The core issue is about the nature of Judaism, and specifically the place of women within Judaism. To Full Post
For years, one terrible aspect of Israeli society has towered above the others as the most annoying, disgusting, frustrating and downright outrageous. I speak, dear reader, not of racial intolerance, not of environmental laziness, nor even of peace-process-disingenuity. No, the topic of this blog is much, much worse than any of these, which by comparison may be forgiven as mere… oversights. I speak here of bank charges.
“Free checking”. The phrase will be familiar and unremarkable to all American readers, and, appropriately translated, to British ones too. It works like this: I give the bank some of my money. As long as my account is in credit, I let the bank do whatever it likes with that money of mine: it can lend it to other people and charge them interest; it can invest it; it can stuff it under its mattress for all I care, but the key point is that it doesn’t charge me for that privilege. I give you my money, you don’t charge me for basic services.
The limits of our language, according to Wittgenstein, are the limits of our world. If we do not have the words for something, we find it much harder to conceive of it. Astute googling reveals all kinds of language omissions: American Indians have no word for “religion”; Tibetans have no word for “guilt”; and Russians have no word for “privacy”. I am sure that philosophers and cultural commentators have written reams on what these language omissions say about American Indian, Tibetan, and Russian culture.
I got thinking about this last week, when I discovered that Hebrew has no word for “bully”.
Residents of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland woke up this morning and found themselves asking an unfamiliar post-election question: who won?
I couldn’t help giggling. The British are used to their elections being like tennis matches: two parties slog it out, and at the end of the match, there is only one winner. Israeli elections just don’t work like that. They’re more like mud-wrestling. There’s never one clear winner: the people elect their representatives, then avert their eyes while those duly elected representatives wrestle in the mud to see who gets to come out on top.
It rained today, and that’s great.
For someone who grew up in England, that’s a bizarre statement to make. When it rains in England – which it does most of the time, most of the year – it’s yet another dreary wet day, another reason to be miserable and moan about the bloody weather. But in Israel, it’s totally different. This is a country that is short of water, and desperately needs its meager rains.
This means that in Israel, you can’t be miserable about rain. When it rains, it’s fantastic. It actually lifts your spirits: the absolute opposite effect of British rain. During the winter months, there’s a palpable sense of public joy when it does rain. Rain makes people happy. Rain makes the country happy.
Last week my family and I spent three days at Walt Disney World in Florida. Despite the global recession, it was very busy, and there were even a few non-Israelis there. Never able to escape my working life entirely, I was on the lookout for unusual angles on questions of Jewish identity and Israel engagement, and I found one in “it’s a small world” (and yes, it’s meant to be formatted that way, with a small “i”).
For the uninitiated, “it’s a small world” is a slow-moving indoors boat-ride through several rooms in which small animated dolls, dressed in national costumes from across the world, sing and dance (“there’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all”). The song is either catchy or infernal, and the ride is either charmingly life-affirming or incessantly saccharine, depending on your point of view. As an unreconstructed Disneyphile, I am firmly in the former camp.
The worst Yom Ha’atzmaut I ever spent was in New Jersey in May 2007; the best (so far) was in Modi’in in 2008. Let me explain why.
In New Jersey, in the Metrowest JCC, they hold a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration each year. My family and I would always go. And before I say why I hated it in 2007, I should note for full disclosure that we loved living in New Jersey, we loved the Jewish community, and we still have many friends there. This is not an A. B. Yehoshua tirade.
I went to my first Israeli football (soccer) match last week: a friendly between Israel and Hungary. My son goes to a football after-school club, and the coach was giving away free tickets. So off we drove to Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, where Israel’s National Football Stadium is located. As a teenager, I used to go quite regularly to football matches in England, and so I viewed the game as an interesting opportunity to compare my teenage Diaspora experience with my adult Israel one. Here are a number of conclusions that I offer for the benefit of football-loving Jews, and Jew-loving footballers (who I presume are a smaller community):
Israel needs lots of things. It needs peace; it needs water; it needs pluralist civic religion. More than anything else, though, it needs Sundays.
Ah, Sundays! I remember them well. Sleeping in a little… eating a relaxing breakfast over the New York Times… popping to the mall… seeing friends in the next town… taking in an afternoon movie… organizing some bits and pieces around the house… getting the filing in order… a day for leisure, entertainment, and catching up on those odds and ends that get lost amid the week’s frenzy.
I WANT MY SUNDAYS BACK!
There can be few more schizophrenic creatures than the English-reading Israeli web surfer. This puzzled animal spends his free time browsing, to begin with, the English language sites of the Israeli media. Here, he sees the conversations he has with his friends reflected and collected in the careful prose of the writers and thinkers of Haaretz and other outlets. These conversations represent a quite diverse spectrum of opinion: there are those who agree with the war, those who don’t, and those who are not sure. Empathy is expressed with the residents of the south for their fortitude and resolve; worry and distress are felt for the soldiers in Gaza, of whom one is almost by definition a friend, colleague, acquaintance, or son thereof; and, indeed, concern is even articulated for the innocent Palestinian residents of Gaza who are caught up in this war and have nowhere to run. For the most part, there is the recognition that this is a war of no choice for Israel, and that as horrible, terrible, and awful as its results might be on the Palestinians of Gaza, it is something that we must do, win, and move on from.