Israel, The Long View

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm 0 comments

General view of tiberias. Photo: Tiberias Municipality.

I’m sitting on the porch of the home of my friends the Selas, in Binyamina, south of Haifa, gazing out on the garden they created, which has a semi-tropical feel despite the chill in the air. A breeze stirs the eucalyptus branches and agitates, just a bit, the huge palm leaves—although Pazit says they are small this year. We breakfasted on persimmons and pears from the garden, which also yields grapefruit, lemons, and figs after their kind.

A dog starts barking steadily outside the fence as an old tabby strolls leisurely between the dog and me. Apart from that reminder that the dog doesn’t always lie down with the cat, you would not guess from this peaceful scene that Israel lives under a looming nuclear threat, that extremes of inequality only two decades old have frayed the social fabric and sent hundreds of thousands into the streets, that rockets from Gaza still rain down on kibbutzim and cities in the south, and that the West Bank, very near where I sit, could soon become a source of the same kinds of attacks.

I’m here for an intense week of lectures, visiting friends, and, as always, plotting my next visit. This trip was funded by a grant to the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, for a conference on “Judaism in Evolutionary Perspective.” I gave the keynote and closing addresses, one on the evolution of religion and religious (including Jewish) practices, the other on the evolution of mating systems, including Jewish patterns of sex and marriage, Biblical and beyond. Before that, upon arriving, I drove straight from Ben Gurion Airport to Ben Gurion University and made it just in time for my own talk on “The Jewish Body.”

I’d lectured around Israel many times, but this was the first time I was asked to speak on Jewish themes. I warned my hosts that I was bringing coals to Newcastle, or maybe olives and dates to the Holy Land, but they said I bring a diaspora perspective, which they need here. I didn’t reply that almost half the Jews in Israel came from the diaspora, but in any case the lectures seemed well received. My Hebrew is still only good enough to apologize (I hope graciously) for having to lecture in English, but as I told them, their English is a lot better than my Hebrew. At the Schechter, I was simultaneously translated into Hebrew. The audiences seemed engaged and the people who invited me seemed very pleased; I guess that’s about all I could ask for.

As I announced to the group at Schechter on Thursday, it was my mother’s Yahrzeit, and she would have been very happy to have seen me there. Since she was deaf and the lectures were academic, she could not have understood them in any language, but she would have been glowing nonetheless. In the morning I had walked from hotel to Kotel with the sun just coming up over Jerusalem and said Kaddish for her in a minyan at the Western Wall. We had another minyan in the afternoon (women counted this time) during a break at the conference, the service led by Rabbi Arnold Goodman, who was my rabbi for many years in Atlanta. A very moving experience.

Despite the summer protests, things do not seem much changed here from when I left in June. The cabinet adopted a report recommending changes stimulated by the protests; some think it’s inadequate; some it’s a step forward. People are debating that, as well as the wisdom of exchanging a thousand Palestinian prisoners (including terrorists) for one kidnapped soldier; whether to try to pre-empt Iran’s nuclear program with an air attack, if that is even possible; how much to push for peace with the Palestinians now that they have made their (failed) bid for unilateral recognition by the UN, and Hamas and Fatah have joined hands again; and so on. There seems to be a consensus here that the vast uncertainties of the “Arab Spring”— brutality in Syria, ongoing troubles in Egypt, questions about the new Libya, and so on—make this a good time to watch and wait.

The young doctors are on strike and may be punished or forced to go back to work by court order. Arguments abound as always (two Jews, three arguments). The secular Jews at least seem pretty pessimistic, but the believers, even the Conservative Jews of the Schechter Institute and its network, do not. Life goes on for everyone in this dynamic and creative society, even for the Arab-Israelis and the Palestinians who are sorely oppressed by the intransigence and incompetence of their own leadership, investment and technology are slowly improving conditions. Much more needs to be done.

Yesterday I met a wise, soft-spoken, 70-ish psychologist who just decided to spend the last phase of his life promoting and teaching non-violent strategies for social movements bringing about change. May there be more like him, and may they foster equality and peace. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not up to you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” I take the long view, and I see reason to hope.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Sports Gold on the Galilee: Israeli Kayaker Comes of Age, Eyes Olympics (VIDEO)

    Gold on the Galilee: Israeli Kayaker Comes of Age, Eyes Olympics (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Three years ago, kayaking coach Roei Lev found aspiring Olympian Ilya Podpolnyy crying on the steps of the Jordan Valley Sprint Kayak Club overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Podpolnyy, then 17 years old, had just been disqualified from the Israeli kayaking championship. He couldn’t survive the heats. He didn’t make the start line. He was devastated—and he had no one with whom to share his hopes, his dreams, and his disappointment. His divorced parents still live in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.