I remember when August would roll around in Sag Harbor, and our synagogue’s Rosh Chodesh group meeting would focus on Tisha B’av (the 9th day of the month of Av) – the holiday that animates the Hebrew month of Av.
I would always frame the conversation by saying how out of sync the Jewish calendar felt with the Gregorian one. August is the height of summer fun – the beaches and BBQs, summer evening dresses and dinner parties. And in the Jewish calendar cycle Tisha B’Av represents the low point of the Jewish year. We sit on low chairs, we fast – in collective mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temples, the loss of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, and so many other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people. For me, most years the sense of mourning feels forced.
This year, it felt real. We needed Tisha B’av, to give ritual expression to the collective pain that we are all feeling about the war with Hamas. To Full Post
1. Good Guys, Bad tactics?
There was something of a meme that went around, asking the two key questions of Just War theory: Are we fighting the bad guys? and Are we fighting like good guys? I think I’ve realized that the first question is almost irrelevant, and often unhelpful.
It’s irrelevant because while I may be sure that Hamas are the bad guys, so Hamas thinks it is Israel who are the bad guys. It is unhelpful because since we both reckon we’re fighting the bad guys, we both tend to take the second question less seriously. To Full Post
Only a few weeks before its opening, the UK Jewish Film Festival needs to find a new venue. The Tricycle Theatre, the Festival’s North-West London home, suddenly demanded the Festival disassociate itself from one of its minor funders: the Israeli Embassy. To Full Post
In 2010 the Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar made a documentary about a Gazan family that brings their baby for a life-saving transplant in an Israeli hospital. The movie is built with great sensitivity and an eye for painful irony and complexity galore.
Here Dr Raz Somech explains the story behind the film, at the Montreal Film Festival.
At one point the mother asserts that she would be happy if her child under treatment were to grow up to be a suicide bomber – to the horror of Eldar. As the full story unfolds, we learn of the difference between the mother’s pronouncements for fear of Hamas reprisals, and her true respect and affection for Israel and its doctors. If these struggles were not enough, during the treatment, their doctor is called up for reserve duty – fighting in Gaza. For a full synopsis, read here.
For a community or campus wishing to delve into the human heart of the complexities of Israel and Gaza’s desperate embrace, Precious Life is an excellent place to start.
We recommend providing free coffee at a nearby cafe after the screening, and putting these place-mats on each table. In this way discussion can be encouraged without being forced.
The guide was first created for the screening at JW3.
In order to obtain a copy of the film contact Bleiberg Entertainment
You may have noticed that we have been trying to post conversation-provoking statuses on our facebook page. Here are some of them in one document for your use. Feel free to post them on your own facebook pages, or to use them as short opening conversations at team or committee meetings.
There is the feeling that the media and public response to the Gaza war is disproportionate to their response to every other conflict in the world. As thousands are slaughtered in Syria, all rage is directed to Gaza.
Part of me is surprised at the surprise. There is an antisemitism at the heart of Europe. There is an antisemitism at the heart of the Islamic world. Big whup. These facts don’t dispel for me the deep agony I feel when a defender of Israel wishes us to be compared to a murderous dictator such as Assad. Even if the comparison is relatively favourable. That is not the kind of company we should be keeping.
It must not be a rhetorical question
This video of Israeli philosopher and consultant to the IDF Moshe Halbertal lays out all the key questions. Halbertal points out that “proportionality” is not about the death of combatants. It is about the death of civilians. As he puts it from 17:10 onwards: “Is the expected collateral killing proportional to the military advantage to be gained?”
So it’s a really good question. It accepts that civilians might die in urban warfare. And it asks how many civilians is it “worth” killing in order to win the military advantage? It is the correct moral and philosophical question to be asked.
Halbertal’s question must not be solely rhetorical. I believe we Israelis have been remiss at going ahead and trying to find an answer.
Are we really okay with the rationale: “We fired on the hospital/school because they fired at us from there: It is their fault that we fired back.”? Well it certainly paints Hamas black, but it doesn’t answer Halbertal’s question.
What military advantage did we gain by firing back? Was that advantage worth the risk that we might slaughter some kids along the way?
It seems we are too easily appeased by Hamas’ guilt to assess our own. It tortures me.
If we want Palestinians to appreciate that violence against us does not pay, I believe we must also work behaviouristically to show that non-violence does pay.
If we are, as I am beginning to fear, responding disproportionately to Hamas violence, I believe we should be equally disproportionate in resopnding to all Palestinian non-violence. Any Palestinian who denounces violence, even in a mealy-mouthed way, should be ridiculously disproportionately rewarded. Abu Mazen, and his former Prime Minister and non-violent State-builder, Salam Fayyad, should have been treated as kings by our government. Every bona fide business established by the PA should receive outrageously generous subsidies from the Israeli government. Sweets should be thrown at every Palestinian kid who smiles at an Israeli.
At the same time I think we should be disproportionately generous to our amazingly non-violent Palestinian Israeli citizens. Forget trying to bring the education budget for Arab schools up to parity – it should be twice the size as the budget for Jewish schools. Don’t fight for Arab Israelis to have the same house-buying subsidies as Jews – fight for them to have even bigger subsidies.
If we are okay with severely punishing Palestinians for the violence of their leaders, we should also be willing to seriously reward them for the opposite.
As I walked down the streets of Jerusalem this delightful, breezy July night, I passed two demonstrations supporting the soldiers of the IDF—one particularly dedicated to the Golani Brigade, which suffered so grievously this week. Two tangible reminders that the calm of Jerusalem masks the sorrow and the fear, the violence and the uncertainty of this war. And then I recited Ma’ariv, the evening service with its 23 blessings—through whose timeless words the prayers of a moment manifest.
The evening comes, and we reflect on a trying day, hoping that on another evening, sometime soon, the news will be better. Blessed are You, Lord, who brings on evenings.
The world “regrets,” “condemns,” “urges,” and “demands,” and airlines cancel their flights. Israel yearns not to be alone. Blessed are You, Lord, who loves His people Israel. To Full Post
Radi Detey – that’s the answer you’d get, if you asked a Russian immigrant “Why did you emigrate to Israel?” That first generation of Soviet immigrants that left its country, homeland, and home of its fathers, and moved to Israel (generally with family, grandmother, piano and dog. Actually with me it was a piano and a violin, two grandmothers and a grandfather), did so out of Zionist considerations but mainly “Radi Detey”. For the sake of the children. For the possibility that they might have a future, education, a good life. Life.
For exactly the same reasons there were those who emigrated to Germany, South Africa, Australia, and of course to North America. My father, who ever since he was a student had been a wildly passionate Zionist, left a high-ranking post in the defence industry in order to receive an exit visa from the USSR. For several years he was forced to make do with a job running the National Ballet and Opera theater, God forbid.
For him making Aliya was an old dream and a new adventure. A familiar stance.
My mother, who to this day has always shied away from politics, and is a firm believer that man is born good, was driven by her terrible anxiety for her two children, my sister and me, after Chernobyl.
Emigration in the face of mortal danger is also no great innovation in the history of the Jews.
Our grandparents came with us, because separation was inconceivable.
After my first visit to the USA at age 16, in a somewhat hesitant voice my father asked if I regretted that we had come to Israel of all places (after all I had seen in the US)? I said no. And I meant it. This is my place. This is my home. This is my language. In the deepest sense of the word.
24 years have passed since our Aliyah.
We are no longer counting the wars, the sirens, and the campaigns in Gaza.
But today I am a father. Father to Danielle. A wonderful baby-girl, nearly 3,the joy of my life. Yet this morning began with our big hug, only this time – to the tune of sirens and Iron Dome explosions.
It is her first war; her second week of Operation Protective Edge sirens and explosions.
And this is the first time I find myself asking myself, what should I be doing Radi Detey?
What should I be doing for the sake of my children?
What should I be doing to ensure my daughter has a sane future, education, a good life. Life?
This beautiful and thoughtful piece was written in 2006, during the 2nd Lebanon War. Once again our Israeli Government has decided to put troops on the ground, this time in Gaza once more. Sara Eisen’s words still ring true and current.
A society with a healthy dose of fear gives me faith. And a home.
A well-known editor of a widely read Jewish American weekly wrote recently of his deep fear that Israel, with its many hostile and tacit enemies, may be (God forbid, he added) on its way out. The truth is that there is no way to make someone feel better about a qualm like that. It is a logical fear – – although logic, for better and worse, has never been the stuff of Jewish, and especially not Israeli, survival.
The other truth is that scary columns are useful, even when they contain no real operative suggestions, because anxiety often – or hopefully – prompts communal discourse, action, and change. My (quasi-logical) response to him, in Jewish fashion, is a problem, and a Talmudic reinterpretation of Churchill:
Prove: Fear is fine (just not by itself.)
Wives and mothers of conscripted Israeli soldiers, and not only the citizens of Gaza and Lebanon, are the people most afraid of Israeli soldiers showing up at their doorsteps.
Can’t work. Three weeks now I haven’t been able to work. I mean, I come to work. Sign in on the Jewish Agency computer. Make myself a coffee. Sit down in front of the computer. Participate in team meetings. Politely answer the phone. Read emails, send emails. Talk at the Shlichim Conference, prepare materials for the seminar in New York. But I’m not really here at the computer. My mind is somewhere else, not focused on the emails reaching me, my mind is not here.
Over the last two and a half weeks, from the moment I heard of the kidnapping of the three youths Eyal, Gil-Ad, and Naftali (may the Lord alone avenge their blood) I’ve been existing between murmured verses of the Psalms. “A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths have I called Thee, O LORD. Lord, hearken unto my voice; let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.” And the cry rises climbing the hills uprooting and hurting. “A Song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where will come my aid?”
At word of their funeral something shuddered and snapped. I ignored the horrific information about the nature of their deaths, and grasped tightly to all mention of the nobility of their mothers and fathers.
The torture of Mohammed Al-Hadir, and his sinful murder at the hands of some Jewish youths sent something fundamental inside me insane. The fact that young Jews could so abuse a Palestinian youth is something I could not comprehend. And not because we Jews are better or morally higher than those of another nation, but because in our near past we ourselves have been slaughtered thus. And it is incumbent upon the victim to destroy all the weapons of the attacker, not to take them to his heart.
I have an inner voice that tries to tell me that “these are not Jews”, but I know that to turn my eyes away from these murderous youths is to turn away from the evil that is sown around us, and whose end is to increase evil and pain. It is for me to look into the evil, to understand it, and to add to it love.
I am working on this. I gaze with love into the large and wise eyes of the Arab kindergarten teacher of my daughter. Reem. Clouds in Arabic. I ask her how she is, and how the fast is going. We laugh together. We don’t talk about it. But it is there.
And now “Defensive Edge”. And a second siren in Jerusalem. At the first siren my first-born girl of nine months then, was producing her first tooth. We reached this second siren with another girl, and she already has three teeth. The girls slept through the siren. They don’t know how terrified I was that night. Yesterday the kindergarten of my eldest was closed and she came for a fun day at Mom’s work. A fun day of drinking chocolate and drawing with marker pens. Without understanding that the kindergarten was closed because it has no shelter.
Today she is at kindergarten. And I am at work. But I am not here. I check news sites, flicking here and there. Terrified at every notice of sirens in the center of the country where our families live, and mostly craving for the healing of an aching soul.
And perhaps a healing is on its way. The upcoming 17th Tammuz, in remembrance of the siege of Jerusalem, will be dedicated this year to co-existence. The Muslims are fasting now. It’s Ramadan. And on this coming Tuesday their fast and our fast will unite. As a mitzvah-observant woman I am exempt from such small fasts up to two years after giving birth. This year, as an Israeli citizen, I feel obligated to this civic fast. Fast to scourge the evil and senseless hatred in me. To teach of senseless love, to look squarely into myself.
And better to fail at senseless love than at senseless hatred.