Category Archives: Israel

“A Wasted Yom Kippur”

The High Holy Days are just over a month away. The time of the New Year and, ten days later, the time of repentance at Yom Kippur are almost upon us.

As a Jew by choice who will be officially a member of the Tribe only sixteen days before Rosh Hashanah (if I’ve counted correctly), and who had a powerful, meaningful experience at last year’s Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days will probably hit me hard every single year.  Last year, part of what hit me so hard was that we aren’t getting singled out for our sin. We are all confessing, communally, as a community, to grave sins.

This is on my mind today partly because of an article in this morning’s New York Times.  This article is talking about the recent murders of Shira Banki and Ali Saad Dawabsheh by Jewish extremist fanatics. I could quote from all kinds of places in this article, but I think this is probably one of the best ones, from Donniel Hartman, an Orthodox rabbi:

“The interesting question for all of us is, ‘Is this going to be a growth moment or is it going to be another wasted Yom Kippur? Oh, we’ve sinned, and we feel so righteous for saying we’ve sinned.’”

Mouthing the prayers is not the same as meaning them. It’s not even close. It’s the difference between keva (saying the words) and kavanah (feeling the words). And although I have seen many Christians mouth the words of repentance and then turn around and hurt people (what are sometimes called Sunday-only or Christmas and Easter Christians), it never occurred to me that many Jews might do the same thing.

So what is Yom Kippur about? Repentance and atonement? Or feeling prideful that you’re at the service, and fasting, and look how impressive you are? That’s not attractive to me. I doubt that anyone at my shul does this, but I don’t know for sure. And I’m going to be remembering what the words mean when I say them on Yom Kippur, because on that day the community confesses together:

Ashamnu: We have trespassed.
Bagadnu: We have dealt treacherously.
Gazlalnu: We have robbed.
Dibarnu dofi: We have spoken slander.
He’evinu: We have acted perversely.
V’hirshanu: We have done wrong.
Zadnu: We have acted presumptuously.
Hamasnu: We have done violence.
Tafalnu sheker: We have practiced deceit.
Yaatsnu ra: We have counseled evil.
Kizavnu: We have spoken falsehood.
Latsnu: We have scoffed.
Maradnu: We have revolted.
Niatsnu: We have blasphemed.
Sararnu: We have rebelled.
Avinu: We have committed iniquity.
Pashanu: We have transgressed.
Tsararnu: We have oppressed.
Kishinu oref: We have been stiff-necked.
Rashanu: We have acted wickedly.
Shichatnu: We have dealt corruptly.
Tiavnu: We have committed abomination.
Tainu: We have gone astray.
Titanu: We have led others astray.

A couple of those are general enough that a lot of sins can fit into them. V’hirshanu, for example. Tainu, as another example.

And frankly, this year, given what happened to Shira and Ali, in a nation where the police could have stopped the man who killed Shira and the men who killed Ali, all of Israel should be admitting “Hamasnu, Tsararnu, Tiavnu.” Because those murders were violence, they were oppression, and they were abomination.

Now, as a Jew in the United States, do I bear a share of the responsibility for those murders? Yes. Every Jew does. Every Jew should be saying “The murderers were Jews, and how horrifying and shameful that they were Jews.”

But if we simply say “that was shameful and horrifying,” and mouth the Ashamnu on Yom Kippur, have we changed anything meaningful? Or are we just feeling righteous for saying we’ve sinned?

I don’t know how I can help as a non-Israeli Jew, but there has to be something I can do to bring about tzedek (justice).

Justice is one of the things that brought me to Judaism. It has to be one of the reasons I continue in it.

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Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light

“Shadows and Light” is the name of a song by Joni Mitchell. This is her live performance of the song during her Mingus tour of 1980:

It’s worth hearing.

But the music all aside, the words are profound, and given what’s been happening in the world this week, I need to put the lyrics here and then talk about them.

Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light,
Blindness, blindness and sight.
The perils of benefactors, the blessings of parasites…
Blindness, blindness and sight.

Threatened by all things – Devil of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – Devil of delight.
Mythical devil of the ever-present lines
Governing blindness, blindness and sight.

Suntans in reservation dining rooms, pale miners in their lantern rays –
It’s like night, night and day.
Hostage smiles on Presidents, “Freedom!” scribbled in the subways –
It’s like night… and day.

Threatened by all things – God of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – God of delight.
Mythical God of the ever-present lines
Governing day, day and night.

Critics of all expression, judges in black and white,
Saying it’s wrong, saying it’s right.
Compelled by prescribed standards, or our own ideals, we fight –
Wrong, wrong and right.

Threatened by all things – men of cruelty,
Drawn to all things – men of delight.
Keeper of the laws, the ever-broken laws
Governing wrong, wrong and right.
Governing wrong, wrong and right.
Wrong… and right.

Now, I no longer believe God is mythical (obviously). But I think the God we build up in our heads often is. We attribute attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to the God in our heads which don’t really belong to God at all. I don’t think the God that the Haredim believe in is really God. I think that it’s the Haredim’s excuse for their behavior – and their behavior is often vile and without excuse.

I think a lot of our world’s problems do happen, as the song says, because we are compelled by prescribed standards or our own ideals, and we fight. I can’t imagine how the stabbings (and eventual murder of at least one young woman) at the 2015 Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, or the murder by arson of a Palestinian 18-month-old by Israeli settlers, can be seen any other way. What drove the Haredi murderer at Jerusalem Pride? Prescribed standards. What drove the murder of that baby boy? Someone’s cockeyed ideals.

When can we get beyond prescribed standards and ideals and look at what’s right for the world? When will we achieve tikkun olam? Will we ever?

Do we even want to, or is it just something to which we’re paying lip service?

I have clinical depression, as I’ve already talked about elsewhere. I have a natural tendency to only see the shadows. Where is the light in any of this? Is it the international outrage against the violence? Is it the Jewish groups in the United States who are now calling on Israel to get the extremists under control? Where is the light?

I admit that today I’m having trouble seeing the light in these situations.

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In Praise of the Women of the Wall

I found myself singing along.

Yasher Koach to all these brave women and the men who stood in solidarity with them, and shame on the Haredi man who tried to stop them from praying and reading Torah.

A religion that does not change is a religion that will die out. The Haredim are just hastening the death of Orthodoxy with their behavior.

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Sometimes I wish…

1. That Americans would realize that Netanyahu is a political leader, not a religious one, and that he runs a political state, not a religious one;

2. That Netanyahu does not speak for all Jews;

3. That non-Israeli Jews have very little control over what Netanyahu does, says, or thinks;

4. There’s an election coming up in Israel soon. Let’s hope they vote in a majority party that doesn’t want a PM who’s a war-happy Cheney clone this time.

I admit that as an American Jew, I am conflicted about Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. I feel a two-state solution is best, but from here, I have no control over what happens in Israel.

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Friday Feature: What Are You Thankful For This Week?

It’s time for the Friday Feature again, where I ask you what good things happened to you this week. This is direct from Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values, Day 69.

This is a regular Friday morning feature for this blog. Telushkin intended his book to provide topics for Shabbat discussions for at least a year, as each “week” is composed of six values (one per day) and then Shabbat, where he encourages us to talk about those values at our Shabbat dinners and services. I feel that the idea of gratitude is so central to Jewish practice that we should be reminded weekly of what we might be grateful for.

While I know that this might seem a little self-centered, I’m also doing this so that people will have some food for thought for their own Shabbat dinners about what they might be thankful for. I generally talk about the following areas of my life: work and career; family and friends; health; household; my conversion studies; miscellaneous life; and the wider world. Feel free to add or subtract as necessary for your own use.


I have a lot to be thankful for going into this coming week, and finishing this past week. For starters, as long as enrollment holds up and funding holds up, I’ll have classes in the fall. I’m also almost done with my preps for those classes, except for their exams, which I’ll be tweaking and polishing over the next week or so. Today I plan to work on editing the final groups of Powerpoints so I’m all set to go on Monday. 

There are a number of possible jobs that I can apply to for full-time work starting next fall, and that’s the other major thing on my plate work-wise. There’s one in Los Angeles that is especially tempting so I’m going to work on that next week. 

I presented a paper with my co-author at a conference a week ago today, and it was very well received. My partner and I then spent the weekend with friends in the Bay Area. We stayed at a friend’s house; she’s also a convert and we had a very meaningful Shabbat dinner with her. Afterwards, she gave me my very first Havdalah candle, and I was very touched that she would think of me that way. Overall, the weekend last weekend was a very good (and Jewish!) one, spent with people I care about. (Completely coincidentally, my co-author is also a Jew, although a secular one.)

My kids are healthy and happy, my partner is healthy and happy, and most of my friends are in a good place right now, which is good. 

My health is reasonably good at this point. I’m trying to pay more attention to what I put in my mouth (I tend to be a stress eater) and that’s helped me have fewer pains and problems. 

Getting to talk with the new rabbi was a really big deal for me. I’ve arranged for the services I want to attend for High Holy Days, so that’s also in the works, and that makes me really excited. Now that the stress of the preps is winding down, I’ll have more time to crack the Hebrew studies again. The rest of my study is pretty much “on hold” until formal classes start in the spring. My partner has also expressed some cautious interest in going to the classes and, perhaps, converting with me. (This makes me tremendously excited.) Right now, my conversion is largely focused on practice, as it should be.

In terms of miscellaneous life stuff and the wider world, I’m trying to focus always on the positive, while still being realistic about it. I had a bad bout with depression last week but it got better once I was able to throw myself back into prepping and working. Also, Robin Williams’ death, while a horrifying thing in itself, has raised public awareness of depression, bipolar disorder, and Parkinson’s disease in ways that I don’t think he would have expected it to. (And for his death: baruch dayan emet, and may his memory be a blessing.) I also admit that I’m meanly pleased that his ashes were scattered in San Francisco Bay the day after his death, and that the Westboro Baptist “Church” won’t have a chance to protest his funeral because it was done before they even began to plan to disrupt it. 

The situations in Gaza and Ferguson are upsetting, of course, but even there I can find things to be thankful for. I am thankful for all the community members in Ferguson who stood guard over stores to either stop looting that had begun or prevent it from happening in the first place. I am thankful for the cease-fire lasting as long as it did in Gaza, and hopeful that we will soon see a longer truce. And I pray, every day, for the victims in both of those places and hope for a speedy resolution to the tensions. 

And as long as I’m mentioning Ferguson, here’s some specifically Jewish food for thought. Why Jews Should Care About Ferguson

Shabbat Shalom, everyone. I’ll try to update again on Sunday. 

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Gaza update: Five-day ceasefire extension.

I’ll just leave this here. 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28782224

Let’s hope the ceasefire continues and that somehow we get what needs to happen out of it. 

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http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/palestinians-quit-gaza-talks-israel-show-24917164

Apparently another ceasefire is in effect for 72 hours from Sunday morning at midnight.

Hamas wants an end to the blockade in order to extend this truce. Israel wants Hamas to disarm and won’t lift the blockade due to the risk of arms smuggling if they do.

And, of course, there’s still that little problem where Hamas wants to eradicate Israel and all Jews.

So I’m not celebrating yet, and I’m not holding my breath.

 

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I would love to be wrong, but…

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28687379

There has been a ceasefire since Tuesday. In Cairo, there are attempts to extend it into a long-term truce.

Israel is willing.

Hamas is not.

I would love to be wrong here. I would love for Hamas to prove me wrong here. I would love for my friends to be able to say “I told you so.”

But the other day I said that Hamas will not negotiate. And of the two parties involved here, they are the ones refusing to negotiate or extend the truce.

I wish they would prove me wrong.

I do not approve of what they’re doing. I do not approve of them firing from civilian areas and using civilians as human shields (never mind that it doesn’t meet the UN definition of using people as human shields by force; they fire from civilian areas and thereby make those areas into targets). I do not approve of Israel not trying to find better ways to handle this problem than firing back into civilian areas, but I understand why they’re doing it. I get it that Gaza is a heavily populated area and that civilians have no place to go, but Hamas had the construction materials to create bomb shelters and instead they used that material to create tunnels under the border into Israel. So don’t tell me that they couldn’t have taken care of this. They could have. They chose not to. If they were a legitimate government, they would have built bomb shelters for their population. Instead, they fire off rockets from residential neighborhoods.

As I said, there is no 100% clean place to stand here. But Hamas is not a government. Sure, the Palestinians elected Hamas to run the country, but Hamas is not doing that. They are not providing food, water, shelter, or safety for the citizens of Gaza – quite to the contrary. So don’t tell me that they were legitimately elected and that therefore they are the government of Gaza. They’re not behaving like a government. If they were, they’d provide their citizens with food, water, shelter, jobs, air-raid sirens, and bomb shelters. They’re not doing any of that, now are they? No. They’re behaving like what they are – a terrorist organization propped up by Qatar and other Arabic states that want Israel wiped off the map. They are putting the citizens of Gaza on ground zero and ignoring the real human consequences while exploiting those consequences for political gain around the world.

Also, let’s not forget that the Arabic nations were entirely supportive of Hitler’s efforts to eradicate the Jews. That’s also an issue here. History does not go away just because the current situation is horrible.

Again, the Palestinians are caught in this crossfire. That is horrific and unacceptable. But let’s also be clear here: Hamas has the ability to stop this, and it is refusing to do so.

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About Israel and Palestine and Hamas.

I know that for many people in the blogosphere, the issue of what’s going on in Israel is black-and-white, a struggle for freedom by a subjugated people against a big bad nasty evil government that has superior firepower and military strength. Subjugated people in the form of Palestinians in Gaza: check. Evil government in the form of the Israeli government that is dropping bombs on innocent civilians in Gaza: check. Hamas as freedom-fighters for the subjugated Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank: check. That’s the narrative. Oh, and let’s add in here: Israeli government refusing to negotiate with those freedom-fighters, which makes it even worse and more despotic and so forth. Check.

If you read most news right now, that’s the story you’re being told about what’s going on in Gaza.

But let me ask you this: does the fact that nearly all of the nations which surround Israel (except for Egypt and, possibly, Jordan) want Israel wiped off the map because it is a Jewish state matter in this black-and-white debate? Hamas is yet another iteration of Arabic terrorism against Jews and another attempt to eliminate Israel as a nation. Does that matter? Does it matter that Palestine was offered 95% of the land they wanted as well as independent statehood, and rejected it because the offer did not include the elimination of Israel as a nation?

Also, please note the distinctions between “Israelis” and “Jews,” as well as the distinctions between “Hamas” and “Palestinians.” If you fail to make these distinctions, I’m going to dismiss what you have to say. Not all Israelis are Jews. Not all Jews are Israelis. Not all Jews who are Zionists are okay with what’s going on in Gaza. Not all Palestinians are supporters of Hamas.

This is not a black-and-white issue. It can’t be.

There’s also the fact that Hamas is hiding munitions in civilian spaces on purpose, to create civilian deaths when Israel moves to eliminate those munitions, as good, bloody, splashy, horrific PR for Hamas’ side.

I am NOT okay with civilian deaths in Palestine. I am not okay with death generally. I am not okay with war. But I don’t see a way out of this that preserves Israel as a state and also preserves the lives of the people in Gaza unless Hamas agrees to stand down and get out of Gaza, which it’s already made clear that it will not do.

I also see this as fundamentally different from other scenarios where a small group of “freedom fighters” fight against a large, established nation. Normally, that nation is not surrounded by other nations that want it to disappear. Israel is. You can blather on that Hamas is fighting the big bad Israeli monster, but that monster pales compared to the monsters Israel has to fight (every Arabic nation except Egypt and possibly Jordan, for starters).

Let’s be clear, here: Hamas is not a set of freedom fighters struggling to liberate a subjugated people. It is an opportunistic terrorist group that is using a subjugated people as cannon fodder to make itself look like a set of freedom fighters. The Palestinians are the main victims here – that’s not in dispute. But Hamas also has Israel over a barrel because Hamas will not negotiate.

Meanwhile, the international community is coming down on Israel for not being open to a peaceful solution. Well, until Hamas (and the neighbor Arab states surrounding Israel) give up their demand that Israel cease to exist, there can be no peaceful solution here. And folks, that is not Israel’s fault. If I told you “The only negotiation token I’ll accept is if you agree to commit suicide and cease to exist,” it’s not your fault if you reject it. You would be crazy if you didn’t.

There is no good, 100% clean place to stand here. I cannot support the elimination of Israel. But by supporting Israel’s right to exist, I appear to also support the deaths of Palestinian civilians who have been placed in harm’s way by Hamas. I do not support their deaths. But those who support the Palestinians also, by definition, appear to support Hamas.

Let’s be clear here. Hamas is to blame for this entire situation. It is Hamas and its supporters who could easily end this if they would accept the presence of a Jewish state in the region and a two-state solution for Gaza and the West Bank. It is not the Palestinians’ fault. They don’t deserve what’s happening to them. But what is happening to them is Hamas’ fault (and the fault of all of its supporters in the area).

So, don’t be a supporter of Hamas, please. If you are, I will think less of you. Support the Palestinians all you like and I’ll agree with you. I support a two-state solution in Gaza and the West Bank. But be aware that Hamas does not support a two-state solution, and it never will support a two-state solution. And factor that fact into your position when you post on this topic.

So, given that Hamas will not negotiate – keep that in mind, now – and that their ultimate goal is the elimination of Israel as a politically recognized state – again, for Hamas this is not negotiable – what, exactly, would you do as the Israeli government? Before you answer, consider that most of the Arabic states that surround Israel also want Israel wiped off the map. Also consider that many Israelis are not Jews.

Tougher than it looks, isn’t it?

Please stop making sweeping condemnations of Israel for what’s going on in Israel. Yes, what is happening to Palestinians should not be happening. Yes, it’s awful. But the fact is, Hamas will not negotiate, and Hamas is setting Palestinians up to be targeted by using civilian locations like schools, and hospitals, and mosques for the storage of arms and armaments, while also telling Palestinians to ignore Israel’s bombing warnings and refusing to give Palestinians any sort of safe shelters (although it could have and has not). Short of a full-on ground invasion of Gaza and the arrest of every last member of Hamas (which is kind of like trying to spear every last bit of Jell-O with a fork – try it sometime), what else is Israel supposed to do here? Roll over and die? I have not seen any viable suggestions, only condemnations. A suggestion that they should negotiate with Hamas fails from the get-go because HAMAS WILL NOT NEGOTIATE HERE.

So given that Hamas will not negotiate, what’s your solution? When you have one, let me know.

And in the meantime, please acknowledge the full reality of the situation, instead of supporting a terrorist group that created this situation in the first place.

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I can’t be thankful today

27 Tamuz 5774

The Israeli leadership has just admitted that they knew from the start that Hamas was not behind the kidnapping of those three Israeli teenagers. Most likely, it was an independent cell of terrorists who did not care about the repercussions of their actions. 

Go on, read the link. I’ll wait.

Done reading?

I am ashamed of my adopted state. I am angry with Netanyahu and his government for perpetuating a lie. And I am furious that this was used as an initial justification for attacks on a civilian population. I am enraged that this put peace talks in jeopardy.

Gratitude isn’t really in the cards in the face of this disgusting revelation. I just feel sick.

I’ll see you all on Sunday. Maybe by then we’ll know more and I’ll have calmed down. But the fact that my challah came out perfectly seems very… trivial, in the face of this knowledge.

Shalom ba’olam. Sooner, rather than later, please.

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