Thursday, December 1, 2011

Back to the Old Country Part V: There are still Jews in Poland?

Photo Credit: Alexandria Fanjoy
If Poland to Jews around the world represents one big Jewish cemetery, it goes without saying that for them, Jewish life in Poland is dead. Then, how can there still be Jews in Poland? After the Holocaust, after the 1948 Kielce Pogrom, and after the 1968 Jewish purges? It follows, that there must not be any Jews left in Poland, it only makes sense.
Yet, one thing I discovered in Poland- there are Jews, and even more, it’s not just an old survivor based community- there are young Jews, there are Jewish communities, there are secular Jews and there are religious Jews. There is a rich Jewish community and culture developing in Poland today, something that is incredibly admirable. I was at the Nozyk synagogue in Warsaw for my second Shabbat in Poland, and me and my friend Alexandria were standing in the hallway, when we heard a group of girls behind us, looking like very religious Jews, speaking in Polish together. Polish! They should be talking English, Hebrew, Yiddish, but Polish?
The current Jewish community is carving out their own space within Poland, they are creating a new Jewish culture, that combines elements from the past, but has the mark of a new generation. They are creating Judaism in Poland, a place where even after the darkest chapter in Jewish history, being a Jew was dangerous, and unstable.
Interwar Poland saw the outburst of the Jewish question, and even more than this, the development of the Jewish identity. Jews were playing with concepts of nationality, some that saw Poland as their future, or those whose nationalist feelings turned to Zionism and Palestine. But there were others, Jews who defined themselves purely religiously, those that assimilated, those that wanted to acquire autonomy based on culture. The Jewish question in Poland allowed for incredible Jewish creativity, such creativity that spilled over into America, and now Israel. Yet, the Holocaust decisively killed this Jewish creativity in Poland, and then communism froze any hope of a continuation of the debate. But, in the 70′s when underground independent intellectual groups began to pop up in Poland, a Jewish one started to flourish. Calling themselves the “Jewish flying university“, a mixed group of Poles met. At first, it was awkward, none of them had ever discussed Jewishness in public, some not even admitting their own Jewishness. Many were from assimilated or mixed backgrounds, who knew almost nothing about their Judaism as a religion or culture. But slowely, they began to piece together Jewish past in Poland, and discover who they were, and what kind of future could be for Jews in Poland.
Since the fall of communism, there has been a slow Jewish revival in Poland. On a Friday night dinner, I sat listening to the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Shudrich explain at a community dinner at Nozyk, about the community. He addressed the locals, and also visitors, like myself, who needed a place to eat for Shabbat. He told us of people who were returning to Judaism, who had pretended to be Catholic after the war, because it was safer, but discovered they were Jewish, many through weird customs or a Jewish artifact. He told us of a female who lit candles on Friday night, not knowing why. Someone who never ate milk and meat together. Someone who found books in weird writing in their attic. Jews were slowly discovering Jewish roots, and once discovered, flourished within this identity.
My group visited the JCC in Krakow, and they too boast a Friday night dinner every week. As we sat in the largeJCC, in the middle of the historical neighborhood of Kazimierz, we were told that everyday the JCC signs up new members. People who have discovered that someone in their family was Jewish and who want to be involved with the Jewish community. When we were in Bialystok, we met with the head of the Jewish community, and as she served as coffee and cookies, she explained that her Jewish community regularly meet, and hold cultural events. When we were in Warsaw, we met at “Tel Aviv“, one of the hip kosher restaurants, with a Jewish community leader that told us about Jewish daycare, Jewish trips to Israel, and Jewish cultural groups that meet. She insisted that antisemitism was low, and that for the first time in a long time, Jews were proud to be Jews, and walk proudly on the streets as such. All these people would laugh, if someone were to insist that there are no Jews in Poland, or more that Jewish culture was over in Poland. For them, it’s thriving.
It’s true that the Jewish community in Poland today is small in comparison to what it used to be, however this should not allow us to ignore what is developing there. Perhaps it will never be what it was, but I think that’s ok. It makes me happy to know that there are Jews in Poland. They are carrying on the legacy of the past, and adding something new and special. They may live in a country with concentration and death camps, but they don’t allow this to define who they are, and where they are going. They represent life, and they are following in the Jewish tradition that has defined Jews throughout Jewish history: we can continue, and we can go on; to create and grow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back to the Old Country Part IV: Neighbors

A German official at the Jedwabne memorial | Photo Credit: Alexandria Fanjoy
My group traveled to Jedwabne on July 11, 2011. We were not meant to go to Jedwabne; it was not on our original itinerary. We left Warsaw early in the morning, and by the time we pulled into Jedwabne, it was a beautiful day — the first nice day after a week of rain. The sun was shinning hard and the weather was hot. As we all got off the bus, we were silent. For us budding historians, Jedwabne was not just another Polish town. It was a symbol. It was a tragic memory. It was a point of contention. It was an event that challenged collective memory. It was bitterness.
We walked into Jedwabne’s town center, and saw some locals hanging around a bench behind us drinking beer. You could feel the tension as they stared at us. They knew why we were there. Why else would we come? One man came up to our tour leader, and explained in Polish, that the people living here now were good, they had nothing to do with what happened and we shouldn’t judge them.
We were in Jedwabne for the 70th anniversary ceremony of the 1941 pogram. Upon realizing that our trip coincided with the 70th anniversary, we got the opportunity to attend the event. The Germans occupied Jedwabne on June 23, 1941, taking it from Soviet hands. On the morning of July 1oth, 1941, the Polish residents of Jedwabne, violently rounded up the Jews of the town, and after brutally killing some in the streets, trapped the rest in a barn and burned it down. Jedwabne had a Jewish population of 1,600 before the war. 7 Jews survived. Only one lady, Antonina Wyrzykowska saved Jews. Two weeks after liberation, March 1945, locals raided her home and beat her and her family for saving Jews. As a result the Wyrzykowskas left Jedwabne.
The Nazis did not kill Jedwabne’s Jews, although they had their part in encouraging and approving the attack. It was the locals, the residents of the town. It was neighbors. Neighbors killing neighbors. And this is what makes Jedwabne so important, so critical. This is why, as we stood in Jedwabne’s town square on July 11, 2011, the residents glared us, and why we felt so uneasy, unsafe almost. Yes, we were there for the anniversary ceremony, but we were also there to judge. By standing there, we were saying, “How could you?”
In May 2000, Polish-American historian Jan Gross published his controversial book “Neighbors“, a book which described the massacre. Information about the Pogram was available before this, but his book brought the subject to the forefront of Polish dialogue. It spurred a Polish-wide discussion and soul searching. Previous beliefs that Poles were only victims during the Nazi war were dissolved. Neighbors showed that Poles were also perpetrators.
The following year, in July 2001, the first commemoration ceremony was conducted in Jedwabne, marking 60 years since the tragedy. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski stood in front of a crowd, of Jews and Poles, and apologized on behalf of Poland. He said, “We know with all the certainty that Poles were among the oppressors and assassins. We cannot have any doubts – here in Jedwabne citizens of the Republic of Poland died from the hands of other citizens of the Republic of Poland. It is people to people, neighbors to neighbors who forged such destiny…We are here to make a collective self examination. We are paying tribute to the victims and we are saying – never again… For this crime we should beg the souls of the dead and their families for forgiveness. This is why today, the President of the Republic of Poland, I beg pardon. I beg pardon in my own name and in the name of those Poles whose conscience is shattered by that crime.”
The apology and attendance of many Polish officials was significant. Poles were taking responsibility for the memory, even 60 years after the event. However, the residents of Jedwabne boycotted the event. No one came to the ceremony.
Ten years later, the residents of Jedwabne did not come to the ceremony. As my group moved from the center of town, to the site of the memorial, the atmosphere changed considerably. Attending the ceremony were many government officials, important members of the Catholic clergy, lots of media outlets, the chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Shudrich and the Israeli ambassador to Poland, Zvi Rav-Ner. Former Prime Minister, Tadeusz Mazowieck read an apology given by current President Bronsilaw Komorowski, following Kwasniewski’s apology from 2001. The event was positive, albeit sad.
Jedwabne does not prove that all Poles are antisemitic, or were all perpetrators in the Holocaust. What it does is complicate history. It turns collective memory from black and white, to multicolour. It’s another chapter in the arduous history of Jews and Poles in Poland. While I stood in front of the monument, that stands on the grave of over 1000 Jews, who were burned to death alive, 70 years ago, I was happy that there was a ceremony for them, that they were remembered. That Poles, once again were apologizing. The Poles today in Poland are not responsible for what their parents or grandparents did during the war. But responsibility still exists- in the memory of the past that is passed down generation to generation. We are all responsible for how memory is remembered and and commemorated.
Israeli ambassador, Rav-Ner reminded the crowd that while we were commemorating the lives of Jews that were killed by their neighbors, there were also diffirent kinds of neighbors in Poland, and that we can’t forget these neighbors either. Neighbors like Wyrzykowska, that saved Jews. Neighbors that risked their own life and the life of their family to save Jews: Ya’ad Vashem has awarded 6, 266 Poles with the title of Righteous among the Nations for risking their own life to save their neighbor, and in many cases, a Jew they didn’t even know. Poles were heroes too.
On September 1, 2011, after I had already returned home to Jerusalem, I read in the news that the memorial had been vandalized. There were swastikas and the words, “they were flammable” and “I don’t apologize” written on it. President Komorowski was quick to condemn the graffiti, and an investigation was quickly set up to investigate the hate crime.
I’m still not sure how to feel about Jedwabne. When I stood in the center square of town, I did judge the residents. I know that many of them were young, and that they are probably good people. I don’t blame them for what happened, but I do blame them for not being at the ceremony. I do judge them for not being beside the President, when he says that Poles are sorry. I understand that they have to live with the weight of the memory on their backs, that they will forever be perceived by outsiders as murderers, and barbaric, even though many of their hands are clean of actual murder. But, at the end of the day, the land is tormented, and only when we can look into the eyes of the darkest chapter of our past, can we truly come out with clean hands. I hope that in the future, the brave actions of those that attend the memorial, will be passed to the younger generation of Poles, in Jedwabne and all over Poland.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Back to the Old Conntry Part III: Skeletons from the past

On my first day in Poland, as I sat jet-lagged in the only Kosher restaurant in Krakow, the "Olive Tree", my group leader told us each that we would be taking a day trip in a few days to small formally Jewish towns around Krakow. Only half aware of what was happening, me and my friend Alexandria were given a huge booklet of information, of which we were told we were going to be presenting on a town called Dzialoszyce. My first reaction: how do you even pronounce that?
As me and Alexandria got together to prepare our presentation, we began to leaf through the pages and piece together the past of Dzialoszyce. In 1939, on the even of the second world war Dzialoszyce’s population totaled about 8,000, 80% of that number was Jewish. Today, there are about 1, 100 people who lived there. As we delved into the past, we both noticed that Dzialoszyce was not an unusual town, it was quite what you might imagine a old Jewish town to be. There was the great synagogue, Beit Midrash, Jewish homes, smaller shuls. There were many religious Hasidim, but there was also a few Zionist groups as well. During the Holocaust, the Nazis set up a ghetto. Some Jews escaped, and fought with the partisans in the forest. The Jews were deported to Belzac and Plaszow and then the city was announced Judenrein. After the war some Jews returned, however, there was a flareup of anti-Jewish violence after the war, and these Jews eventually left as well. Today there are no Jews in Dzialoszyce, and the population is one eighth of what it used to be.
The day we set out for Dzialoszyce, it was raining, as usual. We set out and I was excited to see a place that I had researched, to understand it by being there. What did I expect though? I’m not sure. As my bus drove closer, and I started to see the signs for Dzialoszyce, I was getting closer, paying attention to the surrounding. And then, my bus drove into Dziaoszyce, and the first thing that we all see, because there is no way to miss it, is an enormous skeleton: the skeleton of the great synagogue. There it was. Empty, naked and incredibly large, just sitting in the middle of the small city. Our bus stopped in the parking lot adjacent to it. As we all got out, we took in it: the city was small- really just a street, and here it was, it was as though it was the elephant in the room. This big Jewish structure in a tiny Polish city.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I was taken aback at first. Jews lived here, thousands of Jews. How can I even imagine that? I thought, as I looked on at the tiny population of the current city. And as people went about their business that day, I thought about them. Did they know any Jews? Did they help their Jewish neighbors by giving them food in the ghetto, or providing them with information? Who here hid a Jew? Who cried, as their friends were discriminated against, as their friends were taken away? Who here closed their drapes as the Nazi vans dragged away the Jewish elders to the cemetery, where they shot them, one by one into a mass grave. Who here betrayed a Jew? Who here collaborated? I couldn’t help it. I was standing in front of a skeleton, but every time I closed my eyes, the past illuminated before me and I judged everyone: for what they did, and what they didn’t.
After our presentation, we walked up and down the small road of Dzialoszyce to check it out. I’m pretty sure that this small little city doesn’t get many visitors, so the 11 of us kind of stuck out. People stopped to look at us, especially the elder residents. We smiled back politely. But I couldn’t stop thinking to myself: can they recognize me? Do they know me? This was my first time in Poland, I’d never been to Dzialoszyce. My family is not from Dzialosyce either. It’s not that I thought they’d recognize me as Hailey, but rather as a Jew. Although I do hate stereotypes, I really can’t deny the fact that I look really Jewish: and they knew it, they had to know it.
For me, Dzialoszyce was one of the most interesting places I visited. It is one of the clearest example of Jewish space within Polish land- in an intersection, a meeting point. Many of the small villages we visited that day were the same. An empty synagogue, and no Jews. It’s the clearest example of the Jewish footprint, of what we left behind, when we so hastily left.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Back to the Old Country Part II: Philosemites and Antisemites

My three week academic study trip to Poland, with 9 other graduate students, set off on Thursday June 30th. We were going, as students of history and the Holocaust, to look at modern issues concerning Jewish-Polish relations. We arrived in Krakow, smack in the middle of the 21st Jewish Culture Festival, which as we learned pretty quickly, is sort of a big deal in Poland. On our ride from the airport to our hotel, situated at the corner of the old city in Krakow, we caught glimpses of Jewish stars labeled with information for the festival- but it wasn't just a few signs, there were signs everywhere.

The Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow consists of tours of Jewish Kazimierz, Yiddish and Hebrew Language workshops, movies, lectures concerning history and present culture, Klezmer concerts (including a final "Jewish Woodstock" concert), Genealogist appointments, Shabbat dinner and services, open admission to Jewish museums, Jewish dance, Yiddish singing and more. Most events were offered in Polish and English, but there were a few in Yiddish and Hebrew (including a "Romeo and Juliet adaptation... in Yiddish). The festival itself, was widely attended, mostly by Poles, but also by Jews from Israel and the Diaspora. Poles, non Jewish Poles, were coming out in droves, to celebrate Jewish culture and religion. It was philosemitism at its best.

The Jewish Culture Festival is organized and was established by a non-Jewish Pole, Janusz Makuch. Most of the organizers are not Jewish. Most of the participants are not Jewish. It is in light of this, many criticize the festival as being unauthentic, or virtual: it lacks Jews. Ruth Gruber, in her book "Virutally Jewish" describes the festival, and also the renewed Jewish quarter Kazimierz, which now boasts Jewish restaurants, Klezmer music, and Jewish symbols. She describes the quarter virtual, because in some senses, it is just that: a Jewish area, devoid of Jews. One restaurant I passed by, called Ariel, has a big Jewish star accompanying the sign, and lists Jewish favorites on the menu, like "Chulent"- a slow cooked beef stew traditionally made on Shabbat, and also sweet fish- also known by Jews as gefilte fish. As you eat, a Klezmer band plays in the background. Yet, there are no Jews sitting inside: the restaurant is not Kosher. Similarly, the Jewish cultural festival, isn't completely "kosher" either: the final Woodstock Klezmer concert began much before Shabbat ended- so while all my non-Jewish friends were able to go to the show, me and my other religious friend, Alexandria, had to sit inside our hotel room waiting for it to get dark before we could wander out. I turned to Alexandria and asked, "How is it that only the Jews cannot attend the Jewish culture festival?"

As the rest of my group made their way back to the hotel after the concert, they encountered a telling scene: a group of religious Jews, were making Havdallah near their hotel window. They were dressed traditionally: black suits, black hat, women covering their hair and wearing long skirts. Across from the window, outside, were a group of Poles, with cameras, taking pictures of the Jews making Havdallah. The participants in my group were taken aback: The real Jews were being treated either like old relics in a museum, behind a plane of glass. So while crowds flocked out to a crazy final concert, Jews were stuck in their hotel rooms, or being stared at while they performed religious ceremonies. We were the museum pieces, and left out of the Jewish fun. Was it ignorance? Was it antisemitism? It reminded me of the little Jewish dolls you can buy in almost any tourist shop around Poland: traditionally dressed Haredi Jewish men holding coins or bags of money. We were relics you buy and place on your fireplace mantel- stereotypes, virtual.

And here all the contradictions came flying in my face: on the one hand, the Poles are philosemites, celebrating the best of Jewish culture. On the other hand, it's unauthentic, pushing the Jews to the sidelines. Why are they even interested in Jews in the first place? Why do they care about Yiddish, and Jewish dancing and songs? Why are there tours informing Poles of long history of Jewish synogogues in Poland? And art, made by non-Jews expressing Jewish issues? Weren't the Poles antisemites, an image that is often held by many Jews? Didn't they want us gone? Weren't these the same Poles who instigated pogroms, even after Hitler's war was over? And the ones who purged out the last of the Jews in 1968? Yet, the more I stayed in Poland, the more I began to learn, that despite the lack of Jews, the history of the Jews does not exclusively belong to Jews.

The truth is that Poles do care about Jews, Judaism and a Jewish piece of their past, that isn't only Jewish, but also Polish. The Jews of the past, the ones that made up 10% of Polish population, weren't a separate part of the culture and country- they were part of it. Jewish culture was Polish culture, and the the Jewish culture festival, isn't only about celebrating Jews, but celebrating Poles, and Poland itself. I think that this concept is sometimes hard to grasp, especially considering that the younger generation of Poles never really knew a Jewish Poland. The Jews left over 60 years ago, and the growing Jewish community today in Poland, does not even hold a candle to the past. Yet, they are the generation that grew up in a place where the ghosts of the past could be seen everywhere. A foreign language, peaking out behind layers of paint, indentations of Mezuzah on their homes, and old decaying buildings, laden with Stars of David. The Jewish footprint exists in Poland- it is everywhere.

In Poland, contradictions are part of the past, they are part of the present and they are part of the future. True, the Jewish Culture Festival has virtual and unauthentic aspects, just like the "Jewish" restaurants in Kazimerez, but what could they be based on? Poles are trying to put the pieces of the past together. On the other hand, antisemitism still exists in Poland as well. Just a few weeks ago, the memorial in Jedwabne commemorating Jewish victims, who were killed by their Polish neighbors during the Holocaust, was desecrated with Nazi slogans, and unforgiving statements. This action came in the wake of similar acts of hatred against Jewish memorials. But a few days later, in Bialystock, Poles marched in protest against antisemitism. They were protesting this wave of hatred. Clearly, the answer is not simple: Poles are neither Philosemites nor Antisemites. They are dealing with a past that is still present. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the following quote from Janusz Makuch, who established the Krakow culture festival. In it, he expounds on the contradiction that define Poland Jewish relations today.

"My name is Janusz Makuch and I come from Poland. I come from a country of rabbis and tzaddikim, gaons and melameds, from a country of Jewish sages, writers, bankers, architects, painters, doctors, shoemakers and tailors, film directors and producers, physicians and politicians, scientists and Jewish soldiers, from a country of devout, good people. I come from a country of anti-Semites and goodhearted people, from a country of szmalcowniks (blackmailers and informers) and the greatest number of Righteous among the Nations, from the country of Father Rydzik and the country of John Paul II, from a country of anti-Jewish graffiti on synagogue walls, and a country where thousands of non-Jews study Jewish history, culture and religion, from the country of the German death camps and the country of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, from the country of Shmuel Zygelboim, Mordechai Anielewicz and Marek Edelman, and from the country of Jan Karski, Jan Nowak-Jezioranski and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. I come from the country of the Vaad Arba Aratzot, the Jewish Parliament of the Four Lands, from a country of countless shtetls, yeshivas and Hassidic courts, from a country of Jewish autonomy and pluralism and I come from a country of the numerous clausus, ghetto benches, pogroms and murder. I come from a country whose greatness was co-created by Jews who were Polish citizens. And I come from a country that after the war kicked out Polish citizens who were Jews. I come from a country of anti-Semitic madness where they burned Jews in barns. And I come from a country of Christian mercy where they hid Jews in barns. My name is Janusz Makuch. I come from Poland and I am a goy, and at the same time for more than 20 years I have created and run the largest Jewish culture festival in the world. I'm a Jewish Pole - and I'm proud of it."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Back to the Old Country: 3 weeks in Poland

It’s weird to think that only 100 years ago, the number of Jews in Israel was insignificant, especially compared to its population today. Yes, there were Zionists, but they were only the first dreamers, tilling a land that was still quite empty. 100 years ago, America was a growing Jewish center; it was the Goldene Medina (Golden Land), the New World for Jews.
The real core of Jewish life, just 100 years ago, was Europe. And straddling in eastern and central Europe was the core of the core: Poland. A country where 10 percent of the population was Jewish, a country with millions of Jews, living in both shtetls and Jews the major cities. In Europe, there were Chasidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Reform Jews, religion-hating Communist Jews, socialist Jews, Yiddish cultural Jews and more.
But today, it’s almost possible to forget this. Jews live in Israel, they live in America, they live scattered through Europe, but they don’t live in Poland anymore. Because Poland, for us Jews, is the land of death, the land of our ashes: Determined firmly by Nazi concentration camps that still grace the Polish landscape. And every year, Jews from around the world remember this. They travel, in groups to Poland for a week or two, touring the death camps and the concentration camps, reciting Kaddish at mass graves and proudly singing “Hatikva,” with Israeli flags hanging off their backs. Against all odds, they are reclaiming the continuity of the Jewish people. When we proclaim “never forget,” what we mean is that we will never forget that there was an attempt to exterminate us. We will never forget so that we can be assured it will never happen again.
Despite these trips, the hundred of years of Jewish life in Poland is sometimes forgotten. After all, we’ve transported that which was important to our new homes. We’ve rebuilt the Yeshivas in Bnei Brak, Mea Shearim and Brooklyn. Jews are still cooking cholent on Shabbos, and you can find knishes, pickled herring and matzah ball soup in the heart of Manhattan. Bubbies and Zaidies are still distributing Jewish guilt all over the world. And the politics and religion that developed in the old country are happily developing in new places.
And so, for us, Poland is the concentration camp. It is used as the symbol of what can never happen again. And along the way, we quickly sweep over the past, both the good and the bad of it.
This summer, I received an opportunity to travel to Poland, to study Jewish-Polish relations before, during and after the Holocaust, with nine other graduate students. The trip was three weeks. When I was asked what my plans were for the summer and I replied, “Three weeks in Poland,” the response was generally the same. “Three weeks in Poland?! What can you do in Poland for three weeks? That is so depressing. You only go to Poland to see the camps. You need one week, tops.”
But I was excited to go to Poland, to return to the Old Land. I felt that feeling that Jews feel when they go to Israel for the first time, like they are going home. I am, after all, a Polish Jew, somewhere down the line–so it really was like going home. And so, in the next few weeks, I would like to share with you an experience in Poland. Three weeks in Poland–with days that were depressing, that did make me want to take the next flight back to Israel, but also days that were fun and days that really challenged how Jews see and connect with both Poland and Poles.
While I was in Poland, I kept hearing the same story. The story is that as the Jews were wondering east through Europe, they arrived in Poland. However, after discovering the name, Polin in Polish, they knew they were destined to stay. In Hebrew, Po lin means ”Here we stay.” The land in Poland was once holy to Jews, and I wanted to find out, not only why, but if any of that remains.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blood Libel for the 21st Century?

wow reallyFor awhile now I have been following in the news a group called the “intactivists” who are attempting to ban circumcision in San Francisco. The group claims that no one, but the owner of the penis has a right to cut it off. Man was born perfect, they argue, and no one has the right to cut off the foreskin. When the child comes of age at 18, he can then choose to be circumcised. The group is likening male circumcision to female circumcision, and is claiming that it is a barbaric custom that is unethical. The group has succeeded in getting enough votes that the “circumcision ban” will be placed on the next Municipal Election Ballot. However, interesting enough as this topic is, as I could also write an entire blog ranting against these ideas, the topic of my blog is about a product of the campaign to convince San Franciscans to vote in favor of the ban.

I don’t believe the ban is antisemetic, definitely it infringes on religious freedom, but i don’t believe intrinsically it’s antisemetic, although perhaps anti-religious. This was until the campaign came out with “Foreskin Man”, a superhero that so far features in two comic books, that is meant to “enlighten” the public on the dangers of circumsion. So what does he do? He protects babies from the “monster mohel”. That’s right, Foreskin Man, a blond hair blue eyed man, goes around saving innocent babies from the evil Jew, who is represented pretty similarly to Nazi Germany’s depictions of Jews in the 1930s and 40s.

Which one is from Nazi Germany, and which was drawn today?

Which one is from Nazi Germany, and which was drawn today?

But where the comic book gets real interesting is its use of old blood libel accusations on Jews. Blood libel accusations, which came in all shapes and sizes in the Middle Ages, basically accused Jews of needing blood (generally Christian child blood) for sacrificial and religious purposes. In panel 36 of the comic book, the Aryan hero overhears the Mohel say: “And thank thee, O Lord, for the Joyous Metzitzah b’peh for which I am about to partake”, and then in panel 46, after the Monster Mohel is defeated by Foreskin Man, he says, “I’ll just keep coming back until his foreskin is mine”.eating

Metzitzah b’peh, a controversial form of Circumcision, where the Mohel sucks the blood out, in order to stop excess bleeding or infection, is not a common practice amongst Jews today or for a very long time. (A tube is used in common practice) Yet the choice to include it in the comic book, aside from being deceitful and unfair, not only makes a point against circumcision, but discriminates against Jews. We are the bloodsucking nation, and the Mohel clearly needs that foreskin, because he will just keep coming back for it. It really

Modern Antisemitism at its best

Modern Antisemitism at its best

is reminiscent of Medieval times when the Jews were accused of capturing Christian babies and using its blood for Matzah. Here we are in 2011, after the Holocaust and the debunking of such silly myths, and yet it reappears in a new modern form.

Perhaps I’m taking the comparison a little too far, but one thing I’m not taking too far is the antisemitsm manifested in the comic book. Read the comic book, and judge for yourself, are you as offended as me?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Another Nakba Day come and gone

Yesterday marked Nakba day which was commemorated in and out of Israel. The Nakba, which means, "the day of the catastrophe"- marks the catastrophe: the creation of the State of Israel and the accompanied displacement of Palestinians from their homes. Crucial to this displacement is the question of "how were the Palestinians displaced"- historical evidence supports any which way you want to argue as historians themselves still bicker over how many were forcibly displaced by Jewish soldiers, and how many willingly left. (or to complicate it: how many were ethnically cleansed, how many were killed, how many left in order to aid the Arab armies against the Jews, how many were urged by Arab leaders to help Arab armies clear land, how many were nervous because of the war, and how many left because it seemed cool at the time.... you get the point.)

For days leading up to Nakba day, Israel had been anticipating something would happen: especially in light of a grassroots movement, aka a facebook group, which urged Palestinians to begin the third Intifada on Nakba day this year. So what happened in Israel? Violent protests at border crossings, molotov cocktails thrown at Mount Scopus, a suspected terrorist attack in Tel Aviv (That left one dead and 19 injured) and most significant of all, Palestinians crossing into Israel from Syria and Lebanon, where Israel defended its soveirgnty and borders by firing into the crowds. A lot happened yesterday. My friends who live on Mount Scopus told me that the Saturday night and all of Sunday was noisy with small bombs, gunshots, helicopters, and fireworks. They said some east Jerusalem streets were filled with garbage cans and car tires on fire. So, yes a lot happened, but a lot also didn't happen. What is clear the day after is that yesterday did not mark the beginning of the third intifada, despite the violence, protests and illegal entry into Israel.

Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz yesterday that Israeli Jews should begin to commemorate the Nakba. He argues that celebrating the heroic side of Israeli history isnt enough- we also have to understand the other narrative, the dark side. This dark side includes the displacement of Palestinians from their homes- regardless if there is justification or not. Yet the Nakba isn't simply about displacement, it's about legitimacy of land and state. It gets to the core of the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish entity. Palestinians are not just marking their displacement, they are mourning Israel's creation. Nakba protesters like to bring their old keys to demonstrations, the keys of their old homes in their villages that no longer exist. Those homes have long ago been drowned by history. There is a lake there now, and we cannot live underwater unless we drain the lake itself.

Yet, I don't think that Levy is too far off. Jewish Israelis and Palestinians are stuck in their own world. Jewish Israelis celebrate Indepedance day. Palestinians commemorate Nakba day. In reality, they are both the same day. In reality we don't have two different days, or two different stories, but two very intertwined people and stories. And in some way Zionism too is tainted, in less we can understand the pain and the history of the other alongside our own.

Therefore there needs to be a sort of give and take. Israelis need to understand the history of their land, both good and bad. We can never come to understand their fight, unless we understand our shared history. Of course, the other end is that Palestinians need to come to understand there is another people that live here, and that we also have legitimacy. We also have a difficult past, and sought to return to our homeland, through legitimate means and world support. They cannot return to their homes, for they will ruin ours. But together we can build new homes in a new state alongside our state.

Photograph: East Jerusalem on Nakba day. Photo By Ellie Dayan.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Palestinian reconciliation: Good for the Jews or Bad for the Jews?

abbas and haniyehIt has been buzzing in the news for awhile, and today we all got our confirmation: the PLO and Hamas agree to a “historical Palestinian reconciliation deal“. After years of bitter rivalry and disagreements, they have come together to begin to form a “unity government”. And even though Abbas has more or less told Israel to mind its own buisness, (his spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said the reconciliation was not Israel’s concern) we all know that this is our business. And so at every milestone we ask: is it good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?

The initial response is to say bad. Aluf Benn, in his recent Haaretz Op-Ed piece believes that the future of the Palestinian nationalist movement is with Hamas, if this is so than any “unity” governed will simply be Hamas dominated, and therefore terrorist dominated. This leads him to fall down a pessimistic slippery slope asserting that this will push Israeli society behind Netanyahu in his claim that if there is a West Bank withdrawal it will be taken over by Hamas, and thus be an Iranian satellite full of terrorist attacks (he’ll point to the Ashdod bombings and the recent school bus bombing to back the terrorist attack claim) , and this will push Livni to therefore join a Netanyahu led unity government to stand strong against Palestinians and international pressure. To sum up: the bad is a Hamas takeover masked by a unity government, therefore international pressure will continue to mount against Israel pushing Israel far more right, and stifling any hope for peace. Oh, and then a third intifada is probably inevitable.

Seems bleak. So is there any good for the Jews? There must be because the answer to the question, ‘is it good for the Jews or bad for the Jews’, is always answered with both good and bad.

For some time now, as Abbas has been trying to find support to independently declare a Palestinian state, critics have been urging Netanyahu to come up with his own clear and serious peace plan that would force Abbas to deal with Netanyahu as well. Last year at Netanyahu’s foreign policy speech at Bar Ilan, Netanyahu pledged to forge peace. He said, “We do not want to rule over them. We do not want to run their lives. We do not want to force our flag and our culture on them.” Later in his speech he said, ” Friends, in order to achieve peace, we need courage and integrity on the part of the leaders of both sides.” This is our opportunity to show our courage and our integrity. If we don’t want to rule over them, then we don’t have to. Perhaps this reconciliation will provide us the opportunity not to shut out the left, but to listen to it. While Hamas and the PLO are drafting a new government, we can draft a vision for peace. We don’t need to wait to see what they will do, but rather force them with an option they can’t turn away from. And so instead of leaning on our pessimistic instincts we can hope that Hamas will not corrupt the PLO, but rather the PLO will influence Hamas. If we can prove we are standing strong for peace (by a big option or a concrete drafted idea for peace) we can perhaps gain some lost control.

In any case, good or bad, history has proved to me in times of crisis Jews are their most creative. So if Hamas and Fatah want to start a fresh page- maybe we all can too.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Things that make me angry

I'm going to change the tone of my political/historical/Jewish blog and talk about things that make me angry. I have been very angry lately, at the little things, and I really just need a forum to vent. Smart and intellectual readers may choose to stop reading now.

1. My Shabbat Komkom.
Many of you who keep Shabbat may be familiar with this komkom, it is usually white or black, and is verified for Shabbat use. You fill it up with water, and there is a big huge buttom at the top that you "press" and then hot water comes out. Why do many people have it? I am still trying to figure out. (Sidenote: why do i have it? I did not buy it, but it has been in my apartment since I moved him) I am very jealous of those who have those hot water things with the little simple easy sprout thing, all you do it push the tap and like magic water comes out. Nope not ours. You may have noticed the quotation marks surrounding the press... this is because when I say the word press, I really mean - use all your weight and multiple times you need to push and heave and work just to get a drip of water. You do this multiple times to fill up a mug with hot water. This is work. Rabbis should begin to ban this instrument of anger. I'm so angry just thinking about it.

2. My Dell Laptop.
There are many things that make me angry about my laptop. I can't even think properly about it, I'm already angry. While my hot water container only makes me angry on Shabbat, my laptop makes me angry everyday. Every since the hard drive decided to crash last year (point of anger #1) for some mysterious reason, the touch-pad decided it's going to be super sensitive, so whenever I type, it jumps all over the place, so i end up deleting passages I've already written(or the entire thing I've written), or sometimes it will jump me into a previous paragraph and I'll just start writing there. So much fun. Solution? I bought a mouse! Not really a solution, just a way to make me angrier... Because even if you have a mouse, you still can't disable to touchpad, so while you type you still get the pleasure of jumping all over your previous text. Next- my laptop decides when it wants to turn on, and when it wants to turn off. I'm sleeping on shabbat, and all of a sudden, I hear my laptop turning on.!! Yeah that's great!! I didn't turn it on, in fact I turned it off before Shabbat, but it doesn't care what I want. And then the heating on it will go off, and make that loud annoying sound (of the fan or whatever) all night while I try to heat, meanwhile the heating is probably burning my hard-drive (as it did last time) FUNNN!!! And last... when the hard drive crashed, my dell representative convinced me to buy more memory, promising me that if i had more memory, then my computer would be faster, and I'd never ever have a problem in the future with my computer freezing or being slow. He is a liar. Donations for a Mac are welcome.

3. The Jerusalem Train.
It's useless, it doesn't go anywhere, it has taken many many many (too many) years to build, Jaffa is now closed and all buses are rerouted to Agrippas, taking me twice as long to get to my desired location. and the worst part it won't even start till August- HOW MANY MONTHS DO YOU NEED TO TEST THE SILLY THING? All i ever see is the train go by with smirk workers on it, sitting in it, with their feet up on the chairs, enjoying their useless ride. I hate the train. and when it begins to run, if it ever begins to run, it goes nowhere, and i'll never end up taking it.

4. Humanity's inability to fly.
Are we not smarter than birds? How did they figure out how to grow wings and fly. Yes, we have airplanes, and jets, and blah blah blah, but those things do not help me get home to my apartment when I don't feel like walking. It's like you are close enough to walk home, but not enough to take a bus, and you are tired and cranky, and wouldn't it be so nice to just rise up in the air and fly home?? Moving sidewalks are also a good idea, someone smart should get on that.

5. Angry Bird Pigs.
If a piece of a building fell on my head, I would die... really why don't you? and a helmet is a stupid excuse.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A bomb explodes in Jerusalem.

busstationI was sitting in the Ministry of the Interior office in the center of town in Jerusalem, I was applying for my Israeli passport. I was sucked into a fairly successful game of angry birds on my ipod. I looked up, the “take a number” board listed 32, only 10 more numbers until it was my turn. Then, the piercing sound of an ambulance roared past the office. I thought nothing of it… there are always ambulances running around. But the sounds didn’t stop… it wasn’t one ambulance, it sounded like an army of sirens. Everyone in the office was looking around. People started crowding onto the balcony to see what was going on outside. The room became tense. Something was wrong- we all felt it. I quickly checked the news on my ipod. Nothing at 15:05. But the sirens grew louder… what was happening? 5 minutes later, I checked the news again. “Breaking news: The entrance to the city has been closed after an explosion was heard near the central bus station.” Cell phones began to ring. My phone rang, it my cousin.

“Where are you? Are you still at the Ministry of the Interior?”

“Yes I’m still here… what happened? There was a bomb? What’s going on? ”

She wasn’t sure… she replied, “I think it’s a bus bombing… it’s the 74.”

I had just taken the 74 to get to the office. My heart sank. I started to shake. Then, my number appeared… it was my turn.

As I left the office, I took a deep breath- perhaps it’s better to walk home.

In the time that followed the attack, everyone in Jerusalem was on the phone. As I walked through the center of town to get to my neighborhood, I didn’t pass one person who didn’t have a phone stuck to their ear. I was bombarded by calls and texts, making sure I was Ok. I was calling my friends… I just needed to know no one was there, no one was hurt. Networks began to fail as the lines were overloaded. As I spoke to people, more information began to be revealed… the bomb was not on the bus, no ones was killed, the bomb was detonated at Benyamin HaUma near a phone booth(beside the Central Bus Station). I was still shaking… honestly I was scared. I decided to call my mom, I wanted her to know about the attack and that I was fine before she saw it on CNN and started to freak out. The moment I heard her voice, I started to cry.

When you are living in Israel, and experiencing your day to day activities, it’s easy to get lulled into a sense of security. I had read earlier in the day that there had been Katyusha rockets fired at both Be’er Sheva and Ashdod. But that was in Be’er Sheva and Ashdod, I was in Jerusalem. Just last week, Israel suffered the tragedy of a family being slain in their sleep. But that was in Itamar, I was in Jerusalem. There hasn’t been a bombing in Jerusalem since 2004. I know that Jerusalem doesn’t feel as safe as my home town of Toronto… but it doesn’t feel so bad. Today, knocked me out of that feeling. I didn’t just read about it in Haaretz or J-post, or hear about it on TV. I was minutes away.

When I spoke to my mom, after we got through the shock, and the worry, she was angry. Angry that ’someone’ could detonate a bomb and try to kill innocent people. That’s the feeling now.. anger at that ’someone’. We all know who that ’someone’ is…it’s that “homogeneous group” we call Palestinians. They are the ones trying to blow up Jews at crowded bus stops, and they are the ones throwing rockets into our southern cities. But be warned our Prime Minister says, “Israel will act firmly”. Violence begets violence.

The truth is, when something like this happens, it’s natural to feel like that. We are scared, we are nervous, and we translate it to anger. We want to defend ourselves. We want to be strong. I don’t know what is going to happen in Israel in the next few days. I don’t know what acting firmly means. I do know that this city is going to feel a little different tomorrow. We’ll do the same things we did today, and we did the day before, and we’ll continue to do in the future. But something has changed… our quiet has been disturbed.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

As tragedy strikes again...

I blogged on September 1st, 2010 about the tragic terrorist attack that took the lives of four people. Last night, as I turned on my computer after Shabbat, I went straight to the news, wanting to find out about Japan's quake/tsunami. However, I was shocked by another piece of news: another terrorist attack that took the lives of 5 Jews in the settlement of Itamar. (A family- the parents and their 3 children, including a 3 month old baby)

This news, just like the last terrorist attack, has once more shaken the nation. The particularly brutal way in which the family was murdered, stabbed to death while they were sleeping on Shabbat, throws us back in disgust and deepens our sadness at the loss.

However, last time tragedy struck, it was on the cusp of hope: it was the night before direct peace talks between Abbas and Bibi in Washington. We were offered some kind of glimmer of hope: maybe up to today our path has been categorized by murder, terrorism and occupation, but the path to the future can be paved with peace. This was September 1st, 2010. While I am usually hopeful when it comes to peace, even then I was skeptical about any peace talks moving forward. I hated feeling like such an pessimist, but after so many failed attempts I believed that neither Bibi nor Abbas had it in them to make the necessary concessions to bring peace. 6 months later, I was right. (As was about everyone) It's therefore not surprising that there was another terrorist attack. Sad and despairing... yes, but surprising.. no. As long as there is no lasting and true peace, there will be terrorism.

What is most interesting, is what comes out of tragedy. Today, in response to the killings, the government has approved 500 new homes in the West Bank. Apparently a tragic brutal death is a good enough reason to dictate our policy vis-a-vis building in the West Bank. Another response, bombarded through my facebook newsfeed has been pointing the finger at terrorism: this is the only problem: why can't the world see that? This article, published in Ynet, by Assaf Wohl, points the finger at global leftists that accuse Israel of being an apartheid or racist state. Wohl claims, you are either just idiots (well useful idiots, helping the case of crazy Islamic radicals) or antisemitic. He uses this attack to explain to the world that it is "them" (His "them" is a little sketchy as I think he means to write about a proposed "thousands of blood thirsty Arabs") that are the bad guys, we (Israel) do nothing. We, just as we have always been (yes, he relies heavily on the Holocaust here, even writing, "I have no intention to again march into the gas chambers...") are the victims. We are the butchered.

I'll agree to this much: terrorism is a problem in Israel. But it's not the only problem. And if it was, 500 new settlements would not make it go away. (I have a feeling that these 500 settlements were going to be built, it was simply a matter of timing of when to publicize the approval.) When something so terrible happens like this, the blame clearly falls on those that held the knife and murdered the innocents. Unfortunately though, their deaths are not simply deaths. This is political, and everyone is using it one way or another. Rightists are using it as a springboard to support the settler movement, extreme leftists celebrate it as a an action of 'freedom fighting' against the evil occupier. Others will point the finger at the Jews themselves: they shouldn't have been in occupied land in the first place. But nothing can justify murder.

At the end of the day, all I can do is step back into my position of an idealist. I can hope that one day we can create a peace that will provide self determination and stability to one nation, and that we can ensure safety and statehood for another nation, that has always felt oppressed. There will always be extremists, those on both sides of the spectrum that believe that murder and violence is a justified tool to bring about results. My hope is that through the majority we can bring peace and justice to a land that so badly needs it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The slaughtered Jewish people speaks...

On New Year’s eve January 1st, 1942, 150 members of the HeHalutz youth movements gathered in the public soup-kitchen in Vilna at 2 Straszuna Street. At this meeting, Abba Kovner, a Jewish Hebrew poet, writer and partisan leader, read the following manifesto:

“Let us not be led like sheep to the slaughter”: Jewish Youth! Do not place your trust in those who deceive you. Of 80000 Jews in “Yerushalayim de Lita” only 20000 are left. Our parents, brothers and sisters were torn from us before our eyes. Where are the hundreds of men who were seized for labor? Where are the naked women and the children seized from us on the night of fear? Where were the Jews sent on the Day of Atonement? And where are our brethren of the second ghetto? No one returned of those marched through the gates of the ghetto. All the roads of Gestapo lead to Ponar. And Ponar means death. Those who waver, put aside all illusion. You children, our wives, and husbands are no more. Ponar is no concentration camp. All were shot dead there. Hitler conspires to kill all the Jews of Europe, and the Jews of Lithuania have been picked at the first line. Let us not be led as sheep to the slaughter! True, we are weak and defenceless. But the only answer to the murderer is: To rise up with arms! Brethren! Better fall as free fighters than to live at the mercy of murders. Rise up! Rise up until you last break.”

And so there you have it... the beginning of the popular phrase that Jews were like "sheep to the slaughter". This is the first time this saying is said in the context of the Holocaust, but certainly not the last. What is most interesting is at the time Kovner stated this speech, most of European Jewry was still alive. The height of Hitler's furnace raged most fiercely in the later half of 1942 and 1943: Kovner accurately foresaw their future.

For those unfamiliar with Kovner, he was a socialist Zionist in Lithuania and during World War II was part of the FPO- the official resistance group in the Vilna ghetto. Here he organized young Jews to fight as partisans in the surrounding forests, where he himself fled to with the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto. Kovner eventually settled in Israel, where he lived the rest of his life. Upon his arrival in Israel, Kovner was considered a hero. He was the representation of a Jew during the Holocaust that had not been like sheep to the slaughter, but rather had fought against the Nazi's. Israel society after Holocaust can be described as embarrassed of Jewish inaction in the Holocaust. There was an unofficial silence on Holocaust stories. No one wanted to hear about them. Holocaust survivors were meant to assimilate quickly and become "Israelis". Therefore, Kovner stood in opposition to most Jews, as an advocate of fighting and resistance. However, in the 60's Israeli society began to slowly change, and so did their attitude on the Holocaust. Thanks in part to the Eichmann trial, Holocaust survivors, many for the first time, were sharing their stories: and Israeli society listened. The young were fascinated by a narrative they had never heard. Soon, the idea of "hero" began to shift. It no longer was someone who fought, or resisted with arms. A hero was someone who survived, in the face of death. Someone who kept their morality, in the face of evil. Even Kovner himself questioned what it meant to be a hero. He said later in Israel, “Am I this Abba Kovner, the hero? Or am I Abba Kovner the man who betrayed his mother, who left her behind to go to the forests to fight?” Those that stayed behind, with their parents, with their sisters, with their brothers, with their family- they too were strong.

Today this idea seems obvious. The Jewish people today have taken it upon themselves to remember all the Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust- each one was brave, even the most frightened. The Holocaust has woven itself into our collective memory: it is part of our identity. I would like to end this post with one of my favorite poems. The poem was written by Kovner, and it can be found at the beginning of his book, “Scrolls of fire”, (a sort of glossary/testimony on the Holocaust, set up like Talmud.) This is the real reason I made this post, I really wanted to share this poem. And the poem is written for us.

"The Slaughtered Jewish people speaks,
in silence and in words,
to the living Jewish people:
You who were unable to save us,
listen now with all your heart to our testimony;
it is all that remains of our lives.

Do not regard this testimony as an inspiration for hatred.
By the rivers we sat down and wept when our turn came to be murdered.
By the chimneys of the crematorium
even there
we preserved scraps of
incinerated time and we pondered the future as we thought of you...
Do you have a spare moment to think of us
innocent of crime and unashamed?"
-- Abba Kovner

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Fear of Democracy

"It's as though we never prayed for our Arab neighbours to become liberal democracies," Steven Plocker in Yediot Ahronot.

For years, Israel has prided itself on being the "only democracy in the Middle East". And haven't we always thought, how much better would the world (and the Middle East) be if our Arab neighbours turned into liberal loving, people voting, Western style democracies? Isn't this what Shimon Peres meant when in the 90's he talked about the "New Middle East", that if Israel made peace with it's neighbours, our democracy would stand as a model and would influence the peoples of the Middle East to stand up for democracy themselves?

Well that time has finally come: one of our closest Arab neighbours, the Egyptians, have taken to the streets to demand their freedom. Right now it doesn't seem like they have much of a plan, other than to flow into their streets, and into their squares, demanding that their 30 year tyrant step down, in favor of democracy, in order to regain their freedom.

In fact.... it's all very inspiring. Even as Mubarak sends the police in, closes down the Internet, demands a 4:00pm curfew and refuses to step down... the people don't give up. They are relentless as they continue to fight for their unalienable rights for freedom.

I think that many freedom, democracy loving peoples of the Western world are rooting for them to overthrow their dictator. But over here in Israel, the answer is not as simple as: democracy vs. dictatorship- it becomes a question of: what about us? What is best for us? And the answer: seemingly NOT democracy.

Even though our inclinations lean towards democracy, rationality dictates we ask- what kind of democracy? Will it be Iranian democracy? Gazan democracy? Lebanese democracy? The kind of democracy that supports terrorism and radical Islam? What is the cost for Israel of a

Egyptian democracy- the loss of a peace deal, the loss of a partner in fighting Hamas/Iran, a loss of aide in making peace with the PA and the gain of one more enemy, one more hostile border? And this is why Netanyahu, after being mum on the issue for a week, came out today in favor of the Mubarak government. Because while the Mubarak government continues to rule over the people- he offers stability to Israel: but democracy- well that's up in the air.

I don't know.... analysts across the world are debating this question. While Israelis are tending to believe that the Muslim brotherhood (or even ElBaradei- who as an opposition is not part of this group, but is supported by them) is the obvious group that will take power (mostly because they are the largest organized opposition, not necessarily most popular) others around the world are hoping for a more moderate government.

And even if this new moderate government starts to come together- how happy will they be towards Israel who, as self-righteous liberals, have thrown their cards not being the people, but behind the dictator? Wouldn't they have expected us to have some kind of obligation to do just the opposite?

But despite what Israel says right now and who they support, the reality is that Mubarak is going down. Maybe it won't be today or tomorrow, but the people of Egypt have put an expiration date on his rule. This is why the U.S has basically thrown their support to the people (saying everything BUT Mubarak should step down), calling for democracy and a reform to the system.

My left winged tendencies are rooting for a takedown of Mubarak... I want the Egyptians to live in a system that I believe provides freedom of rights, that every human deserves. However, as an Israeli citizen, it doesn't stop me from sleeping in fear that maybe they will create an Islamic state, that will eventually transform Egypt into Iran part II. Maybe it isn't, as I fear, so black and white. Maybe if the world, including Israel, can acknowledge what is best for the Egyptians, and not only themselves, they can extend a hand of support, in order to really help them create a true and lasting democracy. My roommate said to me the other day, that the mere idea that people are asking for freedom (and remember the rhetoric in the streets is not calling against Israel to stop settlements, or against Israel's existence, or against US- the rhetoric is freedom, and the fall of a dictator) means that the dissidents that want this, really want this. It's true that the Islamics are there, it's true that the radicals are there- but they are everywhere in the world, just as they are in Israel and the United States-- because they too make up a fabric of democracy. And so maybe those educated with a thirst for democracy, rights, equality and closing the gap between rich and poor, have a possibility of coming together and forging a real democracy.

We might fear what Egypt's democracy will look like- but how much of this should stop us from following what we know is right. But in the end, I suppose only time will tell what will be of the "New Middle East"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lessons from the Holocaust

holorememToday is the International Holocaust day, but I wonder what is the point of such a day? I suppose it’s appropriate to have a set date for the world to remember the Holocaust. Instituted by the UN in 2007, its purpose was to remember “the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.”

Today is the day we are specifically supposed to remember the past, but also remember what not to do, or not let happen- don’t let evil and hatred to take a hold of society again.

But I always wonder about this… is it only today we are supposed to go around making flowery speeches about world love and peace and acceptance, and beautiful morals and principles? Generally that’s what most of these international memorials do. Yet is it what’s happening on the ground?

For me, living in Israel, these ideas are consistently making me shudder as I see what is happening to Israeli society. There are policies and attitudes, that I don’t think will lead up to anything close to a “Holocaust”, but to actions that shame the lessons we learn from it. Protests continue in Tel Aviv against the African refugees taking temporary refuge here, bills in the Knesset that discriminate against minorities and Rabbis banning together to warm Jews not to sell or rent to Arabs. It’s racism, prejudice and fear of the other.

It’s great that we can take one day from the year to remember this world’s largest genocide. Today I take the time to think about the victims, and the atrocities they faced. However, it shouldn’t only be today that we think about the lessons of the Holocaust: the consequences of racism, and exclusiveness. How many times do we say never again? We shouldn’t only say it in face of the genocide itself, but also the hate that took grip of a people- and hate that still exists today.