Wednesday, September 26, 2007

And I Thought I Was Ahead Of The Curve

I thought I was pretty cool wearing Crocs (black, see lower left pair in photo above), instead of Converse Hi-tops to synagogue this Yom Kippur

Yeh. Me and 10,000 other cool guys.

Oh well.

As the JTA reports in this story:

"Like many High Holidays worshipers, Andrew Steinerman had traditionally dealt with the Yom Kippur prohibition on wearing leather footwear by turning to Converse's classic Chuck Taylor high-top canvas basketball shoe.Not anymore. This year the prominent Wall Street analyst sported a pair of black Crocs to his Modern Orthodox shul on the holiest day of the Jewish Calendar. ..."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sukkot - We Have Lost The True Meaning

Sukkot should be a universal holiday. We pray for rain - which as the Talmudic Rabbis noted falls on everyone, Jew or Arab, rich or poor. It is a holiday when we should remember our homelessness and once refugees status, be thankful for what we now have, and work to see that all people have secure and adequate housing, and no on is forced to wander.

But as Rabbi David Foreman points out in this article from the Jerusalem Post, that is not the case. We have lost our way. We have forgotten the universal meaning of Sukkot. Now, Sukkot, the land of Israel, God itself, have become - by our warped viewpoint - for Jews only.

"Succot commemorates the 40-year period during which the Children of Israel wandered in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Because for almost 2,000 years we lived as a stateless people, exiled from one place to the next, one would expect that now that we are well established in our permanent succa - read state - we would be sensitive to others who wish to fashion a sense of permanency and rootedness."

Amir Cheshin, who served as Teddy Kollek's and Ehid Olmert's Arab affairs advisor, writes in his book, From Separate and Unequal: The Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem: "In 1967, Israel's leaders adopted two basic principles in their rule of East Jerusalem. The first was to rapidly increase the Jewish population in East Jerusalem. The second was to hinder growth of the Arab population."

"While there are countless examples of this ruthless policy being applied, there is one family in particular that has suffered excessively - the Dari family, who have been labeled "common criminals" by Jerusalem's Mayor, Uri Lupolianski, because they dared to build their home without the requisite permits."

"Why? Because such permits are virtually impossible to acquire as Israel has turned urban planning in Jerusalem into a tool of the government in order to prevent the expansion of the Palestinian population in the Holy City."

"What happens when a Palestinian adds on a room "illegally," let alone builds an illegal home? Bulldozers are sent to wreak their devastation. ..."

"... If one were to peruse the minutes of city council meetings from the early 90s, where former deputy mayor Avraham Kakhila states that the municipality's policy is to expropriate lands from Arabs in order to build Jewish neighborhoods, and if this is not possible then to "paint the areas green" so that that Arabs cannot build, one might surmise that Lupolianski is merely enforcing a historical precedence. ..."

"On one of my ritual morning walks, I strolled through Mea Shearim. I inquired of a few families if they had an official permit from the city for the rooms that they added to their homes. Not a single one could produce one. And yet, no demolition orders were carried out. It should be incumbent upon the Municipality to take action against all those who violate the law, be they Jewish or Arab. But as former city official Haim Miller said, "I don't sign demolition orders for Jews, only for Arabs. ..."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Different Strokes

I will be going to synagogue this Yom Kippur, and fasting. I have done so pretty regularly for the past 15 years. It is, in fact, one of my favorite Jewish holy-days. The meaning is clear and, in my opinion at least, meaningful and significant. Examine our behavior. Repent. Improve.

Today I came across two articles, by old friends, both about Yom Kippur. Both passionate in their own way.

This one, by Rachele Baile, describes her own secular/spiritual path.

This one, by Brad Burston, bemoans secular Israeli's who dismiss Reform practices on Yom Kippur as untrue to Judaism, while at the same time not believing in nor ever practicing Orthodoxy, which they hold up as the only authentic Judaism.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bizarre And Anti-Semitic

The disturbing image above is embedded in a bizarre video put out by Hamas to explain its take on its recent take over of the Gaza Strip. While primarily designed to discredit Fatah as greedy, corrupt, vicious, and anti-Islamic rats, and Hamas as the noble Lion King, the animators couldn't help slip in this chilling image of what the Lion King had been up to before having been interrupted in order to save Gaza from the Fatah vermin.

Check out the video for yourself - here.

A Very Partial Victory

The Israeli Supreme Court, yesterday, ordered the Israeli government to redraw, partially dismantle and rebuild the route of a 1.7 kilometer section of the West Bank separation fence, which was built on land belonging to Bil'in, a Palestinian village which has become a major focus of opposition to the separation fence.

For nearly three years, the fence, at Bil'in, has been at the focus of weekly demonstrations, punctuated by numerous violent confrontations between protesters and soldiers and police deployed at the site.

But, this is only a partial victory for the residence fo Bil'in and their allies. The re-routed fence, while now allowing Bil'in farmers access nearly 3000 dunam (300 hectares) of their own land that would have been otherwise cut off from their access, will still be allowed to surround the Mattityahu West neighborhood.

Mattiyahu West is the subject of another lawsuit by Bil'in residents, who claim - with quite a lot of justification it would seem, that it sits on land illegally expropriated from them and then transfered to private developers. One of these developers has since gone bankrupt (while its principal owner is lounging on the Italian Riviera) , stranding dozens of Haredei buyers without their money and without legal title to the apartments they thought they had purchased. Of course, those apartments still on land stolen from Bil'in farmers. Yesterday's court ruling does not address this mess.

So as of now, the "wild east" in the West Bank continues. "Every man does as he sees fit; there is no law and there is no judgment"

Only 13 years

The remarkable thing about a recent story in the Israeli press, about "Jewish" education in Israel's state sponsored secular schools is not that it is conservative, one sided, and dominated by the Orthodox - that's no surprise - but that it took the Israeli government 13 years to figure out that this was going on!

In 1994, the Shenhar committee, which examined the manner in which Judaism is taught at schools, submitted its recommendations to former education minister Professor Amnon Rubenstein. The recommendations were adopted and became the ministry's policy on Jewish education in secular schools.

"We are not willing to abandon Jewish studies to those who belong solely to the Orthodox world," Rubenstein said when receiving the recommendations 13 years ago.

Now, according to a governmnet audit report, it turns out that only three of the 25 organizations funded by the Ministry of Education to teach Judaism actually teach "the many faces of the Jewish culture" as demanded by the Shenhar committee's report.

According to the audit, one of the organizations "uses preachy language which tells students about the right Judaism - the Orthodox Judaism. There isn't any reference to secular Judaism at all."

Another organization "stressed that a Jew is someone who has a Jewish mother or who has converted according to Halacka," or Jewish law, the report stated.

The report added that "other alternatives were not addressed" and that "the students were taught that boys and girls should be separated - the former will puts on phylacteries and the latter will light Shabbat candles."

In response to the report, Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center said that that "The schools must be able to teach Judaism and Zionism in a manner that is fitting to the views of the students and their parents, while promoting pluralism in Israeli society."

More importantly the government must be able to monitor and enforce its own policies. But, as with so much else in Israel, official policy is one thing and "facts on the ground" are another. And just as in so many areas of Israeli society, the right and the Orthodox, do what they want, and the government turns a blind eye - often with a wink and a nudge.

Poverty Rising in Israel

The Israeli economy is booming. Particularly the high tech sphere and defense related industries. Yet poverty is on the rise. And the division of Israeli society into three class continues: the rich, the poor, and the middle class fighting to stay out of poverty.

According to the latest Israeli government figures, 27% of Israeli citizens live below the poverty line. This includes 35% of its children. As expected, large families make up a disproportionate number of the poor. But, not as expected, the number of working poor - those with at least one member working full time but who still can not make ends meet, is rising. Activists insist this is at least partly caused by the government failing to enforce its own already weak labour laws. That and the virtual dismantling of the government's social safety net during Ariel Sharon's premiership, with Bibi Netanyahu trying to out-Thatcher Thatcher while Minister of Finance.

All this is a far cry from the dreams of Israel's early Labour Zionists.

For more info see this article in the Jerusalem Post, and this one in Haaretz.