April 16, 2013

Israel is 65! Does it get to retire?

Filed under: Israel — marcstober @ 8:10 am

KKL tin

It’s Israel’s 65th birthday. Here in the States that’s retirement age. So, does Israel get to retire? Well, not exactly…

But it does make me realize it’s perfectly appropriate and OK that my relationship to Israel is different than it was when I visited it on its 44th birthday in 1992 or than the relationship that an older generation of Jews remembers from even longer ago.

My synagogue recently ran a program featuring JNF blue boxes, and I felt a bit guilty that I didn’t participate. But I realize now that those boxes were for taking care of baby Israel, not AARP-age Israel. I mean, you joyfully change a baby’s diaper in your close family because you know it’s totally dependent on you. But, while you would change your grandparent’s diaper if you had to, you’re really happier if you don’t have to. It’s not a perfect comparison: the blue boxes are still valuable for teaching the value of charity and a hands-on lesson in modern Jewish history. But 65-year-old Israel’s survival is not hanging on the micro-donations of diaspora Jews. And that’s OK and as it should be. That kids today don’t relate to Israel as their grandparents is not a question of “what’s the matter with kids today?”; it’s perfectly appropriate.

And if I want to donate my small change to free Jewish culture or if I’m more concerned about the Women of the Wall or the plight of civilians on both sides than I am about a militant attack, it’s not because I don’t think Israel has a “right to exist,” it’s because I see Israel as an established country with a capable enough military that its friends don’t always need to spend all their time merely asserting it’s right to exist. (I mean, we don’t all run around arguing that the United States has a right to exist any more, but that was a matter of debate, too, a couple hundred years ago.)

An earlier generation of Jews actually succeeded in building a state, and if today we seem to take that for granted, it’s not because we care less than they did, it’s an appropriate testament to their success.

January 1, 2012

Honesty about Modesty

Filed under: Israel, Judaism — marcstober @ 12:14 pm

Many of you have probably seen the Israeli news story about eight year old Na’ama Margolese being called a “whore” and spat on walking past a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) synagogue on her way to school. In case you haven’t, it’s on YouTube with subtitles. (I’d also recommend reading how “they messed with the wrong crowd” for some interesting background.)

Two images are stuck in my mind from the video. The first is of a woman covered up almost Taliban style.

And the second is of Na’ama’s mother, Hadassah, dressed attractively in a sweater, boots, and skirt that meet her own standards of tzniut (modesty). She looks like she could fit in among the women I pass walking home from their Modern Orthodox synagogue down the street from my Conservative one. And here’s the honesty part: I can see how she would be a little bit distracting.

But what I think is totally messed up is to think there is anything at all wrong with that. Certainly that doesn’t make her deserve to be called a “whore.”

Caring about how one looks and noticing how other people look is a hard-wired part of being human. The value of Judaism is that it provides a way to sanctify the human experience. The rabbis long ago recognized that the yetzer ha-ra–the temptation to do bad–was not something that can be just covered up but a part of life that we can try to turn to good.

In secular culture the message sometimes seems that only a woman who can look like a supermodel is attractive, and only a guy who sleeps with a lot of supermodels in accomplished. But Jews believe every individual deserves respect: “If you have saved one life, you have saved the world.” And so, in my community, as in many other non-Haredi communities, we have norms where every woman gets to be beautiful, every bar mitzvah boy funny, every grandfather wise, and every child give his parents something to kvell over (be proud of). For example, Mayim Bialik, who is both an Orthodox Jew and TV star, recently blogged about finding a dress for an important Hollywood party that looked good and was still respectful. Doing Jewish stuff means there are ways for men and women to interact that don’t require cheating or hurting anyone or acting irresponsibly. Not that every Jewish community is perfect (we’re still only human after all!) but on the whole, I think Judaism has survived because it has a lot of wisdom about how to cope with human nature.

Maybe some men really can’t deal with seeing a woman on the street. But then it’s them who should be staying off the sidewalk.

March 22, 2011

Reflections on Japan, Itamar, and some events closer to home

Filed under: Israel, Metaphysics, Newton — marcstober @ 5:27 pm

Two of the top news stories of the past few weeks have been about the earthquake and subsequent nuclear accident in Japan, and the murder of a family in Itamar, Israel. Both are a tragic human loss. I’m not sure which is more challenging to understand.

I can’t begin to comprehend having your home and family washed out to sea, to be left on the shore without food, medicine, or electricity. Or, to live with the danger of invisible radioactive fallout. But this doesn’t shatter my worldview. We live in a universe formed by supernovas and plate tectonics, awash with cosmic radiation, where the basic laws of physics mean that we need to use energy sources that can sometimes be deadly. To me, the miracle is not that the universe was created with Man at the center in Copernican style, but that we so improbably thrive when it wasn’t.

On the scale of universe, tragedy in a single household in Itamar shouldn’t seem like much, but I find it even harder to understand. Bad stuff happens, and people get angry, but ultimately, we find a way to share a small planet. Or so I like to think, which is why breaking into a house just to murder an unknown family with children is something I just can’t comprehend.

Then again, just this week, we heard helicopters and learned the State Police were searching for the perpetrator of shooting at a store here in Newton. No one was hurt, but it was bizarre that it wasn’t attempted armed robbery as much as pure intentional violence.

Yet we survive.

August 5, 2006

Text of a Message I Sent to Senators Kerry and Kennedy

Filed under: Israel, Politics — marcstober @ 7:45 am

I think that Hezbollah is not only a threat to Israel; they are a threat to freedom and democracy everywhere. They are a threat to the religious freedoms, civil liberties, and national sovereignty valued by Americans and others throughout the world.

In 6 years I can only think of two policies of George Bush that I have really agreed with. One is his proposal for immigration reform that would make it easier for hard-working people (like my own great-grandparents) to immigrate to this country, and second is his support of Israel during the recent conflict.

Please do whatever you can to support Israel in this conflict.

August 3, 2006

Israel Defense Forces – The Official Website

Filed under: Israel, Politics — marcstober @ 3:36 pm

I posted an anonymous comment on a blog the other day, and then today came across this official statment from the IDF about the incident in Qana, saying that 150 rockets had been fired from that area.

To be more direct than my last post on the war: why do the people in that area–or their local and national government officials–allow Hezbollah to fire rockets from their communities? Why do they let their children be killed while they refuse to make peace?
Do they think that a Shiite Islamist regime is worth putting their families at risk? Ok, I can respect that–but not really. Are they just helpless themselves against Hezbollah? That would be sad, but in this case the IDF is being realistic (in comparison to the US in Iraq) to remove the threat without trying to be welcomed as liberators.

July 30, 2006

What’s Up with Lebanon?

Filed under: Israel, Politics — marcstober @ 9:41 pm

I’ve been wanting to write something about the war in Lebanon, but it’s been difficult to know what to say. On the one hand, it’s sad to see what’s happening to Beirut. On the other hand, it’s sad to see what’s happening in Haifa, and Israel’s actions are completely understandable and certainly justified.

I wish that the government of Lebanon would ask for peace. Peace, meaning not a ceasefire, but a normal relationship and a peaceful border. It does not seem like they have the ability, or maybe not the desire, to do so.

It seems that there are a lot of voices saying that Israel is not winning “hearts and minds” in Lebanon; that Lebanon’s recent moves toward democracy should be encouraged and Israel’s strikes will set things back. Inevitably these voices talk about the forward-thinking young Lebanese in Beiruit and the great new developments, cafes and nightclubs there. I don’t really think it’s the IDF’s primary job to win hearts and minds or Israel’s responsibility to support Lebanese democracy at all costs. Israel was attacked by forces operating out of a sovereign country, and that country is allowing those attacks to continue. While it’s great in theory that democracy is taking hold, it’s obviously not working yet, in that it doesn’t have control over an effective military and foreign relations. And as for the constant reports of cosmopolitan Beiruit–I don’t see how that matters. I don’t think anyone says that the cafes of New York or Moscow or even Paris are the key to a stable government, as compared to, say, strong institutions with support from the heartland.

For that matter, the whole concept of Hezbollah has me perplexed. Isn’t the idea that in a modern country, only the state has legitimate use of force, certainly against foreign powers? How is this in Lebanon even a matter of serious debate? It seems like this war is not just about Israel vs. Hezbollah vs. Lebanon, but about the surival of the whole concept of the liberal, democratic state–and I don’t mean in the American “blue state” definition of those terms but rather the idea of a sovereign state whose government is based on freedom and democracy, where people are pretty much free to do as they choose but rely on an elected goverment to create law and have the power to enforce it. (For further reading on this see this by Fareed Zakaria, which also makes me wonder if the whole red state/blue state thing could action be the right amount of choice so as to be good for democracy.)

The bottom line, then, is that this may be a fight for freedom and democracy, which may be something we’d rather not have to fight for, but is something worth fighting for when needed.

I would love on my next trip to Israel someday, after visiting other great places in the north like Haifa and Tsfat (Safed), to go spend a couple days on a side trip to thriving, cosmopolitan Beiruit. But until I, as a Jew visting Israel, can make such a trip as safely as going from the US to Canada, England to France, or even Israel to Jordan, it’s not peace.