Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Recognizing “Palestine”

The only good thing to come out of Brazil and Argentina’s recognition of “Palestine,” as an independent country, and Uruguay’s plan to do so, is that these absurd government decisions make certain recent Israeli government decisions, and then their reversal, look less stupid. (http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=198279) Recognizing “Palestine,” not only does nothing to bring peace to Israel and the Palestinians, but it pushes the prospect of peace further away. It rewards the Palestinians for decades of violence and terror. It disregards all the Palestinians’ obligations since the November 1947 UN resolution to create a Jewish and an Arab state. It is racist. It lends credence to the Palestinian and other Arab claims that Israel has no legitimacy. It helps give birth to yet another country at war with Israel. And it creates the farce of “Palestine” as one state whereas, in fact, an extremist terrorist group that is at war both with Israel and the PA government controls territory that encompasses almost half of the would be citizens of the state that they are recognizing. Since even before its own statehood, Israel has not known one day of peace. It has been subject to terror and war for more than six decades. Palestinian leaders have ignored international agreements and UN resolutions to try to bring peace to the region as if it were their national pastime. Anytime the Palestinians don’t feel that they are getting a fair shake, they resort to threats of violence and actual terror. Why would any country make such an absurd unilateral gesture as to recognize “Palestine” at all, much less in territory that remains disputed, and absolve the Palestinians of the responsibility to come to an accommodation with Israel and make peace once and for all? What incentive do the Palestinians have to join the world of nations if they get a free pass at shirking their responsibilities and aren’t expected to behave in a manner that is according to international standards? Making the Palestinians any less accountable to live in peace and civility as a member of the nations of the world is racist because it says that we just don’t expect normative civil and peaceful behavior from them. How are the Palestinians expected to rise to the occasion and behave as the rest of the nations of the world when there are those who simply don’t expect that of them? The Palestinians deserve better. Recognizing “Palestine” unilaterally according to the 1949 armistice lines is also racist against Jews and goes against the very nature of the 1947 UN Resolution 181 which calls upon Jews and Arabs to live together in peace and harmony, as residents of one another’s countries but citizens of their own. Is it possible that these nations which recognize “Palestine” now believe that Jews are expected to host an Arab minority (some 20%) in their country, but that Jews are forbidden to reside in a Palestinian Arab state, and that their presence is unjust and an alleged obstacle to peace? Why is the same not said of Israel providing full citizenship and equal rights to its Arab minority? Why the one sided racism and delegitimizing of Israel? As long as there has been a territorial dispute in the Middle East, the Arabs have sought to undermine Israel’s very legitimacy. The Palestinian (and others’) claims that there is no historical or religious connection between the People of Israel and the Land of Israel is not just wrong and offensive, it contradicts the very foundation of Judaism and Christianity, and is yet another lie upon which they are building their society, by discrediting ours, rather than by coming to terms with us as neighbors, and our right to be here. All but two (of 22) Arab countries are still in a state of war with Israel. This does not include other “inspired” Muslim countries like Iran, which also don’t recognize our right to exist, and threaten us with war, terrorism, boycotts, and one sided condemnation. What justification does any country have in serving as the midwife for the birth of another country that will not uphold international standards and that will be (remains) at war with a third? Assuming none of the above are really issues, what I’d love to know is which “Palestine” these esteemed countries are recognizing. Is it what’s often referred to as the West Bank which is still (nominally) ruled by the elected Palestinian Authority, whose president has long out served his term and not called for new elections? Is it Gaza which is ruled by terrorists that overthrew the PA in a bloody coup and now rule with an iron hand over nearly half of the Palestinians? Is their recognition of “Palestine” as a state anything more than a game of international make-believe in the hope that by putting a diplomatic band aid on a problem with global implications it will all just be OK? If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, this road is paved in abject stupidity. This decision, at this time, lends reason to think that Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are competing to be the leader of the banana republic of nations. Perhaps they would like to adopt the Palestinians as neighbors and see just how friendly their leaders are. Then again, they welcomed any number of Nazi war criminals, so Israel bashing, anti-Semitic terrorists would be right at home. Recognizing “Palestine” without holding the Palestinians accountable to the responsibilities that statehood brings, will not only do nothing to bring peace, but it will push peace further away, laying the foundation for more bloodshed rather than anything resembling a resolution.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Expressing our thanks to those who helped put out the fire

Expressing our thanks to those who helped put out the fire Now that the devastating Carmel Forest fire has been extinguished, in Israel must mourn the dead and rebuild, while reinforcing emergency preparedness for this and other sort of national disaster. It’s unusual for Israel not to be one of the first countries sending aid to others and, in this case, being on the receiving end. The international support is most noteworthy and appreciated. Those who love and support Israel, and who are grateful for the international support that Israel received, should take a minute to express their gratitude to the following countries’ embassies and leaders in Israel and around the world. With two exceptions, the list below is of the countries and bodies that provided direct aid, what they provided, and their respective embassies and consulates in Israel. If anyone would like to take time to compile a list of the contact information for the respective Presidents/Prime Ministers/Foreign Ministers/ and/or other government representatives and sent to me. I will post on my blog and distribute as well. Please feel free to send these updates to me at no1abba@gmail.com and copy me on your notes of gratitude to these countries for their support. Azerbaijan – 2 helicopters Bulgaria – 1 plane and 92 firefighters Croatia – 1 plane, 8 firefighters and fire repression materials Cyprus – 1 plane and 1 helicopter Egypt – fire repression materials France – 5 planes and fire repression materials Germany – 1 plane, 7 experts in firefighting and fire repression materials Greece – 7 planes, 34 firefighters and fire repression materials Holland – 5 experts in firefighting Italy – 1 plane and fire repression materials Jordan – 3 truckloads of firefighting equipment and materials Palestinian Authority – 21 firefighters and 3 fire engines Russia – 3 planes and 22 experts in firefighting Spain – 5 planes Switzerland – 1 plane, 3 helicopters and a team of 14 Turkey – 2 planes UK – 2 helicopters US – 5 planes, 11 experts in firefighting and fire repression materials Azerbaijan does not maintain an embassy in Israel. Please contact the: Executive Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan: Republic of Azerbaijan, Baku city, AZ1066, Istiglaliyyat street, 19, "The President Palace" Fax: (0099412) 492 35 43, 492 06 25 E-mail: office@pa.gov.az Bulgarian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Bulgarian Embassy in Tel-Aviv, Israel send edits 21 Leonardo Da-Vinchi Str. Tel Aviv 64733, Israel City: Tel Aviv Phone: (00972 3) 696 13 61 Fax: (00972 3) 696 14 30 Email: telaviv@mfa.bg Croatian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of the Republic of Croatia in Tel-Aviv, Israel send edits Canion Ramat Aviv 40 Einstein St. Tel Aviv 69101 Israel City: Tel Aviv Phone: 00972 (0)3 643 8654 00972 (0)3 643 8655 Fax: 00972 (0)3 643 8503 Email: croemb.israel@mvpei.hr Office Hours: Working hours: Monday-Friday 9.00-17.00 Working hours of Consular Section (with clients)/phone: 00972 (0)3 641 3508/: Monday-Friday 10.00-14.00 Croatian Consulate in Jerusalem, Israel Consulate of the Republic of Croatia in Jerusalem, Israel send edits Shaarei Ha'ir Building, 5th Floor 216 Yaffo Street Jerusalem 94 383, Israel City: Jerusalem Phone: +972 (0) 77 777 92 77 Direct No. +972 (0) 50 777 45 00 Fax: +972 (0) 77 777 92 05 Email: honorary@consul-croatia.com Cypriot Embassy in Tel-Aviv, Israel Embassy of Cyprus in Tel-Aviv, Israel send edits 50, Dizengoff Str. Top Tower 14th Floor 64332 City: Tel-Aviv Phone: + 972 3 5250212, 6292546, 6297033 (Amb.), + 972 9 9500948 (Res.) Fax: + 972 3 6290535 Email: tel_avivembassy@mfa.gov.cy Office Hours: Ambassador: H.E. Mr. George Zodiates Office hours: 08:00 15:30 (Mon. Fr.) Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of Egypt in Israel 54 BAZEL Street, City: Tel Aviv Phone: (009723) 5464151-5464152 Fax: (009723) 5441615 Prime Minister of Egypt - primemin@idsc.gov.eg French Embassy in Tel-Aviv, Israel Embassy of France in Tel-Aviv, Israel 112 Promenade Herbert Samuel BP 3480 - 63572 Tel Aviv City: Tel-Aviv Phone: [972] (3) 520 83 00 Fax: [972] (3) 520 83 40 Web Site: http://www.ambafrance-il.org Email: diplomatie@ambafrance-il.org French Consulate in Jerusalem, Israel Consulate General of France in Jerusalem, Israel 5 rue Paul Emile Botta PO box 182 91001 Jerusalem City: Jerusalem Phone: [972] (2) 629 85 00 Fax: [972] (2) 629 85 01 / 629 85 02 Web Site: http://www.consulfrance-jerusalem.org Email: diplomat@france-jeru.org German Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of Germany in Tel Aviv, Israel 3, Daniel Frisch St. 19. Stock 64731 Tel Aviv Israel City: Tel Aviv Phone: 03-6931 313 / (00972 3) 693 13 12 Fax: 03-6969 217 Web Site: http://www.tel-aviv.diplo.de Email: ger_emb@mail.netvision.net.il Office Hours: Monday through Thursday: 8:00 - 16:00 Friday and Holidays: 8:00 - 12:30 Greek Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of Greece in Tel Aviv, Israel Tower Building 3 Daniel Frisch St. 16th floor 64731 City: Tel Aviv Phone: (009723) 6953060 or 609 4981 or 6951088 Fax: (009723)6951329 Email: gremil@netvision.net.il Greek Consulate in Jerusalem, Israel Consulate General of Greece in Jerusalem send edits 31 Rachel Immenu, Katamon, Jerusalem City: Jerusalem Phone: (009722) 5619583, 5619584, 5828316 Fax: 5610325, 5325392 Email: greconje@netvision.net.il Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of Italy in Tel Aviv, Israel send edits Trade Tower Building 25 Hamered Street 21 City: Tel Aviv Phone: 972 3 510 4004 Fax: 972 3 510 0235 Web Site: http://www.ambtelaviv.esteri.it Email: stampa.telaviv@esteri.it Jordanian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of Jordan in Tel Aviv, Israel send edits 14, Rehov Abba hillel Silver Ramat Gan 009723 City: Tel Aviv Phone: 9-723-751-7722 Fax: 9-723-751-7712 Email: jordan1@barak.net.il Office Hours: Monday - Thursday:9:00-3:00 Sunday:9:00-3:00 The Palestinian Authority does not maintain any diplomatic office in Israel and initial searches did not find any address for contacts of the President or Prime Minister in Ramallah. Please contact the: Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations 115 East 65th Street New York, N.Y. 10065 Telephone: (212) 288-8500 Telefax: (212) 517-2377 e-mail: palestine@un.int Spanish Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of Spain in Tel Aviv, Israel send edits Dubnov Tower, 3 Rehov Daniel Frisch, Floor 16 Tel-Aviv 64731 City: Tel Aviv Phone: +972-3-6965210/8/9 Fax: +972-3 -6952505/6965217 Email: embespil@mail.mae.es Spanish Consulate in Jerusalem, Israel Spanish Consulate General in Israel send edits Ramban, 53 City: Jerusalem Phone: (+972) 2 563 34 73 Fax: (+972) 2 563 20 59 Email: conspjer@mail.mae.es Swiss Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of Switzerland in Tel Aviv, Israel send edits 228 Hayarkon St. Tel Aviv 63405 City: Tel Aviv Phone: 03 546 44 55 Fax: 03 546 44 08 Email: vertretung@tel.rep.admin.ch Office Hours: 9am - 11am Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of Turkey in Israel send edits Rehov Ben Yehuda 1 City: Tel Aviv Phone: +972-3 517-1731 / +972-3 517-6157 Fax: +972-3 517-6303 Back to Top of the Page Turkish Consulate in Jerusalem, Israel Consulate of Turkey in Israel send edits City: Jerusalem Phone: (+972-2 532)-1087 / 2396 / 3310 Fax: +972-2 582-0214 Email: turkudus@netvision.net.il British Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel British Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel send edits 192 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv 63405 Consular Section 1 Ben Yehuda Street Migdalor Building, 6th Floor Tel Aviv 63801 City: Tel Aviv Phone: +972 (0)3 510 0166 Fax: + 972 (0)3 725 1222 Web Site: http://www.britemb.org.il/ Email: webmaster.telaviv@fco.gov.uk Office Hours: Monday - Thursday 08:00 - 13:00 Friday 08:00-12:30 American Consulate in Jerusalem, Israel Consulate General of United States in Jerusalem, Jerusalem 18 Agron Road Jerusalem 94190 City: Jerusalem Phone: +972.2.622.7230 Fax: +972.2.625.9270 Web Site: http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov Email: UsConGenJerusalem@state.gov Office Hours: 08.00-16.30 American Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel Embassy of United States in Tel Aviv, Israel 71 Hayarkon Street Tel Aviv Israel City: Tel Aviv Phone: (+972) 3-519-7575 Fax: (+972) 3-517-3227 Web Site: http://telaviv.usembassy.gov Email: nivtelaviv@state.gov Office Hours: 08.00-16.30

Friday, October 22, 2010

Buy My Vote

Buy My Vote Jonathan Feldstein No1abba@gmail.com http://jonathanfeldstein.blogspot.com OK, not really. My vote is not for sale. Seriously. Unless the offer is one that’s just too good to refuse. No, I’m just joking. Seriously. That was a joke. Really. But you can help me decide on whom to vote for. I was very pleased to get my absentee ballot this week and I am planning to exercise my right to vote for NJ’s Ninth District federal election. Since I am 18 I have always voted in local national elections, in New Jersey, and for a time in Georgia. This has continued since I moved to Israel in 2004, and the next election is just around the corner. But I am not sure who to vote for. Having lived in the Ninth District for a dozen years, I am familiar local issues and with incumbent Congressman Steve Rothman’s record, particularly on things that matter to me the most. I also generally have a sense that Congressman Rothman is a decent and honest person. That makes a lot of difference. In the last few years, I am less aware of his voting record and particularly not aware of how he lines up with the current Obama Administration and its’ policies. Candidly, I am not a fan of many of the Administration’s policies, and I am wondering if as a Democrat, Congressman Rothman has been fully supportive of the party line, whether his voting record has differed with that of the Administration’s policies and expectations, if he’s differed with Obama, on what, and how much of a vocal advocate he’s been standing up against Administration policies with which he disagrees adamantly, if any. My vote, and my interests, are based on many things, the economy, security, diplomacy, education, taxes, social security, etc. But I’d be a liar if I were not up front that among the top of my agenda is how any candidate stands, and votes, vis a vis Israel and the Middle East, and whether that candidate is sophisticated enough to see the big picture. Knee jerk support for Israel is fine and something I’d never dismiss. To the contrary, any candidate anywhere recognizing that Israel is the only democracy in the entire Middle East, and America’s best ally here, if not in the world, wins my respect. However, noting here is black and white and I want a candidate who understands the nuance and cultural issues that make this region unique. Visiting Rothman’s Foreign Policy page, http://www.rothman.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=924&Itemid=1, it’s interesting to see that eight of the first ten items relate to Israel and the Middle East and Rothman’s position is strong. Yet, I recall that it wasn’t until former NY Mayor Ed Koch called NY Senator Schumer on the carpet for not speaking up against the Obama Administration’s incessant pushing Israel into a corner, and consequently pushing Israel and the Palestinians further from peace by raising the bar on issues that need to be negotiated, that Senate leader Schumer actually took a stand. What’s Congressman Rothman been doing these past months and how has he, a long time and well known supporter of Israel, stood against the Obama Administration’s unprecedented and one sided pushing of Israel? Rothman’s Republican opponent is Michael Agosta, a man I have never heard of until my ballot arrived. So I checked him out a bit. http://www.agostaforcongress.com . I read his policies, his background, and I believe I have a sense of what motivates him and that he’d be a fine representative of mine in Congress. He lacks Rothman’s 14 years of experience, but then if that were an impediment for anyone advancing professionally, I’d still be stocking shelves in a NJ hardware store. Israel is not the only important issue. Taxes are important, particularly the federal estate tax. I know firsthand, from sending a not insignificant check to the government after my mother died. Repealing the tax cuts that have been phased in over the past decade is a very bad idea. Similarly, the overall global economy is important and the steadily declining value of the dollar is very bad. That’s tied to many things, including diplomacy, and I want an elected official who will help the US stand strong and proud, not in anyone else’s face unnecessarily, but not appeasing others, weak or showing cowardice. The balance between civil rights and security impacts us all because threats to Americans are bad for the world. Iran must be stopped dead in its tracks of building nuclear weapons, by any means necessary. It is the 11th hour. Rothman brings experience, seniority and an understanding of the issues. But just by virtue of being a democrat, he’s tied to a Presidential Administration that I have become less and less a fan of, and if I vote for him, in a way that’s a vote for the Obama Administration, especially if Rothman has not stood up and differentiated himself from Obama on major policy differences, if there are any. Agosta seems to be a salt of the earth guy whose policies are appealing and who, if I support, also sends a clear message to the Administration that I don’t mind sending. But I don’t want to send a message just for the sake of sending a message and am as yet undecided. I recognize that all polls indicate sweeping change in Congress next month, not the kind of change that Obama campaigned on for sure. So maybe my vote won’t make any real difference. Voting to send a republican to Congress in a district that has been democratic for a generation or more may break the democratic control of Congress, and it also may create legislative deadlock. Or, it may bring the Obama Administration more toward the center and actually start to work with the other side of the aisle once the “other side” is much bigger than his side. This is something he campaigned on two years ago but has yet to deliver on that in any significant way. I know enough to ask these and other questions, but I can’t say for sure what the answers are. To that end, I invite and welcome the feedback of readers who have a serious thought on this and the issues I mentioned, and any others that may be relevant. I will weigh serious input seriously. I’d especially welcome feedback from people who live in the district. This will help in my decision making, and also be interesting to see the nature and number of responses. Please send responses to no1abba@gmail.com, or via my blog at http://jonathanfeldstein.blogspot.com. Facebook works too. There’s bound to be someone reading this whose inclination it will be to say that because I no longer live in the district, or in the US for that matter, I shouldn’t vote. I reject that categorically. Not only do I have the Constitutional right to vote, any suggestion that I don’t because I live overseas opens up a huge can of worms about creating second class citizens in any number of categories and violates the rights of all of us. I always have been, and remain, a proud and loyal American. I have worked and paid state and federal income taxes for three decades. I’d like to be able to have the benefit of Social Security which I have paid into for far more than the 40 quarters needed. Not only am I a citizen with the RIGHT to vote, I am an ongoing shareholder with a vested interest in the interest in the outcome of every election and their results. So, even if you may think it, please don’t tell me I don’t have the right to exercise my vote. I wish both candidates well. I invite them to visit my home in Israel when they come for a tour to meet with myself and other constituents, to discuss issues and their respective policies, and to influence my vote and my confidence in them as my elected leader in the next election.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Farce Behind the Freeze

Formal face to face peace talks have begun, again, between Israel and the Palestinians and with all history, skepticism, and cynicism aside, I know that I share the hope of the overwhelming majority of Israelis that they will succeed. Yet, even before the talks began this week, the Palestinians were looking for excuses to run away from the table. Claiming that ending Israel’s ten month construction freeze in the disputed West Bank makes it impossible to continue talks, predetermining the outcome of the talks before they had started, the Palestinians entered talks with one foot out the door. But talk of the construction in these Jewish communities is a red herring. It’s a farce that has, and should have, no bearing on the talks, even though the freeze itself was a magnanimous and unprecedented gesture to the Palestinians to get them to enter direct negotiations to begin with. That the Palestinians waited until now, it’s even possible to imagine that they waited to sit down to begin talks deliberately in order to use this excuse as a way to end the talks three weeks later. As much as the Israeli position was magnanimous and unprecedented, the Palestinian position is intransigent and obstructive. Before addressing that, it’s important to note that much of the reason why the Palestinians took and maintain their position is due to President Obama's making “settlement” construction the issue that he did. Once he did that, the Palestinians could not be less “Palestinians than the President” and they adopted, and ran with, this hard line and unprecedented position just as a pre-condition to sit to negotiate face to face. The simple reality is that President Obama provided the ladder and pushed Abbas up the tallest tree in Palestine, then pulled away the ladder and left no way for him to climb down. It would be honest and useful if the President acknowledged such to Abbas, even privately, and made it clear that he was wrong. Since then, one Palestinian spokesman after another continue the mantra that it’s “impossible” to negotiate while settlements are being built, forget the fact that it’s Palestinians who do most of the construction and make a livelihood in building these communities, or the fact that it’s just not true. This is another excuse for their not negotiating in good faith, and makes one wonder seriously whether they in fact want an end to the war, violence, and disputes that have served as an impediment to their goal of a Palestinian state, or not. The reality is that until Netanyahu became Prime Minister in 2009, the Palestinians HAVE negotiated with Israel at the highest levels, on a regular and ongoing basis, all the while settlement construction continued. Not only is it not “impossible” to do so, but it’s been done! Underscoring this, an right leaning Israeli group recently bemoaned that they missed Prime Minister Olmert, never a fan of the Israeli right, as under Olmert, there was far more “settlement” construction than in Netanyahu’s tenure. Not only did negotiations take place, refuting Palestinian claims that these talks are “impossible,” but Israel demonstrated that settlements are not an obstacle to peace by unilaterally destroying dozens and evacuating nearly 10,000 of their residents. It is a precedent that was established in 2005 and one that is expected to be repeated under a final agreement with the Palestinians. Denying this reality is like denying that the Jewish people have a legitimate, historical and religious right to Israel that dates back thousands of years even before King David built Jerusalem 3000 years ago. And if the Palestinians weren’t negotiating peace and talking about a resolution of the conflict (which even Abbas admits took place because he said that Olmert’s offers and the Palestinian’s demands left gaps that were still too wide), then Prime Minister Olmert, President Abbas, Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni, and Ahmed Qureia had one of the highest level, and least publicized, book clubs in the world. Netanyahu is correct. One cannot set conditions of terms that predispose the outcome and an agreement on all the issues just to sit down and negotiate. Publically, both Netanyahu’s and Abbas’ remarks were conciliatory. One expects that the thawing of the building freeze notwithstanding, there will be many issues on which the sides differ. But the question is whether the parties want to charter a new path, or revert to historical problems. Most Israelis believe that Netanyahu is sincere about his desire to make peace, yet most Israelis do not believe that about Abbas, or his ability to do so. Historically, September is not an auspicious month in which to begin peace talks based on the September 13 anniversary of the ultimate failure of the signing of the Oslo agreements and mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel (1994), and the failure of the Clinton hosted Camp David negotiations in 2000 that precipitated the Second Intifada leaving thousands of Israelis killed and injured. Other anniversaries of events when moderation was missing – Black September (1970) when the PLO threatened the Jordanian monarchy and were driven out of Jordan in a bloody massacre, and albeit while not directly connected to the Palestinians, the September 11 (2001) attack on the United States, carried out by Muslim extremists, as a brazen act of terror and intolerance. There’s no more vivid reminder of that than the September 5 anniversary of the kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes at the now infamous Munich Olympics (1972), not only of the terror but in the turning on its head of an international event meant to be about good will and competition as another forum for hate, intolerance and anti-Semitism. This week’s murder of four more Israelis continues that trend. Yet in spite of it all, and the historical odds against peace, one hopes that 2010 will bring a more positive outcome and that the death and bloodshed will end once and for all.

Friday, July 2, 2010

On Five Year Old Birthdays and Anniversaries

My soon to be five year old son is the only member of our family with a summer birthday and one of those kids whose school birthday celebration will be bunched up with all other summer birthday kids. He had a hard time understanding that his party last Friday did not make him five years old, so we’ll make another party in two months when he really turns five. Hopefully he won’t feel short changed in his birthday celebrations. As we sat in his class enjoying the birthday rituals, I couldn’t help but think that in one gigantic way, it was hardly a day for celebration. Because that same day, June 25, marked the fourth anniversary of the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestinian terrorists. On June 25, Gilad Shalit began his fifth year in captivity with not so much as a letter from home, a visit from the Red Cross or representative of any international body, while existing in conditions far less humane than those under which Israel holds captured Palestinian terrorists--who enjoy cable TV, distance learning, air conditioning and visits from the Red Cross, families and friends. Hopefully Gilad Shalit will come home soon. Very soon. But until then, I will connect his captivity with my son’s growing up. I will now measure Gilad's imprisonment by my own son’s growth, vividly aware of his transition from infant to little boy, of his starting to do things for himself and experience all that life encompasses in five years. I am now more aware of the things Gilad has lost. Of the familial sanctuary stolen from him on the day of his abduction. The week of Gilad Shalit's kidnapping also marks the fifth anniversary of what was then an unrelated event, but has since become more related and relevant. Just days before his abduction, the International Red Cross (ICRC) finally undid a great historical injustice by accepting Magen David Adom as Israel’s member. (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Health/MDAadmitted.html) These coterminous events are connected because the Red Cross is mandated to enforce that prisoners worldwide be held under universally acceptable humane conditions. But since then, the Red Cross has held Israel to selective and inconsistent standards. While stating that it cares deeply about Shalit and his well being, http://www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/israel-shalit-interview-230610, it has been unsuccessful and inept at making any progress on Gilad’s condition. It has never visited him. It has not been able to assess under what conditions he’s being held or his medical condition. It can’t even deliver a letter to him from his family. Yet, while they make claims that they care, on the Red Cross’ own web site under “The ICRC in Israel and the occupied territories” (http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/israel!Open), a sample of some 30 articles and postings display a grossly imbalanced view of their position. Shockingly, of 30 postings, 20 are pro-Palestinian and lay out the troubles of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, positing or inferring that Israel is the sole cause of their troubles. Five postings present either a pro-Israel perspective, or one that at least makes Israel and Israelis look human. The remaining five can generously be described as neutral, except to the extent that of the Palestinians’ troubles noted, it can be inferred from the predominance of the majority of the postings, are Israel’s fault too. Magnifying this imbalance, the tab for “Israel” on the Red Cross web site opens to “Israel and the occupied territories.” Israel can’t even get its own tab, much less a balanced view. And the tab for “Palestine” opens to…you guessed it: “Israel and the occupied territories.” Yet, in neither is there mention of Israel's suffering through a decade of rocket's being fired at nearly 20% its population within 30 minutes of Gaza’s border. Or of Israel's anguish as a result of Palestinian terrorism in the past decade, and since its founding. There’s no consideration of post traumatic stress or the extent to which Israel has had to go to ensure the safety of its citizens. Oh… and did you see any Red Cross condemnation of Hamas, its bloody and illegitimate coup, and the cruel, militant terror state to which Gazans have been subjected under Islamic domination, purging fellow Arab Moslems and Christians? Of course not. Why would the Red Cross document or publicize Hamas’ inhumane treatment of fellow Arabs, let alone their terrorizing and murdering Israelis. While the Red Cross 'claims' they care about Gilad, its deputy head in “Israel and the occupied territories” absolves Hamas of all responsibility because, “Hamas is a non-state party to the conflict. As such, it is not obligated to allow family or Red Cross visits.” http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/pierre-dorbes-of-the-red-cross-has-hamas-agreed-to-anything-you-asked-for-regarding-gilad-shalit-1.297575 These sad facts hardly build one's confidence when the Red Cross’ head of operations for the Middle East states, “We are still working just as hard as we did when Gilad Shalit was first captured.” The Red Cross has a contemptible double standard: To uphold human rights for Gazans, even Hamas and other terrorists, and blame Israel for all their troubles, while making excuses to justify why they have not done anything tangible for Gilad Shalit. If I were the head of the Red Cross, I’d show up in Gaza and begin a public hunger strike until I were allowed to visit Gilad with a doctor, speak with him openly, and deliver a letter from his parents. That’s assuming the head of the Red Cross really cares. In thirteen years, my son will don the uniform of the IDF to defend us from Hamas and any existential challenges we may face. I am not holding my breath that we’ll have peace by then. As Gilad Shalit’s parents have begun a march (http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=179725) to secure their son’s freedom, as a parent of the little boy who will one day put his life on the line to defend the people and State of Israel, I pray that this will be Gilad’s last year in captivity and that he will be home with them soon. Until then, maybe the Red Cross will do something more than pay lip service to Gilad’s cause.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Turkish Acts of War, Genocide, Tourism and Hypocrisy

There’s no sinking the swirling issue of so called “humanitarian activists” sending a flotilla of ships toward Israel last month with the alleged, and their now disproven, goal of breaking Israelis blockade of the Hamas (terrorist) controlled territory; or of Israel’s response, which some say was poorly planned and/or executed leaving several Israeli soldiers with severe injuries and nine Turks on board the now infamous Mavi Marmara dead. And if this is not enough, such other terrorist controlled states as Lebanon and Iran are now sending their own ships to attempt to break the blockade, er, bring “humanitarian supplies” to their terrorist brethren in Gaza. No, that’s not to say that all Iranians, Lebanese or Gazans are terrorists. Of course not. Nor is it to say that there are not legitimate humanitarian needs in Gaza, many of which are met by Israel’s trucking in by scores of trucks a day, thousands of tons of real humanitarian supplies. But it is incontrovertible that Iran is controlled by an Islamic terrorist regime that stole a national election a year ago and continues to threaten Israel’s very existence. It is incontrovertible that Lebanon is controlled to a large extent (and almost unilaterally in the south) by an Iranian proxy in Hezbollah. And it is incontrovertible that Gazans live under the terrorist heel of Hamas which overthrew the elected Palestinian Authority government that once controlled the area in a violent and bloody coup, murdering far more of their brothers than there were dead “humanitarians” on the Mavi Marmara. This is the reason for the blockade of Gaza to begin with. Oh, and that for the better part of a decade Hamas backed terrorists fired thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and cities, and that Hamas backed terrorists kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, now entering his fifth year in captivity without as much as a visit from the Red Cross or ability to correspond with his family forget other breaches of international conventions as to the treating of captives. On the day of Israeli’s boarding, being violently attacked by, and eventually defeating the terrorists aboard the Mavi Marmara, I was in Atlanta at a convention of some 5000 evangelical Christians whose love and support for Israel is almost as unilateral as the hate emanating from Iran, Lebanon, Gaza, Turkey and many other ports. Even before the details of the flotilla incident became apparent, support for Israel was uncontested. I received countless prayers for the well being of Israel, blessings for its people and soldiers, and expressions of unconditional love. Most did not know yet that Israel had offered to let the ships dock in Ashdod and transfer humanitarian supplies directly to Gaza. Most did not know yet that the organizers refused to carry a letter to Gilad Shalit from his family. Most did not know yet that the “passengers” were armed mercenaries who videotaped their own plotting to attack Israeli soldiers. Most did not know yet that Israel already sends scores of truck loads of humanitarian aid into Gaza, daily. Most did not know that Israel regularly transports tens of Gazan patients to Israeli hospitals for medical care, daily. While the world rushed to blame Israel before the facts were in, tripping over one another to see who lies and misrepresentations could be more egregious and baseless, and there were countless political and civic leaders, media personalities, and fringe groups who immediately questioned the planning, intelligence, implementation and the outcome of the operation, I felt stranded in a sea of love and support. The participants of the Foursquare Ministries Convention knew instinctively which side was right and did not equivocate. Israel has set up a commission to investigate, and some facts are still being discovered. However, the simple facts are that the Turks basically committed an act of war, nine armed mercenaries were killed by soldiers who were defending themselves, and the Turks had the hubris to demand an apology. Then, if that were not enough, they threatened that if Israel doesn’t apologize it will harm Israeli Turkish relations, and that the Turks will cancel lucrative military contracts. Let’s think about this a moment. Do we really want the Turks (read Iran-west) armed with superior Israeli military equipment and technology anyway? This is like an abusive husband beating his wife so badly that she goes to the hospital, and then he “visits” her to say that if she apologizes for making him beat her, he’ll take her back. She apologizes, and then, as if to make up, buys him a new Leatherman and aluminum baseball bat as a gift. What she should do is to spit in the abusive husband’s face and say good riddance. How do you say good riddance in Turkish? Kurdistan? Armenian genocide? Cyprus? Recently, on the same day, underscoring that there’s no sinking this story, the Jerusalem Post reported three stories related to Turkey, among others, that underscored the irony and hypocrisy of the situation. Turkish Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan is noted as saying that Turkey’s problems are with the Israeli government, not the Israeli people. That’s comforting. One is left to the limits of his imagination as to how the Turks would behave if they really didn’t like us as a people. [“Our problem is with the Israeli Government” (http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=178891)] Two pages later, “The sound of silence: Will Turkey become Like Iran for Tourists?” (http://new.jpost.com/Travel/TravelNews/Article.aspx?id=178922) we are told that Israeli tourism to Turkey has plummeted and is now all but dead. Of course Israelis don’t have a problem with Turkey, its people, or its lovely resorts, only with its budding terrorist government as part of the widening Islamist Iranian axis of those who want to destroy Israel. But the Iranians probably only really MEAN that they want to destroy our government, not the people, State or Land of Israel. Note my sigh of relief. Maybe we should buy them some rocket launchers and kiss and make up. But after reading about the friendly intentions of Turkey’s leaders toward me as an Israeli, and being wooed by the beautiful empty resorts being peddled by Turkish tourism professionals, I read with horror a report that “Turkish Jets Raid Northern Iraq” (http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=178896). How could the peace loving Turks do such a thing? If it were true, the world would surely have an international uproar at least as loud as that leveled at Israel. If it were true, then the world would surely call for an international inquiry. I shudder to think that respectable world media would report on something false, and am comforted in knowing that if the Turks committed such a grave hostility that the world outcry would be loud and unrelenting. Just like the outcry of Turkey’s genocide against the Armenians, its violent and bloody war on Cyprus, or Turkish hospitality and international relations as depicted in the movie “Midnight Express.” Its time to stop giving the Turks a pass and call them on the carpet. The behavior of the Turkish government is hostile and belligerent, and its’ cozying up to Iran is scary, especially to Europe to which Turkey still longs to be associated. Maybe that’s why the Turks can’t find anyone home when knocking on the EU’s door. Turkey has elections coming up and one can only hope that an appropriate barrage of media, formal and social, ostracizing the Turkish government will sway the public to elect new leaders who are in line with the Turkish tradition of secularism and western values, and reject the rising Islamist alliance and extremism. And let us hope that the Turkish army, long known to be a bastion of that secularism, will be able to withstand challenges that one can rightly fear might end up like when their Iranian patrons stole an election in Iran a year ago.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A-Positive Family Tradition

Being the oldest of three sons, whether by design or de facto, one of my roles in my family structure was to “break in my parents” as I used to say. In so many ways, being the oldest comes with unique opportunities, but also challenges. Things that my brothers got away with I’d never have gotten away with, yet my growth and milestones were much more significant because except for the PhD, many of the significant things were ones I did first. The dynamic is the same in my own family where my oldest has complained for years that it’s not fair how much her siblings get away with as compared to her. She’s definitely played the role of breaking us in as parents, as I did decades earlier. However, she also has her milestones measured as benchmarks not just in her own life but in the entire extended family dynamic. She’s been the first to do many things. The most noteworthy of late are her being called up to the army, and on the verge of getting her drivers license. Old hat for anyone who’s done this before, but headline news for us, her siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. All this was trumped, in my mind at least, by my daughter being the first to carry on an important family tradition. Like my mother, and myself, for whom donating blood was/is an imperative and privilege, this week I took my daughter to donate blood for the first time. She was nervous before, and a little pale and dizzy afterward. But as she said, “it’s scary to think about before you’ve ever done it, but once you do it and see that it doesn’t hurt, it’s no problem.” For much of her adult life, my mother was a regular blood donor. She had the most rare blood type and understood how important it was to donate. When she’d hear about a car accident or other disaster locally, she’d go to the hospital to donate without being asked. When someone was in need of her type specific blood and she’d get a call, she’d go to donate at any hour of the day or night. Once, a relative by marriage who shared the same blood type was having surgery and my mother camped out at the hospital in case he needed her blood. My mother instilled the importance of donating blood in me and, when she was no longer able to donate for health reasons, she was pleased to see that I would continue in her tradition of donating regularly. Four years ago, as she lay dying requiring transfusion of tens of units of other people’s blood just to stay alive, it became more clear to me than ever how important this was. There’s a Jewish tradition to donate charity on behalf of someone who is gravely ill in order to find favor in Gods eye and a reversal of the severe outcome. As my mother lay dying I called upon people in most continents of the world to donate blood on her behalf so that she would merit a continued long and healthy life. Since then, my kids know that I have been fortunate to help bring thousands of Americans to donate blood in Israel, to provide a direct and tangible way to help save lives here as a meaningful bond between Americans, Jews and non-Jews, with the people of Israel. On July 9 2006, just weeks after my mother’s death, I arranged to host a group of Iranian Jews from NY to donate blood at Magen David Adom. One woman passionately pleaded with me for her blood to go to the “brave soldiers of the IDF.” I assured her that if there was a need to do so, Magen David Adom would provide all the blood to the Israeli army, but that then, things were peaceful and there was no need for blood in the IDF. Three days later, the Second Lebanon War began, and it’s almost a certainty that her blood went to the early Israeli victims of that war. There are many reasons to donate blood in general, and many more in Israel. Before, during, and after donating blood with my daughter this week, I tried to instill some of the importance of this so it would become part of her. There are many positive things that we do, or should do, but too often don’t do. Diet. Exercise. Homework. Chores of all kinds. We know that there’s a positive value in doing them, but often they slip to the back burner, or off the burner entirely. Donating blood should not be like that. It is a social and religious imperative and, for those who can, it should be a regular event. The privilege to be able to donate blood gives new meaning to the adage “better to give than to receive.” After a late lunch together and some nice bonding time, we walked out of Jerusalem’s central bus station where the blood donation took place. I heard my daughter mumbling something that was inaudible with the background noise of the buses behind us. “What?” I asked. “July, August, September,” she repeated. “What are you talking about?” I asked again, thinking that the blood was not flowing to her head so well. “July, August, September. September is the next time I can give blood.” If it costs me lunch every time, it is an investment that is well worth it. Because on the same day that my daughter was told that she’s ready to take the road test to get her drivers license, one of these new milestones that we as parents have to be broken in for, and four years to the week that her grandmother died, she also accepted the baton from one generation to the next, continuing A-Positive family tradition. Grandma would be very proud. I am. May my kids always be able to give and never receive.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The News of the Day to the Tune of Gilligan’s Island

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip That started with a terrorist plot Aboard six terror ships. The myth was a humanitarian mission, To bring supplies to Gaza. To break the blockade on Hamas To bring needed supplies, to bring needed supplies. With an anti-Israel hidden agenda, The six ships stopped at sea. If not for the provocation of the terrorists The mission would be lost, the mission would be lost. The ship arrived in Israel’s Ashdod port With terrorists, Islamic militants, The Turkish and the Swedes, Anti Semites, “Blind” self hating Jews, And the truth yet to be told. So this is a battle in Israel’s war for survival, Its been going on for a long, long time, The terrorists blame Israel for all their woes, It's an uphill climb. The Israeli government and the IDF, Will do their very best, To make all Israelis safe, From enemies near and far. Few friends, bad PR, jihad, and intifadas, Between a rock and a hard place, Like challenges in days before, and again in our day. So pay attention to the truth my friends, Israel cant get a fair shake, From any of its neighbors, Or from most of the spineless world.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

“I’m After You”

I was standing in the grocery store yesterday evening; check out lines overflowing into the overcrowded aisles. On the eve of Shavuot, grocery stores and parking lots were packed as people were going to do their holiday shopping. I went in for one strategic purchase, Ben & Jerry's ice cream to use for dessert, the holiday in which Jews worldwide mark the giving of the Torah and, as custom dictates, eat dairy foods. Each of our holidays involves different customs and traditions regarding food: on some we eat fried foods, others we eat unleavened bread, and on Shavuot it’s dairy. Each carries with it its own tastes, and health consequences. All I know is that while there is a required amount of matza to eat during Passover, it’s a good thing that there's no comparable required amount of jelly donuts or latkes to eat during Chanukah, or cheesecake and blintzes for Shavuot. Though in the end, what’s the major difference between clogging one’s arteries and one’s intestines? But I digress. Two nights ago, I ran in to a different grocery store to attempt the same purchase of ice cream, but the lines were so long and the temperature so hot that I literally left. Even the express lane was so long that, had I waited, the ice cream would have been flavored milk by the time I paid for it. Like a mirage in the desert, the shortest of the express lanes for the check out last night looked too good to be true. It only took me 30 seconds to walk into the store and pick out my six pints of Ben & Jerry’s. The check out line was shorter than that of my attempted purchase the night before, and the weather cooler, so I was prepared to gamble that my ice cream might still have some ice to it. I took my place in line. No sooner than I had stepped foot across the invisible threshold that identified me as being in line as compared to just standing near the line then a woman appeared from behind and said, "If you're last, I'm after you." She left her shopping cart parked perpendicular to the line, leaving me to hold her space behind me, and disappeared as fast as she had appeared. The truth is this is very common in Israel. Whether in a grocery store, bank, or other place that one expects to be standing in line, as if a miracle from God Himself, you can find yourself standing in line quietly, patiently, and creeping ever closer to the end when, out of nowhere, someone will appear and announce the corollary to "I'm after you." "I was here." Sometimes, just as you're recovering from the mild shock of adding five minutes to your wait, one or two other people will appear, uttering the same vulgarity, "I was here." Sometimes these situations become tense, if not an outright argument. Even the sophisticated post office branches that have a number system are not immune from the "I was here" phenomena, nor from the fighting and bickering, the bright side of which does provide a certain amount of entertainment that distracts from the waiting time. Culturally, I am not there yet. But I am getting closer. Last week my wife and I ran into a grocery store (site of the first evening’s attempt this week) to pick up a few things. 30 minutes later, we found ourselves on line behind someone whose cart was full, but most of the bottom of the cart contained six packs of soft drinks, meaning that the number of items in his cart was less, so we thought we had picked our line well strategically. As soon as we dug in for the wait, I said to my wife that we should have come in, parked the cart on line somewhere, split up the list, and dodged back and forth filling the cart before it was our turn to pay. Part of me really regretted not having done so, but part of me could not imagine the unadulterated chutzpah this would have required. Very Israeli. Just not very me. Yet. So last night no sooner than I had lost the invisible woman "on line" behind me, another man appeared. "Is this cart yours?" he asked, pointing to her cart? "No," I replied, "it’s the lady's who just put it there and said she was after me." "OK then. I'm after her," and he proceeded to rearrange his cart, and hers, and then to "pick up one thing" he forgot. He returned just as I was putting the ice cream, still frozen, on the conveyor belt to pay. The lady "behind me" was nowhere to be seen. I did not catch the full interaction but noticed him bickering with the woman who had appeared BEHIND HIM over whether it was OK for him to cut in front of the lady "behind me." As I was bagging my purchase and just trying to get out before someone appeared in front of me, uttering that they were already there, I had a strange thought occurred, unique to being in Israel and shopping for Shavuot. It’s said that when the Jewish people stood together at Sinai to receive the Torah, we stood as one. So I couldn’t help but wonder if in fact two million people really stood there so patiently and happily, or if the chromosome that makes us culturally accepting of people appearing in line and saying, “I'm after you," or worse, "I was here," is a trait we carry from Sinai. As important as receiving the Torah is/was, and as we spiritually reenact receiving it again each Shavuot, I wonder if there weren’t just a few who stood at Sinai and told his or her neighbor, "just a minute. I forgot something. I’ll be right back. I'M AFTER YOU." Were there those who, just as the big moment was to take place, appeared out of nowhere and said "I was here." And when this happened, did we stand there and let it pass, partly in distain for the chutzpa and partly in envy that we didn’t think on it, and were there people behind us who would care to argue about the place of the person who was "already there" not being saved as if it were a precious gem. Long before our Sage Hillel uttered "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" could it be that the Jewish people really did, and still do, care for and protect one another, whether waiting patiently at Sinai or even buying ice cream in a Jerusalem grocery store today. As much as the "I'm after you" cultural mutation is distinctly Israeli, maybe it’s not all bad. Maybe, especially as we approach Shavuot and the reenactment of the receiving the Torah, it gives sufficient pause to reflect on how we interact and behave toward our neighbor. Even if we did not indeed wait patiently at Sinai, together as one, if there were some who had other things to do and cut in and out of line, it is a nice idea that once in a while we put our bickering aside and do stand together, united as one. A value that comes from the Torah itself. May we have a festive and joyous Shavuot and may this one lesson remind us that a little patience is a virtue. Unless of course you're buying expensive ice cream that is going to melt.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Another Jerusalem Day

Today was Jerusalem Day, 43 years since the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem. 43 years since Jewish people were once again able to return to our most holy sites from which we had been banned for decades prior. 43 years since we were able to visit the city that King David built. 43 years since we were able to return to the stones of the Western Wall, the foundation of our ancient Temple, to pray and weep there for health, for bounty and for the ability once again to ascend to worship on the Temple Mount itself. Aware of the auspicious occasion, I made notes to look for and add meaning to the significance of the day. I expected that with recent political and diplomatic incidents and proclamations about Jerusalem that this year there would be a heightened celebration, a more fervent display of the emotion. It struck me that not since the very war in 1948-1949 in which Jerusalem was divided and Jews were barred from the eastern part of the city, including Jerusalem’s historic Old City, has Israel’s hegemony and the Jewish nature of Jerusalem been so challenged. Prior to that, Jerusalem’s Jewish roots, and the rights of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, were not challenged as much since the year 70 when the Roman sacked and destroyed Jerusalem. Although the Jewish people did not gain control of the entire city for nearly 2000 years, there has always been a Jewish presence in, and unbreakable connection to Jerusalem. Today’s challenges to the Jewish character and centrality of Jerusalem need to be met with a clear and unhesitant affirmation of Jerusalem as the heart of the Jewish people. We have grown to expect these challenges from Arab and other Moslem sources of intolerance, and they have grown more bold and brazen with millions actually believing the lie that there is no Jewish historical or religious connection to Jerusalem. Adding to this, when President Obama addressed the Moslem world in Cairo a year ago, his thesis was that Israel indeed has a right to exist, but he based that on the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust, not based on our historical and religious ties to Jerusalem going back more than three millennia. Always eloquent and to the point, Elie Wiesel addressed these challenges to the Jewish nature of Jerusalem head on in a recent ad that has drawn much attention. http://www.jewishblogging.com/blog.php?bid=217027 “.... Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture—and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, it IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and its joy are part of our collective memory. Since King David took Jerusalem as his capital, Jews have dwelled inside its walls with only two interruptions; when Roman invaders forbade them access to the city and again, when under Jordanian occupation, Jews, regardless of nationality, were refused entry into the old Jewish quarter to meditate and pray at the Wall, the last vestige of Solomon’s temple. It is important to remember: had Jordan not joined Egypt and Syria in the war against Israel, the old city of Jerusalem would still be Arab. Clearly, while Jews were ready to die for Jerusalem they would not kill for Jerusalem. Today, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And, contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory….” Jews have prayed toward Jerusalem for 2000 years, to the Old City, to the Temple Mount, to the Holy of Holies. If our right to Israel and Jerusalem is only predicated on six million being murdered, perhaps the same detractors believe that we have been praying only toward the modern western part of the city. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy." (Psalms 137, 5-7). We have uttered “If I forget thee…” for millennia, but what are we worried about forgetting? Our detractors who say that we have no claim to Jerusalem to begin with might suggest that we have worried about “forgetting” the Knesset, Ben Yehuda St., or even the maligned and controversial Holyland development. As Elie Wiesel concluded, “Jerusalem is the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.” There is simply nothing more incontrovertible. So I made it a point to spend the day in Jerusalem today albeit with meetings. Work prevented me from participating in any number of ceremonies, tours and celebrations, but that did not prevent me from witnessing, with great enthusiasm and pride, the celebrations of others, and to get stuck in traffic jams, admittedly with glee, watching hoards of modern pilgrims all marching in the direction of the Old City. My family participated in a tour of the newly renovated Hurva Synagogue, whose history itself goes back more than 300 years. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerusalem-hurva-synagogue, but I was unable to attend. When I got home, I asked what it was like. I spoke with my 4 year old son who has been speaking excitedly about visiting the Old City for weeks. “What did you do today?” I asked. “I ate pizza in Jerusalem,” he replied. I pried further. “What else did you do in Jerusalem?” “I ate ice cream,” he beamed, dimples in full force. Eventually, we determined that he went to Jerusalem and was in the Old City and saw an important synagogue. What did he take from the day? Perhaps nothing. But then I realized that all the prepared notes and all the political rhetoric about defending our right to Jerusalem was not the most significant thing today. What was most significant is that going to Jerusalem, entering the Old City, feasting on pizza and ice cream, was as ordinary for my son as anything else. Our challenge is to raise him with the appreciation for what we have now that we did not have in Jerusalem for nearly 2000 years. To make sure that as common as these things are, that he does not take them for granted. But then again, he is the only one of my children born in Jerusalem, something that happened entirely by nature, whereas for centuries Jews yearned just to glimpse our holy city, millions dying without their dream fulfilled. And my son, on the other hand, is a native Jerusalemite, both fulfilling the dreams of millions before him, and as link to the future, making sure that our right to Jerusalem is never denied us again. That’s definitely cause for celebration. Maybe pizza and ice cream will become our tradition.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Proximity talks and satellite photos

The inability to see a bigger picture or a broader perspective is often termed as “looking at the forest from the trees.” What I have found is that in addition to this truism, the opposite is also true. One cannot see the reality on the ground when looking at the forest from thousands of miles away. While the former affords the perspective of the limited view by sitting on a soft patch of moss while leaning against the trunk of a tree, far below the leaves and far too deep inside the forest than to be able to see more than a few trees away until it all becomes a blur, the later perspective yields a view where all one can see is a green speck. When looking at the forest from thousands of miles away, but looking up close with the aid of satellite photos, one can't see the leaves of the trees and their distinctive shapes or colors. One can't see the fauna in its natural habitat. One can't see growth or rejuvenation of life from season to season. One can't see how the flora and fauna are interdependent. One can't see when there are challenges and threats to the delicate ecosystem. With the impending beginning of new “proximity talks” to try to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I can’t help but feel that President Obama is attempting to initiate something, albeit well intentioned, while simultaneously being in the forest looking at the trees, and from looking at the forest from thousands of miles away. There’s every reason to question whether Obama really gets it. I can’t help but feel that at every turn, he’s tripping on his good intentions and in the process, making matters worse. Sitting in the forest, after the first 20-30 feet, it seems that all Obama sees is a blur of leaves and trees. Trees and leaves. At a glance, one might think that because the leaves high up, and the trees are rooted in the ground, they are separate and can be dealt with separately. One might think while sitting under a vast green umbrella of foliage that the two don’t relate to one another. One might find an occasional branch on the ground or bed of rotting leaves from the previous fall as being an irritation to the perspective of the two being separate. With all of the intricacies of this ecosystem literally at arm’s length, one might be forgiven for not being able to have the full perspective on life in the forest. Stepping outside the forest may help provide that perspective. However, when looking at the forest from thousands of miles away as Obama also does, he is far too distant and removed to be able to appreciate the things that make the forest unique, or threats to the forest itself, much less how to relate to these. For instance, when Obama started to raise the bar on expectations from Israel as more than those the Palestinians ever demanded just to consider renewing peace talks – total freeze of construction in Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), terming major Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods as “settlements,” and calling upon Israel to freeze construction in Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods, by setting such high and unprecedented demands he helped push Palestinian leader Abbas so far up a tree that he got stuck in the leaves. Obama has yet to build a ladder that can reach Abbas, much less help coax him down. Proximity talks are the current best effort, but there’s no sense that this will even bring Abbas down from the tree to the table, much less persuade him to negotiate sincerely if all he sees is Obama relentlessly holding Israel’s feet to the fire while giving the Palestinians a free pass in a way that would make even Yasser Arafat blush. Another reason Obama may be driving Israel and the Palestinians further apart is the Administration’s use of trial balloons to threaten imposing a solution if one cannot be negotiated on Obama’s timetable. Not only does this not bring a solution, it encourages the Palestinians to dig in deeper. Why should Abbas make any concessions if Obama’s position is more extreme than the best offers they have already received, or can expect to get? How does threatening to impose a solution give either party more confidence in the role of the US, or any motivation to proceed and progress in peace talks? It lends one to think that someone is inhaling a little too much of the helium needed to keep these trial balloons afloat. Independently, there is a wide enough gap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions and expectations. We don’t need Obama to drive us further apart. But on the ground, in this delicate ecosystem that Obama can’t seem to see, not everything is all bad, and pushing too hard without paying attention to the outcome may yield far worse results. Last fall, shortly after the imposition of the building freeze, I had the privilege to host a group of American Christians in my home. They were greeted by the mayor and who hosted them on a tour of our community and surrounding area. Overlooking an adjacent Arab village, he spoke about the positive relations, partnership and even a new water pipe being built in our community to service the Arab village next door. As we were standing there, two young Arab men from the village approached and greeted the mayor warmly, in fluent Hebrew. They complained to the mayor that the building freeze was hurting them, and that we should continue to build anyway, despite the restriction to do so! Lack of building in our communities is bad for the Arabs financially and, as a result, has the ability to create social problems in their communities and even open the door for Islamist extremists to make headway brainwashing and corrupting them and their kids. More recently, a man just outside the entrance to my community paved over an empty lot and opened a car wash. Had this been an Israeli Jew, no doubt the army would have been there to bulldoze and uproot the crude foundation, the same way Israeli army entered our community to destroy the foundation for a new synagogue they say was poured after the building freeze started. But the entrepreneur was not an Israeli Jew but a Palestinian Arab. Making his new business all the more interesting is that both the printed sign and spray painted graffiti announcing his business are written in Hebrew. Why? It shows that Arabs and Jews are inter reliant. Arabs are living from our business at the car wash, and an adjacent hardware store. Further up the road, more Hebrew signs for “Marble World,” and in other areas Arab doctors advertising in Hebrew as well. We rely on Arab labor to build our communities. In fact, looking outside the main entrance of many Israeli communities in this area one sees a scene reminiscent of a parking lot at a commuter bus or train station. Except the cars are all those of Palestinian Arabs, with the distinctive white and green license plates. Rather than commuting to “Downtown” anywhere, USA, they are parking their cars outside and entering our communities where they are as free to work as they are in their own communities. I don’t have a problem with this at all. In fact, it underscores a thesis of the Netanyahu government to help create economic infrastructures and stability within the Palestinian Authority and help make the quality of life better in little ways that can make a big difference in the long run. I am all for peaceful coexistence and interdependence as long as nobody is trying to kill me, my family or my neighbors, or deny our right to live here. I don’t mean to pick on President Obama, though he’s a big boy and can take care of himself. I want him to succeed. I want there to be peace. A real peace, not one imposed from Washington. But Obama’s efforts are na├»ve and misguided. By trying to make peace by looking at satellite photos of Jewish construction in the West Bank, while sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, he does not comprehend the reality on the ground, and that’s bad for us all. In making sweeping statements and raising the bar higher on Israel, he only lowers the possibility of proximity talks leading to face to face negotiations and a peaceful anything.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Something's Not Kosher With the Rubashkin Case

i received the note below from a friend with a huge trail of people to whom it had been sent. i am always suspect of quotes such as the one stated below, or the notion that watching a clip on YouTube can affect social change, public policy or the outcome of the trial of anyone. I took the liberty of contacting Nathan Lewin to ask if the quote below was attributed to him. if it was, in my mind it would have a lot more weight. But it seemed suspect to me. Mr. Lewin replied that he had never said this and had not see the video until someone told him he was being quoted. he concurred with me, however, that It is an interesting video. the merits of the case are not clear to me personally though the video is compelling. As a former Soviet Jewry activist (you can watch my own YouTube clip from ABC News in 1988 though i make no representation that it will affect any social change http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKu_UyoAHtw) and Israel activist, among other things, i do believe in the value of grassroots activism even as simple as letter writing and phone calls. As the video suggests, it's probably worth writing such letters. it even occurred to me to go as high as the White House because politically, if Obama wants to prove he's not anti-Israel or anti-Jewish, while its unthinkable that he might release Jonathan Pollard, perhaps he'd intercede with clemency or a pardon for Rubashkin. but I am not a fan of spreading rumors and myths, even with what may be a valuable and compelling social objective. Lets evaluate the Rubashkin case on the merits, not on a made up quote of a prominent attorney and respected leader in the American Jewish community. to those compelled to write, pass this along with the endorsement of an American Israeli who has seen his days of public protests and quiet activism, and encourage people to write to elected officials as the video suggests. Write letters of support and encouragement to Mr. Rubashkin in jail as well. But lets do so with full integrity and not base it on a myth made up to appeal to the masses. if the case does not have the merits, even though the video has been seen by well more than 100,000 people, no amount of smoke and mirrors will make the cause righteous or the outcome just. Jonathan Feldstein No1abba@gmail.com http://jonathanfeldstein.blogspot.com Watch five of my fifteen minutes of fame at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKu_UyoAHtw BS"D Natt Lewin said if this video on youtube about rubashkin gets 100,000 views it will help sholom mordechai rubashkin very much. Send it to all your contacts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1JCv4bYyWE Within less than an hour of sending the prior message about the Rubashkin YouTube piece and that Nat Lewin did not make the statement which was attributed to him, i received several e-mails back, all with the same theme. One from the west coast, someone up late, and several others locally. (see below for a sample) Allow me to clarify for the record and not respond to each individually. it seems that my previous message suggested that I supported the case against the Rubashkin sentencing. i certainly did not mean to suggest that i supported the case. rather i was trying to rebuke those who made up this story about Nat Lewin making such a statement and give them a constructive direction for their efforts that did not offend integrity of the readers, regardless of the merits of the case. One friend asked why would it make a difference what Nat Lewin thinks. My answer is that he is a noted and respected attorney who does take on cases that are generally rooted not only in upholding the law but things that are good for the Jewish community. If he had made such a statement, it would force me to look at the case in a different light. the opposite is also true and it was important to clarify the point. I generally agree that, as some suggested, unless there are extenuating circumstances if you do the crime you do the time. as a former (or more passive) activist, i always weighed how, when, where and under what circumstances it might be worth my being arrested for breaking a law or in a case of civil disobedience, but never thought of breaking the law and running or hiding from the legal outcome, or jail. In one case, knowing full well that a law I was considering violating carried with it a severe jail sentence and fine, i still decided to do it. (aren't you curious? you'll have to wait for the book.) I think the statute of limitations has passed so i can freely own up to it now because to be arrested for this twenty five years later, married with six kids, would definitely be an inconvenience. I have not followed the Rubashkin case. If he violated the law, he should pay the penalty according to the crime he committed. If a sentence is unjust, the US courts provide ways to appeal that. A Jew is obliged by Torah law to uphold the law of the land. if he did not do that, he's also guilty according to Jewish law. Either way, his actions are a brazen chilul hashem, a desecration of God's name. As compelling as the You Tube video was, looking at him in handcuffs, part of my response was embarrassment. the You Tube video is compelling, but i assume does not represent the merits of the case. I was taken however by the part about the sentence being not just a sentence against him, but also against his wife and kids. that may be true ultimately, but it reminds me of how i felt after my father died, wondering (inappropriately) what I HAD DONE to deserve the punishment of my father's death. its a shame that his family will have to go on without him, but this pulling of the heartstrings does not strengthen the case, it weakens it. Rubashkin should have considered the outcome of his actions before doing them, or even corrected the actions after he was engaged in them. as a neighbor of mine said, we should spend much more time trying to get Gilad Shalit home. Rubashkin in jail still gets to exercise and go outdoors, he gets three square (kosher) meals a day, and heat in the winter and a/c in the summer. He has the chance to do tshuva (repentance) for his actions against God and the Jewish community, and rehabilitate himself and have his sentence or incarceration shortened. His family will be able to visit him as well. he can even write a book or sell his story as a TV movie. I dont think that we should be heartless toward him and his family, but i am not convinced that the arrest and imprisonment of a Jew under all circumstances calls for our playing the pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captives) card. this case is weakened in my mind by the falsehood that is being spread that Nat Lewin made a statement he never made. I still do want the hot dogs however. And a package of soft and fluffy kosher hot dog rolls. Oh, and a jar or two of real deli mustard. Not the "spicy brown" fare that passes as the next best thing. that's like drinking blended whiskey, or putting CATSUP on a hot dog. Jonathan Feldstein No1abba@gmail.com http://jonathanfeldstein.blogspot.com Watch five of my fifteen minutes of fame at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKu_UyoAHtw some of the immediate responses i received are: You need to read Postville. Rubashkin is devil spawn. The entire Rubashkin affair has been a terrible chilul hashem and and absolute travisty. The fact that youtube support of any kind containing falsly atrtributed quotes is justthe tip of the iceberg. Thanks for sending the message out. I prefer this type of mail to those who claim thatthe US government is anti-semitic and a bunch of nazis in their treatment of this guy; who has done terrible things that no-one should be allowed to get away... Mr. Rubashkin has been convicted of multiple extremely serious crimes including bank fraud and money laundering, and has been charged with violations of child labor laws and more! Who supports this criminal? And why should we? If we, as the Orthodox community, do not stand up and scream that this sort of behavior is anti-Torah, unethical and immoral, then what right do we have to set ourselves up as G-d - fearing Jews? Rather than make efforts to help people like this, we ought to evict him and declare that he is not a true representative of the holy Jewish people. It is about time that we stop sheltering the crud, clean our cupboards and return to be honest, ethical and moral. not by reading the biased jewish media, but the mainstream one....& then, i beg u, think abt writing another email to yr lg email list, telling them that every time a jew is convicted of a crime, do we jews need to play the pidyon shvuin card or maybe, just maybe, there r jews who r real criminals & deserve the punishment that is meted out & we, the bystanders, shud uphold & respect the law of the land that dealt out the sentence? u touched on this theme a bit in yr email, but not strongly enuf imho. stop with the rubashkin case already! you do the crime, you serve the time. yes, life term is excessive. but rubaskin is a total CHILLUL and he deserves rot. i have gotten many emails this week - mostly from israelis. here, we are sick and tired of this. it has made the entire american jewish community ashamed. we are more angry than anything else. the best part of your email was the hotdogs...yes, i sorely miss them, too!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What Israel Needs is MORE Unemployment

Amid reports of political turmoil, trying to jumpstart the peace process, and the widening scope of growing corruption, an important news item was largely overlooked this week. Buried at the end of an article about the Israeli economy, I found a bit of good news. But had it been any more under reported, one could have blinked and missed it. “There were 197,600 unemployed people in March, down 0.5% from 198,500 in February. The unemployment rate in February remained steady at a preliminary 7.3% of the civilian labor force, after gradually declining since May last year when unemployment reached a high of 7.9%, ...” http://www.jpost.com/Business/BusinessNews/Article.aspx?id=174042 On the surface, this is very nice. It is a credit to the Prime Minister and Finance Minister, the Governor of the Bank of Israel, and I am sure others who deserve credit, and yet more who’d like to take credit. Best of all is that there are more people working, taking home a salary, paying taxes, and investing in the economy. By all measures that’s a good thing. However, I was puzzled as to why this was so under reported. Perhaps, though I am no economist, it’s because what Israel really needs in the long term is MORE unemployment. I am looking forward to thousands of Israelis losing their jobs. Outrageous? Crazy? Treasonous? Not really. Allow me to explain. In the early part of the previous decade, when Israel was subject to an unparalleled terrorist war, Israel’s economy suffered, as did its people. As a response to the trend of bus bombings, cafes turning into blood baths, malls turned into morgues, and pizzerias into slaughter houses, Israeli society undertook an “investment” that is simply not known in any other place in the world. In order to overcome a sense of fear, and instill a sense of security, the Israeli economy created tens of thousands of new jobs in one of the least glamorous but most important areas possible – security guards. Of course, Israel always had increased security at government offices, airports, military facilities and the like. But what changed then is something people living outside Israel cannot comprehend. Think about it. In most places in Israel, a person going about his or her day to day life will encounter multiple security personnel. These people first have to eyeball and profile a person coming their way, ask or assess if they have any weapons, wand them and check their bags, and only then let them enter. But where are they entering? A maximum security facility? The Knesset? A government building? An airport or major train station? No. Average Israelis find these security checks in the most mundane of places. For instance, in the course of an average week, I went to the mall and was checked going in to the parking lot AND going into the mall itself. Think about an average mall, how many entrances there are to the parking, and the building, and multiply that by full time coverage of one guard per entrance. People living in Atlanta, New Jersey, Toronto, Melbourne or any city in Europe could never comprehend much less tolerate this. On city buses, it’s common to see a young man or woman, armed, riding “shotgun.” They have to keep terrorists off the bus to let passengers arrive safely. I went to the bank. I was checked going in, not to prevent me from stealing money, but to prevent me from bringing in a bomb. I met a friend for coffee. Checked again. I drove to a lunch meeting nearby. I was checked entering the parking lot, and the restaurant. Dinner out? Getting “checked” happens when you go in, not when you want to pay the bill. I met with a hotel manager. At the entrance, “checking your bags” has a whole different meaning. I went to the post office to mail a package. Checked, checked, checked. I even had my car checked driving into the strip mall where I take my dry cleaning. Visiting a patient in the hospital one is checked at the parking lot, and at the entrance to the building. When I drop off my son at his pre-school, I greet the armed guard by name. When I pick up my other children from elementary school, another armed guard. This is not like in inner city American schools where violence and crime are rampant. It is just to keep the bad guys out, and the kids safe. I am reminded of my visits to the Soviet Union in the 80s. The USSR boasted that there was zero unemployment under its enlightened (now extinct) communist system. Of course this was another Soviet lie, but it was true that the government paid countless thousands (perhaps millions) to spy on one another. This Soviet over-employment served to give people work as well as to spy on its own citizens, not to protect the average citizen as we do in Israel. Underscoring the need for MORE unemployment, it’s quite clear that security guards are not Israel’s most glamorous career. Any random sample will find a disproportionate number of new immigrants among them, in what is sometimes a most dangerous job. Some are entirely uneducated. Others are decidedly overeducated. But work is work. Doing away with the need for this security-on-steroids and slashing a whole industry of security guards will do a great deal for the economy. Israelis will no longer have to absorb the cost of these guards as an expense passed along in virtually every service industry imaginable. The government and Israel’s free market economy will be challenged to create new industries to integrate the newly unemployed. It will require training and lots of work, but better that we should have a little growing pain in a country that no longer needs the “security” tens of thousands of guards, who can rather devote their efforts to building and contributing to the economy, instead of “just” keeping Israelis feeling safe enough to spend 12 shekels on a cup of coffee, taking their kids so school, or an outing to the mall. Israel has faced and overcome many challenges in its 62 years. Integrating tens of thousands of unemployed will be relatively small, but a challenge indeed. Yet for Israel to prosper to its fullest capability, doing away with the security guard industry will be a great achievement. Unfortunately, this depends largely on external factors over which Israel has little control. May Israel reach a point in my lifetime when security guards can turn their wands into plowshares, and where Israel’s most precious resource – its people – are able to contribute to the country and economy productively, rather than defensively.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fund Raising Out of the Box

I read an article recently about the record sale of Andy Warhol’s painting “200 One Dollar Bills” for $43.76 million http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601088&sid=aVVV8IsOLCOs which suggests that as bad as things are for many financially, that’s not the case for everyone to be sure. This reminded me of an amazing experience I had professionally a dozen or so years earlier, and how that relates to the need for non profits to be creative in general, but especially in the current environment; fund raising out of the box. Fund raisers, sit down. In a previous job, I had the opportunity to befriend an elderly couple, wealthy Holocaust survivors with no children or heirs. Oh, and they were art collectors. Not just nice pieces of art, but magnificent ones. This is the kind of relationship about which most fund raisers usually only dream. I don’t recall how I met them, but once I got to know them, we became good friends. When they were not feeling well, I’d bring them chicken soup and visit. They liked my visits, and eventually I’d make the occasion to bring my kids. Even though they lived full and rich lives, the void of not having children and grandchildren was palpable and they looked forward to our visits. Our relationship had a professional dimension to be sure, but over and above that we just became good friends. On one visit, I brought my kids and showed them one of their most special paintings. I asked the kids what it looked like and they all knew instantly, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. Indeed, they were gazing at the original “Ten Commandments” by Marc Chagall. At one light moment, I told the couple that I didn’t want anything from them, but if they wanted to leave me the “Ten Commandments,” I wouldn’t mind. Paintings, sculptures and other collectables graced every room in their lavish home. Some by famous artists like Chagall whose names I knew. Others probably no less famous, just not known to me. I will never forget the two pieces of art that greeted visitors as they walked into the home. Side by side they had two original Andy Warhol portraits, of themselves. Yes, they had Andy Warhol paint their portraits. How cool was that! One day, I arrived at their home with a fresh new fund raising idea. The Israeli based non-profit institution I was working with had just announced a multi-million dollar project to build a new building. I brought the architectural renderings. As we sat and discussed the project and I did my best to sell them on it, I came up with an idea that they loved. In asking them to consider a significant naming opportunity, either the whole building itself, a wing, or the lobby, it occurred to me that as much as I thought it was cool to have Warhol portraits of them, when they were no longer alive with no heirs, while the art was original work by one of the most famous contemporary artists, I had a hard time imagining who would want these. So I blurted out my idea. “In addition to your donating millions of dollars for the building, why don’t you also donate the Warhols so that we can put them in the lobby and your images will forever accompany your names prominently in the new Jerusalem building.” This pushed all the right buttons and they were ready to do it immediately. Excited to the point of almost bursting at having all but secured a commitment for a million plus dollar donation, I raced back to my office to write this up for the people in Jerusalem to see in the morning. I was sure that they’d be thrilled that almost as quickly as the building project was announced, I had found them a major donor. We had not closed on which gift, but a major lead gift was a virtual sure thing. While they liked the project anyway, there was no doubt that the idea to display their Warhol portraits in perpetuity, in Jerusalem, was a clincher. Yet, when I woke up the next day, excited to get what I expected would be an enthusiastic response, I was shocked to see the immediate response was not one of mutual excitement, but pushback from the painting idea. E-mail is an imperfect means of communication so I was unsure that I was reading it right and I called. My call affirmed that I was reading their response right, that they did not see the merit and sense of this opportunity and offer. This began a protracted conversation that dragged on for far too long; all the while I was keeping the couple interested and stalling an answer, sure myself that this would be a sure thing. Eventually, the pushback became a roadblock, and a dead end. I don’t recall the reasons given why they wouldn’t entertain displaying the Warhol portraits, but in the end, I had to go back to the couple and try to put a positive face on this reversal of my idea. As happy as they were with my initial idea and proposal, they were upset and felt used rather than appreciated, and the deal never took place. While I did my best to maintain a relationship with the couple, especially following his death, this incident also gave me a clue that I was working with people in Israel who were unable to think outside the box. I took a new job where I really didn’t have anything to offer the widow. We kept in touch and eventually she died, and what could have been a multimillion dollar gift, and a likely bequest, in addition to two Warhol portraits, never materialized. I suspect that these portraits would never have sold for $43 million, but they were certainly valuable. In this case, neither the tangible value nor the leverage of using these for a major donation was appreciated. As much as the recent report of the record Warhol sale reminded me of this incident and the warm relationship that turned into a missed opportunity, it reminded me of one of the fundamentals of the fund raising business. Fund raising is about relationships. Offering a donor something meaningful that is focused on their personal interests is a much better way to make a deal than to pull something dry off the shelf and try to market it to them as what they want. That’s fund raising 101. This is all the more so in a period when the economy is suffering, when the fallout of many economic factors is still being felt, and when there are more people asking for more money than there are necessarily donors prepared to donate it. One needs the personal relationship to be sure, but also to be able to think outside the box and differentiate the philanthropic product in a way that the donor embraces it as their own, just like in this instance, but hopefully with better results.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yom Haatzmaut Dayeinu

Living most of my life in the United States, I knew Israel’s independence was not something to take for granted, and indeed to be celebrated at every opportunity. Nevertheless, with the pace of life there not focused of Israeli holidays, the ability to celebrate and commemorate Israel’s independence sometimes conflicted with business meetings, kids’ activities and other day to day challenges. I remember my rabbi imploring us to attend annual community-wide Yom Haatzmaut celebrations, but also remember that even in the community in which I lived – one rich in opportunities to live a full Jewish life – the attendance at these events struck me as being far too low for a community of its size and commitment. Since making aliyah, I have seen something new. Even amid the differences within Israeli society, the fear that we are in a post-Zionist era, and overall challenges of life in Israel, celebrating Israel’s independence is done with a sense of pride, joy and such a level of spirit that is simply inspiring. Beginning at Passover, Israel starts to get decked out in blue and white leading up to Yom Haatzmaut. Highways are lined with flags. Kites fly bearing the blue and white. Small flags fit with a plastic clip are sold at major intersections for your car. In 2008 I adorned my car with 60 to the delight of many passers-by. Newspaper ads become patriotic and use the blue and white regularly, and the weekend papers have free inserts of Israeli flags. The Yom Haatzmaut celebration in my new community it is emotional. The past two years we have left with a lump in our throat from the feeling of pride and awe at being able to live in Israel, to raise our children here, and to build for the future. Fireworks are seen throughout the country, just as on July 4th in the US. Other than religious holidays when work is prohibited, Yom Haatzmaut may be the only day that no newspapers are printed. Family celebrations are varied, but many involve finding a patch of grass somewhere and setting up a portable bar-b-que to picnic into the night. We add Hallel to our prayers offering God special thanks for this milestone. But based on living most of my life in the Diaspora where it was often a challenge to carve out time to acknowledge, much less actually celebrate the holiday, it strikes me that there are no formal rituals associated with celebrating Israel’s independence. So I started wondering, what could be done after six decades to mark Israel’s independence in a way that is perhaps more universal, and even to facilitate a five minute pause in the life of someone overseas who wants to celebrate Israel’s independence, but for whom the pace of life is more about the daily grind rather than the festive nature we have in Israel. Thinking about the meaning of what we are celebrating, the message I hope my children will take with them forever, I realized that though the words of Hallel are meaningful, perhaps we needed something more contemporary. Building on an element of the Passover Seder, I came up with “Yom Haatzmaut Dayeinu.” IF God had only given us Herzl’s will to dream, and not given us the Zionist Congresses, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only given us the Zionist Congresses and not given us the 1917 Balfour Declaration affirming the reestablishment of a Jewish home in the Land of Israel, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only given us the Balfour Declaration and not created the spark for early waves of aliyah to dry the swamps, irrigate the Land and build our country, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only given us the spark to ignite waves of early aliyah to build our country and not taken us out of the ashes of the Holocaust, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only taken us out of the ashes of the Holocaust and not continued the ingathering of the exiles from the four corners of the earth, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only continued the ingathering of the exiles and not given us the 1947 UN Partition Vote to create the State of Israel, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only given us the 1947 UN Partition Vote and not enabled our victory in the War of Independence and our Declaration of Independence, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only enabled our victory to establish and declare independence, and not restored Jewish sovereignty to the Land for the first time in 2000 years, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only restored Jewish sovereignty to the Land and not built us a thriving democracy, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only built our democracy and not helped us overcome our enemies’ attempts to destroy us in 1956, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1982, 2006 and even today, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only helped us overcome our enemies’ attempts to destroy us and not returned the Jews of Ethiopia to their homeland, rescuing black Africans from slavery in Africa to freedom, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only returned the Jews of Ethiopia to their homeland and not enabled the aliyah of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only enabled the aliyah of Soviet Jews and not reunified our Holy City, Jerusalem, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. . IF God had reunified Jerusalem and not made Israel a world leader in medical, biotech and high tech fields – a modern light unto the nations - it would have been enough. Dayeinu. IF God had only made Israel a world leader in technology, and not continued to bless Israel with His promise to build Jewish life for eternity, it would have been enough. Dayeinu. So let us pause on this special day to remember these and many other miracles that God has done for Israel, and that we magnify every day just by living as Jews in our homeland. Dayeinu. Happy Independence Day Israel. Chag sameach. By Jonathan Feldstein, a new Israeli, celebrating the miracles of Israel in the Land of Israel.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Kitniyot Konundrums - 5770

The following is an encore presentation of a timely and pressing issue of the gravest importance. When first written in 2009 and submitted as an entry to the blog of a major modern orthodox Jewish organization, the article first had to be approved by the “halacha department” as if the issues discussed were somehow in wild contradiction of accepted Jewish law. In the end, the article was not published. This year, allow me to share a more recent update as a preface: I am sitting across the table from a man after donating blood, drinking nauseatingly sweet juice and eating particularly bland cookies. I mentioned to him that I have accepted recent rabbinic rulings that it’s OK for Ashkenazi Jews like us eat Kitniyot on Pesach. He is horrified, as if I suggested killing someone. “Kitniyot are chametz. You can’t eat Kitniyot on Pesach,” he stammers. “No,” I retort. “Kitniyot are Kitniyot. It’s a tradition that’s important, but they are not chametz.” “No, they’re chametz. But you just can’t sell it like chametz.” “If you can’t sell it like chametz, maybe it’s because it’s not chametz.” “No, Kitniyot are chametz.” “So what you’re saying is that Sephardim who eat Kitniyot are eating chametz and violating the most fundamental law of Pesach.” “No. It’s their minhag. It’s OK for Sephardim.” “But if they’re chametz, how is that OK for anyone to eat them during Pesach?” … Who’s on first? I don’t ever recall thinking about kitniyot during Pesach in any substantial way while living in the US. I grew up there and made my first home there, and kashrut, particularly relating to Pesach, seemed to focus on the customs of Ashkenazim like myself which made up the majority of American Jewry and, therefore, dominated kosher and culinary things there. Since making aliyah, it seems that not only has a year not gone by without kitniyot being an issue about which I have had to think considerably, but one that seems to get more heated year by year and as preparations for Pesach get closer. For an understanding of what kitniyot are, please see http://www.kashrut.com/Passover/Kitniyot. There are many challenges and opinions surrounding the kitniyot question ranging from whether Ashkenazim can eat them at all, eat derivatives of products from kitniyot, eat things classified as kitniyot that have no historical bearing as kitniyot, following minhag avotaynu (our father’s customs), and not eating them at all. It’s eye opening to walk the aisles of grocery stores throughout Israel and see things like pasta, rice cakes, Doritos, chumus, popcorn, and a wide range of other things that are indeed kosher l’pesach. It’s challenging to shop for cookies, candy, oils, sauces, beverages, ice cream and many other things that may have traces of kitniyot, or things derived from kitniyot, that make consumption of these items for Ashkenazim an issue. Indeed, in the past years, we have eaten our share of kitniyot by mistake because it’s easy to let it slip by that generic kosher l’pesach cookies might be made from something that our ancestors in Poland did not eat. More confusing was the time when we were on an outing and got ice cream for the kids in a familiar yellow Magnum wrapper – checking that it was kosher l’pesach – but without thinking that there might be kitniyot that made this Pesach version of the yummy white chocolate ice cream so tasty. Last year, going out to lunch at a mall in Haifa became an exercise in frustration because every restaurant that was open and kosher l’pesach included kitniyot in their menu, or ingredients. That time, all the kids had to eat was the one ice cream that could be found without kitniyot. As complex as it is to shop and eat as an Ashkenazi who does not eat kitniyot, people are passionate about why they do or don’t. While my personal thinking has evolved, without getting into my practice, I’d like to share just a small sample of the opinions that have been presented on Anglo e-mail chat lists here. First, a conversation I initiated with a respected Rabbi in the US last year as the issue – or my awareness of it – came more to the surface. Dear Respected Rabbi, Recently, we were talking about the topic of eating kitniyot on Pesach. There seems to be a great deal of interest this year more than the past two that we've been here, a flood of e-mails and the like. I am passing along this e-mail from one of the Anglo lists and very much wonder what your thoughts are. Not that we're running to eat kitniyot, but the issue is interesting. As many things, I know there are two sides and it's not normally the role of a Rabbi outside Israel to make a psak on issues in Israel, but we're curious what you think. Yonatan Dear Yonatan, As you correctly noted I cannot issue a Psak Halacha for people residing in Israel. There is much merit to this argument (of eating kitniyot on Pesach). Others have said something very similar as well. The mainstream rabbinate will have to make that decision. Unfortunately, I don't think that it will be coming too quickly. Chag Sameach. Your Rav There are those who passionately disagree that there is any merit to this at all…. I am curious, all those Ashkenazi Jews who are so willing to eat kitniyot, are they also ready to change their nussach tefilah and get up for slichot all of Elul! There is a principle stated in Pirke Avot that one should not separate from the tzibur. The vast majority of orthodox Ashkenazi Rabbis today, and for very many generations in the past, don't permit eating kitniyot on Pesach, except under extraordinary circumstances. There is a very, very small minority who permit Ashkenazim to eat Kitniyot on Pesach. It seems to me that generally speaking, an Ashkenazi Jew should follow the vast majority of today's orthodox Ashkenazi Rabbis, and not eat Kitniyot on Pesach. As far as I am concerned, when (someone writes) that “…. (Rabbi) Hartman said…” and that “…already there is not a single family in the country without a Sephardi member..” is enough to invalidate his position. (The latter is just) not true. And others who feel just as passionately the other way… By separating themselves from the MAJORITY of Jews who live in Israel and who, just by chance happen to be Sephardic, it is Ashkenazi Jews who insist on keeping up their traditions at all costs, who are continuing to keep Am Yisrael from becoming one nation with one halacha. It is these Jews who separate themselves from the tzibur. This year we're going with the things that were added to the original gezera and didn't exist at the time- like soy, peanuts, humus, canola etc. Rice is a bit much at this point for us. I just found out that Moroccans don't eat rice, either, but definitely things have gotten too machmir and there's a rebellion. For us the real selling point was that if we're 'Eretz Yisraelis' and the minhag makom was to eat kitniyot and ideologically this is consistent with other things we do, then we're okay with it. Already the majority of Jews in Israel are Sephardi. It’s almost a certainty that at least one of my four girls will marry a man whose custom it is to eat kitniyot, and they will. By the time the grandchildren are married, there will be very little difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardi, and few families outside Mea Shearim and Bnai Berak who are 100% Ashkenazi. I like to see myself as a Zionist visionary, just starting to do something that will be done in the future anyway. Some are more confused with the issue as time passes… I used to give the Kitniyot Madness Award every year to the most lunatic new humra on kitniyot. One year it almost went to the rabbi who solemnly proclaimed a ban on tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini. Why? Because the seeds are edible. (Siddown, rabbi.) He lost out to the rabbi who proclaimed cottonseed oil to be kitniyot. I can think of several good reasons not to eat cottonseed oil ever but none of them has any connection whatever to Pesach. The only reason I can see to call cottonseed oil kitniyot is that kutnah sounds something like kitniyot. Now, I am told that products can no longer get a mehadrin hekhsher if they have cottonseed oil. Please tell me this is not true! Meanwhile, many of the same people who worry over every new humrah on kitniyot buy ordinary matzot and not matzo shemurah. We are told the ban was instituted to protect the integrity of the matzo and now there are people who are hamur on kitniyot and meykel on matzah. Does that make any sense? A few years ago, news went out the quinoa is not kitniyot because it was not known to the rabbanim at the time of the ban and we do not expand humrot by analogy. That may be true as a general rule but kitniyot is a madness way beyond that sort of nicety. That year, I did not find quinoa with a Pesach hekhsher. The next year, it appeared on the market, “Kasher lePesah l-okhlei kitniyot bilvad.” (Kosher for Pesach only for those who eat kitniyot.) As much as some passionately agree, and others passionately disagree, there are those who are passionately irreverent and must be using this as a mindless interlude from cleaning and cooking…. If we decide to eat kitniyot....are we also obligated to celebrate Mimouna? If that is the case...the deal is out...I can't think of having to cook an entire Mimouna festival after 8 days of cooking matza brei.... Just a warning -you might see me during Chag sitting in the plaza with bare legs munching on a rice cracker - please don't call security on me. The rabbinate is so corrupt I can get a psak for anything, if I ask the right person for the right amount of money. So why do I need to wait until someone issues a psak, because his brother in law just started a wholesale chick pea distribution business. I know an Ashkenazi man who, in order to please his Sephardic wife and in-laws, wants to finally (begin) eating kitniyot but he also wants to keep his great-great-grandmother's tradition of eating "non-gebrocht"... Question: Is there any way to do both: Eat "non-gebrocht" and eat kitniyot? And if there is no way to do both...do you know of any good marriage counselor who can give him advice as how to please his wife and (honor) his great-great great grandmother’s memory? Please note: he wants a marriage counselor who eats non-gebrocht if possible... When Mashiach comes, (bimeheyrah veyameinu) if he tells the Ashkenazim, “Well done, and bless you for your perseverance in kitniyot, and you can now actually eat kitniyot,” they will not do it. They might decide he didn’t really say that and what he said didn’t really mean that "and in any case, just to be on the safe side, we won’t do it.” And if he says to the Sephardim, “Continue to enjoy your kitniyot on Pesach but you may not grind it into flour,” they will say “But we never accepted the ban on kitniyot.” Chag sameach and may we need to keep ourselves busy with kitniyot issues rather than with security and defense issues, even though I doubt that this will be the case. As the last post suggested, there are many other more pressing issues this Pesach and in general. Nevertheless, the issue has become so widespread that even the far from religious oriented Forward published an article on it, “Pesach Kitniyot Rebels Roil Rabbis As Some Ashkenazim Follow New, Permissive Ruling” at http://forward.com/articles/104483 Perhaps the primary recent source that has aroused this debate is Rav David Bar-Hayim's Beit Din well-publicized psak permitting the consumption of kitniyot by all Jews living in Israel which can be found at www.machonshilo.org Finally, not to be outdone or leave people to think that kitniyot are the only potentially divisive issue during Pesach, last year Haaretz reported that “A 28-year-old yeshiva student was arrested late Sunday after undressing completely in a Tel Aviv supermarket with only a sock to cover his genitals, to protest the store's sale of chametz during Passover. The same student was arrested for pulling the same stunt last year, after the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court passed a controversial ruling which permitted the sale of chametz (foods Jewish law prohibits on Passover) in some businesses. The court ruled then that the matzot law, which prohibits the display of chametz, in public places during the holiday, does not apply to supermarkets, pizzerias and restaurants, as they are not considered "public." The student was detained for interrogation on suspicion of performing an indecent act in public. In his defense, he claimed that since chamez was sold on the premises, it could therefore not be legally recognized as a public place, and as such, there were no grounds to press charges against him.” Perhaps it’s obvious that the majority of recent Anglo olim here are Ashkenazim who are confronted with something in kitniyot that they never had to consider before, so these Anglo lists are probably more prone to this debate than Israeli society on the whole. What will be in the future? Will you eat in my home during Pesach? Will I eat in yours? Only time will tell. After all, yetziat mitzrayim took 40 years so I suppose we can give this a little time too. Chag sameach.