If the weather forecasts hold true, the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) will be unpleasantly hot. If not for air conditioning, the heat would be oppressive; appropriate conditions for the discomfort that is liturgically required.
Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples, which our historical memory (more than actual history) recalls as the beginnings of exile, losses of sovereignty, and as major disruptions to nationalized faith. Its themes are central to Jewish consciousness. To dismiss Tisha B’Av in light of the freedom we celebrate today would be to rewrite the Jewish present without its history.
It looks like Israel’s slogan, “the only democracy in the Middle East,” will need to soon be replaced. Successful in the corridors of Washington and in much of American public opinion, this claim – with all its truth about life within the Green Line – didn’t work in some corners of the world when it was viewed in the context of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
Israel’s democracy is messy. Personally, I have strong feelings about Israel not really being a secular democracy and I am pained by the infringements on civil rights that stem from Israeli law not allowing for state marriages that are not performed by its official very right-wing Orthodox rabbinate.
In the last few weeks I have heard some disturbing attempts by Israelis to use criticism of American Jewry to fight Israel’s political battles with President Obama and his administration. One attempt, apparently from an undisclosed location within the Israeli government, tried to label Jews in the Obama administration as “self-hating.” The second, from a NY Times op-ed essay by Haaretz columnist, Aluf Benn. There Benn accuses Obama of confusing American Jews with Israelis, thus missing the mark in his communication with Israel.
Le-an atah nose’a? (To where are you traveling?), asks the automated ticket machine at the train station. The choices are not Tel Aviv, Rishon Le-Tzion, or Haifa. On the list I find my destination, Penn Station, NYC. I am standing at the Long Island Railroad train station in Hewlett, NY. One of a dozen stations where Hebrew is an option for ticket buyers. In other neighborhoods, you might find Russian or Korean. The LIRR bases its language placement on census data.
After being an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton, it took me a while to come around to Barack Obama. I would have felt better if he had completed a full term in the Senate and had a more of track record by which I could assess his ability to lead. By the third debate and Colin Powell’s reasoned endorsement, I felt certain that pulling the old-fashioned NY voting-booth lever for Obama was going to be more than merely preferring a Democrat over a Republican in this year’s election.
As a pragmatist, I am mostly taking a wait-and-see attitude for final confirmation of my vote. However, based on Senator Obama’s victory speech, I have no doubts that at least the national conversation will be elevated by his inspiring rhetorical skill.