by my very high standards), but there are several shows on the channel that I enjoy. I especially like some of their “countdown” series (recently I watched the 5-part series “101 Reasons The 90s Ruled”, which was an absolutely wonderful re-cap of the decade).

A few nights ago they had a show about the “10 Most Shocking Hollywood Divorces”. Now I’m really confused. What exactly is shocking about celebrity marriages that don’t make it? Once in a very long while we hear about a celebrity that does stay married, and faithful for a serious period of time, and that’s a real shocker. But most of us can count on one hand the number of Hollywood couples that have stayed together for more than a few years.

Nevertheless we're being told by so many religious fundamentalists (and othewise ignorant homophobes) that it’s gay marriage undermining our society and the sanctity of the institution of marriage.

Seriously? It’s the gays that destroying the institute of marriage? Not Larry Kind or Elizabeth Taylor with either of their nearly double-digit number of trips down the aisle? Not Brittany Spears with one of her marriages that lasted barely over 2 days (55 hours, to be exact)? How about Kelsey Grammar – who recently announced his upcoming fourth marriage while still officially married to his third wife?

The list of celebrities who can only count their anniversaries in months rather than years is amazing. The list of celebrities married 2, 3 and 5 times is even more so. And we won’t even go near the celebrities screwing around with anything and anyone they can find within arm’s reach!

And the reality is that what we see going in Hollywood marriages and relationships is nothing more than a microcosm of what we see in society as a whole.

So what exactly is it about same-sex marriage that bothers so many people?

I know – there are many people who are not comfortable with homosexuality in our society. I understand that – things to which we cannot relate are often threatening to us – they force us to see a reality which we cannot understand. So, for many, the natural reaction is to attack, belittle and delegitimize it. After all, once we convince ourselves of the invalidity of something, then we we’re off the proverbial hook for understanding it, let alone accepting it.

One of the popular arguments against homosexuality is that the Bible forbids it. Specifically, in the book of Leviticus it says that “A man may not lie with another man as he lies with a woman” (18:22) and that the penalty for doing so is death (20:13).

The sages of the Talmud taught that actually putting a person to death – for any crime listed in the Bible was almost impossible to do for all of the conditions necessary to actually bring about a death sentence, and it is even written that a Sanhedrin (Jewish High Court of ancient times) that puts one person to death in a 70-year period is a “blood-thirsty Sanhedrin”.

So, the Bible does in fact take a stand against homosexual relationships. It also takes a stand against violating the Sabbath, against adultery, against a plethora of other things that are so common-place in our society, yet I have yet to see a rally, demonstration, or a hate crime against people who watch television on the Sabbath. Have you?

Yet even people who are not religiously observant like to quote the Bible in “proving” that homosexuality is wrong, even un-natural – as though they, in their one instance of Biblical scholarship, are the advocates for what God wants and expects of us (Pot, meet kettle…)

Personally, I am a firm believer that what goes on behind a person’s closed bedroom door is very much my business – from the moment that they invite me to participate. Until then - not even a little bit.

Until then, it has absolutely nothing to do with me. A person’s private life is exactly that – their private life, and it’s not up to me in any way, shape or form to “agree” or “approve” of any of it.

As a religiously observant person who does believe in God, making sure I’m being OK in His eyes, and that I’m living my life in the best way possible is already a full-time job – and one with which I’m struggling. How can I take it upon myself to tell others what they should or shouldn‘t be doing?

That’s what we have celebrities for….