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.

August 21, 2017

Has the day come?

Filed under: Family,history,Israel,News,Politics,religion,travel — Tags: — howdoyoujew @ 17:44

For the second time in about a week, I’m sharing something written by my friend and teacher, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, which pretty perfectly encapsulates and captures my feelings and reaction to the current political and social climate in the United States and beyond. It bears mentioning that I have had no illusions about our situation since the fall, before the election, and of course well before the horrible events of the last couple of weeks. The fact is that on Nov. 9, 2016, I downloaded and completed the forms needed to obtain my American-born kids their Israeli passports. Just in case.

Watching Charlottesville From Jerusalem

June 1, 2013

The Israel Conference in LA

Filed under: Good News,Israel,productivity,technology,work — Tags: , , — howdoyoujew @ 22:48

I attended the Israel Conference in LA this past Thursday (it continued into Friday but I had other commitments), and wrote up this reflection for publication. I’ll be doing reviews of several of the startups that exhibited there in the coming days and weeks, and, as referenced below, I’ll also be reviewing The Unstoppables, a new book on entrepreneurship that heavily draws on the Israeli startup spirit and culture (the book’s author, Bill Schley, and Graham Weston, who wrote the foreword, spoke on a panel at the Conference, hence the connection).

***
There’s some inherent risk to getting any group of hundreds of people together for a conference at a boutique hotel in Los Angeles. All sorts of logistical snafus could arise with the meeting spaces, Internet connectivity might be slow, traffic could of course be a problem, causing speakers or vendors to be late to their sessions, and on and on. But make this a gathering of people who tend to talk with their hands as much as Israelis are wont to do, and you’d just be asking for trouble. Or so it would seem if you only knew The Israel Conference on paper.

In practice, the fifth annual such meeting, which took place at West LA’s Luxe Hotel on Sunset Blvd. May 30 & 31, was a dynamic and injury-free event, featuring hundreds of attendees and representatives of dozens of Israeli and Israel-facing companies doing what people who love to talk do best – networking, making deals, and sharing ideas. The businesses included brand new to mid-stage startups, more established companies, and venture capital firms, all looking to be or be behind the next big thing. The driving force behind The Israel Conference is Sharona Justman, managing director of STEP Strategy Advisors, a business advising firm focusing on improving their clients’ profitability and market position through acquisitions. After being in Sharona’s presence for just a few minutes, you can’t help but be swept up in her positive energy, secure that her smile would light the way forward even if the electricity went out.

If you weren’t as immersed in both the Israeli economy and technology tools and toys as I am, you might be surprised at the plethora of innovative ideas coming out of Israel. You’d be less surprised if you’d read Start-Up Nation, the 2011 book that opened many people’s eyes to the remarkable success of the Israeli high-tech sector and broader economy (with its consistent growth over the last decade, even as countless other global economies have stagnated, shrunk, or utterly melted down). And you’d get completely over your surprise and just move into being inspired if you’d read The Unstoppables, the new book by Bill Schley (with a foreword by Graham Weston, founder of Rackspace). Schley and Weston, having read Start-Up Nation but with no previous experience in Israel, wanted to follow up and get another perspective on Israel’s entrepreneurial engine, so they did something incredibly Israeli: they flew to Israel with no agenda, no meetings set up, and no idea if they’d succeed. Of course, this being Israel, one contact turned into eight, which turned into dozens more, and by the end of the week, they had enough material for a book (a formal review of the book will follow). They shared the story of the genesis of the book and some of their impressions of Israeli ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit that imbues the Holy Land on a panel at The Israel Conference moderated by the conference’s co-chair, Yossi Vardi (known as the Godfather of Israeli high-tech).

Other panels at the conference covered topics such as cyber-security (particularly in the mobile device space), fundraising for startups at various stages of product and capital development, gaming, emerging sustainable energy solutions, and other areas where Israeli companies are on the bleeding edge of innovation. In between the panels, conference organizers built in plenty of time for attendees to network, schmooze, and – this being a Jewishly informed event – eat. The conference’s Pavilion of Companies featured some remarkable products and services offered by companies in varying stages of the startup cycle (some seeking funding to come out of limited beta testing, others that were just there to build awareness and maybe score additional clients and customers; I’ll review several of these individually in subsequent posts). But as often happens, some of the most interesting (and profitable) conversations happened off the beaten path, at small tables with three or four people who may not have known each other before this event. Arguably the greatest value in an event like The Israel Conference is to provide a space for people to find common ground and mutual personal and business interests that lead them to collaborate in ways that not only benefit them financially, but in many cases, in true Israeli and Jewish form, make the world a better place.

The next Israel Conference will take place in Los Angeles on May 29 & 30, 2014. Information is at http://www.theisraelconference.org/.

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.

February 26, 2013

Remember ICQ?

Filed under: Israel,News,San Diego Jewish Community,technology,UCSD,work — Tags: — howdoyoujew @ 11:40

Do you remember ICQ, the first Internet-wide instant messaging service? Do you remember that it was invented by four young Israelis? You do? Well, I just met the guy who gave them the money to start the company – his name is Yossi Vardi, and he’s known as the Godfather of Israeli High-Tech. His son Arik was one of the four kids who created Mirabilis, the company that marketed ICQ and was sold to AOL for around $400 million a year and a half after they released ICQ to the public.

Anyway, Yossi was in San Diego this week and I had the pleasure of attending a reception and lecture with him at the Rady School of Management at UCSD. I wrote up the evening for publication thusly (it was intended as a journalistic piece, not a blog entry, hence the non-bloggy voice). Make sure to read my note at the bottom.
**
Sunday night at UCSD’s Rady School of Management, Israeli entrepreneur and high-tech investor Yossi Vardi gave an informative, at times uproariously funny talk on the culture of innovation and creativity that has innervated and driven Israel’s economy for almost two decades. Vardi should know a thing or two about this topic: in 1996, he gave his son and three of his friends the seed money to found a tech start-up. They created ICQ, the first Internet-wide instant messaging service, AOL purchased the company less than two years later for over $400 million.

Vardi regaled the 200+ member audience with many amusing anecdotes about his upbringing, which he says drove him to take the risks necessary to be successful as an entrepreneur and later a venture capitalist. Most notable were the stories about his mother, whose absurdly critical admonishments included telling him he was an idiot and negatively comparing him to all his “smarter” cousins. He also noted, however, that his mother was one of the first start-up entrepreneurs in Israel, saying that she started a small restaurant in Israel in the 1950s, when the country was under severe austerity measures. As he put it, she excelled in bioengineering, as she could turn any organic ingredients into chopped liver.

Interspersed between these tales were nuggets of business and innovation advice and trivia, including listing some of the major American technology companies that have major operations in Israel. Sitting in the audience and on the receiving end of a great deal of praise from Vardi was Dr. Irwin Jacobs, the founder of San Diego-based tech giant Qualcomm, which has purchased several Israeli companies and employs hundreds of people in its Israeli R&D center.

Vardi noted that entrepreneurship is a cultural, rather than technological or educational phenomenon, and that San Diego seemed to share a culture of innovation with Israel. He described innovators and creators as people who are impatient with the status quo, and noted the “hacker” mentality – the frame of mind of computer programmers, engineers, and other like-minded folks – as key to creativity. As an example, he pointed out that most people – typical users of technology – would look at a cellphone and ask, “How do I use this?” Hackers, innovators, dreamers who could go on to create the next big thing, look at the same gadget and ask, “How can I improve on this? What can I make it do that people haven’t thought about yet?” and other probing, out-of-the-box questions.

Vardi concluded his remarks by explaining how the Internet has changed the way products and services are developed, by empowering individuals to create and share ideas and tools. The engaging Q&A session, and the evening as a whole, was capped on a positive note as Vardi and a colleague, Rami Lipman, were joined by Dean Robert Sullivan of the Rady School of Management. All three spoke about technology innovation serving a greater need, and the importance of tech innovators and entrepreneurs, who are some of the most successful and wealthy individuals in the world, giving back to society.

Yossi Vardi’s visit to UCSD was co-sponsored by the Rady School of Management and the Jacobs School of Engineering; the lecture was part of StandWithUs San Diego’s Israel Startup Nation Series.
**
Best part of the night for me, besides all of it, was getting to meet Irwin Jacobs, the aforementioned founder of Qualcomm. Vardi had called out to Jacobs earlier in the evening to bring back Eudora, the much-loved email client Qualcomm discontinued supporting some years ago (yes, I know there’s an open source version available now, but it’s not the same). So when I chatted with Dr. Jacobs for a moment, I repeated that request, telling him that they had to pry the last supported version of Eudora away from me by force here at work. He smiled and told me that he still uses it! So yeah, I had a moment with Irwin Jacobs. It was awesome.

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

March 10, 2011

Why I Love Hadag Nahash – למה אני אוהב את הדג נחש

This is not an exhaustive list, but I’m immersing myself in old and new material (מקומי and otherwise) in preparation for tonight’s live show at Porter’s Pub at UCSD (link to Facebook event page; go there or ping me directly for ticket info – $20 for non-students).

1. Crowd-sourced video for BaSalon shel Salomon (In Salomon’s Living Room – בסלון של סלומון):

2. Creative video for Shir Nehama (Consolation Song – שיר נחמה) featuring the beautiful Middle Eastern steel guitar work of Yehuda Keisar:

3. Brutally hard-hitting video for Od Ach Echad (One More Brother – עוד אח אחד). Visually this will really only hit hard if you’re Israeli, but the lyrical sentiment is powerful no matter where you’re from.

4. Great live performance of Halifot (Suits – חליפות) featuring the wonderful backing vocals of the very pregnant Liora Yitzhak, whose child (now a toddler if I have the recording date right) will grow up to either be this band’s biggest fan or will hate them passionately, but may never understand why.

5. Another of their huge social commentary hits with an added layer of irony added visually – Shirat haSticker (The Sticker Song – שירת הסטיקר). The lyrics were written/compiled by David Grossman, a prominent Israeli author and peace activist, from political and social bumper stickers found in Israel:

6. Misparim (Numbers – מספרים) is a now somewhat out-of-date song about some significant statistics in Israeli society (and Sha’anan Street’s personal life) that still beautifully illustrates the band’s style. It’s out of date only in terms of some of the real numbers reported (e.g., unemployment rate and monthly salaries of executives), not in terms of how unjust and significant the gaps still are. This is a fan-made video; I couldn’t find an official one. TRIGGER WARNING (TW): Brief still images of terrorist attacks, including WTC.

7. There is no number 7. Come down and enjoy the show with me tonight!

January 11, 2011

Those Were The Days

Filed under: children,Family,fun,funny,Israel,Parenting,random — howdoyoujew @ 11:13

My beautiful, talented daughter had some time to create original art on Sunday. While I was doing something (monumentally important, I’m sure) she brought me this picture of “Ima’s house when she was little.” Lovely, right? We’ve been to that neighborhood, and this ain’t a bad representation, actually, not that she was trying for realism.

Jenn's childhood home, drawing by HTL

I asked H if she’d draw my house from when I was a kid, and she was only too happy to oblige (this may have been her first commissioned work):

Aba's childhood home, drawing by HTL

I asked about the green figure with the glasses (as if I didn’t know) and got confirmation that it is, indeed, me. Then I asked,
“Did anyone else live with me when I was little?”
H: “Your parents, but they’re inside the house!”

The “Well, duh” remained unspoken, but I’m sure she was thinking it.

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 31, 2008

Hope for humanity

Filed under: entertainment,fun,Good News,Israel,music,travel,video — howdoyoujew @ 13:08

I refuse to admit that I’m overstating things when I say this makes me feel better about the human race, at least for four and a half minutes:

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Spotted in the comments:

my son died in iraq 7 weeks ago, and this video allowed me to sleep through the night for the first time. i was able to let go of my anger for just a few hours. unfortunately, it’s back – thank you mr. bush.——tisa

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