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Archive for May, 2009

Slogans: Part II

For the first part of this post, see my entry, Slogans: Part I.  Now, to continue…

Why do people use these slogans?  Because they make the message clear and simple.  Because everyone can understand a bully who uses another’s weakness to seize power or possessions.  Because people learn in early childhood that there are two sides to every story, and it is usually the scrappy, ill-equipped underdog rather than the more powerful, better-favored bruiser who wins hearts.  David and Goliath, Odysseus and Poseidon, Harry Potter and Voldemort.  Israel was the darling of the media as long as it was ridiculously outnumbered by its saber-rattling Arab neighbors.  But now the players are different.  It’s an Israel spending a huge chunk of its GDP on the latest weapons technology against a cadre of swarthy “revolutionaries” (who are, though not everyone realizes this, generously funded by oil revenues paid by Uncle Sam).  The reality of what exists here is much more complicated and frankly, it takes too long to get one’s head around the issue.  Better just to stick with the formula everyone knows and loves: Big Guy “bad”; Little Guy “good.”  Israel’s mission to build a state we can be ourselves in and be proud of (and that of the Arabs, for that matter, of destroying said state) are the same as they were from the beginning, but if one appears on CNN to have better fire-power or a more organized government or a higher GDP, then that makes that one the Big Guy and thus, “bad.”

One of the most common things called for by foreign governments as part of the “peace process” is a freeze on building in the “settlements.”  What are the settlements?  They are towns and villages built in the land Israel was left holding at the end of 1967.  Why didn’t Israel give the land back immediately after the war?  Well, they tried.  But when they attempted to invite a coalition of their Arab neighbors for negotiations to return the land, the Arabs met in Khartoum and passed the Khartoum resolutions, also known as the Council of Three Nos: No negotiation with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no peace with Israel.  Israel couldn’t give away the land at the time.  What was Israel to do with it?  The only option remained to keep it.  And given that the Arabs had lost it fair and square in a fight they themselves had started, and the fact that that land contained some of the greatest historical treasures in this part of the world (The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Joseph’s Tomb in Ramallah, and the site of the ancient city of Shilo where the Ark of the Covenant once rested), why not build there?  There was no such thing as a Palestinian people, but Israel was nonetheless generous enough to allow the Arabs who inhabited that land to remain on it rather than expelling them.  No Arabs were evicted to make room for the settlements, and indeed, my own town of Efrat was built in such a way as not even to disturb the vineyards and olive groves of the Arabs who farmed (and continue to farm) here.

Settlers themselves are usually portrayed in the media as farbrennter religious Jews who live here because God told them to.  Some people do indeed live in settlements because the Torah does say that God granted this land as a heritage for the Jewish people, and therefore, if Israel has both a religious and a political mandate to the land, why shouldn’t we settle here?  But that only accounts for a small percentage of settlers.  There are also haredi settlers, like those in Kiryat Sefer and Beitar Illit, who live there because the towns are reasonably well located and it is much easier to afford housing for their usually large families.  Some of these haredi settlers are actually anti-Zionist, and neither support the State of Israel (though it supports them) nor serve in the IDF.  And there are also secular and apolitical Jews who choose to reside in settlements for the small-town feel, affordable housing, quiet, clean air, and good schools.

To say that settlements and settlers are an obstacle to peace is a fallacy.  Were there settlements during the Arab riots of 1920, 1929 and 1936?  Were there settlements in 1948?  Were there settlements during the Sinai campaign?  Were there settlements during the War of Attrition?  (Most settlements were built in the 1970s and 1980s.)  There has not been peace between Arabs and Jews in this part of the world since Avraham Avinu sent Hagar and Ishmael away in the Torah.  And there were certainly no settlements then.

The “wall” is another favorite hot-button issue.  (It’s as controversial in Israel as it is outside, actually, but that’s not important right now.)  Who (of a certain age) can forget the eyesore of the Berlin Wall, and the elation felt by all who watched it get torn down?  Robert Frost wrote that “good fences make good neighbors,” and the Chinese and the Romans certainly proved that.  While it is true that mortars and rockets can still be fired over such a wall, its presence has cut down dramatically on the kind of terror attacks that plagued Israel during the late 1990s and early 2000s, namely suicide bombings.  One of its nicknames is the “apartheid wall.” I find this particularly amusing, considering that it’s the Arabs who seek to found a judenrein state, and insist (along with the West) that Israel keep its Arab population within its borders.  “Security barrier” is a more accurate term, since only 3% of it is actual wall, and the rest is other materials such as chain link fence, trenches, and guard paths.  The parts of the barrier that are solid wall were built to protect motorists from sniper fire coming from Arab-inhabited areas.  While I agree that it is unsightly in places, there would be no need for it—or for security checkpoints along the roads—if Arabs renounced terrorism and violence.  PM Netanyahu is credited with saying, “If the Arabs put down their weapons, there would be peace today.  If the Jews put down their weapons, there would be no Israel.”

One slogan which I find most refreshing to see abandoned is “land for peace.”  Parcels of land, large and small, have been given to the Arabs here in which to govern themselves, police themselves, and support themselves.  Money, too, has been donated by the other nations of the world to enable the Arabs to build the framework for an independent state.  Have there been increasing signs of peace coming from their side?  Alas no.  In the land given for their self-government, quality of life has plummeted, and instead of investing the world’s money in an economy, health care, and education for themselves, the governing Arabs (both Fatah and Hamas) have funneled the money into their own coffers to pay for weapons, training, luxuries and security services for their officials, and cash awards for the families of suicide bombers.  Instead of using the land for farming or development, they destroyed the greenhouses in Gaza purchased from exiting settlers by sympathetic Westerners, and have used the Strip as a giant launching pad for mortars and rockets fired into Israel.  Ironically, instead of peace for the land Israel has given them, Israel has received even more—and more severe—war.  Second Lebanon.  Daily mortar fire on Sderot, Ashkelon, and the western Negev.  Operation Cast Lead.  What’s next on the land-for-peace agenda?  For those with eyes to see, the agenda has to change.  And since the result of giving land to terrorist-governed Arabs has been little more than paying them “protection money” (for which the price continues to rise, benefit to fall, and demand to increase in frequency), perhaps it’s time for a rethink.

So will a two-state solution come to pass?  I don’t know.  Some Israelis support it, especially if giving land to create a stable, peaceful, self-governing and self-supporting Arab state were possible.  But that is clearly not possible right now.  The goal of both Israel and America (and everyone else, if they can see past their coke-bottle PC glasses) should be to turn their attention away from Israel and what everyone likes to believe it’s doing wrong, and focus on what needs to happen in order for the Arabs to create a state for themselves that will succeed, free of terrorism, free of governmental graft and corruption, and suitable to govern itself.  Netanyahu’s proposals are for the first baby steps in that direction.  And one of those steps is to abandon the failures of the past and throw away the tape that keeps playing in everyone’s head: “occupation,” “settlements,” “land for peace,” …

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Slogans: Part I

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have begun their White House talks this week, discussing their different goals and strategies for peacemaking in the Middle East.

Each of their perspectives has been reflected in the press, with Obama adhering to the tried-and-false methods of leaning on Israel to make concessions and give away land to create a Palestinian state as soon as possible, and Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman concluding that the old methods have failed to bear fruit, and it’s time for a fresh approach.  The Israelis have committed themselves to a slower process, creating facts on the ground such as a stronger, more independent economy for the Arabs, leading ultimately to a state more disposed to peace with Israel than what we currently have.

Netanyahu and Lieberman, in their departure from the old methods, have told the West that it must abandon the tired slogans that have been bandied about for decades.  These slogans include “occupation,” “Palestinians,” “settlements,” “security wall,” “land for peace,” and “two-state solution.”  None of these slogans reflects the history of the region or the reality of life here today, and the longer those who truly wish peace in the region employ them, the more elusive peace will be.  I would like to take this opportunity to debunk, once and for all, the myths that are represented by these slogans.

“Occupation” is a word popularly employed by the Arab world to describe Israel’s presence in the territories conquered in the Six Day War of 1967.  It implies (to people unfamiliar with the history of the region) that the Arabs who call themselves “Palestinians” enjoyed their own sovereign state in these territories (Judea, Samaria, and Gaza) before that war, and that Israel aggressively attacked them in order to acquire more land.  This is a lie.  If Israel were ever to return these lands, it would entail placing calls to King Abdullah and Hosni Mubarak, since it was Jordan and Egypt who were the conquerors of this land in 1948, and who were the governments to whom Arabs living in those lands from 1948 to 1967 answered.  So far, no one has insisted that those lands be returned to Egypt and Jordan, and peace was made with both of those countries through other concessions by Israel (the Sinai and 10 million cubic meters of water annually, respectively).  If Israel is indeed “occupying” this land, it is clearly with the blessing of the land’s previous governments.

Before the last 30 years, there was no talk of a native Arab people called “Palestinians.” The name has been invented by Arabs who wish to create a state on this land and who would like to propagate the myth that their ancestors have lived here as far back as Biblical times.  Some Arabs have even attempted to assert that the “Palestinian people” are descended from the ancient Canaanites (though even Arab academics scoff at that great fabrication).  The Arabs who live here were subjects of neighboring Arab states, and most of their ancestors arrived within the last 100 years to find work with the arrival of Jews from Europe in the early waves of immigration.  Both Arabs and Jews living here before 1948 are rightfully called “Palestinians.”

It is true that the Jews now have a homeland, and the Arab people who call themselves “Palestinians” do not.  The world seems to think that this is a problem incumbent on Israel to solve.  Why?  Did the Israelis create the problem by declaring war on their Arab neighbors (multiple times)?  No.  Did Israelis take land that was owned by these Arabs?  Assuredly not.  (Jews around the world donated money for the legal purchase of land from absentee Ottoman landowners before the First World War, and much of that land was lost with the Partition Plan and the subsequent War of Independence.)  Did Jews have less right to flee persecution and pogroms in Europe and seek new opportunity in this land than the Arabs who left their homes to seek economic opportunity?  No.  Are Jews responsible for the Balfour Declaration which promised them a homeland by the British mandatory government?  No.  Must something be done to settle the matter and end the violence in this region?  YES.  And it is this word, “yes,” that the Arabs must learn to say.  “Yes” to renouncing terrorism, “yes” to peace, “yes” to using the money the world is giving them to building themselves up rather than trying to tear Israel down, “yes” to education and modernization and skilled job training and an economy and relations with the West as well as with other Arab nations and pride in what they can accomplish rather than in what they can destroy.

Visit again tomorrow for Slogans: Part II.

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Tzitz

Last year, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem unveiled a completed tzitz, the solid gold crown intended to be worn by the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, in the Temple (whenever we merit to rebuild it).  I was first struck by its beauty, and then by the stirring I always feel in my soul when I see what this organization does to prepare for a return to Temple worship.

But then I was moved by another emotion.  This tzitz would only ever be worn by a man.

Most of the time I study Torah and the disproportionate role men play in it, and don’t really spend time thinking about it.  But now I began to feel irritated, thinking about the rampant corruption, greed, and incompetence in Israel today—in the government and the rabbinate in particular—and thought about how the vast majority of these thieves and charlatans are men.  For there never to rise an honest, learned, devout woman to wear that tzitz seems to me the greatest waste of human endeavor.  (Has no one noticed that a person’s Judaism is only passed through the mother?  If the sleazy excuse that one could traditionally only prove maternity and not paternity still stands, then why doesn’t the status of Kohen and Levi pass through the mother too?)

But to be a woman is to be kept in a holding pattern of potential.  It’s always to look ahead, way down the road, and imagine what life will be like for women in the future.  It’s to celebrate the (sometimes meager-seeming) accomplishments we’ve made through herculean effort and sacrifice, and to see that we’ve only addressed the tip of the iceberg of inequality.  To be a woman is to be an optimist; otherwise, life would be unbearable.

My consolation in seeing this completed tzitz right now is that we are so far from even having a man be allowed to wear it that the fact that a woman will likely never wear it doesn’t bother me so much.  As a human race, and especially as Jews, we have so far to go before the Temple service will be re-established, that at this time I think the effort to get to a place where a person—any person—could wear it is challenge enough.  And who knows?  Perhaps by the time we merit to rebuild the Temple, the rules will have changed and women will carry kahuna status.  Absurd?  Perhaps.  But hey, we finally got the vote, didn’t we?

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Finding your other half

The Cap’n and I recently celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary.  In honor of nine years of fun, laughs, mind-boggling accomplishment (of which our four children are only a part), and true friendship, I thought I might share some of Shimshonit’s Finding the One tips.

I have observed that people tend to be attracted to the same type of person and don’t always realize it.  I once had a conversation with a woman who was recently divorced.  I had known her husband, so when she told me she was looking for something different, I was all ears.  She told me about a man she had met with whom she was spending time regularly.  As she described him, I realized she could easily be describing her ex-husband.  This woke me up to the fact that while we may set out after a failed relationship to find something different, we must do some thinking before we allow ourselves to repeat the choices of the past.

I took time out when thinking about married life to imagine what I wanted my marriage—and myself—to look like.  What kind of father did I want my children to have?  What traditions would we have in the household?  What religion would be observed at home?  What kind of upbringing would we give our children?  And what kind of mother should I be?  When I decided for myself that I wanted a Jewish home, I was forced to come face to face with the fact that I was not, according to most Jews in the world, Jewish.  I could have chosen only to move within the world of Reform Judaism, disregarding the rest of the Jewish world.  But I wanted for myself and my (then future) children to be able to move freely in the Jewish world—in America, Israel, and everywhere else.  To be an attractive marriage candidate for a Jewish man who cared about such things, I would have to go to work making myself properly Jewish.  I quit my job, came to Israel, and embarked on an intensive program of remedial Jewish study.  (That’s an extreme course to take; most people can pursue some sort of formal or informal Jewish study where they live.)

What I did NOT do when planning my future family was invent deadlines.  When I finally decided what I wanted, and determined that my wants and expectations were reasonable, I was prepared to wait.  A friend of mine from college had her life mapped out at the age of 22.  She told me she would meet a man with the appropriate Christian beliefs, marry at 28, and have two children by the age of 33.  I asked her how she could possibly know all this, but she had her mind made up.  (I bumped into her ten years later on the street and none of the things she’s planned for herself had come to pass.)  The truth is, we don’t always know when we will meet the right person, and baruch Hashem, we don’t live in a time and culture where girls have to be married by a certain age or they lose all prospects.  I know men and women who married for the first time in their late thirties, forties, and even fifties.  I had decided before coming to Israel the first time that if I had to wait until I was 80 to meet the right man, then I would wait (though clearly the children part would probably not happen then).

When I was done dating for recreation and psychological experimentation and decided to look for a partner in earnest, I decided to go about it the scientific way: with a list.  In my head (though one could use pen and paper), I listed the qualities, based on my experience of trial and error, that I thought would make a successful candidate.  I took into account the few good qualities of the individuals with whom I had spent my spare time up to that point, and added to it my wish list of qualities based on my own weaknesses.  Where I was weak, I would look for someone with strengths in that area.  Where I was strong, I might not avidly seek a person with the exact same strengths.  I also noted which qualities were deal-breakers (kindness, willingness to pitch in with household chores) and which were desirable but not essential (neatness, a good singing voice).

Interests were also important.  I thought about the man who said he could never be in a relationship with a woman who didn’t love bluegrass music.  I’m not even sure I know what bluegrass sounds like, so perhaps I’m biased.  But I don’t think it’s wise to insist that a person like a particular type of music (rather than music in general), or be ethnically exotic, or look like Princess Diana.  (Don’t laugh; there are such people in the world, and many of them are still single.)  If I have 10 areas of serious interest, I think it’s reasonable that my partner for life share half of them.  I lucked out: the Cap’n is an accomplished pianist (something I am not, though I sing and play the flute), enjoys classical music (an appreciation I share), reads widely (usually stuff I don’t read, but which I am happy to talk about with him), loves to go to movies (and sees British costume stuff with me, while I go to Star Trek movies with him), and hates camping (though a good hike is always greeted with enthusiasm).  He has interests I don’t share and vice versa, but we have plenty to enjoy together as well as separately.

Some things must be negotiable.  Someone who dates only people who look like Scarlett Johanssen or Ioan Gruffudd may find themselves compromising on more important issues.  I once heard that someone should look good enough for you to want to hold his hand in public (even if you are shomeret negiah and don’t actually hold hands in public).  There is something to the cultural wisdom about “Beauty is as beauty does” and the Beauty and the Beast story.  Sometimes a person’s inner beauty outshines by far his outer beauty.  To know a person well enough to see the inner beauty should be seen as a privilege that not everyone shares.

Money is also important (poverty is incredibly stressful), but my Cousin Bertie’s advice that “You’ll never marry a poor girl if you never date one” is perhaps a little too materialistic.  (Bertie’s been married several times.)  It’s reasonable to want someone who is a wage-earner (or is willing to be); it’s less reasonable to expect a potential spouse to be a Fortune 500 CEO.  Money enough to feed, clothe, and house you both (and your children, iy”h) is essential.  But greater financial security can be achieved in a relationship where both partners recognize that family and friends are more important than wealth, that money is a means to an end, and that doing without things is sometimes healthier than owning or doing everything you want.

The deal-breakers should probably depend on the answers to some tough questions:
· How does the person treat others?  His mother?  Women in general?  People who report to him at work?  Intellectual inferiors?  Poor or mentally ill people?  Animals?  Appliances that don’t work?
· How does he behave in a crisis?  When he’s lost?  When he loses something?  In a car accident?  When he’s sick?  When you’re sick?
· Is he honest?  I’m not talking about the guy who tells you you look great when you know you don’t, though that’s certainly nice.  Does he deal honestly in business?  Does he cheat on his taxes?  Does he lie about important things?  Is he afraid to say “I don’t know” if he really doesn’t know something?  Do his words match his actions and behavior?
· Is there anything between you that might make a long-term relationship difficult (or impossible), like alcoholism, drug use, chronic illness, history of neglect or abuse, legal problems, mental illness, or kleptomania?
· Are your religious/spiritual beliefs reasonably similar?  Do you agree on how the household should be run, and how holidays should be celebrated?
· Can you picture yourself growing old with him?
· Would you want your children to grow up to be like him?

Before I met the Cap’n, I decided that a spouse should be a friend, lover, fellow parent and wage-earner, but also something else: a teacher.  However a man checked out on my list of desirables, deal-breakers, and Tough Questions, I wanted the person I would spend my life with to be someone from whom I could learn something valuable.  Examining my greatest flaws and thinking about what I had yet to learn, I found things in the Cap’n that he could teach me: patience, generosity, financial sense, and how to analyze problems in ways I never did before.  And I flatter myself that despite my manifold flaws, I’ve perhaps been able to impart some minor skills and wisdom to him in return.

I’m no Dear Abby or matchmaker or “relationship coach.”  I’m just someone who made lots of mistakes and eventually lucked out finding a partner.  The places I have found the sagest advice about dating and relationships are the Aish.com website, Barbara DeAngelis’s seminars and books (which taught me that couples can actually fight constructively), and couples I’ve observed throughout my life.  I also recommend Suze Orman’s books on managing one’s finances to put money into perspective.

I welcome any reader perspectives on this issue, including thoughts, experiences, and other good sources of advice.

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Risk and salmonella

One of many chat lists to which I subscribe is the Israel Food list, where English-speakers all across Israel and the Diaspora convene to swap recipes, give advice, inquire about where to buy hard-to-find items, and generally do what Jews do best: discuss food.

Recently, a discussion took place about making recipes using raw eggs.  One person asked if there was less risk of contracting salmonella from eating raw eggs in Israel than elsewhere.  Most people agreed that the risk is as high here as anywhere else in the world, but die-hard mousse fans dismissed the risk as an obstacle.  Below was one such die-hard’s response to the discussion:

I think the threat of salmonella from raw eggs is brought to you by the same people who want to put helmets on kids who ride tricycles, or keep them in carseats until they’re old enough to drive. (Seriously, the recommendation in the US now is until age 8. Do you know ANYONE here who would put a 7 year old in a carseat?) It’s the mentality that says that if we do everything “right” that nothing bad can happen to us, ever. As opposed to those of us who have chosen to live our lives here, who understand that life involves risks and balances and that everything ultimately is not in our control.

There is probably a very small, but real, risk of contracting salmonella from any given raw egg, just as there is a very small, but real, risk of getting hit head-on by a crazy driver, or tossed over by an Arab bulldozer, every time you get into a car. You can either give up mousses and Caesar salads and driving, or you can enjoy what life has to offer and worry about the real risks. Like Israeli drivers. They’re WAY more dangerous than salmonella.

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I have written a post about the Crunch family’s Lag B’Omer experience this year.  You can read it (and see the cake I baked for last Lag B’Omer) over at Frum From Rebirth.

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The Pope descends

Pope Benedict XVI landed in Israel yesterday for a 5-day visit, only the third papal visit to Israel in history.  (Of course that’s not bad, since the Vatican only decided to recognize Israel in 1993.  I’m still not sure I’ve gotten around to recognizing the Vatican yet.)

He has a jam-packed schedule which was printed in several places in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post.  One of the published schedules was considerate enough to include which parts of Jerusalem would be shut down (street-by-street) on which days.  This was relevant because while we had plans to go up to the city to enjoy a barbecue lunch with friends today, we would not have been able to do so tomorrow when the Pope visits nearby Bethlehem and the streets are vehicle-rein for the duration.

In general, the Pope’s visit is a nice thing.  It’s a warm gesture toward Jews from a quarter whose record on Jews has been historically less than warm and fuzzy.  It’s an apolitical show of support for the idea of peace in the region (sort of like that of a beauty pageant contestant’s).  And it’s an effort to hearten the beleaguered and dwindling Christian community in this part of the world, whose existence is of no particular interest to the Jews, but an irritant to the Muslims who have pursued a program of harassment and intimidation that has led to most of the Christians leaving the country.

One thing that is not nice, however, is the effort the Vatican has been making to gain control over a number of buildings in Israel, including many in Jerusalem.  Chief among the latter is the building housing the room where the Last Supper is reputed to have taken place, but which also houses a yeshiva and the tombs of Kings David, Solomon, and Hezekiah.  I am not well versed in the legal aspects of what is Church property and what isn’t, or what sort of terms exist between the Vatican and Israel for the transfer of control of property.  But while Israel may stand to benefit financially from an increase in Christian pilgrimage to sites turned over to Catholic control, it would clearly represent a loss to the Jews of one of the most meaningful sites we possess on Mt. Zion.  The rooftop of the yeshiva was, between the years 1948 and 1967, the closest a Jew could get to the Temple Mount, and yeshiva students would often pray up there.  The tomb of three of our greatest kings cannot possibly mean as much to Christians as it does to us.  But the bitterest feeling I have about the possible transfer of these properties to the Vatican is the question, “What do we get from them?”  I don’t think collateral revenue is enough for the transfer of a royal tomb.  I have something a little more substantial in mind: the vessels from the Second Temple.

I don’t believe the Pope, a former member of the Hitlerjugend, is proud of his wartime activities.  I believe he takes seriously his role as an advocate of world peace. He has denounced anti-Semitism.  He has renounced Catholic missionary activity.  And I think he recognizes when terrorism and religious extremism represent roadblocks to peace, even if he can’t point a finger and say, “There are the bloodthirsty bastards who are holding up the parade!”

These are all reasons why I think he should take his goodness a step further and return our plundered property.  There is little doubt in anyone’s mind (who considers the historical events of nearly 2000 years ago) where the golden menorah carved in relief on the Arch of Titus ended up.  The Jews led off to Rome ended up slaves, and the Temple vessels ended up…in the vaults of the Vatican.  They are not on display, and I doubt the Church has ever admitted to having them in its possession.  But just as Hamas kidnapping Gilad Shalit and keeping him in an undisclosed location with no contact with his family or visits from the Red Cross is a crime of world-class proportions, so is sitting on property stolen from the Jews.  I don’t blame the Church entirely for its possession of these items; after all, it wasn’t Christians who stole the stuff, but the Romans.  But relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews have warmed in the past two millenia, and it’s time to mark that fact with something momentous.  If Jews are entitled to claim their dead ancestors’ life insurance benefits (purchased by Jews who perished in the Shoah) and priceless works of art stolen by the Nazis that occasionally come to light in collections across Europe, surely the Jewish people (now represented by the State of Israel) is entitled to the recovery of vessels which were once used in the biblically mandated service of God.

If it were up to me, this would be a deal-breaker: Give us back our stuff from the Temple and you can have your buildings back.  In about 2000 years.

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