Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →