Wednesday, July 20, 2016
What's Good For the Goose...
Yesterday, the Knesset finally passed a controversial bill into law that will allow Israeli lawmakers to expel a Member of Knesset who supports armed struggle against the State of Israel and/or incites racial hatred. The new law - which many assume is meant to target Joint Arab List MK, Hanin Zoabi - will require at least 90 of the 120 MKs to vote in favor of their colleague's removal.
The law passed by a margin of 62-47, but one has to wonder how such an obvious idea wasn't unanimously embraced and approved!
Not surprisingly, since it was a right wing coalition majority that passed the new law, many left wing MKs are calling it 'anti-democratic', and are bemoaning it as 'the death of Israeli democracy'.
Yet, interesting, the Israeli left had no problem whatsoever passing an amendment to the Israeli election law back in 1988 which had essentially the same intent; albeit to keep someone from entering the Knesset rather than creating a provision for removing them.
That 1988 amendment had the stated goal of barring Rabbi Meir Kahane's far-right Kach party from participating in that year's Knesset elections where polls predicted it would likely increase its Knesset representation from 1 to 3 (or maybe 4) seats.
The 1988 amendment codified into election law that a party could be prevented from participating in Knesset elections for even one of the following:
- Negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people
- Negation of the democratic character of the State
- Incitement to racism
While I don't think anyone would call me a Kahanist, I find it puzzling that none of our lefty lawmakers ever felt the need to invoke the above-mentioned amendment in order to ban Zoabi and her party from elections, since she has repeatedly and unequivocally met all three of these legal conditions.
So, to the Meretz and Zionist Union MKs who are currently bleating about this evil new law I say that, had you pushed for the fair and honest application of the election law amendment your predecessors passed back in the 80's specifically to block a far right party from entering the Knesset, the current right wing coalition government would have had no need to pass a new law to allow for the removal of a far left wing lawmaker who espouses anti-democratic / anti-Israel values.
Sadly, the Israeli far-left subscribes to a chillingly Orwellian worldview of fairness and entitlement where, under the law, some are more equal than others.
In a real democracy, what's good for the goose must be good for the gander.
Monday, July 18, 2016
To Call Something Unnatural Is To (Unwittingly) Acknowledge Nature's Role
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, head of the the Bnei David religious military academy, recently referred to LGBT individuals as "perverts", and criticized the Israeli military for allowing them to "force their way' into the IDF's ranks". [source]
Really?! There is such a paucity of things to criticize in our fraying society that able-bodied citizens who want to serve in our country's defense forces should be publicly shunned and shamed?
One would at least wish that Rabbi Levinstein's ill-advised comments could be dismissed as a lone, confused voice among otherwise reasonable people.
Sadly, another prominent religious leader, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan (a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv), recently declared that gays and lesbians are "disabled people suffering from a real problem that must be solved with psychological and pharmacological treatments."
Rabbi Ariel went on the add that, "pride in one's sexual orientation is unusual and presenting it as "progressive" causes many young persons to choose not to identify as straight. Young boys going through puberty who are looking for their identity—instead of helping them to find their natural and normative identity, they push them to go in the opposite direction and ruin their lives". [source]
Under what rock have these people been living to be able to spout such antiquated and discredited ideas?
I have a news flash for Rabbis Levinstein and Ariel. When I hit puberty, I didn't go looking around for my sexual identity, and there is exactly zero chance that I could have tailored my newfound longings to prevailing trends. It fell on me like a ton of bricks!
That I was hit by the equivalent of heterosexual lightning was, perhaps, fortunate for me, since my urges and actions were naturally channeled into socially acceptable rituals of dances and dating.
But had my hormones come on-line at puberty and powered up a plant tuned to a different frequency, I would have been forced by society to hide in the shadows and watch with envy as my peers openly kissed and groped one-another at proms and in the back-seats of their families' willingly lent cars.
In the not-too-distant past, being anything other than heterosexual was considered a criminal offense in many parts of the modern, western world (and remains a capital offense in much of the less evolved third world). And there was widespread belief not too long ago that such 'deviants' could be hypnotized, counseled, shamed, punished, drugged, shocked or tortured out of their non-traditional 'life-choices'.
The root of the problem, then as now (IMHO), is the completely mistaken idea that one's gender identity and sexual orientation are, in fact, matters of choice.
To those who would say otherwise, I would remind them that you can't call something unnatural (which implies a clear natural order), and in the same breath imply that it is a product of a conscious choice. Nature decides our gender and sexual proclivity. If a religious person has a problem with the cards that nature dealt an individual, I suggest that their beef is with G-d, not with the person who, according to religious doctrine, was created according to G-d's will ("ברוך... שעשני כרצונו").
Just as with natural hair color, a person can use dye to try to conform to current styles, trends and mores. But the dye doesn't actually change the natural color. It simply offers a temporary mask which fades and is inexorably pushed aside by time.
I would respectfully suggest to these (and other) Rabbis who feel inclined to offer commentary and criticism on the sexual activities of others, that there is fertile, un-plowed territory awaiting their much-needed scrutiny: Their efforts can be best employed in weeding out predators and pedophiles from among the ranks, not of the IDF, but of the clergy and educators who are their professional peers and colleagues.
By perpetuating a medieval approach to human sexuality, these religious leaders are stifling enlightened, educated discussion of the most basic of human urges, and are thus both marginalizing it and relegating it to an exiled underworld without rules, communal norms or oversight.
It is within this dark, unmentionable world that far too many religious educators and community leaders are allowed to abuse and prey on the most vulnerable members of the human flocks that are entrusted to their care.
This abuse spans the entire spectrum of human sexuality (it isn't just a gay thing), and will continue only so long as un-enlightened Rabbis (and priests, ministers, imams, etc.), continue to err in their most basic assumptions about what makes us all human.
Personally, I am not offended by images like this:
I see two, responsible adults walking hand-in-hand in the light of day, who have agreed to defend me and my family... even at the cost of their own lives. That they happen to be gay is as relevant to me as their hair color. And if my pre-pubescent son were to see them walking down the street holding hands, it wouldn't make a bit of difference to which ton of hormonal bricks falls on his head in the coming months.
I would suggest to Rabbi's Levinstein and Ariel et al, that their exhortations to exclude LGBT individuals from serving in the IDF is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem. Rather, their time would (IMHO) be better spent worrying about the wolves in sheep's clothing who are lurking among the leaders and educators they call their colleagues.
[Before anyone posts a knee-jerk rant accusing me of insulting the Torah or the Sages of Israel, please don't make me post a list of convicted sexual abusers from among the leaders of our religious community. That would, indeed, be a hillul hashem (a desecration of G-d's name.]
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant
This week the Israeli Knesset passed the NGO Transparency Bill into law, setting off a firestorm of criticism around the world... especially in the US, Europe and, of course, the UN.
This criticism was dutifully reported in the Israel-bashing media with varying degrees of accuracy as to what, exactly the NGO law is.
For those who are unfamiliar with the new Law, here are the main points (Don't thank me... I'm a giver):
- NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must report this fact each year to the NGO Registrar in the Justice Ministry, which will publish a list of said NGOs.
- NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must note this fact on their websites for the rest of the year.
- NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments must note this fact on any publications related to the NGO’s advocacy that are readily available to the public, as well as in their communications with public servants and elected officials.
- NGOs that receive more than 50% of their income from foreign governments are required to inform the chair of a Knesset committee that they are on the list whenever they appear before said committee
No, nobody has to wear badges (Badges?! We don't need no stinkin' badges!!!), nobody is being silenced, and certainly nobody is being shut down. Everyone simply has to declare (i.e. be transparent) about foreign governmental financing in excess of half their annual budget.
One of the phrases that was nearly universal in both the international and domestic condemnation of the new law was that "it is anti-democratic".
Um... you keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it does.
Let's review: A bill was introduced by a member of Israel's democratically elected parliament, and voted on three times after three separate readings (as required) before being passed into law. The law itself asks for nothing more than that information that could potentially indicate the presence of hidden agendas or motives be made available to all active members of the democratic process, from the voting public to the decision makers in government.
How is that anti-democratic?!
Here are some excerpts from yesterday's international hand-wringing sessions, along with some much-needed context from me:
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he was, "...concerned by Israel’s passage of the so-called ‘NGO Transparency Law,’ which contributes to a climate in which the activities of human rights organizations are increasingly delegitimized.”
No, no delegitimization going on here. Human rights groups (more like Palestinian rights groups, since they make no attempt to advocate for Jewish Israelis whose human rights are violated), can continue doing whatever they have been doing. They simply have to be open and transparent about who thinks their work is important enough to give them more than half of their operating budgets".
The EU's External Action Service said "the reporting requirements seemed aimed at constraining the activities of civil society organisations".
No. Once again nobody is being targeted or constrained. But if an NGO is actually a front for a foreign governmental entity, they are no longer allowed to hide this fact.
The US State Department said that the new law "could have a "chilling effect" on the activities of civil society organizations in Israel".
I find it troubling that foreign countries and media feel free to weigh in on internal Israeli policies, yet would bridle at similar interference in their own domestic affairs. I suspect that this tendency stems from an ongoing international consensus that it's still 1947 and Israel's existence and legitimacy are still up for discussion, and subject to international deliberation.
Sorry to break the news, but we are a sovereign country, with all that implies. Kindly sod off.
I also find it interesting that suddenly everyone is using the same terminology to describe these NGOs; 'civil society organizations'. As if only so-called Human Rights NGOs are invested in promoting civil society. In fact, quite the opposite is true if anyone bothers to track their activities.
The very NGOs that are screaming the loudest against this new law are the ones behind much of the unrest and violence going on in Israel and the West Bank today, not to mention their direct involvement in incitement against Israel, and our demilitarization abroad.
Let's think for a moment which foreign countries would encourage such un-civil behavior? I guess this new law will soon put that question to rest.
What's interesting is that many countries have similar (or more stringent) laws which, just like Israel's, are meant to prevent undue foreign interference. But the community of nations has not seen fit to lose their collective minds about those laws... only about Israel's.
For instance, the US has had a law on the books since 1938 called the 'Foreign Agents Registration Act', requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a "political or quasi-political capacity" disclose their relationship with the foreign government and information about related activities and finances. The purpose is to facilitate "evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons." [emphasis mine]
Russia also has a similar law called the 'Foreign Agent Law' that requires non-profit organizations that receive any foreign donations and engage in "political activity" to register and declare themselves as foreign agents.
All laws are meant to promote and/or discourage behavior. In this case the new NGO Transparency Law is meant to discourage foreign governments from meddling in internal Israeli matters... at least without their proxies being forced to make their foreign governmental backers known to those they are trying to influence.
But despite all the wailing, the new law isn't going to shut anyone down or silence any voices in our vibrant democracy. In fact it has a loophole so big you could drive a tank through it: If anyone wants to be exempted from the new law, they need only say 'no thank you' to all those foreign governments who are bank-rolling them, and find some private donors.
If you pay attention, you'll notice that most of the critics of the new law are screaming some variation of the following: "The new law will apply almost solely to Human Rights organizations".
That's not exactly true. What is true is that at the moment it will apply almost solely to left wing Human rights organizations, because they are the only ones that are directly funded by foreign governments. Most right wing (and non-political) NGOs are funded by private individuals and grass roots sources. There is nothing nefarious in that. There are plenty of wealthy left wing donors who these NGOs can approach for funding.
By the way, private donor funding is usually a better indicator of popular support for a position, since they are putting their own money where their mouth is. For governments, even a huge donation (relative to the size of the organization), is just another line item in a bloated budget that nobody is checking very closely.
Complaining about who is most impacted by the new law is a bit like saying that drunk driving laws are inherently unfair because they only target those who drink to excess and get behind the wheel. No government wants drunk drivers on their country's roads... nor do they want foreign powers having undue and/or hidden influence over their internal policies.
You know who hates this new law? Those who have benefited for years from the ability to operate in the shadows.
So now, as a result of this new law, when an NGO tries to directly influence Israeli law and/or policy, those citizens, politicians and decision-makers that the NGOs are trying to influence will have the right to know that it is the Netherlands, UK or Spain backing their play.
And as much as I would like to believe that all modern democracies have nothing but altruistic and unbiased motives for how they project their influence abroad... their voting records against Israel at the UN seem to suggest otherwise.
It isn't always the case, but it stands to reason that if a foreign power wants to assume an active role in another country's internal affairs, the public and decision-makers have a right to know about it. Thus the word 'transparency' in the middle of the new law's name.
Anyone who thinks that forcing an NGO to reveal their source of funding may prejudice their target audience against them, is probably right. As it should be (see the bolded line in the US law above).
Are Sweden's and Israel's interests always perfectly aligned? Of course not! So why should Sweden's funding of an Israeli NGO that tries to take a direct and active role in influencing Israeli policies, be hidden from view and consideration?
The rest of the world seems to think they always know what is best for my country. But they don't have to live with the results of their often-mistaken and misguided ideas. At least now their involvement and influence in Israeli politics will be brought into the light of day for all to see. How can that possibly be a bad thing?
After all, sunlight is still the best disinfectant.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Word-Cloud of Misery
[A Guest Post by Zahava]
Upon learning that yet another innocent soul was violently and prematurely stolen in what should have been the sanctity of her own home...
Hallel Yaffa Ariel, הי׳ד -- may your memory always be for a blessing and may G-d comfort your family, loved ones, and friends during this tragic and difficult time.
We have never met, but you will forever live in the memory of my mind in a special corner dedicated to remembering the ones you unfairly and brutally joined today...
Including, but not limited to:
Rachel, Neriyah (15), Tzvika (12) and Avishai (5) Sabo of Itamar -- June 2002
Yossi Twyto of Itamar June 2002
Gavriel Hoter of Otniel -- December 2002
Eli and DIna Horowitz of Kiryat Arba -- March 2003
Udi, Ruth, Yoav (11), Elad (4), Hadas (4 months) Fogel of Itamar -- March 2011
Dafna Meir of Otniel -- January 2016
To say nothing of those viciously torn from their lives and loved ones in suicide bombings, shootings, stabbings, ambushes, stonings, rock-throwings, and car-rammings....
We will pause to mourn. To be inconsolable. To grieve. And to rant and rave over the insufferable and intolerable and hateful and fanatical nature of our enemy.
With a bit more heaviness in our step from the weight of an added tragic memory, we will pick up our feet, steel our hearts, and continue our daily living with a touch more vigor, love, and resolution to honor the memories of those who have been ripped from our lives.
The hate, the zealotry -- they are neither contagious nor deterrent.
For the first time in 2 millenium, we are home. And. We. Will. Not. Leave.
Thursday, June 09, 2016
MSNBC Presents 'The Bigger Picture'
Even as their television coverage showed graphic footage of the site of last night's attack on the screen, two of their commentators wanted to make sure the viewers understood the context (read 'justification') for the terror attack:
Note that this was a 'mass shooting' and not a terror attack.
Is there any depravity which these ass-clowns can't explain away?
Caution Above Honesty
Here in Israel, when ideologically motivated individuals kill civilians they are referred to by the international media as 'gunmen', 'militants', attackers'... anything but terrorists. Apparently, the media wants to avoid the appearance of taking sides or rushing to judgement.
And far from generating a media frenzy, coverage of such attacks on Israeli civilians tends to be an arid, reserved academic affair, employing cautious words such as 'alleged', dutifully placed before any description of the perps... and plenty of "scare quotes" * placed around any and all information provided by the Israeli government.
Needless to say, after last night's terror attack in Tel Aviv, The New York times did not disappoint. Their cautious mention of last night's unpleasantness spent only a few hours on the periphery of their home page before being relegated to the 'world' section of their site.
And as previously mentioned, when describing the individuals who shot at diners with assault rifles at point blank range, there was nary a 'terrorist' in sight - only 'gunmen' and 'attackers' - even though the event was clearly described elsewhere in the article as terrorism!
Terrorism without terrorists; That's a pretty neat trick, if you think about it.
I alluded to this in the post I put up this morning, but it has been gnawing away at the back of my mind ever since.
When ideologically motivated individuals kill civilians in New York, London, Paris, Madrid, or pretty much everywhere on earth, they are referred to as terrorists in the frenzy of news coverage that inevitably follows.
Everywhere, that is, except in Israel.
So in keeping with this apparent need for cautious, academic correctness, I will refrain from stating that the entire New York Times editorial staff richly deserves to die in a fire.
Rather, I will suggest that in a perfect world, their aggregate biologic functions would simultaneously cease in conjunction with the rapid oxidation of their surroundings in an exothermic chemical process of combustion.
* Scare quotes are quotation marks placed around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts.
I'm Shocked, Shocked...
... to find that gambling terrorism is going on in here Israel!
For those who haven't been following the news, last night two Palestinian terrorists (the New York Times took pains to call them 'gunmen') entered a popular Tel Aviv cafe with assault rifles and killed four Israeli civilians and injured at least three others.
As hard as it may be to believe, the title of this post is a pretty much a direct quote from the U.N. Secretary General!
I am not paraphrasing or putting words in anyone's mouth. Here is the full quote from his spokesperson (lest someone accuse me of taking liberties):
“The Secretary-General reiterates that there is no justification for terrorism nor for the glorification of those who commit such heinous acts. The Secretary-General is shocked that the leaders of Hamas have chosen to welcome this attack and some have chosen to celebrate it. He calls upon the Palestinian leadership to live up to their responsibility to stand firmly against violence and the incitement that fuels it.” [emphasis mine]
Notice that, even though Hamas has publicly stated that the terrorists were operatives in their organization, the UN Secretary General didn't specifically denounce anyone. No, he seemed to be mostly bothered by the unseemly celebration of the attack.
If only UN Secretary-General were half as charming and witty as Claude Reins' portrayal of Captain Renault in the film, Casablanca, one could, perhaps, overlook his turning a blind eye to the Palestinian terror organizations continuing to do what terrorists are wont to do.
But since, Ban Ki-moon is neither charming nor witty (it would be challenging to identify a more wooden or obtuse career diplomat), and we're talking about the senseless slaughter of Israeli civilians and not some cinematic victim-less crime, I think it would be safe to say that we are in no danger of starting any kind of friendship with him... beautiful or otherwise.
Sunday, June 05, 2016
Another Yom Yerushalayim
I'm once again far from Jerusalem today, but I followed the time-honored ritual below, none-the-less: Find a quiet place... turn off the lights... put a box of tissues within easy reach... and press play:
Partial Transcript / translation:
Colonel Motta Gur [on loudspeaker]: All company commanders, we’re sitting right now on the ridge and we’re seeing the Old City. Shortly we’re going to go in to the Old City of Jerusalem, that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City. Eitan’s tanks will advance on the left and will enter the Lion’s Gate. The final rendezvous will be on the open square above. [The open square of the Temple Mount.]
[Sound of applause by the soldiers.]
Yossi Ronen: We are now walking on one of the main streets of Jerusalem towards the Old City. The head of the force is about to enter the Old City.
Yossi Ronen: There is still shooting from all directions; we’re advancing towards the entrance of the Old City.
[Sound of gunfire and soldiers’ footsteps.]
[Yelling of commands to soldiers.] [More soldiers’ footsteps.]
The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It’s still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper shooting here and there. [Gunfire.] We’re all told to stop; we’re advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we’re now in the Old City opposite the Russian church. I’m right now lowering my head; we’re running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They’re still shooting at us. The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion’s Gate. I’m with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here.
We’re about to enter the Old City itself. We’re standing below the Lion’s Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I’m also staying close to one of the trees. We’re getting further and further into the City. [Gunfire.]
Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands! All forces, stop firing!
This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing! Over. Commander eight-nine here, is this Motta (Gur) talking? Over.
[Inaudible response on the army wireless by Motta Gur.]
Uzi Narkiss: Motta, there isn’t anybody like you. You’re next to the Mosque of Omar.
Yossi Ronen: I’m driving fast through the Lion’s Gate all the way inside the Old City.
Command on the army wireless: Search the area, destroy all pockets of resistance but don't touch anything in the houses, especially the holy places.
[Lt.- Col. Uzi Eilam blows the Shofar. Soldiers are singing ‘Jerusalem of Gold’.]
Uzi Narkiss: Tell me, where is the Western Wall? How do we get there?
Yossi Ronen: I’m walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.
Soldiers: [reciting the ‘Shehechianu’ blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou L-rd G-d King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day]
Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are thou, who comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem]
[Soldiers sing ‘Hatikva’ next to the Western Wall.]
Rabbi Goren: We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel: [Soldiers weeping] El male rahamim, shohen ba-meromim. Hamtse menuha nahona al kanfei hashina, be-maalot kedoshim, giborim ve-tehorim, kezohar harakiya meirim u-mazhirim. Ve-nishmot halalei tsava hagana le-yisrael, she-naflu be-maaraha zot, neged oievei yisrael, ve-shnaflu al kedushat Hashem ha-am ve-ha’arets, ve-shichrur Beit Hamikdash, Har Habayit, Hakotel ha-ma’aravi veyerushalayim ir ha-elokim. Be-gan eden tehe menuhatam. Lahen ba’al ha-rahamim, yastirem beseter knafav le-olamim. Ve-yitsror be-tsror ha-hayim et nishmatam adoshem hu nahlatam, ve-yanuhu be-shalom al mishkavam [soldiers weeping loud]ve-ya’amdu le-goralam le-kets ha-yamim ve-nomar amen! [Translation: Merciful G-d in heaven, may the heroes and the pure, be under thy Divine wings, among the holy and the pure who shine bright as the sky, and the souls of soldiers of the Israeli army who fell in this war against the enemies of Israel, who fell for their loyalty to G-d and the land of Israel, who fell for the liberation of the Temple, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem the city of the Lord. May their place of rest be in paradise. Merciful One, O keep their souls forever alive under Thy protective wings. The Lord being their heritage, may they rest in peace, for they shalt rest and stand up for their allotted portion at the end of the days, and let us say, Amen.] [Soldiers are weeping.
Rabbi Goren sounds the shofar. Sound of gunfire in the background.] Rabbi Goren: Le-shana HA-ZOT be-Yerushalayim ha-b’nuya, be-yerushalayim ha-atika! [Translation: This year in a rebuilt Jerusalem! In the Jerusalem of old!]
Friday, May 13, 2016
If this doesn't make your day...
This short (less than 4 minutes) animated film called 'The Present' is more important than whatever you are doing right now. Seriously.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver. ;-)
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
[a guest post by Ariella who is alone on a crowded bus somewhere between Delhi and Rishikesh]
Everyone I know who had ever been abroad for the Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) sirens told me it would be hard. But nothing could have prepared me for the sudden title wave of emotion that crashed over me.
My abba called my cell phone so I would be able to hear the siren itself and not just imagine it. And the second I heard it my heart shattered. Tears started running down my face that were beyond my control.
It was much more than the contrasting places that were suddenly connected by a phone call.
On the one side an entire nation, standing in unity, silently remembering friends and loved ones. On the other side I was the only Israeli on a bus driving down a crowded road with people chattering away all around me.
But the pain ran deeper than that. It was the feeling of solitude and loneliness, of being so far from anyone who could understand. It was the unfortunate understanding of what loss really feels like and having specific people to remember.
Nothing can prepare you for that.
Friday, May 06, 2016
[a letter to a special 11 year old boy who lost his father, which his mother may show him - in its entirety or in parts - whenever she feels the time is correct]
My dearest Netanel, you know me as one of the many grown-ups populating your parent's world. But because I have known your parents for many years - well before you were even born - I know you as a special young man whose very presence in the world is as wonderful as it is miraculous.
As I write this, it has been a month since your father was taken from us. His death left a gaping hole in the lives of those who knew and loved him. But I'm sorry to tell you that you and your Ima are the ones who will feel the pain of his absence the most strongly, and for the longest time.
At the funeral, and during the shiva, you heard many people speak about what a wonderful and appreciated man your father was... how he was a good and honest person, and how he always, ALWAYS, tried to do the right thing.
I won't repeat what you've heard and must already know, but I do want to share a few personal observations from the many years I was privileged to know him.
Your father grew up in a working class city that was suffering through a difficult economic time. I know this because for a time, my family lived a few blocks from his (although he was a few years behind me).
Ours was one of the nicer areas of the city, but the neighborhood and its schools were full of challenges, temptations and dangers. I tell you this because from the many hours of sharing stories with your father about 'the old neighborhood', it has always been clear to me that, even back then, your father was already making good choices and carefully charting a moderate and sensible path that would define the rest of his life.
Your father was a respected accountant in his earlier years, and worked as a bank examiner. But even as he was laying the groundwork for this prominent career, he made sure to have a back-up plan... a 'plan B', just in case things didn't go as planned (or as a way to make extra money). Since he was always gifted in understanding how mechanical and electrical things worked, he decided to get a degree in electrical engineering. Just in case.
'Just in case' is what responsible people plan for, to protect themselves and the ones they love from the pitfalls and unexpected setbacks that life tends to throw at us. It is because of your father's 'plan B' that your parents were able to make Aliyah, knowing that even if a banking career was not possible for your dad in Israel, that he would always have a way to make a living doing something that would always be in demand.
This was just one example of the careful, methodical way your father approached everything in his life. If you ever watched him work, you could see by the organized and practiced way he put out his tools and arranged his parts, that nothing was left to chance.
Unfortunately, the one thing that nobody can fully plan for or control is death. And although I'm sure your father planned ahead for even this sad eventuality, the one thing he couldn't put aside for you or place in trust... was himself.
And that is really why I am writing you this letter.
As you get older, the lessons you learned at your father's side will always be with you. But each new day, week, month and year of your life will present you with questions and decisions that you may not be equipped to make on your own.
You probably already know that your mother is the single best source of information you will ever have, and you can go to her for help and advice with any decision you will ever have to make. Seriously... she is one of the smartest, wisest people I know!
But it is natural that as you get older and begin testing your independence, there will be some things about which you may want the advice of someone other than your mother (or maybe in addition to her).
Be warned, your friends and the kids in your school, youth groups and sports teams will be full of advice. In fact they will offer it to you even when you don't ask.
When they do, listen carefully, nod your head, and store away anything you may hear from these schoolyard sages. And remember, just because something is 100% wrong doesn't mean it isn't useful. Just remember that the kids you know - even those who are a few years older than you - probably know just as little as you do about just about any subject you can imagine.
A good rule of thumb is that the louder and more confidant a person sounds when sharing information and advice, the more likely they are to be wrong. That's why I recommend listening to everyone and storing away the information. Over time you will figure out who is a reliable source of information... and who just talks loud to hide the fact that they know just as little as you.
So, to review... your friends may be so loyal that they would lay down in traffic for you. But when it comes to learning new and important lessons, they are an unparalleled source of myths, legends, misinformation, half-truths and dangerous misconceptions. They will exaggerate (or downright lie) to cover up their inexperience, insecurity and fears (as you will too, I'm sure). And most of them won't even realize they are doing it!
That is part of growing up. Just remember the golden rule: Trust but verify.
That's where a son might seek out his father... to test the theories and suggestions to see if they are even a little bit true.
And this is what tore my heart as I watched you saying Kaddish for your father at the funeral, and afterwards in synagogue. Your father would have been a fantastic source of information and advice for you. He was wise in a quiet, modest way. And he was never afraid to say "I don't know" when he didn't. And 'I don't know' is one of the most powerful and precious truths you can ever hear from anyone. Remember that.
Netanel, I have been humbled at how bravely you have comported yourself throughout this difficult month. I see the confusion and pain in your eyes, but I also see you acting just like your father; trying always to figure out what the right thing is, and then doing it with quiet, confident conviction.
But as you get older, figuring out right from wrong will become more and more difficult. Many times you will find that there is no single right answer.
Nobody can ever replace your father. And as I said before, your mother will always be the single best person from whom to seek advice.
But I want you to know that I am one of many friends your father had who will always be here for you.
If you ever want to talk about something, bounce an idea off of someone older, or just hear or share a story about your dad... please know that you can reach out to me day or night.
As I always tell my own kids, 'You don't have to make all the mistakes yourself... please learn from some of mine (and I've made plenty)'. Think of it as having a 'cheat sheet' for life. Just about any challenge you may face in your life, I've already faced. Some I may have beaten... and others will provide you with some entertaining stories from which to learn.
I don't pretend to know everything, but like your father I promise that if I don't know... I'll say so. And then, together, maybe we can figure out the answer.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Travel Diary of a Germaphobe
I totally get the idea behind placing a phone in the hotel bathroom within easy reach of the toilet. I mean, Murphy's Law dictates that no matter how long one has waited for that important call from the concierge confirming the arrival of a business associate, the phone in the hotel room will only ring once the plane is well on its way down the runway and aborting take-off is no longer an option (like the way I've kept the metaphor within the travel genre?).
With that said, I can't possibly be the only one who has considered the logistic difficulties of cleaning this convenient commode-side handset (that is, if they even try!), right? Right?!
Make no mistake, my company usually books me into the most posh (and secure) properties in whatever city I am visiting. But yesterday (Shabbat), I was stuck in the room with nothing to do but read and snack on complimentary hotel fruit and blueberry muffins that Zahave packed for me.
So when housekeeping showed up and asked if they could tidy up the room, I asked them if they minded if I stayed put on the comfy sofa in front of the window while they did the room.
They were very accommodating and even asked if they could order up an assortment of local newspapers for me (I accepted gratefully).
It was only once the two women began cleaning the bathroom that I decided to check if my suspicions were correct. This was accomplished via the full wall glass window that divided the bathroom from the sleeping and work areas (for the curious, there is a mechanized privacy shade that can be lowered in case more than one person is in residence and either of them possesses even a shred of shame).
Sure enough, the two women went about scrubbing, bleaching, disinfecting and polishing every last surface in the bathroom... except the telephone.
In fact, not only did they not make even a token effort to clean the phone, one of them noticed that a previous guest had left the cord a bit tangled, so she picked up the handset with the rubber glove she was wearing to protect her skin from whatever chemicals (and pathogens), were in the toilet bowl she had just been scrubbing, and carefully untwisted it and replaced the handset in the cradle so that the now-tangle-free cord was wrapped neatly around the rest of the phone body and well above the floor.
After the last of their chores was completed and fresh flowers and fruit had been placed in the vase and bowls (this time, thankfully without the rubber gloves), one of the women handed me the bundle of Indian newspapers that had been delivered at their request and asked if there was anything else they could help with.
I was tempted to ask about the phone, but I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get the question out past the spasm of dry-heaves that was now convulsing my body. I just smiled and shook my head.
Please tell me I'm not the only one who is skieved out by this.
As an afterthought, I'd also be curious to know if anyone else out there travels with a bottle of Purell alcohol hand sanitizer in their carry-on?
Monday, March 07, 2016
Finally Finding (And Crossing) The Left's Red Line
I've often wondered what, if any, red lines exist for the extreme left of Israel's political spectrum.
So far they have found a way to condone, and even embrace, such acts as:
- Draft Dodging (or encouraging widespread disobedience of orders after enlisting)
- Stealing and passing nuclear secrets to journalists (and by extension, the world)
- Stealing and passing military secrets to journalists (and by extension, the world)
- Denunciation of Israel as a racist, fascist apartheid state at academic and governmental forums abroad
- Supporting and encouraging the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in their efforts to isolate Israel
All of the above have not only been excused and explained away by Israel's extreme left and their flagship mouthpiece Haaretz, but in many cases have been openly sanctioned and encouraged.
So it came as somewhat of a surprise that this week something happened that finally reached a level of post-Zionist / self-hatred that those gathered at a 'Cultural Conference' sponsored by Haaretz were forced to declare a red line, beyond which, apparently, lies that terrible thing called 'disloyalty to the State':
It seems that the entertainment hired by Haaretz for the event - Israeli actor Ariel Bronz - was concluding his performance of a provocative one-man play entitled "Love the Juice: The Art of Squeezing the National Dream Into an Orange", when he suddenly produced an Israeli flag and proceeded to stuff it up his, er, posterior region. On stage. In full view of everyone.
Immediately the audience began booing, screaming 'enough' and 'stop', and even throwing squeezed oranges at the stage (which had previously been thrown at the audience as part of the play). But as the saying goes, 'the show must go on'.
It wasn't until Haaretz's senior management instructed the venue's security staff to forcibly remove the actor from the stage that it was clear to all “La commedia è finita” (“The comedy is over”)*.
Although I'm relieved to know that the left does, in fact, have at least one uncross-able 'red line', I find it sad that it is such a trivial, and entirely symbolic gesture they refuse to condone.
It seems that, for the extreme left, it has never really been about democracy or democratic values... it has been about appearances. You can actively work to destroy the State of Israel, but don't you dare besmirch its symbols.
I, for one, have no problem with the act for which Mr. Bronz was given the hook. In a democracy, what he did (no matter how distasteful), is called 'protected free speech'. And far from endangering the state, the fact that a citizen can get up on a stage and do such a thing here in Israel is actually an encouraging sign of our democracy's strength and health (albeit not its taste in entertainment).
Now you can congratulate me for the self-control required in not allowing myself a single butt joke.
[* dorky opera reference]
Thursday, March 03, 2016
Ax Grinding Masquerading As Balanced Reporting
One of the better kept secrets here in the Middle East is that Israel has long been the sanctuary of choice for gays and lesbians who are forced to flee for their lives from pretty much all of the surrounding Muslim countries.
By all rights this should be an open secret (or no secret at all!), except for a convenient alignment of the interests of the western media (which would rather close their doors than publish anything positive about Israel) and the countless future and current LGBT refugees who have not yet escaped the intolerant Muslim societies where they live in mortal fear (since a nearly certain formal or extra-judicial death penalties awaits any non-heterosexual who is discovered living in Muslim lands) or who still have vulnerable family living in peril back home.
So it was with considerable surprise that I saw that the New York Times was running a front page story this morning about a gay Iranian poet who had escaped from Iran and was seeking formal asylum while living comfortably in Tel Aviv.
I shouldn't have been surprised.
The New York Times does not publish anything about Israel that can be construed as even marginally positive, without also offering equal or greater negative commentary in the name of 'even-handedness'.
So as I read the article, the other shoe wasn't terribly long in dropping.
Read for yourselves what the editors at the New York Times felt was an acceptable bit of background information to this otherwise heart-warming article that should have painted Israel (and Israeli society) in a very flattering light:
"Israel has sometimes been accused of “pinkwashing,” or portraying itself as a progressive hub of tolerance, particularly toward gays, to detract attention from the government’s policies toward Palestinians. At Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's annual meeting with the international press this year, there was a performance by the Israeli transgender pop singer Dana International, who appealed to reporters to go easy on Israel."
Not only does the Times fail to give any clue as to who, exactly, has accused Israel of "Pinkwashing" (and whether that accusation is accurate), but it shamelessly tries to use the performance of Dana International, a very popular, and openly transgender, Israeli singer (who took first place at the Eurovision Song Festival as Israel's representative as far back as 1998), at a Netanyahu press event to suggest that it was a nefarious plot by Israel... as if Bibi had trotted out a token drag queen in order to bolster Israel's progressive cred and distract the world from our cruel policies towards the Palestinians.
And then, as if they hadn't dispensed enough even-handedness to banish any memory of the positive subject of the article, they went on to mention the tragic fatal stabbing of a teenager at last year's Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, as if gays (and their supporters) being attacked in the US and Europe is a thing of the distant past. Heck, the NY Times hasn't seen fit to give any coverage of the dozens of stabbings that the Palestinians have carried out in the past few moths, yet they were able to effortlessly summon a single stabbing that was carried out by a Jew last year in order to bolster their case against Israel.
For comparison's sake, in a New York Times article two days ago about a senior Hamas terrorist (of course the Times referred to him as a 'commander' and 'militant', not a terrorist), who was executed by his own organization, allegedly for being gay, they felt no such compunction to introduce even-handedness.
Not only did the Times fail to mention the glaringly obvious irony of an allegedly gay terrorist spendng his entire career launching deadly terror attacks against the only country in the middle east that has a vibrant and inclusive policy towards the LGBT community, being executed for his sexual orientation by his own people... but they spent the entire article describing him and his background in exclusively positive terms.
In the article, he is referred to as "Hamas royalty" from a "storied family"... who had tragically left behind not one, but two wives. They even ran a photo of his mother and one of his sisters crying next to a poster of him!
And the Times took pains to portray him as a wronged Palestinian patriot for having been executed despite bravely sheltering Mohammed Deif at considerable personal risk. At no time did the Times feel the need to offer contextual information, such as the fact that Deif was in hiding because he was/is being targeted by Israel for master-minding suicide attacks and bus bombings that have killed more than 50 innocent Israelis.
It is absolutely infuriating to see the lengths to which the Times will go to ensure that Israel is continually vilified, facts be damned.
The New York Times makes no secret of its editorial line regarding Israel's policies towards the Palestinians. I'm okay with that.
But the Times also has a huge number of writers, photographers, cameramen, technicians, stringers, fixers and visiting bureau chiefs stationed/living here in Israel who are perfectly aware of Israel's extremely progressive policies and welcoming stance towards the LGBT community.
So it boggles the mind that one should be used to negate, or assign sinister motives, to the other!
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Everyone Just Take A Deep Breath!
Before everyone in the United States and Europe loses their collective minds over the report (correct, as it turns out) that Israel is appropriating 380 Acres of land in the Jordan Valley near Jericho, please take a deep breath.
I hate to be the bearer of bad (inconvenient) tidings, but the truth is, this move is 100% in keeping with the vision of Yitzhak Rabin (also known as the horse y'all backed).
In his last speech to the Knesset a month before he was assassinated, Rabin said the following (I have placed the stuff people conveniently like to forget/ignore in bold):
We view the permanent solution in the framework of State of Israel which will include most of the area of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.
And these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution:
A. First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Ze'ev -- as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according to the customs of their faiths.
B. The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.
C. Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the "Green Line," prior to the Six Day War.
D. The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif.
..." [you can read the entire speech in English translation here]
Wow, with talk like that, he'd be called a right wing fascist today!
Let's review, shall we:
- He not only categorically rejected the idea of dividing Jerusalem, but he explicitly endorsed a unified 'greater Jerusalem' that includes Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Zeev as Israel's capitol .
- He was against the establishment of a Palestinian state. Instead, he wanted a non-state 'entity' for the Palestinians.
- He considered the Jordan Valley to be Israel's security border and emphasized the permanent Israeli presence there by using the phrase "...in the broadest meaning of that term" to define the Jordan valley. Therefore what Israel did today is entirely within Rabin's vision.
- He not only made it clear that the large settlements in Judea and Samaria would be annexed, but also that Israel would establish and annex large settlement blocks in these areas.
So again... for everyone who got the vapors today when the news was confirmed that Israel was formally taking control of a part of the Jordan Valley, please take a deep breath and remember that even according to Yitzhak Rabin, this area has always been considered part of our security border and was never up for discussion.
You can now go back to your regularly scheduled Israel bashing.