The most direct and powerful opportunity for individuals to influence Israeli policy is upon us. On April 9th, every Israeli citizen has the chance to have their say as to how Israel should best answer the Four Hatikvah Questions.
What would be the best way to ensure Israel’s security? How should Judaism, the Jewish People, and Jewish values affect policy in Israel? How can Israel’s current EIU Democracy Index ranking rise higher than 30th in the world? Are we configuring our land and its resources in the most equitable and sustainable way?
In later Headlines for Identity, we’ll look into how the political parties do or don’t address these questions, but for now it might be worth asking a more fundamental question:
Why aren’t you voting?
Why don’t those American Jews who express so much care and concern for Israel and her policies, just come over here and vote? For Jews around the world it’s real easy to get the vote in Israel: You just make Aliyah. Technically speaking you wouldn’t even need to live here. Pop over to become an Israeli citizen, and then fly in to vote. It’s not nothing, but it’s nowhere near impossible.
So what is behind this desire to critique and influence Israel on the one hand, and this unwillingness to put one’s money where one’s mouth is on the other?
Do Diaspora Jews care less than they say they do? Do they view Aliyah in such hallowed terms that they could not bring themselves to “exploit” it in this way?
Or are they simply afraid that if given the right to vote in Israel’s elections they’ll find themselves confounded over whom to vote for, like the rest of us poor saps living here?
If I’m being honest, the main reason I chose to make aliya, was because in Israel I had a greater chance of getting a job that wouldn’t require me to shave every day. (It was 20 years ago. Designer stubble wasn’t fully respectable, and hipster beards were unheard of.)
So there are periods when I shave daily – mostly when I’m feeling old and don’t want all my white tufts to show – and there are periods where I can go a whole week without shaving. I am a crazy wild man, I know.
Yet while the informality of life in Israel perhaps grants me more freedom than I might have in the UK, it does not free me from being misunderstood in at least four different ways.
First, living in a majority Jewish land means that when anyone sees you are unshaven, their first instinct is to wish you long life. They sympathetically assume that you are in mourning, and so that haggard unshaven look is nothing to do with a hangover (or your advancing age) but only due to a loss in the family. When I dispel their side-angled-head with a “nah, I just couldn’t be bothered shaving”, they look somewhat disappointed.
Second, it is always dangerous to go unshaven between Pesach and Shavuot. It confuses people. They don’t understand why it is that I am strictly observing the counting of the Omer, and yet have no kippah on my head. One year I decided to tell people that I was indeed keeping the Omer, and went weeks without a shave. Got a lovely bush going. But then I forgot to shave it come Shavuot and all hell broke loose.
Of course, here in Israel, a man with dark hair and a scraggy beard may well be a terrorist. Most Muslim men in Israel go for the stubbly look, and racial profiling is nothing if not racially predictable in its predictions. My chances of getting double-checked at the entrance to a shopping mall if I’m unshaven rise exponentially with every morning I don’t put razor to face.
And finally, if we’re talking hirsute cliches, I have learned always to shave before getting on a plane. I’ll never forget the time I was stopped by a plain-clothed policeman at Ben Gurion airport. A scruffy-looking bloke in a short coat, unshaven and sneaky-looking, took one look at my three days’ growth and made a beeline for me. He identified himself to me as a policeman, showed me his badge, and then asked me, in an unshaven sneaky kind of way, “You got any drugs on you?”
It was kind of surreal. As if a) people hawk their razor blades for drugs, and b) lack of shaving makes you stupid. I told him, honestly yet perplexedly, that I didn’t have any drugs on me. And he came back with the classic: “Maybe we should take you off to search you. What do you think? You’re looking nervous. Why are you nervous?” Which of course suddenly made me feel nervous. After a stressful few moments, in the end I ‘fessed up. I told him he was welcome to search me, but all he would find was a few unused razor blades. “Sorry mate,” I said in my best Hebrew, “I’m not a drug-dealer. I just haven’t shaved recently.”
He put his head at a commiserating angle, and said disappointedly, “Ah, I’m so sorry. Death in the family? I wish you long life.”
Haim Hefer one of Israel’s unquestionable cultural icons, and Israel Prize laureate, died yesterday in Tel Aviv at the age of 86.
His coffin will be in public view in The New Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv from 13:00 today, before it is buried this evening in the artists village of Ein Hod.
Born in the Polish town of Sosnowice in 1925, Hefer’s family moved to Myslowice that Hefer described as a very important town for the Jews as “Bilaik lived and wrote there for at least a year.”
Even if you think you don’t know his work, you might be wrong. If you know some of the “good old songs of Eretz Yisrael”, then you probably know some of Hefer’s work. His songs can be found throughout the sound track of the State of Israel. “The Red Rock”, “Yes, It’s Possible” and “In Those Days” are just a few of his iconic creations.
At the age of 11 he came on aliyah to Mandatory Palestine with the Machanot Ha’Olim youth movement, and by the age of 17 he was already a fighter in the Palmach.
When he first arrived, Hefer was speaking classical Hebrew, and used Hebrew expressions of a previous age as a result of the Hebrew classes he took before coming on aliyah. At first his classmates from Raanana would give him a hard time for his Ivrit, but very quickly he managed to integrate. In a Haaretz interview from a few years ago, talking about his early days in Palestine, he is reported as saying “I never denied my origins, but I knew Hebrew. That’s the whole deal.”
Here Harel Skat interviews him for Channel 2 (no English translation)
Here is a Channel 1 clip in which Achinoam Nini sings just to Hefer. At the end he says “I have never heard such a beautiful rendition in my life”
Another Channel 1 clip of a collection of his songs is here
Hefer made it clear that he doesn’t want Kaddish or El Maaleh Rachamim recited at his funeral, but rather “I’d prefer a little Sacha Argov.”
This article was commissioned by Makom for the second Global Jewish Forum, and is edited from in-depth consultation with experts in the field.
The relationship between the State of Israel and its Haredi population is of concern to the entire Jewish world. From the economic and social instability of an exponentially growing community of non-productive citizens, to the unsavory headlines about extreme and violent behavior, it is clear that a policy of laissez-faire can no longer be tolerated.
Yet how might we characterise the problem facing us? Is this a fundamental issue threatening the Jewish and liberal identity of the State of Israel? Or is this an issue of failed public policy that needs to be re-thought? To Full Post
One of the most difficult series of questions in the Jewish world today concerns demography. How many Jews actually exist in the world today? What is happening to the Jewish population in different centers of the world? What are the relative shares of Israel and Diaspora in the overall Jewish population of the world? And as important as the numbers themselves are, the really crucial questions lie underneath the surface.
What is the meaning of the numbers? What is the nature of the changing balance of demographic power between the State of Israel and the Diaspora as a whole? What trends do they suggest? What are the implications of today’s numbers for tomorrow’s future? And perhaps the most difficult question of Jews for those who spend their lives counting Jews: Who, exactly do you count? In other words, for the purpose of demographic calculations, who is a Jew?
This activity explores the notion of “home” and employs artistic technique to make the topic personal and relevant to the students. The activity seeks to discuss the sacrifices and choices one makes when deciding where and why to set up a home, and what the ramifications of this prioritization are for you and those around you. To Full Post
In this session, the students will debate the true meaning of what it means to be a Zionist today. Armed with a short text study, they will advocate for fictional stereotypes of various Zionists. To Full Post
The past two weeks have seen an eruption of responses to the recent ad campaign commissioned by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. The campaign, targeted at Israeli ex-pats living in the United States, sought to convince the Israelis to return “home”. Though the ads were in Hebrew and clearly intended for Israeli ears in the United States, it seems that the real audience was North American Jewry. Aside from the Jewish Federation’s statement last week (and Netanyahu’s subsequent cancellation of the campaign), countless blog posts and editorials have been popping up each day since this story came to light less than 2 weeks ago. One thing is certain: these videos have struck a nerve among North American Jews. To Full Post
Israel absorbs nearly one million Jews from the Former Soviet Union:
Click here for printable pdf.