Thursday, August 17, 2006

Jerusalem: War Between The Lines

Many people wondered how it was possible living in Jerusalem could be so quiet compared to what went on just a couple of hours to the north. But as I sat recently in a café with two friends before the cease fire was struck, we decided if a war broke out in Rhode Island, you wouldn’t hear the noise in Fenway Park because Providence is at least 60 minutes drive from Boston.
So it was in Jerusalem that when rockets landed as far south as Hadera or northern Samaria, we didn’t hear a thing because we were still an hour away.
Even at night when sound travels faster and more cleverly, the only noises were the occasional diesel engines of a bus, a cat looking for a "friend," or a couple of yeshiva students excited about seeing a particular Hassidic superstar folk singer every morning.
Here in Jerusalem as in many places in the center of the country, the war was easy to keep at bay as long as the threat of missiles did not extend further south one only offered a quick glance at the pictures of IDF casualties on the front page of each morning’s newspaper.
Without watching television, listening to the radio, or checking the internet for the latest news every ten minutes, you wouldn’t know war was available to be afraid of.
However, if you opened the shades and looked a bit deeper at society, the war was there in impeccable ways.
For example, instead of seeing the usual 18-21 year old soldiers in the streets performing their mandatory national service, another type of soldier who already completed his years ago was reemerging.
Outside my window on a sunny morning I saw a 30 something man in uniform headed for the war in Lebanon, perhaps for true combat.
His army uniform freshly removed from the back of his closet, his shoes still shining from the last time he did reserve duty, he slipped through the gold Jerusalem sun with a small pack on his back, the brand name obscured by use in a previous life.
When the time came for this keen but not-so-tough-looking Israeli with graying hair and other men and woman like him to step up, leave home, and do their part to defend their country, they followed through on their pledge.
I don’t know whether the man in green I saw made it home but 84 other brave brothers and one sister didn’t.
Together with 42 civilians, 126 Israelis lost their lives and more than 1000 were wounded in more than 4000 rocket attacks that rained down on Israel over 34 days.
More than 1 million others were forced to join an exodus south in order to flee the missiles and while in the center of the country, they teamed up with communities and families who took them in after they had nowhere to go.
That’s where another example of the war crept in.
The "ones from the north" were everywhere bringing their side of the war to Jerusalem falafel stands, hitchhiking posts, movie theaters, and shabbat tables.
Walking through the annual Jerusalem International Arts Fair being held in the Sultans Pool area below the Old City, many evacuees enjoyed the displays by Israeli and international exhibitors from places like Niger, Brazil, Indonesia, Mongolia, and Jordan.
Had there been no war, would there had been as many people crowding the artists and their crafts?
At one booth I heard one woman say she was from Kiryat Shemona, in the food court there was another from Haifa, in the Moroccan tent there was another from Tiveria, -all trying to escape the dread of Hizbullah.
But now that a cease fire exists, most are returning northward hoping and praying the last battle was fought.
Though a majority is pessimistic and believes the terms of UN resolution 1701 will ultimately lead to Israel vs Hizbullah II, taking back their lives is what Israelis want and they are not going to let the shortcomings of a silly resolution by the UN stop them.
Even in Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital, life is returning to normal and the oddities of war have subsided.
There are still three IDF soldiers being held captive and the struggle for their release continues everywhere but the mobilization to and from Lebanon has lifted.
As of Thursday, all reserves called up for service returned to Israel and may have even filled the vacancies at the arts fair left by the "tourists" from the north who were so grateful for the southern hospitality but were happy to go home and sleep in their own beds.
REPORT FROM SDEROT

Just two hours before arriving in Sderot with a small solidarity mission from Jerusalem, several rockets were launched at the southern Israeli town activating the "Red Dawn" early warning system. It announces the words "red dawn’ over loud speakers alerting residents to take cover.
Currently "Red Dawn" is being updated and is expected to provide a more accurate warning for residents to head for a secure room or shelter.
It is also being renamed "Color Red," since children who are called ‘Dawn’ have been traumatized by hearing their name every time there is an attack.
"The Palestinians are trying and they are almost succeeding in making Sderot a ghost town because it happens to be scary here," Sderot resident Rabbi Dov Fendel told the IHC.
"We don’t have figures but there is a lot of panic and fear and if they could leave they would but they don’t know where to go since there is a war in the north," Fendel said.
The residents of Sderot have been bombarded with Kassam rockets long before last summer’s disengagement plan.
Back then launch sites were generally deeper inside Gaza and the communities there acted as a buffer zone protecting the perimeter towns but since Sderot is so close to the border, it was still hit by the missiles.
Now that Gush Katif no longer exists, the Palestinians have moved closer to the Gaza/Israel border focusing their attacks on places like Sderot believing if they apply enough pressure Israel will leave just like it left the Gush and northern Samaria.
However, Fendel was optimistic and explained how parts of the community are growing and even though Sderot is mainly secular, his seminary is planning to expand across a large area of town.
"As the Palestinians shell, we build," he said adding that everything is being privately funded.
Standing on top of a building near the eastern side of Sderot, Rabbi Fendel explained that Kassams, which weigh 8 kilos, have killed but more than anything, cause damage and inflict fear in the hearts of people.
"Its as if you walk into a house with a gun and you shoot and you miss and say, ‘no big deal," he said adding that it just happened two hours ago when one fell next to a house just missing its owner.
"All I have to do is move over two meters and the person is dead," said the rabbi.
In some cases, people have been killed but even though a fatality has not happened for a year and a half in Sderot, people know if the rockets continue falling it will happen again.
Sderot was established in1954 by a group of Persian and Moroccan Jews who were brought over by boat and dropped off in the area with no strategic considerations in mind even though they were about 3 kilometers from the Gaza border.
Rabbi Fendel described how when the immigrants came off the boat authorities put them on trucks and when the trucks ran out of gas they founded the town.
Eventually in 1990 a large Russian immigration raised the population closer to the present total of 25,000.
Prior to the 1967 Six Day War 1967 residents say ties between the Jews of the area and the Arabs of Gaza were sporadic but after the war, relations improved dramatically.
It was only after the first intifada began in 1987 that they began to sour but was still strong. However, when the Olso process started and Israel gave weapons to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat thinking he wanted peace, all signs of cooperation ended.
Now, Fendel says, the situation has gone from bad to worse.
"Its clear that the Palestinian’s motivation has multiplied since the disengagement as it gave them a whole new spirit. If they can get rid of Neve Dikalim anything is possible," he said
His wife, Mechi Frieverwitzer-Fendel agrees but thinks Sderot fairs better politically than the communities that were inside Gaza.
"When rockets fell on a Gaza community the people in Israel said, ‘serves them right for being there’ but when a kassam falls here I think we have a little bit of sympathy from the public," she said.
Part of that sympathy has been due to the success of the 24 hour protest tent in the town’s center, which is used to raise awareness.
Following Israel’s incursion into Gaza on 25 June 2006 after the Hamas attack that caused the killing of two IDF soldiers and the abduction of a third, the IDF responded with artillery fire on open areas across the border and limited air strikes targeting terrorist cells.
Residents of Sderot were furious that the government didn’t allow the IDF to use greater capability in dealing with the Palestinians and that many of the attacks came from the evacuated communities in Gaza.
Now that Israel has returned to Gaza to uproot the terror infrastructure there, the people of Sderot have renewed hope a cessation of attacks may come sooner than later.
Until then, life goes on and the community tries to function normally, though children are told to play near closed areas so they can take cover if there is an attack.
Teenagers feel the pressure too as Ohr, a 16 year old waitress at a local diner described.
She said she lives with the fear everyday and remembers when a year and a half ago, her neighbor and friend Elle Abukasis was killed as she tried to save her younger siblings after a Kassam hit their home.
"I was home, there was a boom so big and scary and she was hit in here house," Ohr said.
Standing behind the bar, she added that others her age want peace but before there can be peace Israel needs to destroy the groups that are out to destroy the Jewish State.
While daily Kassam attacks on Sderot and nearby communities have dropped slightly in recent days, they are falling in greater numbers and when they do they cause damage, injury, and fear.
In the past two weeks more than 40 hit Sderot, surrounding towns, and open areas in the western Negev desert. Several people were wounded and treated for shock.

Monday, May 29, 2006

It Was My First Israeli Election

There are two big differences between voting in America and voting in Israel.

The first is that unlike in America where the voter chooses a candidate, in Israel the voter chooses a political party and if that party receives the most votes, it is given the task of forming a coalition.

The second big difference occurs on election day itself.

Several weeks before the vote each citizen receives a small white card in the mail alerting the voter to the location of his voting station.

On election day he arrives, waits in line, signs in, receives an envelope, stands behind a booth and from a box with many little cubicles stuffed with pieces of paper representing the different political parties, he chooses one.

He then places the paper in the envelope, seals it and drops it in a large blue ballot box in the center of the room.

This year, due to an unsatisfied voter base, many of us didn’t choose a party until literally, the last minute. I didn’t make my final decision until after the security guard at the local high school I was assigned checked my bag.

Still, the question of ‘who’ I was going to vote for was not as important as the fact I was voting and doing it in my people’s home, Israel.

That’s why it was shocking that only sixty three percent of eligible voters came out to stand in similar lines around the country.

We all know living in Israel can sometimes be frustrating but where were the people on this great day?

Everyone knows that this past election could have major ramifications regarding the future of the modern day Jewish homeland.

But even more than the heat of the moment, the act of voting itself was enough to bring me out to independently proclaim who will represent my confidence in the next government, though I didn’t really care for many of the parties’ platforms.

More than just feeling like I was acting on my civil right to vote, the reason for voting was much deeper and involved the drive that brought me here.

It involved pride and in retrospect, the merit of being patriotic on a day that became the lowest voter turnout in Israeli history opened my eyes to the possibility that not only beauty but freedom can also be in the eyes of the beholder.

Being a US citizen, this was not my first introduction to voter apathy and the common perception that it doesn’t matter whom you vote for because you feel like nothing’s going to change.

But as Israelis continue to strive to be like America, the great country that it is, it appears they have incorporated a common American misconception that voting will not make a difference.
Just like Americans sometimes forget how awesome the freedom and liberty is that binds the United States together and how that reflects upon residents of the US, Jewish Israelis don’t realize that their alienation from the polls may hinge on a lack of something deeper: pride in the themselves.

This can best be illustrated by an incident that happened to me in a bar on Purim this past March. That’s where I met Shlomi, 25, who was dressed up as Elvis though he looked more like a 1966 version of Paul McCartney.

Sitting at a table eating peanuts, Shlomi listened to me tell him why I came to live here and why this is the best place for Jews to be.

It was not about lack of appreciation for America or other countries of origin where our people are scattered but it was about pride in who we are when we live in our ancestral home, even with all of its problems.

Shlomi sat and listened and in the end he said he regretted he didn’t feel the same but was grateful for people who come to live here because as he put it, "they are the only ones who are ideological today and what we need here is renewed ideology."

Though he was not ready to lead the pack, Shlomi acknowledged he believes in the good of this country but after a difficult army service and other issues pertaining to religion he wanted to be left alone to live his life without all the bureaucracy.

When I stood in the ballot box line at the high school on election day I looked around and thought of Shlomi.

Of all the people there, most were middle aged or elderly and everyone seemed to carry a smile in and out of the voting booth.

Most had lived in Israel for years and I could tell they held their heads high knowing they were voting in an election whose main participants were Jews.

While other minorities are welcome in the political process here, voting in Israel means forming a government that is primarily Jewish that will be a part of the greater international community giving the Jewish People a say in the world and that itself is an amazing thing.

Now that several months have passed since the elections, I think the people who voted in that campaign must immediately spring forth to change the face of this country.

Those of us who have pride in being in our ancestral homeland must refill the pride in others and go out and tell everyone how good it is.

We must reinstate the family atmosphere and jettison the distasteful voices that believe in post-Zionism whose fruits only bare self-hatred and lead to self-destruction.

But where do we start?

I know for myself, my first step in this campaign was when I placed the piece of paper in the blue envelope, sealed it and held it over the large blue box in the middle of the room.

What my vote actually meant and if it made a difference where I believe the difference needed to be made will only be answered during the great debate this country will engulf itself in the coming year.

However, I left that high school with a smile on my face and walked down my street on the partly cloudy election day knowing that whatever the outcome, Israel is our home and this is where the Jewish People need to be and that is why I voted.

We made the dream come true and now we must wake up and make the dream reality for many more generations.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Flying With Friendly Spies

Coming and going from Israel can be just as much an experience as being in Israel and when I recently was about to land in New York after flying across the Atlantic from the Jewish State, my neighbor to my right and I decided to finally open a conversation.

I had slept most of the way and had missed one of my meals but the last hour before landing at Kennedy International Airport was quite intriguing.

Avraham, not his real name, told me he was a businessman who traveled the world selling toys and a number of other things.

Close to sixty, he was of Lebanese descent and moved to Israel when he was a teenager in the fifties. He remembered growing up as a religious Jew in Lebanon and how it was a culture shock when he immigrated to Israel with his family and saw Jews not ‘keeping’ the Jewish Sabbath.

Over the course of time, Avraham, fluent in Arabic, French, and English excelled in his studies in school and become a top student. His knowledge of several languages and the fact his birth place was a neighboring Arab state made him a candidate for Israel’s intelligence community.

He had wanted to enroll in the air force but because he was colorblind he didn’t pass the final entrance exam.

However, being a spy in ‘enemy’ countries would prove to be exciting enough, as he was involved in some extremely sensitive intelligence work.

I didn’t ask Avraham to divulge any details connected to his past but I inquired about his feelings towards his service to the state.

He simply replied, "They were some of the best years of my life."

When Avraham decided to give up working in the field and settled down to start a family, he explained it was an opportunity for him to return to his traditional roots, as he had not been observant for a number of years.

It was in this part of his story that Avraham told me he comes from a long line of rabbis from Syria.

He explained how his great grandfather, who was from Damascus, traveled to Egypt in the 1800’s to serve the community there and compiled a book of questions and answers on topics relating Jewish religious practice.

Avraham said that when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the current leader of the Shas political party, was the Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, he visited Egypt and retrieved the manuscript of his great grandfather bringing it back to Israel to have it printed.

He then took out an extra copy he carried with him and gave it to me as we landed.
Whether it was a token of his appreciation for my listening to his story or his understanding that I was truly interested in the book’s contents, I was grateful for the gift.

It would be a special reminder of my trip to the US when I met a spy in the flying Israeli living room called EL AL.

It was there that he passed on the teachings of his fathers to me openly, without secrecy, and with the knowledge that it’s contents would be used to strengthen the Jewish People, not by might nor by power, but by spirit alone.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

91st Commemoration of Armenian Genocide Held at Hebrew University

Jews, Armenians Both Feel Need For Israel To Be At Forefront Of Recognition

The Hebrew University in Israel held its commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at its Givat Ram Campus in Jerusalem on Wednesday 26 April 2006 with some 200 people in attendance.

The annual event, organized by Armenian Studies Professor Michael Stone, came two days after 24 April; the official day Armenians mark the deportation and murder of 1.5 million of their people between 1915 and 1917 by the Ottoman Turks.

As in previous years, the commemoration of the Genocide coincided with the State of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which pays tribute to the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis in World War II.

The striking similarity in the history of both peoples is often spoken about in Jewish and Armenian circles as both have experienced tragic periods and ironically, when Hitler was asked how he planned to get away with the systematic extermination of the Jews he answered, "who remembers the Armenians?"

However, despite overwhelming documented evidence, the Genocide, to the dismay of many Armenians, is not recognized by much of the international community, most notably the State of Israel.

"I feel pride that the Jewish community is interested and sympathizes with the Armenian people and it makes me happy to be a citizen of Israel whose people really do care about the Genocide," said Jerusalem resident Serop Sahagian whose grandparents were survivors.
"But, I am very disappointed with the government’s policy. Israel should have been the first nation to recognize the Armenian Genocide and now they are one of the last and that is very bad," Sahagian said.

During the course of the evening, several of the Jewish and Armenian speakers touched on this sensitive matter.

At one point, His Excellency Mr. Tsolag Momjian, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia read a letter he received the previous week from Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada that was sent to the Armenian community.

In it Harper stated Canada’s support for Armenians and their right to have the Genocide recognized by all nations. The declaration prompted Mr. Momjian to say, "I read this tonight because I have a question for the Prime Minister of Israel," referring to the Jewish State’s official silence on the issue.

Meanwhile, Keynote speaker Yossi Sarid, a former Education Minister in the Israeli government who fought to have the Genocide placed in the Israeli curriculum, said there were two reasons for Israel’s silence.

The first, he explained was relations with Turkey.

"Who doesn’t think we should have relations with Turkey? They are important? But, when you are talking about the murder of a nation, all self interests must be overlooked," Sarid said.

"When we talk about the democratic state of Israel, Israel must be the state, if necessary the only state, that says to all the people of the world ‘we won’t make considerations because we know, we were born out of genocide," he added.

Sarid presented the second reason as a worry in the Jewish community that recognizing any other genocide will take away from the enormity of the Holocaust and said, "there is no greater educational mistake than this."

Also in attendance was the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian who cited the Jewish US Ambassador to Ottoman Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, and his first hand account of the Genocide as it was happening.

"When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for deportations of the Armenian People, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race, they understood this and in their conversations with me they made no attempt to hide the fact," the Archbishop read from Morgenthau’s writings.

The concluding remarks were given by distinguished Fulbright Scholar, Professor Abraham Terian who warmly thanked Jewish People for their efforts to help stop the denial of the Armenian People’s tragedy.

"We Armenians whether here in Jerusalem, in the US or wherever we are in the world are so truly grateful to our Jewish brothers and sisters who so conscientiously stand by us as we decry genocide and perpetrators of inhumanity," Terian said.

Born in Jaffe near Tel Aviv but currently the Academic Dean of a small Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, New York, the professor returned to the topic of the commonality that exists between Jews and Armenians and said:

"We have so much in common that we speak the same language, our Jewish brothers and sisters have theirs and we Armenians have ours but beneath it all there is a subtext that is existentially the same."

"Who should know ‘genocide’ or ‘holocaust’ any better than people that have experienced it and we of all people should be foremost in decrying what is generally called genocide, something that needs no explanation or definition anymore," Terian said.

He explained that Armenians understand why at the official level, Israeli leaders are slow to acknowledge the Genocide but believe, just as many Israeli scholars believe, that Israel it strong enough to tell Turkey:

"In all matters of political expediency, whatever the mutual interests are politically, all is fine. But, when it comes to denial of the Armenian Genocide, somehow it goes against the grain of Jewish conscience after what happened to the Jewish people in their recent past."

Professor Terian added that for Armenians, just as for Jews, the psychology of denial in 2006 is sometimes what hurts most. Still, Jews and Armenians can form a concerted voice because they "understand each other as to how it feels when they encounter those who deny the veracity of the Armenian Genocide or the Jewish Holocaust."

Finally, it should be noted that all speakers during the evening recognized that the magnitude of the Holocaust far surpasses any genocide in the 20th century till today and that there is no intention of drawing parallels as the Holocaust was a unique event in human history.

However, Armenians say they expect the Israeli government not to wait ‘for the right time’ to officially acknowledge the Genocide just for acknowledgment’s sake.

In the words of Professor Terian, "if there is any country that should be leading the way, Israel should be at the forefront of telling the Turks how it is."

Today Turkey is a strategic ally for Israel and the United States and while every US president has voiced support for recognizing the Genocide, none have taken that important step.

Also, the Turkish government continues to blatantly deny the atrocity ever took place and the US and Israel are not willing to step forward and condemn the deniers as they do when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls the Holocaust "a myth."

However, there is renewed optimism that the people of Turkey may soon come clean with their past.

Turkish intellectuals are beginning to openly write about the Genocide and a milestone was achieved in March when for the first time, Henry Morgenthau’s personal chronicle of his service as the US ambassador and witness to the massacres was published in Turkey.

That book was first released in November 1918.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

King Alex & Queen Lisa

A King and the Queen: that’s what Alex and Lisa reminded me of during their wedding last week - a good King and Queen.

In his crown, Alex wears his robe nobly. Lisa is fit for a Queen and she sits by his side not as a secondary but as an equal. Customs are customs but everyone knows the truth, the King consults the Queen whenever a decision must be made.

Alex is an "every man’s" King knowing how to converse with the commoner yet meeting the qualifications allowing him to sit at the courtly table of any neighboring government outside of Margolin.

One upon a time, a strange Duke approached King Alex while Queen Lisa was visiting with Lady Pomegranate in the Topiluti region where the Hiss lived.

The Hiss was a tribe of ancient caterpillars with a special biological sensory organ enabling them to communicate with humans. Queen Lisa was sent to Topiluti to negotiate between the Hiss and a human gang of nomads that recently set up camp adjacent to a Hiss breeding ground.

While the Queen dealt with the situation delicately, she had brought a legion of King Alex’s best soldiers for precaution. The Queen reared the King’s children but was a busy woman and understood the art of war or at least the image portrayed by battle ready troops.

Meanwhile, the strange Duke asked to meet King Alex in his private chambers and the King agreed though they would need to hurry.

A delegation of orphans from within the kingdom was to arrive that afternoon for their weekly sporting match with members of the castle elite, including the King himself.

Sitting at an oak table, the strange Duke began:

"Dear sir, I come bearing disturbing news about the Hiss who inhabit the land to the south and the nomads who I am a descendent of."

The Duke described his people’s plight and told the King he had heard the royal family in the Land of Margolin was reasonable.

King Alex listened carefully and when the clock struck, he sent the Duke on his way promising to consider all options.

That evening, Queen Lisa returned from her stay in Topiluti after unsuccessfully convincing the Hiss and the nomads to reach an agreement.

Late at night while the moon shown bright, King Alex was troubled by the day’s events.

The Queen knew her husband well but didn’t know of the Duke’s arrival earlier that day.

"The Hiss are justified in their desire for these nomads to leave," said Queen Lisa.

"Every year at this time, those grounds are the fertile crescent for their reproduction and no other land can sustain their needs," she said.

"My dear," said King Alex, "A strange Duke who’s origins are with those nomads appeared in the castle today. He told me his people have been left for the dogs in three other kingdoms due to their strange customs. They are not violent and seek asylum. Our land is very populated yet the area which the Hiss inhabit is large and could be a resting place for this small but ritualistic people."

"But Alex, how can we justify proposing to the Hiss who have lived in Topiluti since before your family ruled Margolin that they give up certain rights to their natural habitat. They mean no harm but such drastic introduction of human elements into Topiluti could lead to their extinction," said Lisa.

The King thought for a deep moment.

"Perhaps the nomads can camp in the Topiluti until a month before the breeding season begins. That should give us enough time to find acceptable alternatives for the nomads who are not a menace or threat to our peaceful way of life," said Alex.

"And what of the open border," said the Queen. "This is the fourth time a group of outsiders have ventured into Margolin and claimed a settlement without consulting your court."

"My love, for eons my family taught that the tents must remain open on all sides. If a man disagrees with another man be him a stranger from another place or a brother of the royal family, then it is an opportunity for growth and to spread the lesson to other kingdoms that peace is not always attainable but war is no answer," King Alex said quietly.

"Then I shall set out for Lady Pomegranate again to appoint her baroness of the Topiluti region until the seventh month when the nomads must leave. Until then, the Hiss will enjoy direct council to the King in the event of disarray or harm to their territory," the Queen said.

"In the morning it shall be sealed," the King responded.

For the next five months, the nomads lived in proximity to the Hiss and even grew to appreciate their uniqueness.

King Alex and Queen Lisa once again discovered the love in compromise and the Kingdom of Margolin live well, prospered and achieved widespread praise for its ideals and freedom of spirit in the context of the greater needs of the community.

Monday, December 26, 2005

It Must Be Purim -Fireside Chats With my Hanukiah: Day 1-2

Hello candles,

Tonight, the second night of Hanukkah, there are two of you plus the baal koreh -or do you call yourself the shamas.

As the master of your flame, I feel the need to let you in on a secret: last night I got into an argument with your predecessors.

I explained to them how it feels like Israel is imploding and though the daily miracles of life and breathe continue, the big miracle that the Jewish people are once again able to live in their homeland under their sovereignty seems to be fading, albeit slowly.

As I waited for a response, neither the baaal koraeh nor the one candle reacted so I backed off.

Tonight, the second night of Hanukah, I’m putting you, my new candles, to the test .

However, I want to start by reminding all of us that the worst thing a Jew can do is use his Hanukah candles for anything more than looking at their pure splendor and light.

There’s no reading by them or using them as a source for another flame.

This is Hanukah and our rabbis, the holy sages they were, had good reason to command us not to do anything with those precious lights except stare at their brave stance.

Their glare is to remind us of the light inside and the belief that the One energy source that binds all together will rescue His people at a time of calamity.

The Jewish people are not yet at a time of calamity, but a time of uncertainly has clouded the minds of Israel.

So my candles, -and there’s two of you here this evening, plus the baal koreh.

Tell me: some 9000 people lost their homes in last summer’s withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria and half the nation didn’t blink an eye.

It must be Purim, right?

Most of those people are still unemployed, traumatized and nowhere to turn!

It has to be Purim.

Furthermore, the government that uprooted them abandoned them, which means it's definitly Purim because everything is turning upside down and we can’t tell the difference between our enemies and our friends.

But no!

Sadly enough,

It’s Hanukah, and some of those families are lighting Hanukah candles in hotels, some in tents and the rest in mobile homes that you could punch your fist through if you tried hard enough. Meanwhile their former homes are now ruble in Gaza and Palestinian terrorists use their ruins to launch Kassam rockets at Israel.

Wait! Did you hear some rabbi lit a menorah on the Great Wall in China last night? That's preposterous! Maybe because of that we can say its Purim?

Ok, you got me again. I know.

The candles are supposed to be lit in public so people can be reminded of the miracles from so long ago and recieve the message of liberation and freedom.

They are the candles that say "stand up for who you are" and "walk through the Judean hills without being afraid."

Yet, I say we don’t know who we are anymore so how can we walk without being afraid!

....There's a silence.....It’s the second night of Hanukah and though my candles don't have much to offer in regards to my thoughts, their telling me something important: they aren’t perfect and their purpose is not perfection.

The one on the far right is leaning off to the right and the one to its left just a tad to the left.

The baal korah, is acting as if he’s seen it all before: His two gaboiim are falling a sleep at the job and disagree with each other over which path to take.

Dear candles,

Are we falling asleep at the job too? Are we not watching where the leader is trying to take us?

We want peace but how much of our connection to the land do we need to give up, if any, to achieve it.

According to our religious leaders we just need to learn Torah but what about the land? It also needs to be part of the relationship.

A major element of exile permeates our existence here today and Torah learning is not immune.
We need to learn Torah but what we need today is more action to go along with the Torah learning.

We need to go out and fight for the message of those candles.

Where are the noisemakers?

-What was that?

Did I just here the candles tell me its not Purim?

Are you guys listening?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

More on The Bureaucratic World of Israel: The Water Bill

Did you ever have a bill that you knew was out there but you never received it? That happened with my water bill.

After renting my apartment for three months and never seeing a water bill, I became suspicious. I was worried the bill was lost somewhere and I was going to have to pay exorbitant amounts of money in fines and charges.

When I approached the information desk at the Jerusalem city hall two weeks ago, I was told I had to go to the company on other side of the city. I sighed and went to speak to someone about my electric bill.

As I was inquiring about my electric bill 30 feet away, to a customer service woman, I asked about the water bill and was told I only had to go on the other side of the hall.

Did she say ‘other side of the hall?’

That doesn’t sound like ‘other side of the city!"

On my trip to the other side of the hall, I told the information man he was wrong and he shrugged his shoulders and said they must have moved.

Three minutes later I was sitting in front of a woman under a small picture of a faucet with water dripping out of it explaining my water bill never arrived and that I wanted to change the name on the bill to my own.

She began searching in the main computer for my address but couldn’t find me, my apartment, or any of the previous tenants.

When she finally did locate the meter and it’s tally on water, I heard her say, "Wow…"

Sitting up I looked at her and said, "Why wow? What happened?"

"You owe 5300.67 sheqels for the water," she said continuing, "But, it’s not your fault and the bill goes back more than a year."

Then, raising up the change of name form that sat under her arm for the previous twenty five minutes, she looked me in the eye and said:

"Do yourself a favor: Don’t put your name on this bill."

She then ripped up the form and sent me home.

I was afraid to call Ruth the landlord but not because she would get angry -I was afraid she would have a heart attack.

I decided to call Batia the agent who helped me find the apartment. She had been very helpful in the past, is friendly with Ruth and I figured she would be the one to handle the situation.

In the end, Batia and Ruth went to the city hall together and straightened out the water bill.

Ruth called me that afternoon laughing and calling me hamudee (sweetie) and told me they took care of everything. Apparently I only owed 13 shequels (about two and a half dollars).

She paid it and as we say in Boston, I was all set.

Ahhhh. Time for a hot shower.

Billing My Time: The Bureaucratic Mess of Israel

As my seventh ‘year’ in Israel has commenced, my new status as a ‘real’ citizen has given me some extra bureaucratic headaches to takes care of. If you’ve ever had to deal with a government agency in Israel, you know what I’m talking about.

The first thing you have to learn is to cooperate with the government workers because if you’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to you and I’ve had to deal with a lot of them.

Over the past month I’ve had to learn how to pay the water bill, the electric bill, the city tax bill (arnona) on the rented apartment, sign up for health insurance and best of all, open up a bank account where money gets deposited.

In each experience I found the people across from me patient and doing they’re job well smiling and speaking to me and not at me.

However, I’m sure they are stressed and don’t like what they do, which brings me to a fascinating fact:

Some of the main offices seem to be open less than half the week.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked back and forth to the city hall or the national insurance agency only to find them closed.

The strangest is when all of the systems at one government building fail. It happened this week at the city hall.

I arrived happily hoping to take care of some business only to find their computers have been down for a week! A week!

"When will they be fixed?" I asked.

Nobody knows.

"Call #106 to see if they have been activated," I was told.

How does this country work?

I know it does because I can see cars on the street and the news is full of the kind of things that happen in a working country. There’s war, fraud, perjury, trials, racism, religious coercion and secular hatred of the religious because they are perceived as being coercive.

The country is working! Why don't the computers!