Four Hatikvah Questions Explained


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We need to talk about Israel.

Too often it seems that our conversations about Israel are either too cerebral to be meaningful, or too passionate to be intelligent. We need to be able to bring both our heads and our hearts to bear. This is no easy task, as we face at least three challenges.

Tent or Tank?

How can we easily delineate the parameters of the tent, making it a Middle Eastern kind of tent – that has defined edges, but that is open to all sides?

open bedouin tent


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Insignificant Israel

August 8, 2012 by

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I was watching Sky News the other day. (I use it as a sleeping pill. I call it Sky Snooze.) They were going over the day’s newspapers. One guest annoyed me so much I nearly woke up when she said: “It’s lucky we have the Olympics, otherwise there’d be no news to write about!”

Clearly for her the military implosion of Syria, the financial implosion of Europe, the US elections, and Iranian nuclear ambitions are not worth writing about.

But she did get me thinking about one delightful aspect of the Olympics.

Israel doesn’t feature.

And I’m not talking about Munich memorials, I’m talking about the games themselves. Finally, happily, Israel has reached a news-worthy-ness that is proportionate to its size and global importance: pretty close to none.

Israel has won zero medals, along with the other 50-odd countries who haven’t won anything either. Not even any stinging defeats, heart-breaking injuries, or surprising disappointments: nada.

We’re not on the Olympic map.

It’s been so long since Israel has been internationally insignificant – I think we should enjoy it while it lasts. Perhaps this is the “normality” the early Zionists were dreaming of?

Israel as part of the Whole

February 2, 2012 by

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I don’t normally like Israeli songs that are written and performed in English.

I’m a great fan of Tamar Eisenman’s artistry, and of Asaf Avidan’s surreality, but what can I tell you – I’m an old-school Zionist. I’m big on our developing and Israeli-Jewish culture in Hebrew. You don’t need to – even I call me old-fashioned. I kind of think that if we can’t even create our own renewal of Jewish culture here in the Holy Land, then really what are we doing here?

But just now a great song came out by an Israeli woman who writes and performs in English. This one made it past my usual barriers. It’s one of those rare Israeli songs that while escaping the particularity of Hebrew, doesn’t feel the need to escape Israel and her issues. To Full Post

You taught us well

January 8, 2012 by

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Dear Los Angeles Jewish community who raised us,

First of all, I want to say thank you. Thank you for giving us opportunities, education and the chance to be whomever we want to be.

We grew up in a privileged environment, and we really do appreciate it. You taught us so much about the world, and for a long time whatever you said was all that mattered. You gave us a Jewish education through Jewish day school, camp, Hebrew school, temple and family Shabbat dinners that taught us how to braid challah, read Torah and love Israel.

Yes, we learned to love Israel. We went to Israel on exchange programs, youth-group trips, family vacations. We climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea and had unforgettable experiences at the Western Wall. We visited family, learned Hebrew and made friendships that will last a lifetime. We found our second home.

We went off to college and you told us to learn — learn to think critically, write a research paper, explore new interests, befriend people from other cultures. As much as you may think we don’t listen, you may be surprised to find that we aren’t sullen teenagers anymore. We listened. We are studying at 2 a.m., joining clubs, making new friends and, most of all, thinking critically. About everything. Including Israel.

Here is where we have reached a contradiction in our education. You see, you always told us to be the change we wish to see. To make a difference. To ask questions. To not stand idly by. Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof — seek justice, and pursue it. So we have. We were the leaders of the community service clubs, volunteered at SOVA, and lobbied our government to fight against discrimination and social injustice in the United States. To Full Post

Rabbi Daniel L. Lehmann, President of Hebrew College


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From my perspective, the “Come Home” videos suggest a profound indictment of Jewish education and identity formation in Israeli secular culture. To Full Post

Reflections on media coverage and your truth

September 5, 2011 by

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I didn’t really care all that much about Daphne Leef.

I knew that she’d been the person to plant the first tent on Rothschild Boulevard, and I knew that she was one of the people identified as a ‘leader’ of this amorphous yet ever-growing protest movement.

My understanding of the protests was that they had occurred spontaneously, and while its heart was consistent, its demands were constantly evolving. It was, and mostly continues to be, an open source kind of protest. As an open source protest, I was less concerned about the personal history of its leaders. I read various position papers from the various groups involved, and developed my own – positive – view of their general aims.

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Burning bonfire issues

May 22, 2011 by

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My most extraordinary religious experience took place on a mountain top in the north of Israel. The winding path to Mount Meron was lined with holy men, charlatans and peddlers pressing me to buy blessings, trinkets, food and drink. At the summit were hundreds of tents belonging to Sephardi families who camp out for a week before the festival; tied to each tent was a young lamb.

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A modern day Pesach story – free checking!

April 14, 2011 by

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For years, one terrible aspect of Israeli society has towered above the others as the most annoying, disgusting, frustrating and downright outrageous. I speak, dear reader, not of racial intolerance, not of environmental laziness, nor even of peace-process-disingenuity. No, the topic of this blog is much, much worse than any of these, which by comparison may be forgiven as mere… oversights. I speak here of bank charges.

“Free checking”. The phrase will be familiar and unremarkable to all American readers, and, appropriately translated, to British ones too. It works like this: I give the bank some of my money. As long as my account is in credit, I let the bank do whatever it likes with that money of mine: it can lend it to other people and charge them interest; it can invest it; it can stuff it under its mattress for all I care, but the key point is that it doesn’t charge me for that privilege. I give you my money, you don’t charge me for basic services.

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Zionism and Democracy

January 27, 2011 by

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In amongst the turbulence across the world this week, with a horrific suicide bombing attack in Russia, the ‘Palestine Papers’, Lebanese, Tunisian, and now Egyptian upheavals, I went parochial.  

In Britain many of my friends are mobilizing to protest the non-decision of the Board of Deputies. The Board of Deputies of Jews is kind of the parliament of Jews in Britain, and it refused to adopt a motion supporting “the Two State solution”. Petitions are being signed to urge the Board of Deputies to reconsider.

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I am a settler, the archetypical Other of Israeli evil.

September 13, 2010 by

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I am a “settler.” Because I am a settler, artists and members of the academic community – some of whom are my close friends – have decided to boycott my home. I am a settler, the archetypical Other of Israeli evil.

Otherness is the darling of people who hate. It allows people of every stripe, left, right and center, to dissociate from certain people as a dehumanized class without thought or regret, and to hate without pangs of guilt. Throughout history, Jews have played the role of Other. In the world community today, Israel itself often plays the role of Other. Now I am the Other. I am the Other because I am a “settler,” and in the eyes of some, that is what defines me.

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