Sunday, June 24, 2018

Israel at 70 from inside

Reporting from Israel- June 2018

I .Welcome to Jerusalem
There is nothing like the Jerusalem skyline, especially form the porch of Margalit Zadok, my 94 year old mother-in-law, who was the prime reason for our visit. From here, you see the Shrine of the Book ( housing Dead Sea and Bar Cochba artifacts), the Israel Museum, the Hebrew University, and in the distance, at the center, the tower of the YMCA and the King David Hotel, where my father-in-law his antiquities and jewelry store (Remember the scene in Exodus, where Paul Newman sits with Jill St. John on the deck of the hotel, overlooking the old city? Prince William and Katherine are there right now on their Royal visit. That's the King David)

At the same time, we celebrated our grandson's Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel- right at the corner of the Western and Southern Wall, the one you don't see in the news, the one that actually faces lower levels of the original wall of Herod.
While there has been much controversy about having a women's full service section at the plaza in front of the Western Wall ( a political football in the midst of Israeli secular- traditional- Orthodox-and ultra-Orthodox entities), the south section of the wall, next to Robinson's arch, one of the ancient gateways into the Temple Mount 2000 years ago, has been in use for some time now. Political football doesn't get played when there are no media cameras around.

II. Korea Loves Israel
On our first night on the town ( Jerusalem that is) we attended a Korean festival celebrating Jerusalem and Israel's 70th Anniversary

A traditional Korean dance, accompanied by the words of the Psalms.

I think we Jews have trouble accepting being loved. We have been beaten around over so many centuries that we don't know how to digest it when someone actually appreciates or admires us. 
It turns out that Koreans love us better than we love ourselves. They also want to know the secrets of our success and a best seller in Korea is known as " the Korean Talmud". Well, it's not really a Talmud, and doesn't present the tools for good pilpul ( hot, peppery arguments),but rather a collection of some Rabbinic discussions. However, you get the gist.

II. Apartheid State?

This is the mural on top of the canopy at the Old Train Station in Jerusalem. It shows a mix of people of different faiths and nations, in a  state of devotion.
It will be hard to find a more diverse society, yet holding together. Besides the expected mix of Ashkenazic and Sefardic Jews, and Arabs, the people mix is now Asian ( heavily from the Philippines and Thailand) as well as African . The Jewish mix is becoming increasingly diverse, so that besides Jews of African origin, I have come across, for example, East Asian Hasidic children with long peyos.
Ramadan just ended, and the restaurants were full of Muslim families celebrating the end of the fast. Religious and secular Jews, religious and secular Muslims ( women with and without hijab ), while the service staff cleaning up after them were white, blond -haired European males. That did not happen in Ol' Miss, nor in Jo'berg,SA, and certainly not in III Reich.
We had a chance to drive through Israeli Arab villages, such as Um al Fahm, filled with new mosques, with high-rising spires. Under historic Islam and Christianity, the respective Mosque or Cathedral had to be higher than the place of worship of the non-believer, and certainly much higher than the synagogue of the lowly Jew. In Israel, where we, as Jews have the run of the roost and are accused of running an apartheid state, our synagogues are still small and lowly. It's OK.

Here is an example of our new ethnic mix- Afro and Euro with tzitis hanging out. There is also a hipster-Orthodox trend ( reminiscent of my Orthodox Hippy friends of yore)-- side-locks down to the chest, fashionable hair trim, trendy clothes, tzitzit with a blue thread .
In this so-called "Apartheid State", traditional Jewish, traditional Muslim, and secular of indeterminate ethnicity mix freely at the popular Malha Mall. How can you tell the Jewish women from the Muslim, especially among the trendy? Both wrap a cloth of some kind around the head; both are signs of personal modesty. The Muslim version, a fashionable scarf, covers all the hair and the neck, leaving only the face visible. The Jewish version, also a fashionable scarf, is wrapped in a high turban ( that's the new look) , covering much, but not all of the hair. On the other hand, one's idea of modesty is a matter of judgement. The Muslim women covers all the hair and neck, the arms and legs, but wears tight-tight fitting designer jeans and blouses. The Jewish woman leaves the hair, neck and arms half-way exposed, but dresses in knee-length dresses, and half-length sleeves. 

III Still People of the Book?
Open air-annual book fair at the Old Train Station in Jerusalem

Israelis are all connected to the web, on the computers, tablets and smart-phones. Despite that, they still buy and read books. Print newspapers, as opposed to on-line news, are still hot, and more papers are published and read per capita in Israel than any where else.

IV. Remember the pictures of the old Kibbutz Pioneers clearing the fields of rocks by hand?

An robotic automated plant potting assembly line

Temperature and humidity controlled hot-houses

Assembly line planting
Tom-Turkeys as big as 60 pounds.

We went to visit our friends , Heyden and Nomi , at Mei-Ami. Mei-Ami was established as a border settlement , separating the Israeli Arab city of Umm al Fahm and Jordan ( Yes, from 1948 till 1967, there was no Palestine, only a Jordan, on the West Bank). What was a barren hilltop has become a very comfortable upscale enclave , while neighboring Umm al Fahm has upscale designer clothing stores, the best doctors and nurses in the area and plenty of mosques!
Agriculture is today a high-tech industry. Each hothouse is computer controlled for temperature and humidity, and each plant is individually water. Not a drop to waste.  Israeli Jews and Arabs work side by side, together with Thai guest workers( signs are in Hebrew and Thai).

V. What's happening on the other side?

On the Syrian-Israeli cease-fire line ( just 300 feet away from me) in the Golan Heights at Kuneitra.

We drove up to the UN observation post at Mt. Bental, which looks directly into Syrian Golan and Syria proper. The UN force is appropriately called UNDOF- UN Disengagement Observation Force ; in simple English, we can look, but we don't want to get involved. For that reason, the UN had abandoned its actual positions in the demilitarized zone between Israeli and Syria; after we were there, Assad's forces went in, the UN could do nothing and Israel will probably have to push them back again).At that moment, the Syrian sides had a momentary respite form bloodshed ( fighting broke out again a few days later), so there was nothing to observe.There were two UN observers, one from Norway and one from Finland,  and since, to borrow the title of a famous World War I book, Im Westen Nichts Neues, or in English , All Quiet in the Western Front,the soldiers were quite at ease till we arrived on the scene. At that point, they made haste to open their laptop and maps, and look busy. Ofra had a very telling conversation with them:
O-Tell me, on this side, it is all green and cultivated. On that side, it is all brown and undeveloped. Why do you think that is so?
UN-Well, on the Israeli side, they have these well organized Kibbutzes, that have developed this area. On that side, those are all family owned lands.
O- But ,just because they are owned by families, don't those families care and tend for their farms just as much. They must not be very smart.
UN- I guess you are right- They are not very smart.

There, you have it from an official source at the UN.

Back in 2005 , Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza strip. They intentionally left behind very valuable, high-production greenhouses.  These residents shortly thereafter destroyed the greenhouses, voted in Hamas, and have been crying ever since. Concrete that was sent to build hospitals was used for offensive tunnels into Israel and even toy kites donated by Japan for the children of Gaza have been turned into weapons of arson to destroy nature reserves in Israel.
A friend of ours posted this picture of a kite-bomb that had landed not far from her brother. Whoever launched it had hoped some child would pick it up out of curiosity and be crippled or killed by it.

They must not be very smart!

VI. Life Goes On

A colorful procession in Moroccan festive clothes for a Bat Mitzvah

The Mahane Yehudah Market by day

Spice shop, with its spectrum of colors, smells and tastes
The same Mahane Yehudah by night, transformed into the hotspot for the young

Shalva Institute, where children with special needs get personal attention to grow and develop
Israel is one of the happiest countries on earth , by the United Nations annual international happiness assessment, #11, ahead of the US at #18. Even the wealthy Emirates, Qataris and Saudis don't have as broad a smile.The neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan, keep a stiff upper lip, the "Occupied "Palestinians are sour but rank happier than "Unoccupied"  the Egyptians, Iraqis, Iranians, or Tunisians , even those Powerhouse Indians. Syrians and Yemenis are in a state of total depression.

Constant attacks, constant threats, missiles poised against them, legal charges against the prime minister, the high cost of defence, and the like. Everyone complains and protests, and then, they are happy. 

How do they do it?
This is what they sang at parties for the past 30 years:

Eyzo medinah, eyzo medinah
Eyzo medinah, meyuchedet beminah
What a country, what a country
What a country, one of a kind
The government presses, 
A country under pressure
What a country, what a country!
It continues as a lament of high prices, high taxes, corrupt officials, and concludes:
Despite the mess and the deficiencies
You're our country, for all the generations!
There is a hora dance set to this song, and everyone is happy as they sing it!

VI.The Changing Role of Women
Meet Naseeba Keesh Smara, a pioneering woman of the Druze in the village of Bukata, Golan Heights.
Naseeba runs a one-woman tourist attraction in the Druze village of Bukata-- home -made traditional Druze food served in her home for tour groups  ( she can now offer vegetarian and kosher options!).
Naseeba grew up in the main Druze city of Majd-el-Shams, which, under the Syrians, had become more-or-less secularized. She moved to the viallge of Bukata, where the residents were much more traditional in their dress and behavior, and where a " liberated" woman was out of place. Naseeba did not let that stop her- she set out to get her own driver's license, get career training, build a business, run an orchard, and get the local men and women to respect her. 
It is one of the signs of shifts occurring in the status of women throughout the Middle-East, whether Jews, Druze, Muslim or Christian.
The food is great!

VII.What makes for authentic culture
The attack against what is called " Cultural Appropriation" is an essential element of Fascism and Racism. Richard Wagner and his contemporaries decried Jewish musicians as incapable of comprehending the true soul of music.  Kipling was famous for his " East is East and West is West and N'er the Twain Shall Meet." Oswald Spengler, the great theoretician adored by Nazism, based his concept of history on the inherent incompatibility of civilizations. It is expressed in the German term, Kulturkampf, the War of Civilizations.
What is it to be a Jew, but to be the greatest appropriators of all cultures of all times, yet fashioning a distinctly Jewish mode. Babylonian-Egyptian-Canaanite-Persian-Greek-Roman-European-Islamic. 
Here it is, in music, for your enjoyment

Traditional Korean melody in honor of Israel 

Traditional Yemenite wedding song, Ayelet Chen, set to contemporary arrangement. The only traditional instrument is the empty oil can at the left. The Muslim rulers there forbade Jews from playing any musical instruments; so much for the vaunted tolerance of Islamic society..

Klezmer music, Jewish Jazz of Eastern Europe, produced styles and rhythms that shaped American music

An Ode to Vodka

A Japanese Choir from Osaka, singing a classic Chasidic melody.

Welcoming the Bat Mitzvah girl, Moroccan style

These girls had all of a half hour to learn the entire routine

Dancing on the street, Ben Yehudah Pedestrian Mall

Today's top-hit group in Israel- Static -playing in front of the Knesset

VIII. Lest We Forget
A Marker at the corner of King George and Jaffa, Jerusalem, marking the murder of civilians by Palestinian terrorists in 2001. That wave of bombings was preceded by a wave of brutal bus bombings in 1996. That was after Israel had signed an accord with the PLO  for the sake of Peace in 1993!  
The settlers of the Land of Israel suffered for many years, warfare and terror, to create a vibrant state, with the death and maiming of soldiers and civilians alike in the thousands.
My grandfather's grandfather was murdered in Safed in 1896, before the " Zionist invasion". There was a pogrom against the Jews of Hebron in 1926, before the struggle for Independence. Terror gangs invaded Israel before 1956 and before 1967, and planted bombs, hijacked buses, planes , and even ocean liners, in the years since.
 If Israelis today are reluctant to open the floodgates of Hamastan-Gaza ( which they don't occupy) and to grant full independence to the PLO-run West Bank-Palestine ( which they also, to the most part, don't 'occupy'), it is no wonder.

Shalom al Yisrael- Peace for Israel

Friday, June 1, 2018

Honoring Our Share in the Defense of Our Liberties -- Memorial Day 2018

Honoring Our Share in the Defense of Our Liberties --Memorial Day 2018  Over a century ago, in  1904, the Kishinev Pogrom shook the world. It shook us as Jews especially and shaped  the image we had of ourselves and the image the world had of us. It was epitomized by the great Hebrew poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik in Ir Ha Haregah-The City of Slaughter, here excerpted in translation:Come, now, and I will bring thee to their lairs  The privies, jakes and pigpens where the heirs  Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,  Concealed and cowering,—the sons of the Maccabees!  The seed of saints, the scions of the lions!  Who, crammed by scores in all the sanctuaries of their shame,  So sanctified My name!  It was the flight of mice they fled,  The scurrying of roaches was their flight;  They died like dogs, and they were dead!
We Jews died like dogs.This painful jab at our collective ego, together with the myth promulgated forty years later that, during the Shoah, we went as sheep to the slaughter, gave rise, in reaction, to the Shomer, the Haganah and Palmach, Etzl and Stern, and finally, the Israel Defense Forces.(Certainly, with the rise of the State of Israel, no one doubts the courage of the Jews of Israel. On the contrary, in an instance of “ You can’t win”, they are libeled with the accusation of baby killers, on a par with the accusation of “ Christ-killer”. Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate leader of the Palestinian Authority made a point of posing with a cartoon that made just that accusation).What created that image, that attitude, the we Jews, as a people, cowered in the corners?It is true that we Jews have been a generally peaceful, even pacific, as opposed to pacifistic, people. That is, that in the history of the last 1900 or so years, from the time of Bar Kochba, we have generally not focused on defense of our own self-interests through military force, not set out on territorial conquests for ourselves, nor have we adulated military might.However, this fact gave birth to the image, as I have heard it from Jews who have served in the armed forces of the US, that “Jews serve in the PX( the base exchange) ”. Or, as  my ex-Soviet friends told me, in WWII, it was commonly believed that” Jews served in Tashkent ( running away from the front, that is) .“ Considering, that especially in World War II, Jews served in numbers far beyond our share of the general population, this a very debasing attitude.It is true that we did not, as a collective whole, for many centuries, rise in our own defense. However, instead, we rose in defense of whatever country or ruler gave us shelter or protection.When faced with a great rebellion in Judea, the Roman Emperor Vespasian picked the best man qualified to put down the rebellion --an Alexandrian Jew (and nephew of the first great Jewish philosopher, Philo) Tiberius Julius Alexander-- to spearhead the Roman offensive in its effort to thwart the Jewish uprising.  Yes, even in hated Rome, Jews served in major military units and fielded their own Jewish divisions in different parts of the empire, up until after the rise of Christianity. It was only much later that the Emperor Justinian officially closed military service for all Jews in the mid sixth century when he imposed major oppressive laws in general against Jews, laws that continued in effect in Christian Europe till the start of the modern era.The Berbers of North Africa were led by a Queen, Damiya al Kahina, who held off the onslaught of Islam and the Arabs across North Africa. These were Jewish Berbers led by a Jewish queen- that was the claim made by Arab historians of the time.In Moslem Spain, in the 11th century. the king of Granada made Samuel Hanagid( The Prince) ibn Nagrilah his vizier and general of his armies. That a Jew or dhimmi, could hold such a high public office was rare.
Jewish memory recoils at the accounts of the Chmielnicki uprising of Cossacks against their Polish Overlords, which resulted in the extensive massacre of Jews. What has been forgotten is the account of the Jewish forces  that fought to defend their Polish neighbors at that same time.Indeed, when we speak of Polish Jews, we have the image of the Jew as a poor, pitiable, and hapless “nebich”.What, then, shall we make of Dov Baer (Berek) Joselewicz of Kowno, who initially served in the Polish militia to fight the Russian annexation of Poland and then received permission from the Polish hero of liberty, Kościuszko, to form an all-Jewish unit. (Kościuszko himself was a colonel in America’s Continental Army against the British.)  Five hundred men were eventually accepted and formed  a cavalry regiment and were allowed to keep their religious customs, including eating kosher food, abstaining from combat on Shabbat when possible, and keeping their beards. Joselewicz's unit was popularly known as "the Beardlings.” He was followed in this path for Polish liberty by his son, Josef. He was honored by a postage stamp as a "A Jewish Fighter for Polish Freedom", issued jointly by Polish and Israeli postal services.In the farthest regions of the Arabian peninsula, in Hadramaut ( Death Valley) there was a group of Jews, Habanni,  who went about fully armed and untouched by their Muslim neighbors. This was as different as day and night from the humiliation with which the Jews of Yemen were treated. When King Adbullah , the first King of Jordan, wanted  personal bodyguards, he counted on a family of Habbani Jews, not on  his fellow Hashemite Bedouin, for his personal security.Those of you who have family members who served in WWII in the Soviet armed forces are familiar with the array of medals that are proudly displayed on Victory Day to mark the collapse of Nazi Germany. The numbers of those who served and who were injured or killed far outweighed their proportion of the population .Some 500,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the Red Army during World War II. Some 120,000 were killed in combat and in the line of duty; the Germans murdered 80,000 as prisoners of war. More than 160,000, at all levels of command, earned citations, with over 150 designated as “Heroes of the Soviet Union”,the highest honor awarded to soldiers in the Red Army.
In all, about 1.5 million Jews fought in Allied armies, including 500,000 in the Red Army, 550,000 in the American army, 100,000 in the Polish army and 30,000 in the British army. That amounted to one out of every 10 Jews at that time, or almost the entire population of Jews of fighting age. ( Information culled from multiple sources and  Yad Vashem)Now, for our service to America.In colonial times, the Jewish population numbered some 2,500 and was scattered throughout the country. Yet in the Revolutionary War, many Jews were in General George Washington’s Continental Army.
Lt. Col. Solomon Bush, who was decorated for bravery in battle, was the highest ranking Jewish officer, his brother, Captain Lewis Bush was mortally wounded, and he himself received a near-fatal wound.  Francis Salvador was nicknamed the “Paul Revere of the South” because on July 1, 1776, he mounted his horse and rode 30 miles to warn the settlers that the Cherokee Indians, incited by the British, were attacking the frontier.Mordecai Sheftall acquired the reputation as the “great rebel” in fighting the British in the South.In the War of 1812, Jews were involved on land and sea in fighting the British. Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy served as a sailing master who directed the line of fire during battle. Levy is credited with bringing about the abolition of corporal punishment or flogging in the Navy. During his service in the Navy, he was court-marshaled and found guilty six times by anti-Semitic naval officers and, each time the verdict was overturned. He was finally promoted to the rank of commodore.  During the Civil War, six Jews  were recipients of the prestigious Medal of HonorIn World War I, there were more than 250,000 Jews who answered America’s call to action: over 3,500 were killed; over 12,000 were wounded; and they received over 1,100 decorations for bravery. The finest tribute paid to the Jewish fighting men in World War I was given by General John J. Pershing: “When the time came to serve their country under arms, no class of people served with more patriotism or with higher motives than the young Jews who volunteered or were drafted and went overseas with our other young Americans to fight the enemy.”During World War II, over 550,000 Jewish men and women responded to America’s call.  About 11,000 were killed; over 40,000 were wounded.  (Source: Seymour “Sy” Brody, of Delray Beach, FL,  author of “Jewish Heroes of America” )It continues to this day.Thousands have fought in the 16-year-long war that began with the 9/11 attacks, and currently, there are 15,000 American Jews serving on active duty and an additional 5,000 serving in the Guard and the Reserves. 56 Fallen Jewish heroes gave their lives in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (  as noted in “Yes, American Jews Do Serve” by Anna Selman, November 28, 2017 want to conclude with a word from my father, who wrote of Jewish courage in the aftermath of the Holocaust:“We consider a hero not to be the one who defeats the enemy, but the one who defeats himself. (Pirke Avot IV) . . .. We cannot allow ourselves, especially after these years, to define our values by those of the other nations. Nothing is as dangerous to a nation as to have its values dictated by its enemies. ... That which has come to us from Prussian Germany is neither good nor new. It is as ancient as Hellas.“. . .We cannot allow ourselves to adopt this way of thinking. We cannot allow ourselves to be overrun by murderous impulses. When it comes to our rights, our freedom, our life, we can take up arms as cannot other people.  But the anti-militarism is so deeply ingrained in the Jew, that even when he is in uniform, he is civilized, while the German, in uniform, was not civilized. Our inner drive is towards peace, and our dream is a very different dream than that of the Teutonic Knights.The greatest of all is Peace, and the Torah was given in order to promote peace in the world, as it says, “Derachecha darchei noam vchol neitivoteha shalom.” Her paths are pleasant and all her ways, Peace.”( Rabbi Dr William Weinberg, published essay 1947, Austria)We pray that we will see a world in which no one sends his babies and infants into live fire to provide dead bodies for the media, in which no one sacrifices his people’s food and medicine in order to build weapons of mass destruction. We also know that this will not happen by mere platitudes and  songs of ” Give Peace a chance” but only by the courage of the kinds of men and women whose memory we honor this weekend.Amen