Archive for January, 2011

The right to self defense

Since I became an observant, religious Jew, I’ve surprised my family in a number of ways:  keeping kosher and Shabbat, making aliyah, and most recently, advocating the carrying of firearms.  I haven’t spiraled into being a survivalist, or any other kind of nutcase.  I’m merely being practical.

The fact is that one of the few things that stands between living in a world with murderous, fanatical, Jew-hating Arabs, and dying at their hands, is a gun.  The only thing that stopped the massacre at the Mercaz HaRav almost three years ago was a private citizen with a gun who took down the Arab killer.  What stopped the three Arabs who carried out separate attacks in their bulldozers in Jerusalem were private citizens carrying firearms.  What stopped an Arab terrorist from blowing himself up in my local supermarket here in Efrat eight years ago was a pistol-packing local.  And the one thing that might have saved the four Jews from Beit Haggai last August from being killed at point-blank range in their car was a gun.

In this, as in other things, Israeli government policy talks out of both sides of its mouth.  One the one hand, it strongly recommend that Jews living in Yehuda and Shomron get gun licenses and “carry.”  On the other hand, it is a very serious matter when a Jew discharges a weapon, even in self defense—so serious, in fact, that the only way to avoid arrest, trial, and mountains of paperwork and legal expenses is to allow your Arab attackers to kill you.  Then you’re a hero.

The following is an abbreviated version of an email sent to the Efrat chat list by my friend, Nadia Matar, co-founder of Women In Green and tireless advocate for Jewish rights to the land of Yehuda:

Three years ago, the soldiers David Rubin HY”D and Achikam Amichai HY”D were murdered by Arabs while hiking in Nachal Telem in the Har Hebron region. Their friends swore to honor their memories by continuing to hike everywhere in the Land of Israel.

For three years now, there have been weekly ‘David and Achikam hikes’ throughout Judea and Samaria, among springs and caves, streams and breathtaking views.

The hikes are organized by responsible and cautious guides who have led thousands of hikers from all parts of the country: Ashdod, Rishon Letzion, Bat Yam, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, and more.

Last Friday, the 23rd of Shvat 5771 (January 28, 2011), the group hiked to Biblical Tel Gedor in Gush Etzion. On the way back, Arabs from a nearby village saw them and began shooting guns and throwing stones. The size of the group—in the dozens—and its make-up, which included people in their ’70s—made a quick evacuation difficult, and while descending the Tel, defensive measures were required.

When army and police forces arrived, they arrested the hikers who were carrying weapons. Those hikers were imprisoned and charged with homicide before it was even established that any Arab had been killed, before a dead body was even produced, and before even one Arab was interrogated.

On Wednesday, the 28th of Shvat, February 2nd, there will be a court hearing in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound. We are asking the public to be there at 9:30 a.m. to demand that the Jewish State allow Jews the right to defend themselves and to demand that those detained be freed immediately.

Why is it that when Jews are murdered, our government officials decry the terrorists, but that when Jews save themselves from being murdered, the victims are treated as murderers? When David and Achikam were murdered, then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said “[they] fought bravely”. Why is it that now the victims of last week’s hike are being treated as killers?

Do Jews in present-day Israel have the right to remain alive by defending themselves against murderous attackers without being charged with homicide?

The follow-up (printed here) is that of the 20 hikers detained for questioning, all were released.  Two additional settlers are undergoing continued questioning as part of the investigation.  The response of Peace Now is to call for police to carry out a blanket confiscation of settlers’ weapons.  Clearly, this left-wing group believes in the right of Arabs to attack with any means at their disposal, but not in the right of their fellow Jews to defend themselves.  And this is from a pro-peace organization?

My father occasionally marvels at what he calls my “move to the right.”  I don’t see it that way, since I think every rational person should believe in a person’s right to hike the countryside without fear of attack, bodily harm, or death.  When I was actively teaching in the self-defense world, my colleagues were, to a one, liberal thinkers, feminists, registered Democrats (the Americans, anyway), vegetarians, even Buddhists.  We were all on the same page regarding a person’s right to self defense.

To this day, I still believe in the power of a woman’s body to defend herself against an assailant intent on hurting her.  But a woman defending herself against sexual assault is not the same as a Jew defending herself against an Arab who wants her dead.  If believing in one’s right to defend oneself is limited to unarmed self-defense (and martyrdom), then I’m no longer in that camp.  That kind of thinking is madness, and leads to sanctioning senseless murder.  When the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called innocents murdered on buses in Arab-launched terror attacks “victims of peace” (implying that a measure of Jewish blood spilled as a result of the Oslo Accords was a small price to pay for “peace”—which never came), but Baruch Goldstein was labeled a monster for mowing down Arabs near the Cave of the Patriarchs, that was madness.  When Yitzhak Imas (the driver of the car of Beit Haggai residents) was labeled a security risk for praying on the Temple Mount and subsequently lost his gun license, that was madness.  And when a Jewish group that claims to desire peace in the Middle East joins the cries of anti-Semites everywhere to deny Jews the right to defend themselves, that too is madness.  If there are some enemies who can only be stopped with a bullet, and the only people who can recognize that are right-wingers, then I guess that’s what I am.

One man’s “right-wing” is, in my opinion, another man’s “sane.”

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Zionist animal spies

Sometimes I close my eyes and wonder if all the wild accusations against Israel are really true.  Has the unresolved Israeli-Arab conflict really exacted an unconscionable toll in American blood and treasure?  Is the Zionist conspiracy to control the world real?  Is Israel really the only thing that stands between humankind and world peace?  Have I been hoodwinked by what seems like a normal life, among normal people, in a country nominally recognized by the United Nations of Planet Earth?

And then I look at what Israel’s enemies actually accuse it of.  In December, Egypt’s Sinai riviera suffered a series of shark attacks which they accused Israel’s Mossad agency of unleashing to hurt Egyptian tourism.  (Watch the Colbert Nation report here.)  And earlier this month, a vulture with a GPS monitor chip on its Tel Aviv University leg tag inspired Saudi Arabia to conclude that the vulture was a Zionist spy.  (Again, Colbert covers it here.)

As Stephen Colbert warns, “I say we keep an eye on the Israelis.  Arab governments have already proven they control the fish of the sea and the birds of the air.  It’s only a matter of time until they get the beasts of the land, too.  Pigs, you’re the only ones we can trust.”

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One of the many Yahoo groups to which I belong is the Digital Eve group.  A chat list for women professionals in Israel, it usually has job listings for positions I am unqualified for, and requests for advice I cannot give.  But today someone (probably a Yale alumna) posted a link to this very interesting article from the online Yale Alumni Magazine.  Written by Fred R. Shapiro, the magazine’s (male) quotations columnist and editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, it addresses the misattribution of many quotations by women to more famous men, as well as crediting other famous quotations to the women who penned them, whose names are either naturally in the background (such as screenwriters), were once famous but are no more, or never appeared on the page in the first place.

Shapiro amends the record of attribution to several quotations, including the following: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (Evelyn Beatrice Hall, not Voltaire); “Now I know why nobody ever comes here; it’s too crowded” (Suzanne Ridgeway, not Yogi Berra); and “If you make it here, you make it anywhere” (Julie Newmar, not Fred Ebb, author of the lyrics to the song, “New York, New York”).  He also provides the names of the authoresses of quotations such as “No time like the present” (Mary de la Riviere Manley), “Twinkle, twinkle little star” (English sisters Ann and Jane Taylor), “Laugh and the world laughs with you; / Weep, and you weep alone” (Ella Wheeler Wilcox), “Oh, no. It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast” (screenwriter Ruth Rose), and “E.T. phone home” (screenwriter Melissa Mathison).

The book Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations gets a thorough historical review, which turns up what Shapiro calls a “shadowy editorial provenance.”  In other words, most of the content was lifted from a British book entitled Handbook of Familiar Quotations From English Authors (which helps explain why only 5% of the books quotations are of American origin), and the compiler of the Handbook from which John Bartlett borrowed so heavily was one Isabella Rushton Preston, a 43-year-old Londoner.

The Oxford Book of Quotations, too, originally had a female editor, Alice Mary Smyth, whose name was left off the title page of the first edition (1941).  (Though it has been widely believed that Bernard Darwin edited the first edition, his contribution has been shown to have been limited to the introduction to the volume.)

Shapiro points out that while three of his senior research editors were women, as a male editor of a book of quotations, he remains a novelty—a man.

(Hat tip: Caroline T.)

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In this YouTube video, Grover (my favorite Muppet) asks, “Why do we need a day of rest?”

The Global Day of Jewish Learning website includes an answer from Rav Adin Steinsaltz: “The day of rest is a comparatively new idea, the influence of the Jewish Shabbat on the world. From a secular perspective, a rest day breaks the killing routine of life. Even when we can’t really relax, the day still lessens the unbearable burden of duties and demands, orders and work. However, when the day of rest is a holy day, it has the power of re-infusing some spirit of life into an age that is, in many ways, empty of any exalted feeling. Such a day revives the dormant soul, opening our eyes so that we can watch for something higher.”

One of the greatest hurdles I had to jump in becoming a frum Jew was Shabbat observance.  Kashrut was something I’d been slowly building on for a year (giving up pork and shellfish, separating meat and dairy), but the thought of not turning lights on and off, not cooking or reheated food in the standard way (e.g. in the microwave), and not driving seemed bizarre.  What would I do all day?  What would I eat?  What about all that electricity I’d be wasting?

Over time, of course, I learned what sorts of food to make that reheat well on a warming tray.  We have a timer on our electrical panel that turns off the lights Friday night and turns them on again Saturday morning.  And with four young children, I never ask, “What’ll I do with myself all day?”  (I can’t remember the last time I asked that question.)

But Shabbat goes way beyond all that.  The fact that it’s such a foreign (and suspicious) concept to secular people explains much about what daily life is like today.  Jews were accused in ancient times of laziness for taking a day off from work every week.  (Yes, people used to work seven days a week.)  Now, we’re considered just plain weird for laying off the computer, the Blackberry, the phone, the car, the television, even money, for a whole day.  There has been an explosion in ways to stay electronically connected to others, but whether this means that people are REALLY connected to others, i.e. spending time sitting in the same room, sharing a meal with them, having long conversations, is another matter entirely.

From what I’ve observed, Shabbat is the glue that holds the frum Jewish community together.  It’s the occasion on which I see my friends (who, like me, are running around all week for their livelihoods or their children and have no time to see other people), meet new people, and sit at the table for long, leisurely, sumptuous meals instead of the usual brief, weekday ones.  It’s the day when people celebrate life cycle events for bnei mitzvah (children coming of age), aufrufs and Shabbatot kallah (honoring brides and bridegrooms before their weddings), and kiddushes (in honor or memory of a family member).  It’s a day on which we read from the Torah and attend talks expounding on the lessons of history, culture, and man’s relationship to the Divine in the week’s reading.

It’s the day when I have time to sit and play cards with my children, read to them, hear them read to me, tell them stories, discuss the weekly parashah (Torah reading), and sometimes nap with them.  When it’s warm (which is most of the year here in Israel), we take them to the local playground where we meet up with friends who also have young children, or sometimes introduce ourselves to the other parents.  Sometimes we go to friends’ houses and drop in (NOT something we would do on a weekday), spending a few hours chatting while the kids play, until Shabbat goes out and we make havdalah (the closing ritual to Shabbat) together before going home.

Besides providing social and spiritual benefits, Shabbat observance is one of the defining characteristics of a halachically observant Jew.  One of my teachers, Rav Mois Navon, pointed out once that when choosing witnesses for a wedding (to give but one example), the reason people who keep Shabbat are chosen is that it is the one commandment that Jews are given in order to emulate God.  We keep kosher to “be a holy people,” and we do many of the rituals to remember our exodus from Egypt, or the fact that we were once strangers in a strange land.  But just as God rested on the seventh day, we are commanded to rest also.  To emulate God is to acknowledge that there is a God, that the justice defined in the Torah is universal, and that observance of the laws of the Torah is obligatory.  Those who keep the Sabbath demonstrate an awe of God and reverence for the rule of law that qualifies them to act in accordance with the commandments in a way that idol worshipers and atheists cannot.

I sometimes imagine what it would be like to give up this life, move to Tel Aviv, get a tiny ocean-view apartment, and eat out at a non-kosher restaurant on the beach on Shabbat.  But despite the effort it takes to create a day off (doing double the work on Thursday and Friday, represented in the Torah by collecting double the amount of manna on the sixth day), it is always worth it.  I get to relish doing something totally different for a day, see my kids when we’re not rushing off to go somewhere or do something, and by the end, I’m ready to get back to my regular life.

Shabbat is useful for nourishing healthy relationships, but can also help repair bruised ones.  When the Cap’n and I were ironing out some of our differences before we married, our rabbi’s wife told us to spend every  Shabbat together, talking.  I read the same advice given to a couple that was having marital difficulties by their Reform rabbi (Reform not being famous for its adherence to Sabbath observance).  In more general terms, I have heard that Shabbat is making a comeback in the liberal movements of Judaism.

At its best, Shabbat for me is revisiting all my favorite aspects of holiday time with my family growing up: good food, doing puzzles, playing games, having the house clean (and decorated, when applicable), spending time together.  And while we didn’t often have guests on the holidays, my favorite Christmas was the one where my mother’s Aunt Martha and Uncle Ted tooled in their Winnebago from their home in New Hampshire to ours in Oregon, parked it next to our house, and spent the holiday with us.  Shabbat combines most of those fondly-remembered elements, and is always enhanced by foreign company.

A reader once left a comment where she said that she sometimes imagines going back to the life she led before she converted, but the thought of giving up Shabbat stops her every time.  Hear, hear.

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Self service

One of the many roles I fill in the Crunch household is that of Tyrant of Order.  (This is in opposition to the Cap’n and the children, who are the Demons of Chaos.)  Everyone dirties their clothes; I wash them.  Everyone leaves their stuff all over the house; I tidy it up (or yell at them to do it if they’re home).  Everyone eats three square a day; I plan, shop, cook, and clean up.  Everyone gets dirty (or even better, lice) and I wash and comb them (’cepting the Cap’n, of course).

A few things around the house have gone from being full serve to self serve.  I can no longer keep up with folding the girls’ laundry, so when it comes out of the dryer or off the drying rack, it goes straight into a basket that I dump in the kids’ room once a week for them to fold.  (This has the added advantage that it gives them something to do for an hour a week, and provides endless opportunity for fights to break out, leaving me the rest of the house to myself.)  The kids pitch in with other chores, like stocking the bathroom vanities with toilet paper, emptying bathroom trash, cleaning the bathroom mirrors, sinks, and counters.  They cut and arrange beautiful crudite platters for weeknight dinners.  And they know they are expected to help with setting and clearing the table (though they always need reminding to do this).

As of today, there is a new item on the self-service roster: they’re going to make their own snacks and lunches for school.  Peach sat at the breakfast table this morning and grumbled about being given a pita-hummus-cucumber sandwich yet AGAIN, and that was the last straw for me.  I remember my mother yelling up the stairs every morning when I was in first grade, asking what I wanted her to make for my lunch.  After a year of listening to me dither, she threw up her hands and turned over that thankless job to me, and for the rest of my school days I made my own lunches.  I think it’s time the Crunch children did the same.  (Banana is only 5½ , but so precocious that when she wants to earn the same allowance as her sisters, she always finds the wherewithal to do the same work.)  Tonight after dinner, the pita, hummus, butter and jam, labaneh, vegetables, fruit, cheese, crackers, and everything else are coming out for the little darlings to assemble their own lunches.  And except for packing Bill his usual box of assorted dainties, I’ll be off the hook.   (The Cap’n has a high-class commissary at work—meat and dairy—and hasn’t made his lunch for work in 4½ years.)

It’s all part of my role as Tyrant of Order to cut down the dirt and clutter in the house—though often at the expense of quiet.  Turning over lunches to the girls will probably go the way of turning over laundry—more fights and yelling, but less hassle and frustration for me.  Ah, well.  All good things come at a price.

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When I was in junior high school, one of my football coach-cum-history teachers asked us why we thought the South had seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War.  We went through all the usual reasons we’d heard: slavery, Dred Scott, slavery, John Brown, and slavery.  When we’d finally run out of ideas, our teacher leaned his chair back on two legs, folded his arms, and announced smugly, “No.  It was the rise of Southern nationalism.”

Yeah, whatever. 

I’ve done a considerable amount of reading since then, studied it a few more times, and even taught it one year.  I still think it was slavery, because every conflict for decades between the North and South that drove another nail into the coffin of American unity was connected in some way to slavery.  Had there been no slavery, there would have been no Civil War.

It’s now 2011, the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War, and Americans can expect more chatter in the next few years as battle anniversaries pass and historians, amateur historians, and just plain folks resume haggling about its causes.  It seems that there are still plenty of myths circulating about the reasons why the South seceded from the Union, and the Washington Post recently published an article on five of these myths.  They include states’ rights, tariffs and taxes, the fact that most white Southerners didn’t own slaves (and so must have had other reasons for supporting the war), the claim that Abraham Lincoln went to war to end slavery, and the claim that the South couldn’t have lasted long as a slave society.  The article’s author, James W. Loewen (author of Lies My Teacher Told Me), debunks these myths with relevant facts and historical information, some of which I knew, and some of which were new to me.  Loewen points out that the South made a lot of noise about states’ rights when it concerned their own interests, but objected when Northern states exercised their rights, such as New York’s ban on “slavery transit,” which meant that Southerners who spent their summer vacations in Saratoga could no longer take their cooks, maids, valets, and other domestics with them.  The tariff in effect in 1857 was written by Southerners, and had the lowest rates since 1816.  The majority of white Southern farmers who did not own slaves probably may have held out out hope of someday being able to afford them, and besides, most Southerners recognized that they were a minority in their own states and this fact, combined with the slave rebellions in Haiti and the South, made them fear being murdered in their beds, all the more so if their control over the slave population were wrested from them.  Lincoln personally hoped to see slavery end at some point, but his primary goal as President was to keep the Union together, as reflected in his August 22, 1862 letter to the New York Tribune in which he wrote, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”  And as for slavery being on its way out, Loewen disagrees.  In 1860, he writes, “the South produced almost 75 percent of all U.S. exports.  Slaves were worth more than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation.  No elite class in history has ever given up such an immense interest voluntarily.  Moreover, Confederates eyed territorial expansion into Mexico and Cuba.  Short of war, who would have stopped them—or forced them to abandon slavery? … To claim that slavery would have ended of its own accord by the mid-20th century is impossible to disprove but difficult to accept.  In 1860, slavery was growing more entrenched in the South.  Unpaid labor makes for big profits, and the Southern elite was growing ever richer.  Freeing slaves was becoming more and more difficult for their owners, as was the position of free blacks in the United States, North as well as South.  For the foreseeable future, slavery looked secure. Perhaps a civil war was required to end it.”

The beauty of history for me is that no matter how much I read of it, there is always something new.  Weird, innit?

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Time Magazine thinks it has Israel all figured out.  Back in September, they published a piece on “Why Israelis Don’t Care About Peace.” (Because a couple of Tel Aviv beach bums said so.)  And more recently, the same crack journalist is back with another scary Israel story, how “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Some Conservatives.” (Readers of these articles can also follow links, interspersed within the articles, to such features as Time‘s video entitled, “Israel Prepares to Deport Children of Migrant Workers,” pictures of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall, a photo essay on the “Palestinian Day of Rage,” a feature on Israel’s “Lonesome Doves,” and “heartbreak in the Middle East.”)

To my great delight (and relief), Time published a response on Tuesday from Ron Dermer in the Prime Minister’s office.   Dermer takes on the Time journalist’s arguments one by one, and with facts, an understanding of how the world’s democracies function, and a razor-sharp style, reduces them to rubble. To the charge that Israel is working to require naturalized citizens to make a pledge of allegiance, Dermer points out that the US also has its naturalized citizens swear an oath to protect the country from its enemies, “foreign and domestic.”  To the allegation that there is a proposal to strip Israelis convicted of espionage and terrorism of their citizenship, Dermer observes that Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy are among many countries that reserve the right to strip citizenship from those citizens who have acted to undermine national interests.  (He also notes that Senator Joe Lieberman has proposed a bill “add joining a foreign terrorist organization or engaging in or supporting hostilities against the United States or its allies to the list of acts for which United States nationals would lose their nationality.”)  In response to the issue of investigating foreign government funding of local NGOs, Dermer writes, “It is hard to imagine any democratic country accepting foreign governments intervening in its domestic affairs by funding domestic groups engaged not merely in criticism of a particular government’s policy but also attacking the very foundations of the State,” but also points out that “There is a vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem of foreign government funding of local NGOs. Proposals range from launching a parliamentary investigation to laws banning or restricting such funding to measures to ensure full transparency. Far from being a sign of Israel’s slide toward fascism, the current debate in Israel is a testament to how vibrant our democracy truly is.”  The recent call by a group of rabbis on Jews not to rent or sell property to Arabs was categorically condemned by PM Netanyahu at a speech at the opening of Israel’s annual Bible Quiz, and Dermer calls the reader’s attention to the fact that in Palestinian society, selling property to a Jew is a capital offense.

In his conclusion, Dermer writes, “Every decision in Israel is put under the microscope by one of world’s largest foreign press contingents, the hundreds of human rights organizations and NGOs that operate freely here, a famously adversarial local press and most critically, by a vociferous parliamentary opposition.”  He also notes that many laws enacted by democratic countries in peacetime would be inconceivable in Israel, including Switzerland’s ban on minarets and France’s restricting of headscarves.

He adds, “One final point regarding media coverage in the Middle East. In 2000, after an Italian television station (RAI) was threatened by the Palestinian Authority for broadcasting the film of a Palestinian mob lynching two Israeli soldiers, RAI issued a shameful apology. Similarly, in 2003, CNN admitted to burying negative coverage about Sadaam’s regime so that its personnel could continue working safely in Baghdad.

“I can assure you that no matter how biased and unbalanced your correspondents’ coverage of Israel, they will always be free here to write whatever they want. Of course, Time is also free not to print it.”

Well done, Mr. Dermer.  Bibi, Israel, and Israel’s friends everywhere are lucky to have you.

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