The Freedom Flotilla

Today was a rough day. Aside from having a sick 5 year old and a recovering infant on my hands, I knew the “Freedom Flotilla” was due to hit Gazan waters today. I’m relieved I didn’t check the news before going to work or I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate at all during the day. So when I left work around 4:30, I was dying to hit the internet.

It turns out the Israeli Navy had boarded the 6 ships of the flotilla around 4am this morning.

I’d like to start by saying that I am not an unequivocal supporter of Israeli policy. I do not know how I feel about the blockade of Gaza and there are plenty of other Israeli policies I’ve discussed in the past that I don’t support. I do know that the area is under the rule of Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization who does not accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel and refuses any deals or compromises with them. (though they don’t seem to mind using electricity from Israel’s power grid) I do know that my morning newspaper includes stories of rockets being lobbed from Gaza into Israel with such frequency that I don’t even think twice about it. I do know that Gilad Shalit will have been held captive by Hamas for four years on June 25. Do I think Gilad would be released if Israel stopped the blockade? Do I think the people of Gaza would overthrow Hamas and begin working toward a viable state of their own with the Palestinian Authority if Israel allowed free movement? I doubt it. I know Egypt also sees justification for their side of the blockade: they do not want to undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, thereby impeding the birth of a sovereign Palestinian state.

The boarding of the flotilla this morning was the culmination of several days’ worth of events. Last week, boats from around Europe set out to break the Gaza blockade under the organization of The Free Gaza Movement. Their mission is to raise awareness of the plight of Gazans by routinely breaking through the blockade of Gaza. I cannot find anything in their mission about providing humanitarian aid to the Gazans. The organization made it clear that they would do everything in their power to break the blockade regardless of any measures taken by Israel.

The ships were reported to have 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid on-board. That struck me as incredible. An amount that I can’t even picture. The good that could come of that if it was used by civilians and people genuinely concerned with human welfare, not Hamas. Then I read that the amount of aid let in to Gaza by Israel each week is about 15,000 tons. That gave me pause for thought. 10,000 tons is a lot. But it is not going to drastically change anything.

Israel repeatedly promised to allow all humanitarian aid on the boats through to Gaza IF they were first inspected at the Israeli port in Ashdod as all incoming shipments are inspected. This seems pretty straight forward to me. Even in situations where there is no blockade in place, I can’t think of a single country that would allow ships to dock without proper inspections at approved ports This is my first “positive” point. Rather than threatening immediate military action or flat refusal of all goods, Israel tried to find a compromise. The port at Ashdod was prepared with plenty of inspectors, computer stations for logging all of the 700 activists, medical staff to be on duty in case any of the activists should need them. Considering the amount of weapons found in previous “humanitarian” shipments, I think this was extremely cooperative. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyWbc6MxW8Y&feature=player_embedded#! ) The group refused, saying their goal was to break the blockade and they were prepared for any kind of response.

Noam Shalit, the father of aforementioned Gilad Shalit, asked the organization to please deliver correspondence to his son in exchange for his help negotiating with the Israeli government. The group refused. I am beginning to think the humanitarian aid is a ruse. Noam Shalit has worked tirelessly in the past 1436 days to get his son released and this group refused to even forward a letter? For more information Gilad Shalit, go to http://www.gilad.org/. There is a button at the top for an English version.

The boats would have arrived in local waters a day or two ago had they not tried to stop in Cyprus earlier. However, ready for “postive” number 2?, Cyprus refused to allow the boats to dock, aligning themselves as an ally in the region at a time when Turkey (our one time close ally) has been taking steps farther and farther away. Nearly half of the passengers on this convoy are from Turkey.

So six boats are getting close to Gazan waters and Israeli forces repeatedly make contact, confirming that the ships are entering restricted waters and must re-navigate toward the official Israeli dock. I’m going to call that a “postive” number 3 because in the past, Israel has been known to be a bit quick to the punch. If there is any doubt that Israel contacted the boats, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6jDIQr59Sk

The boats ignored the warning and the Israelis were forced to board. Once again, I am not sure that any other country would have done any differently. Initially, I wished that instead of sending the equivalent of Navy Seals, Israel had sent something along the lines of Border Police. I felt that would have been (slightly) more palatable by the rest of the world. The image of soldiers dropping in from helicopters onto “humanitarian activists” surely wouldn’t sit well.

Five of the six boats peacefully allowed themselves to be redirected to Ashdod. This is a fact that seems to be going unnoticed by the mainstream media in the States. I see this peaceful response as “positive” 4 and something that should be highlighted. I hope that the people on these boats included the Holocaust survivor, the EU parliamentarians, the former US statesman, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who are likely to have been after legitimate humanitarian aid, not merely blockade breaking. I’m not sure how likely this is, though, as nearly all of the activists were on the final boat.

One boat, the Mavi Marmara, responded with violence. In direct conflict with the eighth Point of Unity in the Free Gaza Movement’s mission: “8. We agree to adhere to the principles of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance in word and deed at all times.” After watching the footage of the “peace activists” attacking soldiers as they boarded the boat, I’m relieved the naval commando unit was sent instead of Border Patrol. The “peace activists” were masked and wielding knives and metal bars as soldiers landed on the deck. In video documenting the events, you can see that multiple people surround soldiers as they land, attacking them. Attempts were made to wrestle away weapons and helmets from the soldiers; soldiers were literally thrown off the boat’s deck. Smoke bombs were used by the “peace activists”. Clearly this was planned in advance. Watch these videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bU12KW-XyZE&feature=player_embedded and http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk. The later I stay up writing this, the more information comes to light. Here are pictures of the weapons found on board the Mavi Marmara: http://idfspokesperson.com/2010/05/31/pictures-of-weapons-found-on-the-mavi-marmara-flotilla-ship-31-may-2010/

But all of this happened at 4am this morning. It’s now after midnight. What has happened in the meantime? According to CNN and MSNBC and the like, I’m not sure anything has happened since. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The five other boats were redirected to the Israeli port in Ashdod. All injured persons from the altercation were treated in Israeli hospitals. The 9 activists who were killed have all been transferred to Israeli hospitals. The goods of the five boats are being inspected. Activists are being deported to their home countries.

What could Israel have done differently in this? I would like to see every Israeli ambassador around the world on primetime television explaining what has happened both this morning and over the past several days. I would like to see Israel making statements to the rest of the world, not just to venues focused on Israelis. I would like to see Israel holding the media accountable to acknowledge the broader picture of the Freedom Flotilla.

Did Israel do anything wrong? I don’t think there is anything they could have done differently. All countries have the right to protect themselves. I wish there had been a way to redirect the boats without using the military, but as the organizers said repeatedly, they were not willing to compromise at any cost.

Where does this leave the preliminary peace talks? My guess: down the toilet.

How does this help the people of Gaza? I don’t think it does. I’m not sure that was the goal of the flotilla anyway.

How does this impact the rest of the world? Hezbollah has called for an international response. What exactly does that mean? Tit for tat retaliation? Peaceful pressure on Israel to ease the blockade? I’m a afraid to make any assumptions.

I’ve gone back and forth about what I wanted to write in this email. I knew I wanted to focus on the glaring omissions I found in the mainstream American media. But I wasn’t sure how to address it. I knew I didn’t want to get caught up in a blame game. I knew there had to be some positive things happening too. I wanted to suggest we reframe events of today and focus on the positive. Unfortunately, as I began writing, I couldn’t find enough of that. And that leaves me saddened. I hope I haven’t fallen victim to the blame game. I hope I have helped show a bit of what CNN and its contemporaries are missing.

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fruit of my loins

that was what my dad loved to call me. i know, weird family.
but anyway, i was thinking about him today as i was at the park with the baby i take care of. weekdays in my town make me feel like i am the only person alive over the age of 3 and under the age of 55. i’m just about the only nanny in town. everyone else uses the grandparents. so i started thinking about a time a few years ago when i watched two nearly teenagers for an entire weekend. they were pretty good kids, just typical kids. on my way home, i called my dad to apologize for any and all teenagerisms from my own adolescence. he laughed and said i was really a fine kid. to which i thought “oh my lord, senility has already sunk in”. i told him that my plan was to send him my kids as soon as they became teenagers since he liked that age so much. he laughed and said i better get a move on it then.
i’m nearly 30. by this age, my parents had two kids. my dad would be turning 61 years old this year. if i had a kid now, my dad would be in his 70s by the time i could ship the kid off to him.
all i could think this morning as i watched the toddlers and their grandparents play was that the parents better be really, really grateful.

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grievances

i have been thinking alot about what i wanted to write for this entry. and i don’t know where to begin. israel is much more complicated than i expected. aside from the cultural differences that take some getting used to, there are also policy issues that are making me more uncomfortable.

some cultural differences:
at the grocery store, a person will get in line with groceries. and then send someone else with them to get the remainder of the groceries while the first person holds the spot in line. so you get behind the person with 5 items and think it won’t be that bad, you only have a few things yourself. and then the kids come running up with a FULL CART and push you out of the way. i can’t even say this happened the other day, because it pretty much happens every time i go to the grocery.
similarly, i was waiting in the bank yesterday to speak with someone and when the next customer service person was available and it was my turn, a guy swooped in out of nowhere. i had already stood up. the lady saw me and quickly looked away to help the man. i sat down and waited another 10 minutes.
the weekends here follow shabbat, so the week ends thursday night and you have friday and saturday off. this means that if you want to observe shabbat, you don’t really have time to do anything else. i generally work until about 8pm on thursdays and i’m so exhausted that i definitely don’t want the 1-2 hour bus ride to get to tel aviv or jerusalem then. and if i wanted to get anywhere else in the country, forget about it. i realized that if i want to maintain relationships with people who aren’t observant or if i want to explore my new country, i can’t give up an entire 25 hour period. and frankly, i don’t like the shabbat beginning after a day off anyway. one of the things i liked in the us was the feeling of rush, rush, rush through the work day so i could sigh a big sigh of relief as i lit candles on friday night. and then i still had saturday night and all of sunday to do laundry, do the shopping, spend time with friends. i think fostering relationships with new friends and exploring the beauty of israel is much more important to me than sequestering myself in a world of stringency. part of this is fostered by the strange shabbat prohibitions i find……it’s one thing not to work or cook. those i understand, but the extremes to which “work” is taken is too much for me: no bar soap because it changes form when you wet it, no squeezing of a tea bag, no makeup. i just can’t go in for all that.
as for policy issues….
i think the israeli government and netanyahu often use the excuse of “security reasons” in ways that really overreach. noam chomsky was barred entry from the country this week. he was planning on speaking at a university in the west bank. chomsky is a professor from MIT. he’s about 103 years old. i don’t think he was going to start the next intifada. and barring someone’s entry because they’re critical of the government sounds like something out of iran, not the only democracy in the middle east.
recently with the rise in popularity of jstreet and jcall, the group of europeans who recently signed a petition putting them very closely aligned with jstreet, there has been lots of discussion and debate about the role of diaspora jewry in israeli politics. on facebook there is a group called “jstreet doesn’t represent me”. the line is in response to part of jstreet’s message that they are here to represent the jews who don’t feel comfortable with the more conservative policies of AIPAC. AIPAC has facilitated an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” policy for a while now, leaving more liberal jews feeling sidelined. while i don’t think AIPAC represents me, i don’t feel the need to plaster that on facebook.
i am really hopeful that this new side of diaspora jewry is coming forth-supporters of israel who want an actual attempt at peace. starting a dialogue in which peace can be achieved without israel giving up everything. working for the benefit of ALL the people living here.
i am feeling a bit guilty about the right of return. i don’t think that we should ever cancel it and i am grateful that i was able to come to this country so easily. however, it is appalling how difficult israel makes it for anyone else who wants to live here. a good friend of mine is christian and works at the anglican school in jerusalem. she wants nothing more than to live here permanently. she has developed strong ties to the country, built relationships with israelis and is a qualified teacher. however, because she is not jewish, she has virtually no hope of ever being a citizen unless she marries an israeli.
last weekend, i was travelling in the north with a friend and we stopped at an overlook above the kinneret. it was absolutely stunning. there was an arab family there, enjoying a picnic. as vincent walked back to the car to get the camera, the patriarch came over to me with two cups of tea. we all sat and talked for the next 45 minutes or so and the family was so nice. of course, they asked what we were doing in israel, vincent with his new zealand accent and my own american accent. for the first time, i felt guilty saying i was an olah chadasha (new immigrant). i didn’t ask about their families…how many cousins are living elsewhere, unable to get citizenship to live here. but i wondered. as they were leaving, one of the women invited me to visit any time. i was excited for the offer and asked for her phone number. i think she was a bit shocked that i didn’t make an excuse to politely refuse. i plan on calling her next week to see when would be a good time.

on a lighter note, my past two weeks were pretty busy.
vincent visited from london for ten days. we spent a weekend in jaffo where i managed to sunburn just the left side of my body. and then a weekend travelling in the north-rafting on the jordan river, visiting har bental-an old syrian outpost that gives an amazing view of northern israel and syria. we tried to visit gamla and nimrod, two amazing ruins, but the parks were closed by the time we got there. driving through the north of israel is incredible-it is stunningly beautiful and it is also a reminder of just how small this country is. you look on a map and expect a drive to take hours and then you realize that your destination is just down the road.
i also took a cooking class here in my little town. the woman who teaches has quite a following. i think i was the only person of about a dozen who lived in hod hasharon, everyone else had come from tel aviv or surrounding suburbs. it was a great class and i got tons of new recipes. i made a delicious sweet potato, basil and bulgar salad last shabbat.
i drove for the first time yesterday. my driving instructor took me to holon (the other side of tel aviv) to register with the dmv to transfer my american license and sign up for a driving test. i have to pay 90 shekels per lesson and then 350 shekels for the test. i only plan on taking two lessons. it seems like a lot of money when i plan on avoiding driving at all costs and have no intention of buying a car here. but if i wait much longer, i’ll have to take the full test including a very intense written exam, so i’d rather pay the money and spare the pain.

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catching up on the past few weeks

since the past couple weeks have focused on holidays, i’m going to try to highlight some things from the past two weeks.

for the first few 7 or 8 months after making aliyah, new immigrants receive a small monthly stipend, called a sal klita, literally “absorption basket”. once a month it is automatically deposited in your bank account. UNLESS you leave the country during those first months. then the payments are paused and only resume when you return to the country. and THEN, each month you have to physically present yourself at your local ministry of immigrant absorption office so they can see that you are actually in the country. this meeting takes about 45 seconds. i may have mentioned this process last month when i showed up to my appointment only to be told that there was no one there by the name i had and that no appointment was on record for me…..and then a few hours later, received a phone call asking why i never came for my appointment. through gritted teeth, i explained that i had in fact come in for my appointment (that no one knew about) and eventually was helped.

so knowing that this would likely be a “balagan” (hebrew for messy situation), i called to see if i could come in on a specific morning. i was told they weren’t seeing people that day but i could come in the next morning at 8am. they never took my name or contact information though, so unless they had some sort of voiceprint of me, i don’t think an appointment was really made. (once again……..bureaucracy makes me understand postal workers) i had the next day off from work and so i took a look at the bus schedule to get to the office one town over. turns out, i could take one bus to cover the 5km at either 6am, 3pm or 4pm. wow. or there were more options if i wanted to take multiple buses, costing extra money and taking much longer. so i decided to take advantage of the nice weather and the day off and walk it.

along the way, i thought i would stop at an eye doctor’s office to get my eye test that is necessary for converting my driver’s license. ha!! easier said than done. turns out that while most eye doctors can perform the necessary tests, only a select few pay the ministry of vehicle licenses (misrad harishui) the fee to provide people with the form that the eye doctor has to fill out. on my second office in town, they told me that the closest place to get the form was in kfar saba……along the way to the misrad haklita! ooh, my lucky day, things were actually moving in an efficient manner!

the walk was beautiful. i walked past some great old houses and apartments. i walked through the citrus groves that are in the middle of my town (they’re owned by one of the nearby moshavim, i think). i passed shops and falafel stands. i crossed over one of the larger roads here and passed the train station. a funny fact about the train station……if you want to go to hod hasharon, you get off at the kfar saba station and if you want to go to kfar saba, you get off at the hod hasharon station. this is just a funny fact because i know it. if i didn’t know it, i’d be pissed as hell if it screwed me up. trains only run about every 30-40 minutes, if that.

finally i ended up in the heart of kfar saba. kfar saba is a much bigger town than hod hasharon and it was fun walking down weizman, the main street, looking at all the shops and bakeries and people. when i finally got to the ministry of absorption, i was an hour early, so i sat at the coffee shop nearby and had a sandwich and read a book. i went upstairs and was seen immediately (no one even asked if i had an appointment, so i’m guessing the 8am “appointment” that i had made the day before was bogus) and was out the door in less than two minutes.

i found the eye doctor’s office but the woman working said i needed to go around the corner. so i walked around the corner and couldn’t find anything. but i knew i had passed plenty of other eye doctors’ offices, so i thought i’d try someone else. but the next shop didn’t have the paper and sent me back to the first place. so i went back and asked again where i needed to go. she said that i needed to go to the corner and turn right and then turn right again. now to me that meant turn right at the first corner and turn right at the second corner. i must have been wrong because i STILL couldn’t find it. so after a ranting phone call to a friend, i went back a THIRD time. this time, the woman looked at me as if i was an imbecile and practically took my hand to lead me through the back of the shop to a waiting area. apparently, the second right turn was into the alley behind the shop and i was supposed to wait at the back door. of course, by now there were about a dozen teenagers waiting for their eye test so they could go get their own licenses. now i will not even begin to ask why she didn’t just show me this door in the first place and insisted that i walk around the back of the building. but i will ask (with great frustration) why israelis absolutely cannot wait in a line unless there is a numbered ticket system. at least three teenagers jumped in front of me to get in first. i finally got in, got my silly piece of paper with a HORRIBLE picture of myself on it….i had just been walking around all day, had a bit of a sunburn on my nose and no makeup on. i finally made it all the way back to the eye doctor who had been nice enough to call around and find a shop with the form and he took one look and said “oh no, he forgot to stamp it.” i stared at him in shock. then he told me he was kidding. i blame the israeli deadpan humor on the british occupation of the early 20th century.

i then also had to get my doctor to sign off another part of the form, promising that i didn’t have a history of seizures and whatnot. but that day was much simpler, so i won’t bore you with it. now i just have to take a lesson or two and then take my test for an israeli license. personally, i have no desire to get my license here. israelis drive like complete madmen. and i’ll never be able to afford a car. or gas. but if i get my license within the first year of living here, i don’t have to take the written test, which is apparently VERY difficult and includes things like “list the steps to changing your oil”. i don’t think they would like my answer: “drive up to jiffy lube, give keys to attendant, walk to closest coffeeshop….” in truth, i think i’d be happy if i never owned a car again. as long as i always live in a city with decent public transit, i don’t think that would be hard to manage.

i didn’t mean for that story to be quite so long, so i’ll keep the rest of this short…
two weeks ago, i went to jerusalem on thursday night to have dinner with some girlfriends, visited my friend naomi who sells jewelry at the jerusalem art market on friday morning, went home to gym, shower and pack and then went to tel aviv to visit a new friend who i met on the jaffo tour during pesach. she had several friends over for dinner and we had a great time eating and talking and playing with her gigantic german shepard puppy. on saturday, we walked to the beach (another bit of a trek-maybe 3km) and met up with naomi for a day of people watching and taboo playing. i haven’t played taboo in years and if you don’t know this game, it is great! each person has to make the other players guess a specific word without using certain words associated with the word.

this past shabbat, i went to jerusalem to visit my friend sophie. her fiance is moving here from new york on wednesday and her apartment is a disaster. so i helped her clean up in preparation for his arrival……for those who remember my messy room growing up, i promise i have changed. i make my bed every day, i sweep almost every day, i mop once a week. so you can stop laughing at the idea of me helping someone clean! we spent much of saturday talking about her wedding plans and our dreams for the future and what we think will happen in israel’s near future. finally we motivated ourselves and walked with another good friend and the dog to a beautiful dog park in jerusalem. i love having friends who have dogs so i can play with them but i don’t have to bother with any of the hassles!

speaking of dogs…..one day last week, i was reading in the grass in one of the nearby parks. just as i was thinking what a lovely day for reading under a tree, a guy comes walking by with his dog. who comes and poops not 6 feet away from me!!!!! out of the whole park, he had to poop next to me. and the owner didn’t even clean it up. for all of you dog owners out there…….PICK UP THE DAMN POOP. i ended up moving a little farther down to a less stinky area and it was all okay.

i’m still reading: friday night knitting club, the other side of israel and i’ve just started grains of sand by shifra shomron about the disengagement from gaza and the destruction of the settlements there. i also have ordered the lemon tree by sandy tolan. since these three books all give very different perspectives, i’m hoping to give a bit of a comparative review at some point in the next few weeks.

i made lentil burgers tonight….they were decent as far as such things go. maybe not worth passing along the recipe though.

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yom hazikaron and yom haatzmaut, more than just a hallmark holiday

last night until tomorrow night encompass the two-part memorial and independence days of israel. last night at 8pm, a siren blared throughout the land of israel, ushering in yom hazikaron, day of remembrance. once again, cars stopped, phone conversations paused, people stood and remembered. this time, i wasn’t alone in the kitchen. i was standing with hundreds, maybe even more, people on the lawn of the public library in hod hasharon. with them, i stood in silence, remembering the soldiers who have fought and died for the land of israel as well as all of the innocent victims of terror attacks.

at the beginning, just a few stars were shining in the sky behind the library, a sliver of a moon hanging like a cheshire cat smile. a film was projected on the wall of the library with pictures of all those from hod hasharon who have been killed since 1936. i watched the faces of people from my grandparents’ generation slide into the faces from my parents’ generation and through to people my own age. by the time the film was finished, i could clearly see orion hanging in the night sky, my favorite constellation because it is the one i taught my mother to find.

as speeches were given and choirs sang, i looked at the crowd around me and i wondered about the people i saw. people had come with small children and babies. there were people far older than the state of israel. i wondered who they had lost. i wondered when they had fought. there were soldiers in the crowd as well and i wondered if they worried that their names would be read next year.

this morning the siren sounded again. today is full of special programs at the schools. and then at sundown tonight, we move into yom ha-atzmaut, independence day. there are parties and barbecues. instead of focusing on the losses of independence, we are grateful for the freedoms won. we celebrate the rebirth of hebrew as a spoken language; we celebrate jewish community; we celebrate the richness of both jewish society and israeli society.

i think israel might be the most complicated place in the world. there is no easy solution to muslims and jews living together. there is a song often sung on shabbat called “hinei ma tov” that is taken from Psalm 133 “Hinei ma tov umanaim, shevet achim gam yachad” and it means “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity”. while i take comfort in knowing that jews do have a place in which to live together, we have a long way to go before we live in harmony. and i hope that one day this song can be about both jews living together and about all of the people of the region living together in unity.

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did you stand?

my weekly zeitgeist is a little late and frankly, there’s not much i can say about the last week when i think of today.  today is yom hashoah, or holocaust remembrance day.  and the first words out of Aden’s mouth when he came home today were “did you stand?”  Aden is 5 years old and while he might not have known exactly why his class stopped what they were doing at 10am and stood in silence as a siren wailed for 2 minutes, he understood that it was something important.

i did stand.  i stood in the kitchen and stared out the window at the beautiful trees in the backyard.  at the quiet street on which we live.  and i thought about the duality of life.  six million jews were killed during what was meant to be hitler’s “final solution”.  and today, nearly that same number of jews lives in israel.  we are not a perfect nation.  and next week that will be especially apparent as jews in israel celebrate yom hazikaron (memorial day) followed by yom ha’atzmaut (independence day) while palestinians in israel will be remembering the same day in 1948 in a very different way.  so maybe that is a “triality”.  i’m sure i’ll have more to say about it next week.

but for today, yom hashoah, i am thinking about the millions of people who died, jews and non-jews alike, in horrible circumstances because of one man’s fanaticism and ability to captivate and terrorize others to follow.    what will happen as fanaticism in a variety of forms spreads?  i am thinking about alex lebenstein, a holocaust survivor who recently died, and others like him.  alex was a great man, who used his experience to help educate others.  i first met him when he was my tourguide at the virginia holocaust museum.  alex was a light unto nations.  what will happen when all of our “primary sources” are gone?

today i am also thinking about peace and beauty.  israel has come a long way and while there is a very rough road ahead, against all odds, this nation has worked hard to carve out a life of peace and beauty.  i see this in particular in my new home.  kids walk themselves to and from school, the parks, the ice cream shops.  people chat and offer advice in the groceries and shops.  power boxes on street corners have all been painted by local artists.  pomegranates, a symbol of life and good luck, are on street corners instead of plain posts to prevent cars from hitting the curb.

i wanted to post a youtube video but it seems wordpress doesn’t want me to do that.  so look up yom hashoah on youtube and watch the video of ayalon, a major highway though tel aviv.  please take the time to watch it and remember.  an israeli kindergartner will be happy to know you cared.


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weekly zeitgeist, pesach edition

the pesach edition: scoring question: does it make more sense to add up each item and leave that as the total, or should i add up and then divide?  we end up with a score of either 1.3 or 13.

let’s start with the important stuff: matzoh and butter.  it is one of the most addictive foods.  ever.  butter on crackers does not compare.  matzoh with anything else doesn’t compare.  i think i have probably eaten close to my weight in matzoh and butter this week.  ok, maybe not.  but the sheer yumminess gives this a +3

the seder: i joined my friends the gershmans at the home of howard and judy.  i’m sure they have a last name, but i don’t know it.  she is the head of the Educators’ Program at Pardes (www.pardes.org.il if you’re interested) and he teaches biblical grammar.  but don’t let that deter you, he was warm, funny and a great seder leader.  throughout the seder, we had a game in which judy and two of the sons would give answers to a question about various seder traditions and everyone had to guess which person was correct.  as the boys were taking their four cups of wine very seriously, their answers became very theatrical.  plus all of the kids (three sons-pre, post and current soldiers and a post-soldier niece) were incredibly knowledgeable and shared all sorts of stories, theories and tidbits.  +5

oh yeah!  at shul, pre-seder, a beautiful conservative shul very close to where i lived when i first came to israel, a little girl came up to me and asked “do we know each other?”  all i could do was laugh after the LAST time someone asked me that the week before.  she was very cute and told me that it was her birthday and she was excited to get a bike. +3

while in jerusalem, i did see something that made me very angry.  i was walking along jaffo street, which is all torn up due to the neverending, disastrous “light rail project” and there was a man who was probably about 125 years old, teetering along with his walker.  along came a father and a son with big streimels (those gigantic furry hats) and their satin coats, an ultra-orthodox uniform.  rather than sidestepping the man to continue at their pace, they elbowed him out of the way.  i was feeling frustrated for a couple reasons: first, i find it offensive that people who are so quick to protest against stores being open on shabbat or the selling of chametz during pesach have no problem ignoring other mitzvot such as honoring the elderly.  second, the streimels, black hats, peyot (the curls at a man’s ears), and such make such recognizable jewish markers that these sorts of things really stick out.  when a black friend living in brooklyn was flatly ignored by his jewish neighbors, he thought it was because he was black and took it very personally.  when i tried to explain that it was really just because he wasn’t jewish, let alone as jewish as them, it sounded ridiculous.  i will save my rants about the lightrail and ultra-orthodox uniforms for another day.  -5

pesach is interesting in israel.  all schools and government offices are on holiday, lots of people take off work and approximately every american jew comes to israel.  so most restaurants are open.  and many are “כשר לפסח” meaning kosher for pesach.  kosher for pesach is an expensive process for these restaurants: in order to have a fancy stamp of approval certificate to post, they must go through a rigorous process of cleaning and kashering and then pay the moshgiach (the guy who checks your kosher-ness).  and this is above and beyond the amount that they must pay each year to maintain the non-pesach kosher certificate.  this generally means closing the night before pesach begins which is also the busiest night for restaurants in israel, so they have to shell out money and lose money all at the same time.  alot of restaurants go through the cleaning process but don’t bother with the moshgiach and simply write hand-written signs.  also, since matzoh sandwiches and pizza isn’t the most popular choice, restaurants have come up with alternatives….i had my first potato-dough bun for a late night hotdog the other night.  it’s not bad, though i don’t think i’d want to eat it all the time.  with so many restaurants open and so many bread substitutes, pesach here doesn’t quite feel as much about sacrifice here.  i say that as neither a positive nor a negative, just an observation.

another interesting pesach thing is kitniyot, a category of foods in addition to leavened grains that ashkenazi jews don’t eat at passover.  kitniyot includes corn, rice, beans, peanuts, etc.  as jews seem incapable to ever get along as a big group, of course this is a time for some ashkenazi/sephardi separation.  in israel, the sephardi jews are often viewed with major prejudice, such as “oh i’d never marry sephardi but they sure are good cooks.”  -2

apparently the ashkenazi rabbinate (the group that decides what is and isn’t okay for ashkenazi jews) has been making the list of kitniyot longer and longer, including all sorts of things so that there is no mix up that someone might actually be confused with sephardim by accident.  one such item is canola oil, technically fine for eating on pesach but banned because it might be mistaken for something else.  but a group has petitioned the rabbinate and won.  beginning next year, canola oil will no longer be considered kitniya.  +1

i’ve spent a lot of time travelling this week: to jerusalem for the seder, back home the next night.  to tel aviv for a walking tour on wednesday, back that night.  to jerusalem on thursday and then back to tel aviv that night.  home on friday morning and then right around to tel aviv that afternoon.  finally came home last night and plan on not seeing another bus for a couple days! +1

the walking tour was a bit of a mixed bag….it was organized by some new “singles meet and greet” type organization…yipes.  but i thought it might be good to meet some people in the tel aviv area as it’s closer than jerusalem.  so i went with the old roomie.  it was unclear where we were supposed to meet, there was no contact information for the organizers, a staffer didn’t show up until more than half an hour after the tour was supposed to start and when we asked if we would get a discount for the tour, we were told we needed to be more flexible because of holiday traffic.  even though we (the new immigrants) had all planned ahead and gotten there early.  the tourguide eventually showed up an hour late with no apology.  i didn’t really learn anything interesting on the tour, but it was a beautiful day to walk from tel aviv to jaffo and the weather was perfect.  the people on the trip were sort of your stereotypical “singles meet and greet” desperate crowd-the girls wearing outfits that had clearly taken hours to put together to give off the appropriate “i’m not trying” look, the men practicing their intense eye contact and strong handshakes.  what a joke.  however, i did meet a woman who was really great.  we ended up going for dinner afterward and laughing at all the “so tell me about yourself” lines we got.  she has started her own business teaching english, she goes to a cooking class that i was interested in taking and she asked me to join a book club.  i am very excited!  all in all, i’ll say the weather and the new friend make the event a +4

i also reached out to a friend of a friend, which is a bit out of character for me.  we had a great time.  she makes jewelry out of old israeli coins, which are really beautiful.  she invited me to a concert.  it was a band i’d never heard of and the cost seemed a bit high.  but i haven’t been to a proper show since before i came to israel and there are few things i like better than being in a dirty, smelly, dark and crowded warehouse-type place listening to loud music.  i know, when phrased like that, who could resist?  i was so excited to discover that Art Brut far exceeded my expectations.  i LOVED them.   and it was so exhilarating to be in that environment.  i imagine this is what a B-12 shot or whatever it is that madonna insists on giving to all her friends feels like.  the next day we met up with another friend and spent the day walking along the beach, avoiding the hundreds of smashball games, and made our way to jaffo to walk around.  here i discovered the neighborhood i would like to live in eventually-artsy, winding streets, cafes galore, great views of the sea.  this probably topped my whole week. +5

i read an article earlier this week that was upsetting.  the IDF was denying that it had shot and killed a palestinian teenager who was trying to cross from gaza into israel.  i found it odd because the IDF is so frequently honest to its own detriment.  media reported that paramedics had found the body of the 15 year old.  however, a few days later, the next news story broke: the boy returned home… completely unharmed.  he had actually been detained by the egyptians after illegally crossing their border through tunnels.  i wonder if either part of the story, “IDF kills teenager” or “teenager not really dead at all” ever made it into the news in the US.  -2

here’s tel aviv’s beach at pesach:

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