Long-term planning is a Jewish value. How about in Israel?

May 22, 2019 by

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Matthias Stom

Genesis 25: 29-34 tells us about Esau stomping in after a hunt, absolutely starving. Jacob is cooking some lentils, thinking of the future. Esau wants to eat – now! Jacob wants Esau’s birthright, whose value will only come to fruition many years down the line. As we know, Esau does not hesitate. He sells his birthright for a bowl of lentils.

Jacob looks to the long term. Esau is more of the ADD type…

It feels like the whole world and Israel in particular has gone the way of Esau. Every news item must be fresh, every piece of information must be distributed immediately, both Peace and Messiah must arrive NOW.

Dan Ben David, head of the Shoresh Institution for Socio-Economic Research, has been calling for Israel to look beyond Esau’s view of security and corruption, and think more like Jacob about the deeper issues waiting beyond the corner.

Our health system is suffering from long-term decline. In the past two decades the number of Israelis dying from infectious and parasitic diseases has doubled – 73% more than those who die per capita of the same causes in the United States, and more than ten times as many who die on Israel’s roads.

Our transport infrastructure leaves us with three times as much traffic congestion than other countries our size – even though we have fewer cars on the road.

And don’t get Ben David started on education… Haredi schools do not study core subjects at all, and the academic achievements of Arab kids in Israel are way below par. These make up over 40% of our future adults…

All this has an effect on productivity. We’re far behind the rest of the developed world, and now over half of all Israelis don’t earn enough to pay income tax.

Can a country that needs extraordinary defense capabilities, cultivate a less-than-ordinary population?

The Esau in Israeli culture has served us extremely well. The world praises the spontaneity and creativity that spawned the Start Up Nation. Indeed the whole country has been the poster child for how a State can improvise brilliantly when faced with endless emergencies ever since its birth.

But perhaps the pendulum needs to swing back the other way?

Perhaps Jacob needs to take back the birthright once more?

So do you really have no influence over Israel’s elections?

April 21, 2019 by

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So do you really have no influence?

Jewish social media around North America has been responding to Israel’s election results. Irrespective of how devastated or delighted people seem to be, the underlying music has been similar: We can only observe from the outside – the decisions are in the hands of the Israeli electorate, not in ours.

This is not entirely true. There are two crucial areas in Israeli elections over which American Jewry – in particular non-Orthodox Jewry – does have a huge impact.

The Kotel, and the Palestinians.

Every pundit in Israel knows that when one is counting the parties in the pro-settlements Right-wing bloc, one automatically counts the Haredi ultra-orthodox parties. This is a correct analysis of the political reality in Israel, but has little to do with actual Haredi convictions about settling the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. As veteran Haredi politician Moshe Gafni has candidly explained: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Haredi issue. The Haredi aim in government is to take care of the issues close to their hearts – they are generally willing to back any policy over the Green Line, just so long as their own electoral needs are met.

What are these needs?

There are, of course, budgetary needs for their impoverished supporters. There are great obstacles to the idea of drafting Haredim to the army.

And then there is the issue of diaspora progressive Jewry and their “obsession” with the Kotel.

Haredim will abandon any government that “gives away” the Kotel to “the Reform”. Put another way – any government that distances itself from the Kotel Agreement could receive Haredi support on other issues, such as the Palestinians.

See how you have an influence?

In Israel’s current political structure, it is extraordinarily difficult to address simultaneously BOTH Israeli religious pluralism AND the Two State Solution. As far as the Haredim are concerned, the latter can be bought by selling out the former.

How would you react if Israel’s leaders on the Left said – “We think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more important than religious pluralism. We are dumping the Kotel Agreement and reaching out to the Haredim. An additional 15 votes for the Left taken from the Right will enable us to make a deal with the Palestinians.”

Would you applaud? Would you rage? Would you grit your teeth? Would you shrug? (Or would you make Aliyah and vote yourself?)

Israel or Diaspora – where does antisemitism strike?

January 31, 2019 by

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Difficult times lie ahead for North American Jewry, as antisemitism rears its ugly head. As Debora Lipstadt points out, Jews are now under attack from the radical Right, from the radical Left, and from radical Islam.

In past times, the only redeeming feature of antisemitism was the way in which it at least galvanized unity in the Jewish People, against these threats. No longer. Not when Israel is so tortuously involved.

On the Right, anti-Semites argue their kosher credentials because they support Israel. Richard Spencer may be keen that “Jews will not replace us” in the United States, but at the same time is a supporter of Israel and even calls himself a “white Zionist”. Backers of President Trump will likewise point to his support of Israel to rebut condemnation of his friendship with antisemites.

The Right would seem to be saying – I cannot be an evil antisemite, because I support Israel. I may hate Jews at home, but I like them in Israel.

On the Left, Israel is also a painful part of the equation. New congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, argue the evils of Israel together with their support for the Jewish community in the States. Sarsour even led heart-warming fundraising campaign for victims of antisemitism in Colorado and Pittsburgh.

The Left would seem to be saying – I cannot be an evil antisemite, because I fight local antisemitism. I may hate Jews in Israel, but I like them here in the States.

Unfortunately the current Israeli leadership does not make this dilemma any easier for Diaspora Jews. Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to make common cause with those such as conspiracy theorist President Orban in Hungary and the Polish leadership that supports Israel while denying its role in the Holocaust.

It would seem that Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken sides in this “choice” between Diaspora Jew-hatred, and Israel hatred.

How does your soul respond?

 

Israeli Elections are coming – are you?

January 21, 2019 by

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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?

Culture Connection IV – The Transformation of the Salt Bride

 

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Download the pdf from here

Culture Connection III – Happy New Year!

 

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Facebook was terribly busy over New Year’s Eve!

We have translated and annotated one of the most entertaining threads we’ve seen for some time…

(H/T to Ittay Flescher!)

 

 

Download the pdf from here

To Be – under threat of annihilation, or defeat?

December 26, 2018 by

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As they say, when the United States sneezes, the whole world catches the flu. While the decision of President Trump to withdraw US troops from Syria has led to political headlines and speculation in DC, it has put many in our area in fear for their lives.

The only buffer between an Iranian-Russian takeover of Syria, Israel’s Northern enemy, has disappeared overnight. Kurds fear massacre, and Israel fears the nightmare scenario of Iran on its border: Both in Syria and in Lebanon through Iran’s proxy army Hezbollah with their tunnels.

How should we respond to a sworn enemy that aims for our annihilation?

Ironically enough, President Trump’s move comes in a period when more and more military and ex-military personnel are calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. They, echoing Helit Bar El’s presentation to us, argue that we must differentiate between Iran’s threat of annihilation – TO BE – and the Palestinians’ threat to areas of OUR LAND and our own sense of liberal democracy (FREEDOM).

These Generals argue that if an enemy threatens our values or our interests, but does not threaten our existence, then this is an enemy with whom we can and should compromise.

In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Trump has strengthened Israel’s hand vis a vis the Palestinians, and in announcing the withdrawal from Syria has weakened Israel’s hand against Iran.

Some might say that Americans do not understand what it means to be under threat of annihilation. Are American Jews different in this respect?

How should American Jews, often opposed to US military exploits in the Middle East, respond to President Trump’s priorities?

 

Airbnb takes a stand on Our Land/Their Land

November 21, 2018 by

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Airbnb has responded to pressure from Human Rights Watch, and has chosen to “remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.” This has, as might be expected, delighted activists working against the military occupation of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria, and has infuriated the Israeli government and its supporters.

The former might see this as an affirmation of what is almost an international consensus: The area East of the 1967 Armistice line known as the Green Line is Occupied Territory. As such, it is subject to the Geneva Convention that prohibits transfer of population into said areas, and rules out building permanent settlements there. Human Rights Watch created a video aimed at Airbnb, pointing out that listings are built on land stolen from Palestinians. Activists against the Occupation would say that Airbnb are to be praised for upholding international law. Hurrah…

On the other hand, Israeli governments of the last fifty years – and most Israelis – do not see this area as occupied. The land was conquered in response to Jordanian aggression, there was no legitimate State the land was conquered from (the strictly legal definition of Occupied territory), and anyway – this is ancient and traditional Jewish land. Many Israelis would even go further to say that Jewland (Judea) is rightfully owned and ruled by the Jewish State. For Airbnb to discriminate against Jewish residents of Jewland is grossly unfair. Boo…

There are others who, without denying either party’s claims, might ask a question: Does Airbnb refuse business to other countries involved in abuses that are also enumerated by Human Rights Watch? And if not, why not?

HRW condemns Zimbabwe’s theft of land, Saudi Arabian abuses of women, China’s occupation of Tibet and discrimination against Muslims – to name but a few. All of these places are trading happily on Airbnb. Tibet is even listed by Airbnb as being a province of China!

Yet Human Rights Watch has, as yet, run no campaign against these listings.

Given this inconsistency, how should we interpret the actions of Human Rights Watch (whose own founder denounced it), and of Airbnb?

[You might wish to print out this pdf version of the post, and stick it up on the wall of your House…]

 

This Headline for Identity is part of the 4HQ Encounters program for Moishe House, made possible by the generous funding of Jim Joseph Foundation.

 

How can we sing with Kululam during the Omer?

April 17, 2018 by

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The writer is Director Of Community Education and Summer Program at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and Lecturer in Tanakh and Jewish Thought at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi.

If you have been following me on FB, you will know my obsession with Koolulam, especially their ‎‎70th Yom Haatzmaut event. Prior to the event I was asked by 7 or 8 people, friends or talmidot/im, ‎whether they could attend during the Omer. (If you watched the video, about half the participants ‎were religious-looking.) ‎

I am generally halakhically conservative (small “c”!) and I try to keep halakha even if it disrupts my lifestyle. I ‎am committed to halakhic practice and I don’t knowingly contravene the law. So was it forbidden?‎ To Full Post

Gun Control and Israel Education – how do they connect?

 

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by Robbie Gringras

The political awakening of students throughout the land following the Parkland shooting, has surprised and inspired many. Whether or not the subject is on their curriculum, every Jewish educator knows that Gun Control is a topic that their students are interested in addressing. As such, we have an opportunity. Our students are motivated, excited, engaged!

What contribution might educators make at this time?

I would suggest that one contribution – among many others –  might be to equip our students to fight their good fight without them losing sight of the shared humanity and shared citizenship of their opponents. How can they maintain their righteous passion and drive, and at the same time hold on to a sense – despite it all – of a United States of America? How can our classrooms provide space for disagreement and struggle, yet make sure that opposition does not turn into hatred?

We would suggest that the Gun Control debate revolves around four fundamental questions that our students would benefit from exploring:

How do we stay safe?

What makes us American?

How can we be free?

How do we relate to our territory?

Our students who are demonstrating and campaigning for gun control probably do not need to even check their answers to these questions. Even without asking we might assume that it is clear to them that safety will come from gun control laws applied more consistently and broadly than ever before. They probably know that being American is about liberty and tolerance, and not about being the shame of the world due to its gun violence. They presumably wish to be free to go to school without armed guards (or teachers), and they know that only the US has such a crazy attitude to guns, and that those who do not live on the coasts think totally differently about this and that they are wrong.

So far so unsurprising. Where these four questions come in useful is in enabling the liberal learner to understand the “other side”. The “other side” of this gun debate would argue that one is safe from bad guys and from bad governments when one owns a gun of one’s own – the more powerful the better. They might argue that the Constitution is the sacred heart of what makes us American, all amendments included. Freedom for them would be meaningless if the State took away their right to armed self-defence, and the right to defend one’s territory – especially one’s home.

In assessing these two sets of answers (and of course there are many other possible combinations of answers), the student may emerge with two conclusions. First, “I totally disagree with them. They are totally wrong, and I shall do all I can to achieve what I believe,” but also: “I understand that we both share four fundamental concerns. This is what binds us. Our different attitudes to these shared concerns are what make us opponents in our shared endeavor to get better answers to these fundamental questions.” The latter conclusion can and should live together with the first.

Funnily enough, if you end up managing to draw your students into this conversation on gun control through these four questions, you might find your class is delightfully prepped to talk about Israel, too!

For the penultimate line of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, contains four words that map very neatly on to these four questions your students will have explored: To Be (safety) a People (national identity) Free In Our Land (territory) – Lihiyot Am Chofshi B’Artzenu – להיות עם חפשי בארצנו. Pretty much every aspect of Israel you might explore with your students are about the same four fundamental concerns – for safety, collective identity, freedom, and land – expressed through these same four questions.

For more about these Four Questions in Israel Education, take a look at Makom’s work with 4HQ.

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