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.
First appeared in Times of Israel
Two of my children thought it was very funny, on a trip to the US about ten years ago, to hide inside a clothing rack at the Gap in a large East Coast mall. As Israeli children, who are used to trusting random strangers at the store, it did not even occur to them that this hilarious maneuver meant that for five minutes, I died.
My mind followed them to some remote corner of Shenandoah National Park, where a nondescript white man (someone’s quiet neighbor) – a man who did not care that they were Jewish… or human for that matter – was having them for lunch. Of course, they were right there under a pile of denim, mischievous in the jeans.
Every parent knows the moment of the missing child: The seconds or hours when your heart plummets into your knees, and your jaw and stomach collide in acrid adrenaline wreckage. The nervous system gets ready to face agony immediately, before its boss has any real information. To Full Post
First appeared on www.jewschool.com
Rabbi Oren J. Hayon is the Greenstein Family Executive Director at the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life at the University of Washington.
In his biography of Pyrrhus of Epirus, Plutarch recounts the details of the ancient Greek general’s costly victory against Rome at Asculum in 279 BCE. According to Plutarch’s account, shortly after the battle, Pyrrhus considered the devastating losses to his Macedonian troops and made the dark but prescient reflection: “If we were to be victorious in one more battle against the Romans, it would utterly destroy us.” [Life of Pyrrhus, 21:9]
The story of that long-ago battle comes to remind us that some victories produce a sense of exhilaration so intoxicating that they prevent us from realizing that we are actually marching unwittingly toward defeat. I write these lines in the immediate aftermath of a period in the life of our organization which looks unmistakably like a time of triumph. Nevertheless, as I write, I am keenly aware of how we have been diminished by the events of this year. I find myself surprised and concerned about how much we have lost, and about how much more we stand to lose in the future. To Full Post
First posted in ForeignDaze
The writer, Richard Miron, is a former journalist originally from London who spent over ten years in Israel, and now lives in the Washington DC area where he works as a communications consultant.
Recently a friend’s father died. ‘Suzanne’ as I will call her, decided that she would sit shiva for one night at her home. Many friends attended – not having been able to accompany Suzanne to the funeral which was held in her father’s hometown a few hours away. Nothing strange about that you might think – except that Suzanne is a Quaker, as was her father.
Suzanne’s husband ‘Jeff’ is Jewish, and as such they have, over the years, taken their kids to a local Reform synagogue. Their family life is a fusion of faiths with Christmas Tree and Chanuka lights at winter-time. But it was Suzanne – not her husband – who became involved in the synagogue through her children’s attendance at its Hebrew school, to the point where she was running the parent teacher association.
Coming to the States from Israel, and before that the UK, this kind of seamless religious integration between Judaism and other faiths, was completely foreign. But I am now coming to understand the peculiarities and positives about Jewish life in the US.
When Lysette and I first arrived in the Washington area from Tel Aviv, we felt nervous about re-entering life in the ‘Diaspora’. In Israel, we identified in our family life as hilonim (‘secularites’), meaning in practice, we kept Kosher at home, did Kiddush on Friday night, went on hikes or socialized on Shabbat, and virtually never ventured to our local orthodox synagogue (there was no other brand of Judaism around). But our kids spoke Hebrew fluently, learning about the meaning and traditions of Jewish life in their supposedly secular kindergarten and school. In our own way we also celebrated the festivals including, putting up our Sukkah in autumn (like most of our secular neighbours), lighting the Chanukah candles in winter, holding a seder night at Passover. The Holy Days were the national holidays, making synagogue feel unnecessary in this all pervasive (and positive) Jewish and Israeli atmosphere.
I recall one occasion when close family came to visit us from England.
‘Do you like going to shul’, my cousin’s husband asked my daughter, Livvy, then aged six.
Her face reflected back puzzlement by way of response.
‘Bet Knesset’ I said, using the Hebrew rather than Yiddish word for synagogue.
‘But we don’t believe in Elohim (God)’ Livvy retorted.
I don’t recall articulating my atheism, but it had obviously been picked up from the way we led our lives and the difference between us and the dati’im (religious), who Livvy observed attending synagogue.
When we got to the States, we realized that this situation wasn’t going to hold if we were to invest our children with a strong and positive Jewish identity.
On our first Yom Kippur in Washington, a short while after arriving, we drove to a local synagogue about which we had heard good things. In Israel, the Day of Atonement consisted of Livvy and Edie cycling around the streets, which were for this one day in the year, completely free of cars. Instead the roads were packed with the bikes, pedal scooters, and skateboards of those who weren’t in synagogue, but who wanted to take advantage of the lack of traffic and pollution. In Washington, en-route to the synagogue for our first family Diaspora Yom Kippur, Edie glanced at the car alongside ours which had bikes stacked on a rack in the rear and declared, “look, they must be Jewish too”. For her, and for all our family, being Jewish had come to mean doing the same as the people around us.
Thus began our journey in the US through the differing strands of Judaism in our vicinity; including Conservative, Modern Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform and more. We ultimately settled on a relaxed Liberal Conservative synagogue, with the girls attending, in addition to regular school, an Israeli-style pluralistic Hebrew school.
Jewish life here on the East coast of the US is very different from how I remember it growing up in London. As a child you instinctively dropped your voice in public when uttering the word ‘Jewish’, and the general tenor was that this was something to keep low-profile and private; British on the outside, but Jewish within.
In the US, being Jewish is part of the vernacular, a variation upon a theme, like I imagine Catholicism to be in the UK. I feel constantly surprised by how much Jewish culture has become part of American life. Yiddish phrases effortlessly pop out of the mouths of non-Jewish celebrities on TV, the papers are filled with matza related recipes around Passover, while at the same time of year President Obama holds a Seder at the White House.
I was brought up to believe that being Jewish wasn’t easy and was meant to be far from effortless – a bit like digesting gefilte fish. The local synagogue I attended as a child was traditional and cold, both in temperature and practice, with the officials (all men) attired in suits and shiny top hats. In Israel, the Orthodox was the synagogue we didn’t go to. But America is a country built upon the notions of freedom, choice, and convenience. And that has come to mean endless selection in all aspects of life; from breakfast cereals to the kind of Judaism you feel like practicing. The end result is seductive and inviting.
This has meant – in the American context – taking Judaism out of its particularistic closet, and making it seemingly more universal and accessible within society as a whole. It has become (mostly) synonymous with liberal values, acceptance, and openness. The synagogues are warm, comfortable, places with welcoming people on hand to guide you through the range of services – religious and social – on offer. This is all very strange to me, schooled in the private nervousness of Anglo Jewry and the public assertiveness of Israel secularism. But then this is the New World, which while foreign, also offers something novel, curious and maybe ultimately – homely.
A Yom Haatzmaut celebration that has something for everyone.
The headline is that Kobi Oz is performing live together with his incredible band. For music-lovers – you get a soulful, energetic, and light-hearted blend of world music performed by world-class musicians. For Israel-celebrators, you get a sweet taste of the best of Israeli culture that blends Jewish text, social comment, and Middle East spice. For Israelis, there’ll be many favourites from the days of Teapacks, and some amazing Oz variations on Arik Einstein classics. For Jewish culture vultures, the materials Kobi has created for his Psalms for the Perplexed venture will blow you away (entire album with translations here). And for everyone – all the songs will be accompanied by projected translation into English…
And the warm-up act for Kobi… A Eurovision Evening! A truly British celebration of Israel – nostalgic, strange hair-do’s, dancing and joy with tongue very firmly planted in cheek. Israel’s just a little country that isn’t even in Europe, but right from its debut entry year in 1972 it has out-sung out-danced and out-kitsched the talents of the musical elite in the Continent’s premier festival of song. Sing along to the Hais and Horas on the Eurovision big screen, then vote for the absolute winner.
I’m very excited about London, these days.
Starting on 27th April there’s going to be a massive Israel festival leading up to Yom Ha’atzmaut on the night of May 5th.
It’s the JW3 inaugural Chag Ha’atzmaut, that we at Makom consulted on.
I think it’s just a fantastic program, and I’m going to spend the next 9 days explaining why.
As its title suggests, the festival deals with the Party and the Political – fun stuff and serious stuff, panels and lectures, performances and screenings. The festival has everything – live music and live parody; Brits discussing Israel and Israelis discussing Israel; films and art and theatre; amazing dance workshops and kids’ events.
What gets me most buzzed is that JW3 has made such a bold statement: That Israel is important to them – important enough to relate to Israel’s dynamic complexity as an honest adventure that has room for celebration and for deep questioning.
First up tomorrow: Hallelujah! With Live Performance by Kobi Oz, and the film Precious Life.
Originally published 2007
In Eurovisionland, things like this aren’t supposed to happen.
In Eurovisionland everybody is smiling, all songs are catchy, and boom boom bingabang is a challenging lyric. This year, it’s all going to be different. And it’s all Israel’s fault.
The Eurovision Song Contest is Europe’s leading annual song contest, drawing huge numbers of viewers, and the continent’s greatest musical talent. Every country selects their own favorite original song, and sends off their hero to compete for the crown of the best song in Europe that year. Unlike X Factor, the emphasis here is on the song-writing itself, and not necessarily on the performer.
Image by Neil Mercer
I would like to talk about the L word.
It is a word that went out of fashion many moons ago for many people, but it still lives in our relationships. To Full Post
Some eighty years ago this discourse arose about whether an artist’s creation stands on its own without reference to the beliefs of the artist – with the refusal of the Israeli Philharmonic to play the compositions of Richard Wagner.
On 12th November 1938 the Philharmonic Orchestra had planned to perform “Lohengrin”. Since Kristallnacht had taken place only three days previously, the conductor Eugene Shenkar decided not to play Wagner. This was not an official or institutional decision: Just the gut feeling of the conductor and the fellow members of the orchestra about the connection between Wagner and the Nazi Party. There were no anti-Semitic lyrics, or anti-Jewish names of the works. The Philharmonic decided not to play the works because of their human connection. Since then the Israeli Philharmonic has never played Wagner in a publicized event. To Full Post
Mahatma Gandhi once famously said: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”
It would seem that the gusts of wind currently swirling through the Hillel environment are throwing up a similar assumption and a similar question. The assumption is that Hillel is someone’s home which visitors are welcome to enrich but not to change. And there is a hanging question as to what might knock us off our feet?
A fascinating and healthy discourse has emerged over National Hillel’s guidelines for Israel programming on campus. We at Makom have been following the discourse with great interest. As key advisors to the Hillel-Jewish Agency Israel Engaged Campus initiative, as seasoned practitioners of complex dialogue on Israel throughout the Jewish community, and as consultants to Jewish organizations around the world on exactly the same issue of guidelines and red lines – we’ve noticed a few anomalies and a few opportunities. To Full Post