Saturday, January 26, 2013

Celebratory Hugs

It's been a big week in the world wide political arena.  This past week we saw the swearing in of a second term for the President of the United States, Barak Obama.  A few days later Israel was brought to the polls in an early election.  Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party may have lost seats in this election, but they're still the biggest party in the Knesset.  BiBi will remain Prime Minister.  

Monday evening I found myself flipping through channels on my TV, hoping for some live coverage from the White House's inaugural ceremonies.  What I found instead was ANOTHER school shooting, this time in Houston, TX.  So I kept the American news on my TV, muted with images of another school campus on lockdown.  I opened my laptop and looked up the inaugural ceremonies on YouTube instead.  Another overload of TV and internet to get the latest and most updated information from as many sources as possible.  I was profoundly impressed with President Obama's inaugural address.  He is undoubtedly an incredible public speaker.  Although I abstained from voting in the last Presidential election, I was proud to hear him speak about so many Democratic issues that are so important to me.  

“The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us.  They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”  
"Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.”  
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”  - President Barak Obama
My sisters, my grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends all live in America.  They have worked hard and long hours trying to make it in the land of opportunity.  I hope that as America moves forward into this new term of office that they remember to take care of our predecessor generations with Medicare, Medicade, and Social Security.  I hope that we continue to look towards our future generations and work towards better education, safe schools, and protection of our environment.  I pray that my sisters and friends will continue to be able to have control of their own bodies and continue to be able to break through glass ceilings.  Although I'm nervous about the future of America and Israel's friendship, I pray that we can find peace and understanding in our time.  I pray that the American people continue to stand up for Israel's right to exist as they have done since our Declaration of Independence.  

Pick a card, place it in the envelope, seal it, and drop in the box to be counted.  

Tuesday I was greeted with a surprise day off of work.  In Israel, election day is a day off work for nearly everyone.  The country doesn't want you to work... they want you to get out and vote.  So I did just that.  I woke up and walked over to my local polling station (which happens to be the elementary school I teach at) and proudly voted in my first Israeli election.  Waves of people were rolling into the school all day, looking to vote and then to enjoy the rest of the beautiful sunny January day... OFF!  I personally voted and then enjoyed the rest of my afternoon by jumping off a cliff.  To put it in other words; I voted and then went repelling in the canyon connected to Tekoa.  For me, it was definitely all around a memorable day.  As I returned home that evening I once again turned on my TV and my laptop for live coverage of election results as the polls were closing.  In the end this new Knesset is nearly split in half between right wing and left wing parties.  The next week will bring in more clarity as Prime Minister Netanyahu attempts to form his new coalition government that will serve the next four years.  Only time and a lot of negotiations will bring clarity as to what that will look like.

 I voted and then went repelling in the canyon connected to Tekoa.

I have said this before and I will say it again; as far left as my American politics usually go my Israeli politics go just as far right.  I'm therefore hoping for a strong right wing government for the next four years.  I hope that BiBi will include Bayit Yehudi (the party I voted for) in his coalition government.  Israel needs to focus on internal issues as much as it needs to focus on world politics.  Rising cost of living with low wages has made it continually more and more difficult to make a living here.  I, for example, work 2 to 3 jobs a week just to make ends meet and I make no where near enough to think about purchasing a car or a house any time in the near future.  Although Israel is making huge strides towards using natural resources instead of foreign oil, we still have a long way to go before our wallets feel a difference.  Fortunately I live in a place that encourages sun and wind energy, grey water filtration systems, compost, recycling, etc.  I pray that the future of Israel is a green one, an affordable one, a peaceful one.

As my week moved towards the end I was honored to attend my cousin Chen's army swearing-in ceremony at the Kotel-Western Wall Thursday night.  Hundreds of people gathered in support of their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends in this hour long ceremony.  Chen is a special guy, and he has worked incredibly hard to attain the status and privilege of an elite combat unit in the Golani Brigade.  This 18 year old young man, standing proudly at attention was given special recognition for his hard work and focus thus far in his training.  Entering the army surly turns boys into men and girls into women.  Each soldier was presented with their weapon and a copy of the Torah-Tanach at the end of the ceremony, which was incredibly moving to see and be a part of.  As the entire audience sang Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem) I couldn't help but be in awe of the enormity of it all.  Here we were in modern times, standing in the courtyard of where our Holy Temple stood singing Hatikvah and watching a new generation of soldiers begin their journey in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).  

This huge week has been humbling and thought provoking.  As I have said before, we are on the cusp of huge changes in the world.  A newly inaugurated American President.  A newly reelected Israeli Prime Minister.  A new group of young men and women sworn to protect and serve in the IDF for the next 2 to 3 years.  

 A great family picture with the Kotel-Western Wall in the background.
Celebratory hugs!

With so much change in the world it is nice to take a moment out to focus on something else.  This Shabbat was a time of renewal and celebration.  It is the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the birthday of trees.  It never ceases to amaze me that in the midst of turmoil and rising tensions, we as the Jewish people take a day and spiritually thank nature.  We plant trees and gardens and thank Gd for our fruits and vegetables, the air we breathe, the circle of nature's life.  The custom is to eat fruits for which the land of Israel is praised: "...a land of wheat, barley, [grape] vines, fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and [date] honey"  Deut. 8:8  So after spending a weekend cooking and eating from the new year's harvest I'm ready to come back to life and see what the coming weeks, months, and years have in store for us.  Tu B'Shevat Sameach -  Happy Spiritual Arbor Day.  Plant a tree!!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our Best Interest

Based on the following two articles I've read today in Israel News - Arutz Sheva I was honored to have the below attached conversation with a family friend.  Enjoy the read!

Yitzhak: Any person that voted for this idiot should be ashamed.  Israel has TORAH what does this man mean when he says "Israel doesn't know what's good for it."  We know what's good for us and we know what Gd has in store for this man/policies and supporters...

Jeanie:  That is very a very disrespectful way to speak of the President... regardless of whether or not one agrees with his policies or statements.  Is that patriotism American-style?

Yitzhak: The beauty is I have a first amendment right to express my thoughts.  It is very patriotic to express ones thoughts especially towards our government.  [The government is] dysfunctional and way off track.  We have a president that thinks he has Gd's knowledge to tell the world what they should do in their best interest... chutzpah...

Yitzhak:  Not disrespectful... I honor the office but dislike the man...

Jeanie:  I didn't say you don't have the right to do so... just that you were doing so in a disrespectful way, in my opinion.  I continue to think that.  It is possible to express disagreement and displeasure without resorting to such language.

Sarah:  What chutzpah!  Next week we have an election here in Israel and I'm voting even further right than [Benjamin Netanyahu].  Bayit Yehudi is gaining momentum and we need to protect our country. [Gd willing] this is the way to go!!

Jeanie:  Israel cannot be compared to the U.S. in terms of guns and happily, one doesn't find armed Israeli civilians entering Israeli elementary schools to murder 6 and 7 year olds and their teachers.  "I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense.  But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home." --Ronald Reagan, 1989

Sarah:  Of course Israel cannot be compared to the US in terms of gun control.  It's horrific what keeps happening in America, but as an American liberal (I've always voted that way) I still believe that taking away guns from good guys doesn't stop the bad guys from causing terror and tragedy.  Laws should be looked at and reevaluated, especially when it comes to an armed public.  I think the bigger issue is mental health and health care in America.  I wrote about it in a blog a few weeks back.  I still think that it's chutzpah of President Obama to slander Israel and say we don't know what's best for ourselves.  It's easy to sit on the sidelines and assume... it's different to live here and understand the truth.  The Israeli public knows what they need and this coming [Israeli] election will show a huge move to the right.  As far left as my American politics go, my Israeli politics go just as far right... obviously since living in Judea (the West Bank).  I'm for peace, everyone is for peace, but America could be supporting Israel instead of undermining us.

Jeanie:  I agree that the issues of gun control and mental health (or lack of it here) are definitely linked and they make for a toxic and disastrous mix.  Most reasonable thinking people here do not oppose citizens owning guns for legit reasons however, many feel that regular folks in this country do not need assault rifles, for example, any more than they need tanks, grenades or rocket launchers.  Such things need to be legitimately controlled in order to safeguard the rights of unarmed citizens such as schoolchildren.  Those who are most pushing guns via the NRA are weapons manufacturers and quite frankly, I believe they are motivated by the opportunity to make huge profits regardless of the collateral damage.  Their desire to make money must be balanced by the right of people to be safe from gun violence.  I support gun control measures, including ammunition tracking measures, and mental health services for the population as a whole.  Good guys have nothing to fear from mental health services generally or gun control measures!  Indeed, responsible gun owners should be at the forefront of the debate calling for controls to keep weapons out of the hands of idiots, the morally corrupt, the mentally ill, and violent people overall.  

"I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns.  I believe it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses." -- 1934, NRA President Karl Frederick

[By the way]... I happen to think that President Obama should not presume to speak for Israel.  Israel knows better than the U.S. where its interests lie... the U.S. president is authorized by virtue of his election to speak for the American people.  Duly elected Israeli leaders are authorized to speak for Israelis.

Sarah:  I also hear what you're saying about assault rifles and you're right those issues need to be seriously evaluated.  I just wonder if there is something different that can and should be happening to get the guns away from the mentally ill, gangs, mobs... essentially all the wrong people.  That's what scares me more than some 2nd amendment-NRA-gun collector.  The moral decline that I keep reading about in America along with the leap of crazies shooting up schools, malls, etc would make me want to go out and get a gun... and with a quickness.  I wanted one when I lived in LA for the same reasons, but my roommates out voted me 3 to 1 anti-gun so I never got one.  I'll tell you what, there were several times that I would have felt much safer if I did have one tucked away somewhere.  I hope that America does what's best for America and that sanity prevails!

Also, I'm glad that we agree that President Obama should NOT speak on Israel.  He doesn't have to like the politics of our country, but I'll tell you what... his song would change if he was surrounded by neighbors like; Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood... PLO, rocks and riots, terror on the roads, civil wars in neighboring countries, Iran, etc.  I think any American who doesn't think Israel is doing right for herself should spend a while walking in Israel's shoes before condemning them.

Last but not least... it's not up to us to judge anyone else.  America to Israel.  Israel to America.  Human to Human.  It's not our job.  It's Ha'Shem's job and His only.  "Those who bless Israel, will be blessed.  Those who curse Israel, will be cursed." -- Genesis 12:3

Jeanie:  It's funny... when I was in Israel, I felt safer and breathed many a sigh of relief whenever I saw the beautiful, armed young men and women of the [Israeli Defense Forces] whose courage and sweetness I cherish in my heart.  In America, one's safety is much more tenuous and is not, in any way, enhanced or assured by the presence of so many guns.  In this country, there is a great deal of random violence unrestrained and mixed with mental illness and racial hatred... there are people who think they have the right to shoot black kids or Hispanic kids, or Sikhs at prayer or innocent people in shopping malls or movie theaters or children at their lessons in school and it could just as easily be any one of us.  And despite the Wild West rhetoric and false bravado, the simple fact is more innocent people are killed with their own weapons here than bad guys.  It truly is an armed madhouse and there is little political will to fix the problem in large part due to the efforts of powerful weapons manufacturers who comprise the great majority membership of the NRA and whose lobbyists make substantial contributions to politicians' campaign funds, co-opting those elected representatives' votes on many issues.  The problem is not with responsible gun owners but with the simple fact that more weapons means more money for manufacturers with little care or consideration of the consequences or fallout for the country as a whole.  As for President Obama's remarks, as I said he ought not to presume to speak for Israelis but doing so does not mean he is an "idiot" merely that he spoke presumptuously and while the 1st amendment permits one to speak one's mind, I maintain that to refer to a sitting president in such terms is simply disrespectful and does not convey that the speaker honors the office.  If presumptuousness equals idiocy then a great many of us must fall under this label, including some of my dearest friends and [family]! Torah rightly enjoins us to guard our speech and we would do well to heed this!  And that's my two cents.  Blessings on you and your loved ones... may you be protected in our holy land!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Future of Am Yisrael

When I find myself thinking about Israeli politics I typically think of myself as extremely ignorant.  I'm not trying to imply that I'm any sort of an expert on American politics either, but I do understand the basic workings of the government.  Up until a handful of years ago I didn't even think of Israel as a place I would ever want to go, let alone live in... let alone try to understand the politics of.  My my, how things change.

With an election just around the corner I was delighted to hear about a politician, and future Knesset member, coming to Tekoa to speak.  On a very stormy and cold night here in Tekoa, unfortunately not many people came out to hear him speak.  I, on the other hand, was extremely glad that I did.  Jeremy Gimpel came to speak to us about the Bayit Yehudi party, who they are, where they stand, and their views on what's in store for the future of Israel.  What I learned is that I wish more political parties had such values, integrity, spirit, passion, and inclusiveness.  This IS the future of Israel.

The Bayit Yehudi are proud Jewish Zionists who are looking to represent and include ALL of Am Yisrael.  Their party includes; Sephardi Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, secular Jews, and religious Jews.  They represent Kibbutznic Jews, Hevron and Judea/Sameria Jews, Beer Sheva Jews, Tel Aviv Jews, Israeli Sabres, English speakers, French speakers, women, men.  They're the most former kravi-combat unit political party.  They're young, quality and values based, and are representing every facet of Israeli life today.

So for all of you undecided and eligible voters, here is my push... vote Bayit Yehudi.

Arutz Sheva interview with Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett

They're looking to make a more "Jewish Israel."  This isn't about making anyone more religious.  It's about having an identity.  Knowing who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.  Having national pride and coming together under the amazing idea that we are a Jewish people living in the historical land of Israel.

They're working towards a resurgence of the Zionistic spirit.  With respect for ourselves, the world will then in turn respect us.  We have a right to be a free people in our own land!

The current system is self destructive.  We're all siblings... family... one body.  When rockets are falling on the south, residents in the north should be up at arms.  We need to have a sense of social solidarity and caring for each other.  We have to work together to establish a better future for our country.  From secular to ultra-orthodox, we have to speak well of each other and support each other.

The Bayit Yehudi party is the only party that is 100% against a Palestinian state.  There is no one to talk to on the other side, as we have seen for decades, and the peace process is not going anywhere.  Our primary focus should be internal.  

With regards to areas A, B, and C and the divisions of Judea and Sameria, aka the "West Bank"; the immediate annexation of Area C, which is where I currently live, 400,000 Jews would be included in the overall undisputed land of Israel.  The 48,000 Arab residents of Area C would also be offered Israeli citizenship, but would most likely decline just like the Arabs of East Jerusalem did.  They could still live in their homes and villages, but without citizenship they would obtain the equivalent of a green card and not be allowed to have any expression of national rites.

Areas A and B are populated only by Arabs and would stay the same as it is right now.  In 1988, Arabs in A and B had Jordanian citizenship.  Currently 80% of Jordanian residents including their Queen are Palestinians.  The land of Jordan was the original designation of the land of (what was later called) Palestine.  Both the Jordanian and Palestinian flags are the same.  The Arabs in Areas A and B should have Jordanian citizenship and be able to express their national rites there.  They're welcome to take up green card residence in Israel and hold citizenship elsewhere.

There is no way that we should allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to become their own county.  Allowing this to happen would allow millions of claimed Palestinian descendants to move to Areas A and B.  The establishment of a country could mean an armed PA which is a major threat to the safety and security of Israel.

As we look towards the election in just a few weeks time we should be thinking about the future of Israel.  What do we want to see for ourselves, our children, and our children's children?  We want to know, feel, and understand the beauty and importance of being Jews living in Israel.  We want to love and respect ALL Jews from one side of the spectrum to the other and everything in between.  We have to fight for ourselves and fight for each other.  We have to be passionate about Israel and willing to do whatever it takes to make ourselves free in our own land.  Free to build without international scrutiny.  Free to defend ourselves without holding back.  Free to be Jewish in the one and only tiny sliver of land that has been ours for thousands of years.  From Avraham Avinu to modern day Israel, we need to fight for who we are and be proud of our uniqueness and our role in being a light to the nations of the world.  Tikun Olam.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Truth

There seems to be an erie silence happening in Israel right now.  So much has happened in the past few months that I'm afraid to admit that right now feels like the calm before the storm.  On January 22 we will be electing a new Prime Minister and polls are leading to a shift in the Kennesset (the house goverment) to the right.  I believe that the results in this election will determine the future in the middle east.  The Palestinian Authority's (PA) Abbas is continually refusing to come to the negotiating table with our current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  They currently want all negotiations to begin with many preconditions.  In my humble opinion; peace talks should begin with the mutual agenda of PEACE and not "peace on the condition of..."  PA officials continue to demad Israel accept the indefensible 1949 Armistice lines as borders, free all Arab terrorists from its jails, and again freeze construction before talks of peace can resume.  The PA also refuses to acknowledge Israel's right to exsist at all.  How can peace be made under these conditions?  I'm not asking rehtorically.  I really want to know!  I have no idea how to make it happen. 

This fantastic video clearly and concisely describes the truth about the West Bank and the Palestinian conflict.

This second video is an excellent description of the history that we have seen in trying to make peace with the PA. 

What do we learn from both of these videos?  That we have a long way to go before peace will be attained in the middle east.  There is not much else I can add to this, but both of these 2 videos clearly and effectively describe what it is that I'm struggling to put into words.  We will continue to see how events unfold as we near the election on January 22.  Stay tuned!
I pray that we see peace in our time.  Real peace.  Lasting peace.  I hope that this new year, 2013 bring lots of blessings of peace and happiness to all of us.  Happy New Year!