Archive for July, 2010

The Cap’n and I have a very cooperative attitude towards watching TV and movies: he watches my 18th and 19th century British costume things, and I agree to sit through his swashbuckling slashers like “Kill Bill” and “Memento.”  Our interests converge with fantasy (LOTR, Harry Potter), absurdity (the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series), anti-nonsense (Penn and Teller’s “BULLSH*T”), and sci-fi (Star Trek and the new Dr. Who).

I didn’t care much for the original “Star Trek” show.  I thought Spock was cool, but Kirk was a rather pathetic ladies’ man, and Bones just a big kvetch.  (Chekov’s accent was cute, though—“nuclear wessels” has replaced “nuclear weapons” in my personal lexicon.)  I missed most of the “Next Generation,” being out of the country, in graduate school, or otherwise occupied.  The Cap’n and I watched the last season of “Voyager” in our first year of marriage, catching up with episodes we’d missed via re-runs.  I found a woman captain and a male first officer much more interesting than the crews up to that point, and enjoyed the rest of the cast and themes as well.

Fast forward eight years.  After Bill was born, we watched seven seasons of “The West Wing” in a few months, and began casting about for something else to engross us longterm.  Someone here in Efrat had “Star Trek: Deep Space 9,” which I had missed completely but had heard good things about.  I have enjoyed meeting a new cast and more interesting characters.  Odo, the shape-shifting chief of security, is a delightful curmudgeon; Dax, this show’s jiggle factor, has an interesting back-story (seven lifetimes stored in a pod to which her body plays host as a Trill); but perhaps my favorite is Quark, the Ferengi bar-owner.

It soon became clear to me that with their unlovely appearance, ruthless pursuit of profit, and good heads (literally) for business, they were, if not gross caricatures of Jews, at least inspired by unfavorable historical representations of them.  (The Cap’n corroborated this, as does the Wiki page on Ferengi, and indeed, the four Ferengi characters most often seen on the show are played by Jews: Armin Shimerman, Max Grodénchik, Aron Eisenberg, and Wallace Shawn.)

This probably bothers some Jews whose sensibilities are fine-tuned to cultural slights.  It does not bother me.  First of all, a bar owner could just as easily belong to the Italian mob or be a Irishman selling Guiness in Southie to homesick ex-pats.  (The bartender on “The Love Boat” was Black.)  And secondly, the Ferengi are (in my opinion) some of the cleverest and most amusing characters in the series.  Where Avery Brooks (Commander Sisko) took until the third season to smile, Major Kira is a battle-scarred Bajoran ex-freedom fighter who never seems to relax, and Doctor Bashir’s medical genius is matched only by his ego, Quark and his ilk provide much of the comedy (and garner most of the audience’s affection) in the show.

According to the Wiki page (written by someone who knows his Trek trivia, though I made a few edits to the page myself), here are some of the qualities of Ferengi:

  • They live by 285 Rules of Acquisition, which govern the main goal of their existence: turning a profit.  “The Ferengi also recognize the five Stages of Acquisition: infatuation, justification, appropriation, obsession, and resale.”  When a Ferengi plays host, he greets his guest with the following formula: “Welcome to our home.  Please place your thumbprint on the legal waivers and deposit your admission fee in the slot by the door.  Remember, my house is my house.”  The guest is expected to reply, “As are its contents.”
  • The Ferengi religion holds that the afterlife reflects a person’s pursuit of profit in life.  Upon death, a Ferengi’s financial statements are reviewed by the deity, the Blessed Exchequer, and if the departed earned a profit, he is admitted to Ferengi heaven where he is given the opportunity to bid on a new life.  Those who failed to amass wealth in life are damned to the Vault of Eternal Destitution.
  • While nothing that interferes with profit is valued or practiced by Ferengi (e.g. racism, war, labor unions, sick leave, vacation), cheating or selling family members is considered acceptable if it results in profit.  Women in particular are treated poorly in Ferengi society, being prohibited to wear clothes, profit, talk to strangers, or travel without permission from the paterfamilias.  They are also expected to soften their family members’ food by chewing it for them.  (Really, with the sexism this over the top, who can’t laugh at it?)
  • In a conversation with Commander Sisko, Quark identifies the root of the mistrust and apparent dislike humans (pronounced by Ferengi as “hew-mons”) feel for his people:  The way I see it, humans used to be a lot like Ferengi: greedy, acquisitive, interested only in profit.  We’re a constant reminder of a part of your past you’d like to forget. … Humans used to be a lot worse than Ferengi.  Slavery, concentration camps, interstellar war; we have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism.  You see?  We’re nothing like you.  We’re better.

All of the above describes the qualities of Ferengi as a general society.  But of course, the Ferengi one meets aboard DS9 (that great IUD in the sky) are individuals, and buck Ferengi tradition in all sorts of ways.  While he adheres to the traditional male attitudes towards Ferengi females, Quark actually has a few steamy romances with females of other species, as well as having a high regard for Dax (not least because she’s a whiz at the Ferengi game of Tongo).  Rom, Quark’s brother, is actually a technical genius who rarely gets to show his true quality, instead living day to day being bullied and bossed by Quark in the bar.  Nog, Rom’s teenage son, sees his father beaten down by the monolithic Ferengi culture of greed and profit and rejects that life, choosing instead to apply to Starfleet Academy.  And Ishka, Quark and Rom’s mother, defies Ferengi law by wearing clothes around the house and amassing a vast fortune of her own, which she schemes with Rom to hide both from Quark and from the Ferengi Commerce Authority (the Ferengi IRS).

The Cap’n and I were discussing the recurring themes of “Voyager” (the great value and desirability of being human) and “DS9” (leaving one’s own people and their flawed and/or evil ways to embrace the universalist, kumbaya-singing world of Starfleet).  We noted that Odo has refused to join the other Shape-Shifters in running the Dominion, one of the chief adversaries in the series; Worf has at last made a clean break with the Klingons; and Nog has applied to Starfleet Academy as the first-ever Ferengi to abandon profit for altruism.  While it’s a good enough foundation for these series, the idea of interstellar cooperation, making and enforcement of treaties, negotiating peace between warring races, and ethical free trade can get a little saccharine after a while.  (Quark reflects this in his occasional complaints about the taste of root beer, which he replicates in his bar and describes as “so bubbly and cloying and happy.  Just like the Federation.”

A dose of unbridled libertarianism, shockingly unethical behavior, and political incorrectness is just what the show needs.  Without it, I would die of boredom and Type II diabetes.


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A bad business

As a former schoolmarm, I have a retirement account managed by TIAA-CREF.  The Cap’n recently called out from the laptop in his office in our basement to tell me that there is a divest-from-Israel campaign afoot, and perhaps I would like to write a letter?

He sent me a link to a report about a recent TIAA-CREF shareholders’ meeting in which they garnered 15,300 signatures from teachers and professors demanding that TIAA-CREF divest from companies that do business with Israel, benefiting from “repression,” “land theft,” “death,” and “The Occupation.”  It’s always sad to me to see purportedly intelligent Jews making asses of themselves on camera, parading their heartfelt ignorance before the world, and enlisting as Useful Fools in the cause of Israel’s destruction.  Watch and weep.

I simply cannot see that sort of thing without running to the computer (or, since I’m already here, opening up Word) and writing a letter.  The letter to other shareholders about the “breakthrough” meeting in which “[n]ot a single person spoke to defend Israel’s occupation” continues,  “But we all know that will change, which is why we need you now to join our call and help us grow the 15,300 to 25,000 and then 50,000.”  Not THIS shareholder.

Here’s my letter to TIAA-CREF:

Dear Madam or Sir:

It has come to my attention that an organization calling itself Jewish Voice For Peace has been collecting signatures for a petition calling TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

As a TIAA-CREF shareholder, I would like to offer a different perspective.

I actually live in Israel.  Furthermore, I live in the West Bank.  And unlike the American Jewish Voice For Peace, I see every day the civility, courtesy, and cooperation that exist between Israelis and Arabs.  We share the roads, and we share an economy.  And while there are frequent demonstrations calling for an end to Israeli “occupation” of this area, they are nearly always planned and attended by non-Israeli, non-Arab activists (political tourists, if you like).

The people who spoke on behalf of Jewish Voice For Peace on the video posted online seem like intelligent people.  But unfortunately, even intelligent people can sometimes have a poor understanding of history and current events.  The West Bank and Gaza were left in Israel’s hands after Israel successfully fought off an unprovoked attack by Jordan and Egypt in 1967, who hoped for the second time to destroy Israel and divide its land.  Israel has tried numerous times to trade these lands for peace, first to Jordan and Egypt (who refused after the Khartoum Conference) and many times to PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat and PA President Mahmoud Abbas (who refused to accept them and end the conflict once and for all).  The settlements are legal according to international law, there is nothing approaching apartheid either in Israel or in the disputed territories, and Israel gave Gaza to the Arabs in 2005, painfully uprooting its own citizens, in order to give the Arabs a head start on building a state.  In return, not only has Hamas refused to engage in any of the necessary tasks of state-building, it has continued its war against the Jewish State, firing thousands of rockets and mortars across the border into Israel, terrorizing the Israeli population, killing and maiming people, and causing millions of dollars of damage to property, meanwhile taking refuge behind its own civilian population for whose safety and well-being it feels no responsibility.

The individuals who call themselves Jewish Voice For Peace appear well-meaning, but in calling for boycotts and divestment in order to weaken Israel’s economy (which also serves Israeli Arabs, Beduins, and Druze), they are no friends of peace.  Were they really interested in peace, they would be encouraging TIAA-CREF to help strengthen the Palestinian Arabs by supporting through investments Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s efforts to build a viable Palestinian economy as one of the necessary steps toward a lasting regional peace.

I too would like to see peace come to the Middle East.  But I also recognize that activism against Israel, without an understanding of the complex relationship between Israel’s economy and the peace process, is ignorant, short-sighted, and bad for business.

I urge you at TIAA-CREF not to give in to pressure by ill-informed political activists who want to weaken Israel.  We have a thriving democracy, a liberal justice system which serves the needs of all of its citizens, and a population of people of all colors from all over the world who have come together to create not only a haven and home for all Jews, but who also act as custodians for some of the world’s holiest sites, where everyone—Jewish and Gentile—is welcome.  To attempt to hurt Israel will not help anyone—Jew, Arab, or American—and will not bring peace.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Yours truly,

Shimshonit Schnitzengruben

And on a slightly different note: Review, please, the wording regarding the overwhelming support for divestment at the meeting.  Aaron Levitt writes, “Not a single person spoke to defend Israel’s occupation. Not one. …  So many inspiring and courageous JVP activists stood up to say how TIAA-CREF was fueling death and destruction by literally investing in it. To implore TIAA-CREF to find a new way.”  Let’s overlook the sentence fragment for now and focus on the rest, particularly the glee expressed by Levitt at the unanimity in the room and admiration for those “courageous” souls who, unassailed by conflicting opinions, stood up one after another and repeatedly hammered home the same message to the CFO and other officers of TIAA-CREF who, he writes, “listened attentively, respectfully.”  If this is what academia has come to, i.e. ecstasy at conformity and trepidation at debate, then these are sad times, indeed.

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Summer is here, which means birthdays in the Crunch household: Banana’s at the start of Tammuz, Beans’s, Peach’s, and the Cap’n’s in Av.  Of course, summer birthdays often mean cramming classroom birthday parties into the last few weeks of school or gan.  Beans and Banana had theirs with cake, musical chairs, and brachot (birthday wishes) from their peers.  Peach has chosen a party at home in lieu of a school party, so I am preparing for 7 friends to descend for a party tomorrow morning at Beit Crunch.  But Hashem has bestowed upon me the blessing of a bat mitzvah girl in the neighborhood who hires herself out as a party planner and executrix, so all I have to do is provide the food, and she’ll provide the fun.

Then, of course, there are the gifts.  Back at the New Year, the Cap’n’s North American company ran out of cash, turning a posse of incredibly highly-skilled hi-tech workers out into the streets.  The Cap’n has since found a job at a reputable company in Jerusalem, where the benefits are not to be beat, but where the salary… well, let’s just say the Crunches are not big spenders, but we are nonetheless discovering for ourselves how it is that Israelis survive high prices, steep tariffs, and low salaries: by going into debt.  (So in between planning birthdays, running the house, ripping up smelly, dusty old carpet we inherited when we bought the house two years ago, assisting the Cap’n to buy a car that fits the whole family, making Shabbos every week, and shlepping Beans to get her ears pierced, I’m supposed to be looking for work.  La!)  So my solution this year?  Each girl gets a party (at school, gan, or home), a gift (not large, but something the child will enjoy), and an experience.  Banana had her party at gan, I bought her our favorite book (that I read her at gan at least once a week), and she and her siblings were taken to a kids’ fun place at a nearby kibbutz.  Beans had her party at school, I’m outfitting the sewing box my mother gave me for Christmas when I was 12, which is still in excellent condition, and although getting her ears pierced was actually the pay-off for a behavior contract we had, I think that is going to suffice for an experience.  (She’s so over the moon about it that I may not have to get her anything else until she enlists in the army.)  And Peach wants her party at home; I haven’t thought of a gift yet for her (fingers drumming); and perhaps a family trip to the beach in our new/used Mitsubishi Grandis will do for an experience.

The sad part, of course, is that by the time the Cap’n’s birthday rolls around near the end of Av, I am so wiped out from the hurricane of girls’ birthdays, I don’t know what to do for him.  For the past four years, we have been packing for SOMETHING (aliyah, moving, or trips to the US), and the Cap’n’s birthday has been swept aside by the flurry of boxes, suitcases, carry-ons, travel-size shampoos, and the like.  (Last year we had the inestimable joy of being with close friends in Boston, with the traditional JP Lick’s ice cream cake, but that is far from the norm.)  By his birthday, I am usually sick of the taste of cake, and one more chorus of “Happy Birthday” or “Hayom Yom Huledet” will send me over the edge.  And while he is a wizard at choosing gifts, he is the hardest person I know to buy something for.  So what shall I do this year?  Try my hand at a homemade ice cream cake?  The family-size gelato cakes at the divine Sorrento gelato stop in Beit Shemesh are a whopping 85 shekels, and I already have an ice cream maker.  A party?  We haven’t yet made friends close enough to consider what we used to call “the Usual Suspects” with whom we always did birthdays, but we’re getting there slowly.  An experience?  We could both use an overnight getaway somewhere (the Dead Sea, perhaps) with good food, massages, and no sound of giggling or fighting at 6 AM, and there are plenty of competent sitters around.  How to pay for it, though, short of selling Bill for scientific experimentation, is a mystery.

But hey–there’s always Gaza.  Aussie Dave has a write-up of Gaza’s Aldeira Hotel.  For $185 (the price of a mediocre room at the Sheraton Tara over the Mass. Pike in Newton) you can get this bedroom,

this bathroom,

and this fine dining experience.

Hey honey!  Where’s my burka?

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When I posted about the proposed $100 million mosque and Islamic “cultural” center to be built near Ground Zero in New York, I expressed my concerns about the tastefulness (or lack thereof) of the project, as well as about the political outlook of the Muslims lobbying for it.

Since then, I have done some more thinking, reading, and watching on the subject.  Here are some things I’ve found out.

Who is behind the funding of the center, and whose teachings will be disseminated there?  The following video features Brigitte Gabriel, president of American Congress for Truth, and a Lebanese Christian who fled the massacres of Christians by Muslims in her homeland and learned that the hatred of and lies about Israel she had been taught as a child in Lebanon were untrue.  She masterfully dominates the “discussion,” effectively overpowering a Saruman-like spokesman for the Arab side (“Do not let him speak; he will put a spell on us”) and repeating her message of the dangers of allowing extremist Muslims to build a monument to Islam next to Ground Zero.  (She may come across as rude in the interview, but when the few words that come out of the pro-mosque Arab’s mouth are clearly buzzwords chosen to shame Americans into extending “freedom” and “tolerance” to those who would destroy that same freedom and tolerance for others, I think it’s justified.)

Why that site in particular for a mosque?  What is the bigger picture?  These questions are addressed by a speaker for Acts 17, a Christian group which seeks to expose and confront anti-American Islam.  He discusses the responses he observed of “normative” Muslims to the atrocities of 9/11 and the wider view they have of New York.  A mere coincidence, the property to be converted to the Islamic center?  The big picture may not be so benign.

Is America making a mistake by extending freedom and tolerance in this context?  Pat Condell seems to think so.  (He thinks a whole lot of other things on the subject too.)

And where in all this insanity are the true Muslim moderates?  An interesting piece of uncertain authorship (but readable on this blog), comparing moderates to extremists in political movements throughout the 20th century, claims that while political correctness and tolerance requires us to write off acts of violence and hatred as the work of “extremists,” the truth is that when all the activities of a particular group are undertaken by the venom-spewing, club-wielding extremists, then the “moderates” who choose to sit quietly at home become irrelevant.  It was the Communists in Russia and China who were the Angels of Death in their societies, not the average peace-loving Russian or Chinese.  Same with the Japanese and the Germans in World War II.  And so it is now in the Islamic world where acts of terror and butchery are carried out by some, and those who oppose them are silent.  Where Jews are laughed at (and laugh at themselves) for having three opinions for every two Jews, there is merit to that.  If some Jews are settlers, other Jews are out protesting the settlements.  If some Jews advocate for unilateral withdrawal from land, other Jews are out there protesting and getting arrested.  If one Jew shoots dozens of innocent people at a historic shrine, thousands of Jews condemn the act.

So where are the Muslims with moderate, democratic sensibilities?  What are their views on the proposed mosque near Ground Zero?  What are their views on Gilad Schalit, and the fact that he was kidnapped in a cross-border raid (against international law) and has spent four years in an undisclosed location with no access to visits from the Red Cross (also against international law)?  What do they think about the preaching in mosques and teaching in schools that label Jews as descendants of pigs and monkeys, and the world as divided between the House of Islam and the House of War?  What do they think of West-bashing in the Arab world?  Of Iran’s race for nuclear weapons and its promise to wipe Israel off the map with them?  Of the oppression of Christians in the Palestinian Authority and elsewhere?  Of the increasing climate of hatred that is poisoning and further isolating the Arab/Muslim world?  A few Arab critics have abandoned Islam altogether, including Nonie Darwish and Walid Shoebat, and others who continue to point fingers at the violence and collective insanity in Islam have sizable retinues for their personal security (or run the risk of a sticky end like that of Theo Van Gogh).

There are plenty of things in this world that I’ve never seen (the Congo, Salman Rushdie, blancmange) which I’m still prepared to believe exist.  And so with moderate Muslims.  But if they want to stand up and be counted, then they should do so.  If not, they don’t count at all.

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Good fences?

Sunday night, the Cap’n and I had one of our rare nights out.  Instead of our usual trek to a movie theatre, however, we grabbed a falafel and went instead to the new digs of the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) in Talpiot to hear a lecture by Col. (res.) Dany Tirza, the main architect of Israel’s security fence.

Many are familiar with the barrier built to separate Israelis from Palestinians in the early to mid-2000s.  Its construction and implementation have been compared to Hadrian’s Wall and the Berlin Wall, and dubbed a lifesaver and an “apartheid” fence.  Those in the middle of the political spectrum were generally in favor of its construction, while people to the further Left and Right of the Israeli political scene opposed it: the Left for its hampering of the freedom of movement of non-Israeli Arabs, and the Right for the de facto political border they feared it would create, were a Palestinian state to be declared.

(For those who require some background on the fence, its causes, goals, and design, see the website for Israel’s Security Fence, watch the video which addresses many of the questions asked about the fence, or look at the many resources about the fence on the Israeli Diplomatic Network’s Security Fence page.)

Col. Tirza explained that his role in the security field in Israel began when he was sent to Oslo at the beginning of the clandestine talks that led to the Oslo Accords.  He had been sent to hear the discussions and negotiations, and report back to Minister of Defense Ehud Barak about any concerns the Israeli government and the IDF should have about the security of Israeli citizens.  In a nutshell, while Tirza did the intelligence-gathering requested by him, and as the casualties and death toll mounted following the “peace process” in the 1990s, security was not always the government’s top priority.  Tirza was present again at the 2000 Camp David talks between Arafat and Barak, when Barak offered Arafat nearly everything he demanded, but only on the condition that this would mark the end, forever, of the conflict.  Arafat’s answer, that he could act on behalf of the Palestinian people but not of the entire Arab world, ended what would have been a historic conclusion to the conflict and began a hideous terror war planned and executed by his own Fatah forces.

As shootings and explosions erupted across the country, the Israeli government was extremely reluctant to build a physical barrier between Israelis and the bases of terror.

A few things should be mentioned about the fence.  One is that it is meant as a security fence, not a political structure.  It zigzags in and out of the Green Line, attempting to include Israeli citizens (Jews and Arabs) and only exclude those under the Palestinian Authority, particularly in areas known to be points of origin of terrorists.

Another is that every effort was made to avoid trampling on the rights of landowners and farmers.  Gates were installed at frequent intervals to allow farmers to access their land on the other side of the fence, not one house was torn down to build the fence, and Arab landowners were compensated for any expropriated lands (though, since most refused to take the compensation for fear of appearing to be collaborators with Israel, Israel has set aside those funds so that that compensation can be claimed any time in the future by the farmers or their descendants).

A third is that while the media like to call it a “separation wall” or just a “wall,” only 3% of it is solid wall.  (The rest is a combination of cameras, barbed wire, ditch, soft sand, and roadway to reveal any attempts to infiltrate Israel and slow down the infiltrator until he can be apprehended.)  The solid wall, built along stretches of Highway 6 (the north-south Trans-Israel Highway) and the length of Route 60 that bypasses Bethlehem (which I take into Jerusalem), is built in order to stop bullets in places where motorists were shot and killed during the Palestinian Terror War (2000-2005).

And finally, the fence is meant as a temporary measure to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens.  Rather than a means to separate Arabs from Jews (which it does not), it is meant to separate terrorists and murderers from their would-be victims.  In the event that a peace agreement is reached, and the end of the conflict finally comes, Tirza says he hopes and expects to see the fence dismantled and torn down.

In the process of building it, Tirza’s door was open to anyone with grievances or requests.  The Supreme Court also heard hundreds of complaints and challenges to the building of the fence.  Christian groups (Anglicans, Lutherans, Greek Orthodox, etc.) who until then had refused to speak to one another, had no choice but to sit down together and discuss its impact together.  Arab workers who worked in Israel are still permitted to do so, with the crossings attempting to process workers in no more than 20 minutes.  Despite most of the international community opposing the fence as “illegal” and “inhumane,” Israel has executed its construction with every attention paid to due process and humanitarian concern.  (Interestingly, the bombings, shootings, stonings, and other murders of Jews during the Terror War were never called “illegal” or “inhumane.”)

Perhaps the thing missing from most discussions of Israel and the Arabs here is a look at the stories motivating the two peoples.  The Israeli story sees the return of the Jews to this land as a return to the land of our forefathers, to land promised us by God, in which we were once sovereign and independent, and which we prayed to return to for 1900 years.  The Arab story sees the Biblical account of the gift of this land to Abraham and the Children of Israel as irrelevant, the Jews as foreigners and colonists, and the Arabs as the only rightful heirs to this land.  The Jews say they are here to stay, and the Arabs say they will not stop until they’ve driven the Jews out for good.  Bleak as these conflicting stories sound for someone who lives to see peace established here, they are necessary to understand both the Arab refusal to make peace with the Jews, and the source of the Jews’ overriding concern with their own safety here.

Personally, I’m sick of the sound of the word “security.”  It gets raised by the Israeli side whenever there is talk of making concessions to “build confidence” with the Arabs, or of finding more things to give them in exchange for… what, I’m not sure.  I have little doubt that the rest of the world is so inured to the thought of violent Arabs and dead Jews that the constant reminder of the need of Israelis for security is like listening to a scratched old LP that keeps hopping the needle back to the same few bars of Ravel’s “Bolero.”

And yet, as the Cap’n reminded me, even with the hate, the terror, the rockets, the constant hammering away by the press and the UN, and the disintegration of Israel’s few alliances, the Jews are probably still better off now than they were during the Exile, where the only thing that stood between them and the hysterical mob on Easter or during the Plague was a fat archbishop or lord mayor who may have declared the Jews a protected minority, but who could (or would) do little more in a pogrom than call out “Cease!” from their balcony over the roar of the crowd.  Back then, there was no Israel, no IDF, and certainly no security fence to stop the carnage.

Natan Sharansky, Minister of Housing and Construction at the time the fence was planned and its execution begun, said

When Israel’s free society was defending itself against an unprecedented campaign of terror, most of the international community was calling for an end of the “cycle of violence” and a return to the negotiating table. When the Palestinian terrorists struck… Israel was condemned for imposing “collective punishment” on the Palestinian population. When Israel chose to target individual terrorists with precision air strikes, its actions were condemned as illegal extrajudicial assassinations. It seemed that in eyes of many, the Jews had a right to defend themselves in theory but could not exercise that right in practice… our government understood that there were three options to maintain an acceptable level of security for our citizens. The first was to wage a total war against Palestinian terror using weapons that would claim many innocent Palestinian lives. The second was to keep our reserves constantly mobilized to defend the country. The third option was to build the security fence. Had the Palestinian Authority become a partner in fighting terror, as it was obliged to do under all the agreements that it signed, none of these options would have become necessary.

Do good fences make good neighbors?  Insofar as they are prevented from being murderous neighbors, I suppose so.

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Never look back

I was talking with friends the other day—two women in their 40s, a few years older than I.  One has four children, the other six or seven (I forget; the youngest is still nursing, and the eldest is in the army, or beyond).  The one with four has been feeling down lately, seeing and feeling the signs of aging in herself.  As she sighed and admitted she’s finding it difficult to “put that foot in the grave” (her expression), I laughed.

But I don’t agree, and I don’t feel that at all.  Yes, statistically speaking, I am probably at about the half-way point in my life.  In other words, it may have taken me THIS LONG to figure out who I am and what I want (though in some ways I’m still finding out both of those things), but I have another 40-something years to enjoy the fruits of my labors.  At 42, I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had (on a day-to-day basis).  My stress level is blessedly low, I can stop wondering what sort of person I would marry (I know now), and I have the best kids I could ask for, and the number I want.  I don’t let people step on me anymore, I don’t take offense as easily as I used to, I have a religion and way of living that I think has truth and holiness to it and enriches my life, I live in the only country in the world I want to live in, and while paying our bills every month is much harder on the Cap’n’s new Israeli salary, he and I are very much a team in finding ways to economize.  My intelligence has slowly combined with experience to turn into wisdom, I recognize subtlety, irony, and nuance better than I did when I was young, and I’m not afraid to look foolish in front of others.  I like myself much better as I am now than I ever did when I was younger.  I feel more formed, more complete.  Some insist that a youthful face and body are a lifelong ideal; I don’t agree.  I think one gets those things when one is a harsher judge; later on, when the face wrinkles and the body goes soft, one doesn’t care as much (or at least, one shouldn’t).  After having a baby, a friend of mine said she discovered for the first time that form should really follow function in importance.  I agree; I’d rather drive a car with some dents and scratches that purrs like a kitten than a hot rod with no power steering, the muffler gone, and an engine that cuts out.

I’m still too young to be ornery.  (I hope I never get to the stage where I’m as cranky and bitchy as Barbara Bush or Helen Thomas.)  But I am through caring about things that don’t matter.  In graduate school, in a seventeenth century English literature class, I read the most wonderful poem by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), one of a generation of largely forgotten women who in their own time enjoyed fame, fortune, and admiration for their poetry.  A sufferer of depression (“spleen,” it was called in her day) and childless, Finch was nonetheless happily married.  The following poem describes her lack of concern at the onset of aging.  (Finch calls herself by another name in the poem—“Clarinda”—, a common seventeenth century poetic conceit.)

Clarinda’s Indifference at Parting with Her Beauty

Now, age came on, and all the dismal train

That fright the vicious and afflict the vain.

Departing beauty, now Clarinda spies

Pale in her cheeks, and dying in her eyes;

That youthful air that wanders o’er the face,

That undescribed, that unresisted grace,

Those morning beams, that strongly warm, and shine,

Which men that feel and see, can ne’er define,

Now, on the wings of restless time, were fled,

And evening shades began to rise, and spread,

When thus resolved and ready soon to part,

Slighting the short reprieves of proffered art

She spake—

And what, vain beauty, didst thou e’er achieve

When at thy height, that I thy fall should grieve,

When did’st thou e’er successfully pursue?

When did’st thou e’er th’ appointed foe subdue?

’Tis vain of numbers or of strength to boast,

In an undisciplined, unguided host,

And love, that did thy mighty hopes deride,

Would pay no sacrifice, but to thy pride.

When did’st thou e’er a pleasing rule obtain,

A glorious empire’s but a glorious pain.

Thou art indeed but vanity’s chief source,

But foil to wit, to want of wit a curse,

For often, by the gaudy signs descried,

A fool, which unobserved, had been untried;

And when thou dost such empty things adorn,

’Tis but to make them more the public scorn,

I know thee well, but weak thy reign would be

Did none adore or prize thee more than me.

I see indeed, thy certain ruin near,

But can’t afford one parting sigh or tear,

Nor rail at time, nor quarrel with my glass,

But unconcerned, can let thy glories pass.

A friend in high school, after a particularly bad day, wailed, “But these are supposed to be the best days of our lives!”  I said, quietly, “No, that’s college.”  Her eyes widened.  “Oh,” she said, her hope restored.

But I was wrong.  Perhaps for some college days are the best of their lives.  But what does that say about the rest of your life?  All downhill?  No, there has to be life after college.  And after 30.  And after 40.  What’s the alternative?

One of the most inspiring things I’ve read is about prima ballerina Wendy Whelan, born in the same year as I was (1967).  While nearly all other dancers her age are retired, or (if they’re lucky enough to be still in the dancing world) choreographing and teaching, Whelan is considered to be in her prime now.  Her strength and stamina, for which she is renowned, are matched by maturity and artistry lacking in many younger dancers.  In other words, she was good when she was younger; now she’s great.

And so, I say, with the rest of us.  No, ladies, let us vow to bid the frippery and folly of youth adieu, without regret. Bring on the second (and, I hope, better) half of life!

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Too skinny to model?

When I was a junior in high school, there was a girl in my class who was obsessed with modeling magazines.  She would walk around the dorm showing the other girls the latest photos in Vogue and Elle, admiring the models and clearly feeling dissatisfied with her own girlish figure.  After the summer, she came back to school – or at least someone said that scarecrow walking around was she.  I didn’t recognize her at all, and she wasn’t at school 24 hours before the nuns called her parents and told them to come collect her.

I never saw her again.  (I hope she recovered.)  But when I was getting my teaching degree, one of my professors, a middle school math teacher, told us his 8th grade girls threw their lunches in the trash.  “Don’t their moms pack stuff they like?” we clueless 20- and 30-somethings asked him.

I don’t always understand the obsession with weight that accompanies beauty.  Health, it seems to me, should be more important: a glow in the face, good grooming, attractive hair style, and clothes that flatter the unique figure of the wearer.  I’ve only seen a handful of girls thin enough to model, and they are rarely pretty enough to pull it off.  On the other hand, the girls I’ve known who I found the most appealing (and were never hurting for male company) had pleasing features (even if they weren’t beautiful), good color, and normal figures (within a wide range).

So imagine my delight at discovering that a modeling agency executive is leading a crusade to require Israeli models to pass a health exam which requires a minimum body mass index (BMI).  Adi Barkan, in tandem with an MK, successfully submitted legislation to the Knesset requiring modeling agencies to use BMI as a condition for employment.  Following the recent death of an Israeli supermodel (who succumbed to anorexia with a weight of under 60 pounds), over 30 Israeli CEOs have agreed to comply with this legislation, and will require models to be screened for health every three months.  France and Italy also support this new model employment policy.

While in reality, this policy may result in models the size of Q-tips rather than toothpicks (the exact BMI figure is 18.5, the low end of “normal range”), and airbrushing and other photo tinkering may continue to make models look thinner as well as more even-featured and “perfect” (the ban is on photo editing models “to extremes”), if models begin to look a little more like human beings and less like what the Allies discovered when they liberated Auschwitz, that will be a good thing for everyone.

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Soon after Bill was born, I blogged about co-sleeping with him (as I had my other children).  He’s been a fantastic mattress buddy: quiet, cuddly but not clingy, and rolls away after nursing to allow me the space to get comfortable and go back to sleep.  (The girls all insisted I hold them all night.  VERY high maintenance.)

But in recent weeks, I have noticed a change.  First of all, he’s bigger than he was as a newborn.  (He’s now 18 months old.)  He still nags me to nurse several times a night, and doesn’t take kindly to refusals.  And he’s taken up the habit of rotating himself in the bed so that he’s perpendicular to the Cap’n and me, forcing both of us to the edges of our mattresses.  In addition to these issues, summer is here with an unusually high mosquito population, and Bill has been eaten alive on several nights.

The girls were this age (or younger) when we transitioned them into their own beds.  The fact that we live in a house with stairs now means it’s a bit more complicated than putting baby in a bed down the hall and escorting him back if he tries to sneak – or storm – back into the room.  So Bill is in a portable crib (with a fitted mosquito net) in an alcove off our room.  This keeps him out of traffic areas in our bedroom, and out of sightlines of us.

We’ve had a few pretty sleepless nights (erev Shabbat he howled for three and a half hours straight), but every night it gets better, and he’s slowly coming to accept that this nylon-and-mesh hoosegow is his new bed.  And I am finally able to put away the bedrail, stretch out, and – theoretically – sleep through the night (though I think motherhood has ruined that for me forever).

There’s something bittersweet about going through all the familiar phases with Bill: swapping up the infant carseat for a convertible one, retiring the baby backpack, and now moving him out of the bed.  Bitter because we don’t anticipate doing this again in the future, and it’s gone by so fast.  But sweet because every piece of my body, my personal space, and my life I get back is a little bit of sweetness that was temporarily suspended, and is now returning.

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A couple of years ago, there were a few posts on Jameel’s blog about Bat-El Gaterer, a young religious Israeli woman who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in Tae Kwon Do.  Many of the writers in the comments section wrote to praise her hard work and pride in representing Israel at the Olympics.

But a few people sounded more concerned about a religious girl wearing pants than why she was wearing them.  I’ve had a few conversations about modesty on my blog, and the push and pull between what is the general practice where I live, what is practical in view of the weather here, and what is comfortable and/or reasonable given the level of activity.  It’s an ongoing struggle to get 6-year-old Peach to wear the required three-quarter sleeves to school in hot weather.  (Fortunately, school is now out and they’re off to camp in short sleeves.)  I myself continue to favor skirts over trousers the majority of the time, though for comfort and warmth in the winter, I still have a couple of pairs of L.L. Bean’s wide-leg jeans.

But this conversation about Bat-El Gaterer, stale though it was, still bothered me.  Someone pointed out that women successfully fenced in long skirts.  (Now THAT’s a cool sport.)  Women also entered archery competitions in full femme-regalia (hoopskirts, corsets, tight-fitting bodices, bustles—the works).  But for the majority of sports, long skirts just aren’t practical.  Since the essence of many sports is flexibility, skirts get in the way—with speed, skirts make serious drag; and in sports where being upside down is a factor, such as gymnastics … well, you get the idea.

The implication behind the view that religious Jewish females must always wear long skirts is that participating in sports where long skirts are an impediment is unseemly.  This attitude of some in the Jewish world troubles me.  Girls are already excluded from the rituals of synagogue Jewish life.  They cannot become Orthodox rabbis (or at least not in the mainstream of Orthodoxy).  And the majority of their functions in Judaism—lighting candles, mikvah, Shabbat and holiday meal orchestration—take place in the privacy of the home or behind closed doors.  In converting to Judaism, I accepted this status quo within the framework of Jewish practice.  Outside that framework, however, I think a little more flexibility would not be amiss.

Years ago I was doing some Jewish learning with other members of my synagogue community in the US.  We were studying some of the interpretations of halacha that govern the design of the worshipers’ areas at the Western Wall, and someone observed that the rabbinate has turned the Western Wall into an Orthodox shul.  Another person moaned, “They’ve made the whole country into an Orthodox shul.”  I don’t think turning our entire lives into an Orthodox shul is a very good idea, least of all for girls.  While we should never abandon our sense of obligation to keep mitzvot and view the human body with respect, we should also bear in mind that giving both boys and girls opportunities to play and participate in sports is important for the promotion of good health, teamwork, sportsmanship, agility and physical development, self esteem, healthy body image, and time management.  Adopting the view that girls may not change out of their long skirts into pants, leotards, shorts, shorter skirts, or swimsuits dooms them to inactivity and a sense of modesty so oppressive that it is bound to make them feel ashamed of their own bodies—not, I hope, the goal of the long skirt.

The sense of empowerment and self esteem that dance, soccer, martial arts, and other sports create for girls is essential to a girl’s healthy development.  And girls with good self esteem are better prepared to perform well in school, find gainful employment, and cultivate healthy relationships (including marriage).

I did not watch Bat-El compete in Beijing, but I did attend 5-year-old Banana’s Tae Kwon Do exhibition, featuring her kiddie class as well as at least 100 other older kids showcasing what they’ve learned.  Boys and girls alike demonstrated their considerable skills in kicks, punches, no-handed cartwheels, and leaps for kvelling parents, siblings, and grandparents.  Looking at Banana’s potential, and thinking of the strength, endurance, and joy I’ve received from hiking, swimming, running, soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, dance, and all the other physical pursuits I enjoyed as a kid and as an adult, I wouldn’t deny those things to any girl, religious or not.

My favorite comment from the thread for “Frum Olympian Girl Who Kicks Boys” was from Benji Lovett, who said, “Hopefully she will inspire other fighters to become religious women.”

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Groceries and politics

Grocery shopping is usually a simple task.  You go to the store, get a trolley, fill it up with things you need (and sometimes things you don’t need), stand in line, check out, and drive your stuff home.  Bam!  Done.

Not in Gush Etzion these days.

A successful grocery store chain, known for its competitive prices, just opened a large store (with good-quality produce, meat counter, cheese counter, and small bakery counter) at Tzomet HaGush (Gush Etzion Junction).  While the new Rami Levi is the answer to many bargain shoppers’ prayers, it has opened up a large can of socio-political worms as well.

There are people who are thrilled to have a new grocery store in the area.  Most people in the Gush have large families (four kids is usually a starter kit here), and it’s not always pleasant or convenient to contend with the occasionally long lines at the checkpoint to the tunnel road, and then crazy Jerusalem traffic, in order to do a big shop in Jerusalem.  Sure, the stores there are big, and Talpiot, an easily accessible industrial area in the southern part of the city, has a wide variety of grocery stores including several Rami Levis, two Supersol Deals, a Mega, some great paper goods stores, and a few smaller markets that carry lots of American products.  In Efrat, on the other hand, there are two small grocery stores that have so-so produce, small meat counters, and high prices, and a couple of makolot (quickie marts) that also stock basic necessities.  These local places, usually owned and run by local people, have higher prices than the large supermarkets.  Their overhead is high, it may be expensive to have small amounts of stuff trucked out past the Green Line, and turnover isn’t very high.  But some people remain loyal to the locally owned places, doing smaller shopping runs there to try to keep them in business, while saving their bigger shopping trips for the larger chain stores in Jerusalem.

And now there’s this new Rami Levi.  Prices on most things are lower than in the local stores, though in some cases higher than at the Jerusalem stores.  But the store is clean, has wider aisles than the local shops, stocks most of what the Crunch family needs, and is much closer than Jerusalem (saving gas, time, and hassle).  And like most of the big grocery stores in Jerusalem, it employs both Arab and Jewish workers.

This last factor may surprise some people.  Those who think Israel is an apartheid state might be surprised to learn that Arabs and Jews shop in the same stores, and that the stocking and butcher staff are Arab men, while the cashiers and cheese counter workers are Jewish women.  (There are also Jewish men who work in the stores, though I have yet to see an Arab woman employee.)  This looks cosmopolitan, pro-peace, and politically correct.

But there are some people who are concerned about the new Rami Levi.  The Arabs who work there are PA Arabs, not Israeli Arabs.  They are local residents of the villages dotting Gush Etzion, and while most are probably just trying to make a living (like the Jews who work there), there is concern about security.  With several incidents of violence by Arabs against Jews in the Gush in the last few months, ranging from a group of Arabs marching that turned into a clash with IDF, to the shooting death of an Israeli policeman by Arab snipers, a store in which PA Arabs work, shop, and hang out (usually young men, the target terrorist age group) is not a place everyone feels safe.  PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad has issued a proclamation that PA Arabs are to boycott Jewish stores in the settlements, a proclamation that has gone largely ignored at the Rami Levi in the Gush.  And Fayyad has also announced that as of 2011, PA Arabs will no longer be permitted to work in Jewish-owned stores.  (Sounds like apartheid after all, but not the apartheid people normally associate with Israel.  We’ll see if it sticks.)

A further concern is the survival of local businesses.  Last week, a flyer was placed in Efrat residents’ mailboxes.  On the Chief Rabbi’s letterhead, Rav Shlomo Riskin encouraged Efrat residents to continue to shop in Efrat’s local stores.  This is to keep locally owned businesses afloat, but it does more than that.  In the flurry of remarks posted to Efrat’s chat list, one person pointed out that the local store owners offers delivery service which enables the elderly and those without cars to shop easily.  Our local, family-owned makolet allows customers to open a store account, enabling you to your kid there to pick up a dozen eggs or a box of macaroni and cheese, and they’ll put it on your tab so your kid doesn’t have to handle (or lose, or misspend) cash.  One person reported that one of the local stores allowed a needy family a year to pay its grocery bill in full.  There are some benefits one can only get from small, privately owned markets.

But there is a further concern.  People who work together also take breaks together.  And taking breaks together allows people to get to know each other socially.  One by-product of having Arab men and Jewish women working together has been the occasional intermarriage.  Now, before anyone flies off the handle and starts flinging the race card at me, hear me out.  This is not a simple Us versus Them issue.  This is not a Jewish extension of the Cult of White Southern Womanhood.  This is a serious, heavily-charged cultural conflict and has to be looked at from all angles to be understood properly.

I’m usually a proponent of the free marketplace.  Having lived for years in America as an Orthodox Jew, I found ways to function in wider secular and Christian society without losing my commitment to kashrut, Shabbat observance, and the values I hold dear.  My version of the Torah can stand up to any comparison, and my fear of assimilation for myself and my family was low.  But I come from a privileged background, educated, comfortably off, part of a family and wider community that is caring and supportive.  Not every woman has that in her life.  Jewish women working in grocery stores are often women who belong to a more vulnerable population—from poor families, immigrants, not doing the things girls with more advantages usually do after finishing school such as the army, seminary, national service, or attending university.  If they’ve grown up sheltered from the wider world, they may not be aware of the mores and customs of people from other cultures.  If they have a tenuous relationship with Judaism, or with their parents, they may find themselves inclined to rebel against what they’ve grown up with, and see a relationship with or marriage to an Arab man as a good way to act on that rebelliousness.  A woman put into a situation with maximum contact with people of another culture and inadequate preparation for it are women put at risk.

While some, including Rami Levi himself, may see bringing Jews and Arabs together in the workplace as inevitable and even desirable, there are externalities in this situation that are either being ignored or downplayed.  While it is possible that some women who marry Muslim men and go to live with them in their Arab villages live happily ever after, there are scores who do not.  The expectations heaped on Arab women who marry Arab men in terms of domestic skills, child-bearing, and humility to those above her in social status (including husband, mother-in-law, and all other men) are high enough.  Add to those the socially acceptable practice of wife-beating, lack of human rights women have in traditional Muslim society, and any disdain or hostility aimed at an outsider joining that world, and what was supposed to be a happy life can become a living hell.  Two organizations, Yad L’Achim and Lev L’Achim, work to combat intermarriage and assimilation, rescuing Jewish women and their children from Muslim husbands who, after promising the love, attention, and comfortable home many of these Jewish women crave, deliver something quite different.

Cries for Rami Levi only to employ Jewish workers will go unheeded.  He always hires both Jews and Arabs, thinks it’s a good thing for Israeli society, and saves money by paying the Arabs lower wages (which still trump anything they can make in their own business sector).  And to suggest that Jewish women not work for a Jewish-owned business is also absurd.  So what’s the solution?  That’s up to everyone to decide for themselves.  Some will refuse to shop there out of safety concerns, to protest against the competition to local businesses, or out of disapproval for the societal risks involved in Jews and Arabs working together.  Others will see that the store here is not qualitatively different from the stores where they would normally shop in Jerusalem, and take advantage of its proximity and convenience.

I remember heated discussions taking place back in Newton about the various markets.  Should one buy meat from the prime butcher despite his very high prices in order to support a local business?  Should one buy challah that tastes like sawdust and clearly contains yellow dye #6 from the local baker for the same reason?  Should one buy one’s kosher meat at Costco, thereby threatening the survival of the kosher grocery store?  Is it ethical to pay 40 cents less for a block of Tillamook cheddar cheese at the Trader Joe’s, supporting a non-Jewish chain of stores over the Jewish-owned store on the Jewish main drag?

The difference seems to be the survival of local Jewish businesses versus the survival of the Jewish people.

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Last summer, on my family’s trip to the US, I read Daniel Gordis’s latest book entitled Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End.  At the time, I couldn’t resist collaring the Cap’n every few pages to read him a passage that seemed to me to nail the problems, challenges, and feelings Israelis face on a daily basis—things that the rest of the world increasingly appears not to understand.

Earlier this year, I reviewed an earlier book of Gordis’s, Does the World Need the Jews? In that book, Gordis seeks to answer the question that seemingly faces many young Jews in the United States, i.e. “Why be Jewish?”  In this more recent book, Gordis sets out to answer a similar question, this one directed at both Israeli and Diaspora Jews, namely, “Why be Israeli?”

In his introductory chapter, Gordis acknowledges the plethora of books written which speculate about whether, given its manifold challenges from within and without, Israel can survive, but sets out in this book to answer a different question.  “Of much greater importance than asking whether Israel can continue to exist is examining the question of why Israel’s survival might matter in the first place.  What has Israel done for the Jewish people?  How has Israel changed Jewish life not only inside the Jewish state, but around the world?  Do the Jews really need a state?  And if they do, what must they do to save it?” (author’s italics).

Gordis is a true intellectual, and while a fervent Zionist, also has the ability to scrutinize Israel’s many problems including poverty, corruption, and an educational system that does a poor job of preparing young Israelis to pick up the mantle of Jewishness and Zionism and continue the work of forging and defining the Jewish state.  He spares no effort to take a balanced look at Israel’s many challenges, including the inequalities that exist for Israel’s Arab citizens, and the security threat posed by them; the divide between what the Palestinian Arab rank and file deserve from their governments, even as they themselves elected sworn terrorists to represent them; and the world of identity, intellectual, and cultural possibility opened up to world Jewry by Israel, even as 50% of Jewish Americans aged 35 and younger responded in a study that the destruction (“not its gradual disappearance, or the slow withering away of the state”) would not be a personal tragedy for them.

I relished Gordis’s discussion of the many benefits to Jews everywhere of having a Jewish state, including the restoration of hope of Jewish survival after the Shoah, the opportunity to fashion a state based on our own Jewish values, to solve problems with the unique tools of Jewish wisdom, and to fulfill the Biblical prophecy to gather in the exiles of the world.  His chapter, “The First War, All Over Again,” charts the emotional roller-coaster that Israelis have been on since embarking on a series of attempts to make a lasting peace with the Arabs, all of which seem to end in betrayal and disappointment, recreating for them the feeling that they’re fighting the War of Independence over and over again.  He addresses the combined threats of terrorism, Iran, the United Nations, Israeli Arabs, but concludes that while these threats are real, they are not the greatest threat to the survival of the Jewish state.  The need for Israelis to be able to stay engaged in the work of defining their own identity as a Jewish and—at least in some measure—democratic state is crucial.  Israel cannot be a Hebrew-speaking America without forsaking its goal as a refuge and homeland for Jews.  He distinguishes the two thus: “While democracy may well be part of the purpose of American national life, the Jewish state was not created in order to be a democracy.  It was founded in order to change the condition of the Jews” (author’s italics).  As such, Gordis is prepared to admit (as was Rav Meir Kahane before him) that, in the words of Professor Ruth Gavison, “‘Non-Jews may not enjoy a feeling of full membership in the majority culture; this, however, is not a right but an interest—again, it is something which national or ethnic minorities almost by definition do not enjoy—and its absence does not undermine the legitimacy of Israeli democracy.’”

In order for Israel to function as the Jewish state, Gordis determines that there are several things Jews must address.  One is the concept of the New Jew, created in the early days of Zionism and the State, which dispensed with what was seen by some influential intellectuals as the superstitious trappings of religious ritual.  Prayer, study, and even belief in the God of Israel were dismissed as impediments to forging a new, non-European, non-victimized Jew.  This has resulted in young Israelis today who don’t know the basic prayers (including the Shema) and rituals (including havdalah), who find religion in their trips to the Far East after army service, and who are beginning to feel that their cultural ties to the Jewish state are unraveling.  Another thing Jews must address is the image popular among Jews for generations (and most popular now among Diaspora Jews) that Jews are pacifists, and that Jews as soldiers and fighters (even in self defense, even for survival) is somehow un-Jewish.  Drawing on history, the Bible, and current events, Gordis shows how peace is the Jewish ideal, but that war is sometimes necessary, and failure or refusal to prosecute it to its end can carry with it lasting and devastating consequences.  A third issue to be confronted is the increasing irrelevance of the Jewish rabbinical establishment in Israel (namely, the chief rabbinate) in the lives of ordinary Israelis.  While it has the power to obstruct Israelis who wish to have non-Orthodox weddings and conversions, it has nothing to say to them about the morals and ethics of living as Jews in a beleaguered country, riddled with challenges and problems, in the 21st century.

Years ago, my mother said she read an article which suggested that the Jews in Israel should pick up and leave the country.  This would, of course, allow it to be overrun by Arabs who, through their incompetence, corruption, and apathy, would oversee its returning to its fallow, Ottoman-era state.  Then, the article supposedly stated (somewhat fantastically), the world would beg the Israelis to return and rebuild what would then, once and for all, be recognized as their land alone.  I was shocked by this notion, not only in light of the certain destruction of every last trace of Jewish presence here (modern and archeological) but the certainty that Jews would never be able to come back.  Two of Gordis’s final paragraphs echo this bleak prognosis:

Were Israel just a state, the high cost it exacts might not be justified.  But as we have seen throughout the book, Israel is not just a state.  It breathed life into the Jewish people at precisely the moment when the Jews might have given up.  It gives possibility and meaning to a Jewish future.  It enables the Jews to reenter the stage of history.

That is why the calls for Israel’s demise must be resisted.  For what is at stake is not just the Jewish state but the Jewish people as well.  Statehood has revitalized the Jewish people, but the Jews are very unlikely to get another state should this one fail.  Whether the calls are for the outright destruction of Israel, or for the gradual erosion of Jewish sovereignty through ideas like a shared binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the result would be the same.  Jewish life as we know it would be lost.  The regained optimism, vitality, and confidence of the Jewish world would disappear, probably within a generation.

Israel’s enemies understand that.  It is time that the Jews did, too.

I’ve been a fan of Gordis’s for years.  Like me, he once believed wholeheartedly in the possibility of leading a thriving Jewish existence in the Diaspora.  And then, like me, he and his family heard the irresistible siren song of aliyah and came here to live.  Gordis has spent his life since aliyah working tirelessly to increase the Diaspora world’s understanding of the daily challenges Israelis face in our shared homeland through his essays, and in his capacity as a vice president at Jerusalem’s Shalem Center, in creating a learning institution to help prepare the next generation of Israel’s leaders, who he hopes will be prepared to address the many quandaries and problems described in this book.  I admire him for his Jewish learning, for his accessible writing, for his relentless pursuit of truth (even if it’s uncomfortable), and for his willingness to apply himself to the task of solving what he sees are some of the very serious problems that face Israel and Israelis.  While it is possible he will not see the full benefit of the fruits of his labors, he has internalized the admonishment of Rabbi Tarfon not to refrain from trying.

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