How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

March 22, 2013

Israel activity on and off campus

This is an eventful time in Israel-related activity in San Diego and beyond, and I wanted to get some of my thoughts and resources in one place for my own and others’ edification.

In no particular order, most people know that US President Barack Obama visited Israel this past week for the first time since his election in 2008. It was a highly anticipated trip, no less by all those who’ve been saying since day one that he would “throw Israel under the bus” than by his most fervent supporters. Many of Obama’s critics regarding his Israel policies won’t be swayed no matter what he does short of making aliyah himself (and probably not even then), and reaction in Israel and in the American Jewish community has been mixed (what else would it be? Are we not Jews?). Still, even some conservative commentators lavished POTUS with praise, including Yossi Klein Halevi, who called the Thursday speech “a love song to Israel” and maybe “the most passionate Zionist speech ever given by an American president.”

I had a great conversation Thursday, after reading part of the speech, with a couple of students at SDSU who’d stopped by the Aztecs for Israel table and display on Library Walk. Carl (a history major) and Jay (finance) were two of the most educated, intelligent, and engaged people I’ve ever spoken to about this issue. They were knowledgable and challenging, open to learning, asked insightful questions – it was really a pleasure talking to them, and while they came as friends, I hope they left even more supportive of Israel. AFI was out in force this week (and will be back next week) to counter the ridiculous amount of hatred, lies and vitriol spread by Students for Justice in Palestine during their Palestine Awareness Week/Israel Apartheid Week (one and the same, of course). With able and critical assistance from StandWithUs and other community partners, “my” students (I’m their staff advisor) provide passersby with factual, helpful information about Israel, the IDF, the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (and how they differ), etc. They promote the truth – that Israel seeks peace, but that peace takes partners, and that in many ways Israel doesn’t seem to have any at this time. This is unfortunately but tellingly reflected in the student organization situation on campus, where SJP students have repeatedly rebuffed AFI efforts to engage in dialogue, either direct or with a third party (even when the third party is a high-ranking university administrator dedicated to diversity, who reports directly to the president of SDSU). My students have been amazing through this all, weathering terrible verbal and written attacks while maintaining their composure and maturity, displaying real courage and strength that makes me so proud.

Partly due to President Obama’s visit to Israel, NPR has done more stories on Israel this week than I’m used to hearing (at least when there’s no war going on). While I really appreciate the longer, more in-depth pieces public radio tends to air, they still sometimes display a subtle (or not so subtle) bias, such as when they say “the occupied West Bank” whenever talking about that region. Overall, though, I heard or saw a couple of interesting stories this week:

  • A photo essay on Beta Israel, the community of Ethiopian Jews;
  • A story about Ethiopian-born beauty Yityish Aynaw, who, as the first black Miss Israel, dined with Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, during his visit. This piece also notes a couple of other Ethiopian cultural and social milestones in Israel, including Idan Raichel’s collaboration with singer Kabra Kasai and other Ethiopian artists, and 2011 Israeli Idol winner Hagit Yaso;
  • This piece about Hamas schools in Gaza (about 20 out of 400) that teach Hebrew. This was particularly fascinating, partly because of the subtext and things that WEREN’T said by the reporter or anyone interviewed. There is a whole generation of Palestinian men who are fluent in Hebrew because they worked in Israel before the withdrawal, and who are therefore able to get a glimpse into Israeli society via television and print media. While the 9th grader the reporter talked to in this story said it was important to learn Hebrew because “it’s the language of our enemy” (a sentiment echoed/parroted by “[a]lmost everyone I speak with in Gaza,” the reporter says), the 44-year-old cab driver, who worked in Israel for 12 years, doesn’t put it in those terms. He freely admits to watching Israeli TV and reading Israeli newspapers, and wanting his kids to learn Hebrew as well. I don’t think there’s any way to consume this media diet and not come away with at least a basic sense of humanity of “the other” (in this case, Israelis) and therefore be at least a LITTLE skeptical of your leadership’s claims about the “enemy’s” intentions. In other words, the seeds of normalization exist in Gaza; they were planted years ago, before Hamas came to power, and there’s nothing Hamas can do to erase the experiences and interactions these Palestinian men had with Israelis. Obviously not everything was love and light – far from it – but many of these men (who now have families of their own) know that many Israelis want the very same things they do. They know that on both sides there are people who want to raise their families in peace and security, within borders recognized by neighbors who, while perhaps not engaging in vibrant diplomatic and cultural relations, at least recognize each other’s right to exist.

    Finally, a fair amount has been written and said about the phone call Bibi made to Turkish PM Erdogan from Ben Gurion Airport, as Netanyahu was escorting President Obama back to Air Force One for the trip to Jordan. Some of what’s being said is to the effect of “Obama forced Bibi to make the phone call,” “this is humiliating to Israel,” “Erdogan is the only winner from Obama’s trip to Israel,” and other such nonsense. Quite frankly, if you really believe that this phone call was forced on Bibi at the last minute (or at all( and that the renormalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey is of no benefit to Israel, you have no idea how international diplomacy works and should just stop talking about it.
    That is all.

November 20, 2012

No equivalence

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,Israel,News,San Diego Jewish Community — howdoyoujew @ 00:09

The loss of innocent lives is truly tragic, while not always avoidable during war. But the fact that Israeli media is discussing, and the IDF is investigating, the tragic deaths of the members of the al Dalou family, brings into sharp relief the stark cultural differences that are making peace in this region so hard to achieve. How many Palestinian/Arab news sources are reporting about the injuries and deaths and damage caused by the rockets coming out of Gaza, let alone with the names of the victims?

The IDF continues to try to avoid civilian casualties, and Hamas continues to make that as difficult as possible by storing and firing their munitions from within civilian areas in Gaza (not to mention using medical and media buildings and insignia on vehicles to try and avoid being targeted or, at best, make Israel look bad when it hits these targets).

Along with many other people, a couple of friends of mine on Facebook (both moms) have mentioned the basic, fundamental pain and universal “wrongness” of hearing about and seeing dead children. But a piece I heard on the radio (I’ll link to it if I can find it) along with years of historical evidence and images like this one from the al Dalou funeral (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Xinhua Press/Corbis) point to a culture that exalts martyrdom and elevates the struggle to destroy its enemies above even its own children’s lives. Yes, there are people grieving for these children, and for other innocent lives lost, but grief is not apparent on the face of the man carrying the child in the forefront of that shot.

Another thing going around the social networks over the last few days is a Golda Meir line, “We will have peace (with the Arabs) when they love their children more than they hate us.” Golda and other Israeli leaders have said things that are far less enlightened, but this line still rings through and true.

May we see peace in our lifetimes.

Pal-Isr Flags & Dove

March 12, 2012

Forty kilometers (25 miles) from the border

To make it easier to imagine yourself in southern Israel over the last several days (not to mention the last 10 years or so), as Palestinian terrorists fire dozens of deadly rockets every day on civilian population centers, here’s a handy little map. If Gaza was Tijuana, this is the area of San Diego county that would be subject to being hit by the rockets. Schools are closed throughout this area (this would include SDSU, USD, and all primary and secondary schools in this range), mass transportation is at a standstill (including our international and regional airports), and most businesses are shuttered. Do you know anyone who lives in this area? They all have to be prepared to run into their bomb shelters with a few seconds’ notice from an air raid siren. Here’s what a small part of the barrage on Ashdod sounded like this morning.

Zoomed in for detail:
Range of Gaza rockets - TJ to San Diego

August 19, 2010

Looking forward, looking back

I delivered the d’var Torah this past Shabbat at Ohr Shalom. I had volunteered to do this months ago, but had completely forgotten about it, so when the rabbi emailed me on Thursday night to remind me, I emailed back with a “no problem” message that, thanks to the emotionless nature of the medium, completely masked my anxiety about figuring out what to say less than 48 hours later about a parasha I hadn’t read yet (this year).

But, as as happened before, the texts along with the particular circumstances of my life (or God’s guiding hand, whichever you prefer) provided me with inspiration and I delivered this relatively succinct message:
***
While reading this week’s parasha, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Rabbi Meltzer about a week ago, toward the end of shiva for his grandfather, Poppa Harvey. It was a mundane conversation about corrective lenses – how long we’ve worn glasses or contact lenses, that sort of thing. In particular, there’s a passage in chapter 17, verses 18-20, that really jumped out at me:

“When [a Jewish monarch] is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.”

I was struck by the implication of this passage about the centrality of the Torah – how consistent and constant a presence it must be, no matter our station in life. Throughout the generations, though, as our circumstances have changed for better or for worse – and let’s be honest, we’re Jews, so it’s mostly been for worse, right? – our perspective has changed. To put it another way, our vision has been impaired. Distance, in time and space, does that. So we’ve needed corrective lenses to view our central text – in the form of rabbinic commentary, midrash, aggadah, etc. – to help us see some things more clearly. So, for instance, the rabbis made certain that the rules for sentencing someone to death, laid out in this week’s parasha, earlier in chapter 17, were so strictly interpreted and adhered to as to make carrying out capital punishment virtually impossible; there is truly no recompense for errors in such cases.

Some lenses, though, don’t just correct, they OVERcorrect – they distort. I daresay there are interpretations of the Torah – lenses worn by some readers – that themselves make a to’eva (an abomination) of the sacred texts we work so hard to make relevant and accessible in our everyday lives.

Thus there have been numerous violations of chapter 20, verse 19,

When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees…”

The violations have occurred at the hands of settlers, and, to my great shame, at the hands of Tzahal, our Israeli Defense Force, when they have uprooted, destroyed or stolen Palestinian olive trees from land that is occupied – that is, arguably, under siege.

Too hard for you to swallow? Too bad; it’s true. But I’m not here to make a political speech, so I’ll move on to something a bit closer to home:

There have also been countless violations of chapter 16, verse 20,

Justice justice shall you pursue צדק צדק תרדוף

when rabbis and other community leaders deny the personal rights of a segment of the population. Rather than concentrate, as many have, on the fact that some of that segment’s behavior is described as abhorrent in the Torah, more leaders should have actively and eagerly pursued justice for all, a clear mitzvah explicitly laid out in this week’s reading. I do applaud the recent spate of positive news in this regard, but we still have far to go.

As we approach the new year, I encourage all of you to shift your focus inward – get as nearsighted as you possibly can. Take a look at YOUR corrective lenses. We ALL wear them in one form or another:

  • They may be frames that wrap around the sides of our faces;
  • tiny specks that sit right on our eyeballs;
  • or, the most common and insidious of all, those that are completely embedded inside our heads – our preconceptions, our stereotypes, our rushes to judgment, and so forth.

Take a good look at yourselves, and see if you can’t wipe away some of the schmutz that’s accumulated over the last year (or however long it’s been; it’s never too late to start).

Then crown yourselves monarchs – go on, you have my permission (the Rabbi’s not here, it’s OK) – and heed the call of the Torah:
As you sit on your royal throne, revisit our holy texts. Again. And Again. Look at them through your freshly polished lenses and reflect on the words, so that you do not become haughty toward your fellows, and so that you may continue to reign for many years to come.

Shabbat shalom.
***
A few days after delivering this drash, I received this Jewel of Elul, written by Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, which beautifully encapsulates the feelings he and I have as we prepare these sermons.

The blank screen that unfolds before each sermon is my darkness – formless and void. And then I begin to create. As I sit down to write, I am aware of this creation teaching, for it calls me to find the message needed for the moment.

I encourage you to sign up to receive Jewels of Elul via email, and browse the archive of previous Jewels. They are provocative, insightful, inspirational, and powerful.

May we all see more clearly in the coming year.

July 17, 2008

A Day In Israel: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 – 13th of Tamuz, 5768

0830 We got up and started getting ready for our day. This included a light breakfast for us and Hadarya.

0900 My friend, roommate, and rabbi Scott, called to tell me that Channel 10 News was covering the prisoner exchange in the north, in case I was interested. I was, of course, so I turned on the (fancy flat panel) TV in our flat and started watching.
Within a short time, the feed switched to the Lebanese side of the border, where the Hizballah spokesman began his remarks in preparation for the exchange. With the posturing typical of Arab representatives of years ago (and still all too common today) when the Arab leadership spoke of pushing the Jews into the sea, he spoke in grandiose and pompous terms about the “war of aggression started against” Hizballah by Israel in 2006, and the “intense international pressure” Hizballah withstood regarding the prisoner exchange. Despite the pressure, he said, on their own schedule, his organization was now ready to turn over the captured Israeli soldiers, Ehud “Udi” Goldwasser and Eldad Regev (he of course did not use Goldwasser’s nickname).

A bit of background is appropriate here: the 2006 Lebanon War was in fact instigated by a Hizballah ambush on the convoy Goldwasser and Regev were part of, along with a Katyusha rocket attack on northern Israeli civilian targets timed to coincide with the ambush. The IDF operation in Lebanon to try to neutralize Hizballah, which lasted just over a month, cost hundreds of lives on both sides of the border, and failed to accomplish its secondary objective, returning the kidnapped soldiers (I will not address here whether the primary objective of neutralizing Hizballah, was accomplished or not).
Israel’s policy and military code has always held that we do not leave a man in the field of battle, be he wounded, dead, or otherwise, so the only kind of negotiation Israel has ever undertaken with terrorist groups has been in the form of prisoner exchanges. These deals have historically been ridiculously lopsided, partly because it is rare for Israeli soldiers to be captured by the enemy in any condition, and largely because Israel places such a high value on the lives of its soldiers and citizens. Thus, we have in the past released dozens, sometimes hundreds of prisoners in exchange for one or two or three missing or captured men.
Two things stood out about the deal for Goldwasser and Regev: First, we didn’t know for certain whether our men were dead or alive. We knew from forensic evidence at the scene of the ambush that they’d been seriously wounded, enough that IDF officials publicly stated that they needed immediate medical attention in order to survive. We obviously had no way of knowing if Hizballah provided any, let alone adequate, medical care to our men, so the nation, and the two families, were left mostly in the dark these last two years, although IDF Intelligence had told the families that the two were “most likely” dead.
More significantly, the second thing that made this deal different is that, for the first time, Israel had agreed to release a captured terrorist with blood on his hands, that is, one who had murdered Israelis. This had always been a well-defined and well-known line that Israel didn’t cross in prisoner exchanges with any party, but our position in this case was weakened by a variety of factors. Thus it was that in exchange for the two soldiers whose fate we did not definitively know, we agreed to release Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze terrorist directly responsible for the deaths of four Israelis, including two children, in an attack on the northern coast city of Nahariya in 1979. In addition to him, four other Lebanese prisoners and the remains of 199 Lebanese killed in fighting with Israel were included in the deal.

Back to the morning of the exchange: After the Hizballah rep announced they were returning the soldiers, a reporter shouted out, “Are they alive or dead?” and the terrorist representative said, “You will see in a moment.”
It was then that a couple of goons pulled a black coffin out of a waiting vehicle and laid it on the ground in front of the assembled media and Hizballah and Red Cross personnel. Then they brought out a second coffin.

The Israeli commentators on television who were narrating and translating the action were noticeably moved and shaken by the revelation that the two reservists, who were just 31 (Udi) and 26 (Eldad) when they were kidnapped, were dead. Among other comments, they pointed out that it was impossible to tell (at least at that point) when the soldiers had actually died, but that hardly mattered.

I sat and watched the coverage for over an hour: I saw the same footage over and over again of those coffins being laid on the ground by people unfit for the task; I watched cutaway live footage from outside the home of the Regev family in the small town of Kiryat Motzkin; I listened to the commentators and pundits talk until they had nothing more to say; and I cried.

I started crying very unexpectedly (at least I didn’t expect it), and very hard, and I kept crying for several long minutes as that footage of the coffins played over and over again in the living room of our rented flat in Jerusalem with my wife and toddler daughter watching me. My lovely wife brought over a box of tissues, and my darling daughter noticed rather quickly that something was wrong and began saying, “Aba…Aba!” in a plaintive, sympathetic tone that made me fall in love with her all over again for the umpteenth time this week. (I wrote out a draft of this entry in longhand before typing it, and choked up as I wrote that last bit, and I just got teary AGAIN typing it in.)

1030-ish We left the flat and got a cab to the city center, where the Jerusalem office of the Ministry of Interior is located, to begin the process of registering Hadarya as an Israeli citizen and applying for her passport. We got new passport pictures taken at the kiosk (the Hebrew word for bodega) next door to the office, and went upstairs to wait in what I was sure was going to be the first of many long lines that day. My suspicions were not helped by the receptionist, who told me that we’d first have to go to one office for the citizen registry, then go to another area entirely for the passport application. But I knew the nature of the bureaucracy we were dealing with, so I went along with it, knowing we could always split the two tasks up and come back if it took too long.

We got into the first office after a not-too-long-at-all 10 minutes, and sat down to explain to Malka the clerk what we needed to do. While she remained somewhat surly throughout the process, I’ll just say that we left Malka’s office less than half an hour later, with my new Israeli ID card supplement papers listing my correct and current marital and parental status, and with Hadarya’s passport application already in the pipeline, with the passport expected at my aunt’s in Ra’anana (the only permanent address I can reasonably claim in Israel) within a week – that is, in time for us to get it before we leave back for the States. Malka didn’t HAVE to process the passport app in addition to the citizen registration; she chose to help us out, I know not why. But it is not my place to question such acts of charity; I merely accept them when they are given.

Around lunchtime We walked the block and a half to the Ben Yehuda promenade and enjoyed lunch at McDonald’s, a singular pleasure we can only partake of in Israel. We then walked up and down the busy shopping thoroughfare and did what tourists do, but with the added flavor and advantage of some authentic Middle Eastern bargaining and haggling over prices. This helped us complete much of our gift shopping for family, friends, and ourselves without feeling like we spent too much money.

1530 After yummy frozen yogurt with mix-ins, we headed back to the flat and met up with the Meltzers for a trip to Malha Mall for dinner (and a movie for the Meltzers; Hadarya can’t sit through a feature film yet) and some more shopping. Jenn scored a couple of beautiful new hats for shul, we had kosher KFC for dinner, and Hadarya cavorted with a couple of dozen other kids at a little play area in the mall before we left to go home for bedtime.

I realized on the way home (and on the nightly stroll through the neighborhood putting Hadarya to sleep) what a powerful, emotion-filled, fun, difficult, hot, typically Israeli day it had been, and I felt so at home.

June 26, 2008

Movie review: You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

Hilarious. Chock full of Adam Sandler’s typical bathroom jokes and 80s-centric humor, this movie (Flash heavy site) won’t disappoint his enormous day-to-day fan base. But the movie is also packed with tons of audience-specific gags that are only truly funny if you a) speak decent colloquial Hebrew, b) spent time in Israel in the 80s and early 90s, c) are otherwise familiar with Israeli culture, d) are familiar with the NY Israeli scene, or e) all of the above. Jenn and I laughed nonstop, but there were definitely lots of moments that we looked at each other and thought, “Is anyone else getting this?”

To give you a taste, check out this old SNL sketch, which undoubtedly helped germinate Zohan:

There are several motifs at play in that bit that appear, in more or less polished form, in Zohan.

Wait, did I just refer to “motifs” while talking about an Adam Sandler comedy? BWAHAHAHAHA!

Go see it. There are a lot of fun cameos, there’s even a nice underlying message, and you’ll laugh a bunch. It’ll be good for you.

March 7, 2008

No words

In memory of the victims of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva shooting, March 6, 2008

July 24, 2007

It’s the Irony, Stupid: Hospitality and Spirituality in the Middle East, Then and Now

When I started writing this (Sunday, July 15 or thereabouts) I didn’t know where it was going, so I didn’t post it. It took about a week for the realization to sink in that the thing that brought these two subjects into relief for me was the irony and sadness over the powerful positive connotations I held based on history, our sacred texts, ands personal experience, and the terrible depths of hostility and spiritual corruption we’ve reached today in the region. I am leaving much of the piece intact as I first wrote it, with the addition of the link to my friend Scott’s powerful piece at the end.
***
Two aspects of Middle Eastern culture, and how they are played out today in the Middle East and here in the US, came into sharp relief for me recently: Hospitality and spirituality.

The hospitality I’m referring to is the “open door” policy extant in many Arab and Israeli homes – whereby friends, family, and sometimes even strangers are welcomed with open arms and well-stocked pantries, often with no advance notice. Last Sunday, after a lovely late morning playdate and light picnic at a park near our house, we invited a couple of the friends we were with back to our place for lunch. Eric & Shauna said they had to run a bunch of errands so they would take a rain check. Half an hour later, as we were noshing with Tamar, the one friend who’d come over initially, they called and said they were done, and would we mind some company. Without hesitation, we added two place settings to our dining room table, and our impromptu gathering lasted until the late afternoon. Once we’d started feeding them, Eric admitted that he’d only called because Shauna thought it’d be weird to just show up on our door unannounced. I assured her that it would not have been weird at all and that they are encouraged to do that sort of thing any time they feel like it. Jenn isn’t Israeli, but her subscription to this same philosophy is entirely unsurprising considering our compatibility with each other (which we discovered very early on – like on our first date).

When Jenn and I were looking for our first house together a couple of years ago, we walked into the abode we now call home and fell in love with it, largely because of the layout of the dining room/living room, which is really one enormous room divided only by the entryway from the front door, with no steps or walls separating the space. We immediately realized that this room could hold more than two dozen people at a festive meal, a scene we hoped to see brought to life in our home as often as possible.

Later that same night, as I was rocking Hadarya to sleep, I recognized (in the truest sense of that word: I revisited the knowledge, or cognition, of) the blessings she has brought into our lives. We are committed to giving something back in acknowledgment of and gratitude for those blessings. On her birthday, we want to do something to honor the sacrifice and bravery of her birth mother; and we also will continue to recognize the role my bone marrow donation played in the cosmic balance of our lives and our struggle to expand our family.

I don’t believe in an active God of history, a literal being of some sort that has a hand (outstretched or otherwise) in everyday events. My conception of a “higher being” is much more along the lines of a shared human trait of Godliness, a spark of divinity that each of us carries. The more people recognize that spark within themselves (and choose to follow its guidance rather than ignore it), the more God is present in the world.

All of these thoughts and experiences got me thinking about the geographical region where I was born, and the one I now reside in, and whether there’s some qualitative difference in how people relate to each other and to God in these two regions (and elsewhere). The whole cradle of civilization thing, and the old joke about the God hotline being a local call from there, make it clear that other people have thought about this before me (I’m not claiming originality here), and I don’t have any answers, but I’m thinking about it.

Modern history, unfortunately, puts hospitality and spirituality in a different light: A recent scene from the West Bank where the open door is specifically shut in the face of a neighbor (92 MB WMV – even with broadband, it’ll take a while, but it’s worth it here it is on YouTube), and the centuries of religion-based hostility and violence in the Middle East (um, read/watch the news?), highlight only the differences between the peoples and downplay (if not outright ignore) the positive aspects of these qualities.

I was aided in my move forward to post by this gut-wrenching recollection by my good friend Scott of his visit to Hebron. I was in Hebron for a couple of months – including the High Holy Days – while serving in the IDF in ’92, so I can sadly say that his characterization of that place is spot on.

Now I just need to figure out how to react and work for change.

June 29, 2007

Two days in a row? Well, yeah.

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,Commentary,Israel — howdoyoujew @ 09:51

Scott Adams is at it again, making a lucid, cogent point about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Are all cartoonists this bright? If so, why aren’t THEY running the country?

June 28, 2007

Dilbert expounds on the Middle East.

Filed under: Arab-Israeli Conflict,Commentary,Israel,Politics — howdoyoujew @ 15:49

Well, OK, it’s Scott Adams, the guy who writes Dilbert, but it’s kinda sad that his commentary is far more sound (and a whole lot more succinct) than most of what the mainstream media (or even the fringe) provide.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress