Sunday, November 27, 2005
The mall happened to be attached to a large hospital center which accounted for the other odd fashion trend in the mall. I saw one guy walk by wearing a sweat suit with what appeared to be a hospital gown/shirt under it. I thought it a bit odd, but figured I was just out of style. Then I saw another person walk by dressed completely in hospital issued robes. This was too much of a coincidence and I realized that these weren't models for a bad fashion fad, but that they were patients from the hospital who were allowed, for some odd reason, to wander around the adjacent mall.
Friday, November 25, 2005
All in all we are doing quite well:
We are thrilled with our choice of schools for Matan. He enjoys school, has a full-time Rav in his class along with the teacher, an assistant and rotating banot sherut (girls doing their National Service who are assigned to Matan's school), so he is getting plenty of individualized attention and is learning a ton. The Rav is responsible for teaching the boys (Matan is in an all boys class) to read and he meets with each boy individually almost every day. Matan is now reading multi-syllable words (up to 3 or 4 syllables) and is really making progress. He is at slight disadvantage since his vocabulary is not as broad as the native Hebrew speakers in his class, but he is doing quite well and is closing the gap on the native Israelis in his class. He is perfectly comfortable playing and functioning in Hebrew and it seems that he barely knows which language he is speaking as he can seemlessly switch between Hebrew and English. Matan is taking a once a week karate class. He is really enjoying it and should be getting his first belt this week or next. In addition to karate he goes to a once a week parashat hashavua class (a class on the weekly Torah portion) with other kids his age, which he is also enjoying.
Yehuda is doing well too. He really enjoys school, seems to have friends and really likes telling us about what he has learned. His newest thing is that he has learned to bensch (say the prayer after eating a meal with bread in it). He loves to bensch so he asks to have bread with each meal. He knows the prayers by heart so he sits and sings loud and clear with a huge grin on his face. Every morning he goes with me to shul where he puts tzedakah (charity) into the tzedakah box, shakes the Rav's hand and then happily takes himself to school. He is really a happy go-lucky kid and is maturing and learning before our eyes.
Amichai is now one (his English birthday was Nov 17 and we will be celebrating his Hebrew birthday next week on 5 Kislev which falls on December 6 this year). Although he is a bit overly attached to his Mommy, he happily goes to his day care every morning, greets us with a smile when we pick him up, generally sleeps pretty well and has a sweet and happy disposition. When he isn't attached to his Mommy he plays nicely by himself and enjoys playing with his big brothers. After being a bit behind his brothers as far as crawling and standing go, he is now all over the place crawling and cruising the furniture and walls and generally leaving his mark wherever he goes. He still looks just like Matan at the same age and is as cute as can be.
Our jobs are going well, my position at Upstart Activist ( www.upstartactivist.com ) has recently been upgraded to a more permanent situation and the business is doing well and involved with all sorts of things (www.israelawards.com, www.destinationisrael.com and www.giftofthetimes.com) are all keeping us quite busy. With the upcoming Israeli elections now scheduled for March 28, 2006, we have another project which is going to keep us even busier. Check out www.IsraelVotes.com to see the latest endeavor of Upstart Activist. This is a wonderful educational tool which allows campuses, organizations, communities and shuls to have their own dedicated web sites which will allow them to 'vote' in the upcoming Israeli elections. The site will have a ton of information on the Israeli electoral system, the parties, etc and will give people a true taste of Israeli democracy. We did this in the 2003 elections as well and attracted tens of thousands of participants and received an amazing amount of press in both Israel and abroad. This time we have more time to prepare and more experience and hope to make this the largest Israeli advocacy project ever.
After a rough start to the school year (to say the least) Romi is adapting to the kids and they are adapting to her and the situation has improved a bit. It is still hard and a constant adjustment to get used to teaching younger kids in a different type of school setting, but there is at least a (dim) light at the end of the tunnel. There are still bad days mixed in with the good, but at least there are good days at all. At the beginning of the year every day was a bad day. Lamdeni has taken off with 8 creative writing classes around the country that Romi created and many families for whom she is coordinating tutoring and helping their children to get acclimated to the Israeli schools and their new lives in Israel.
We were thrilled to have John, Susan and Ari Levin here a couple of weeks ago on their pre-Aliyah pilot trip and were very happy when they decided to make Neve Daniel their next home! So we are looking forward to welcoming them here when they arrive permanently, IY'H, next summer.
We also had surprise visitors this morning when the Brothers Ely (Menachem, Daniel & David) along with Jeff Cohen stopped by for a quick visit on their way to Hevron for parashat Chayei Sara. Since the parasha deals with the death of Sara (of Avraham and Sara fame) it has become traditional that Hevron, the burial place of Sara, hosts tens of thousands of people for this Shabbat. It was nice to see them and really neat that they just 'stopped by' as a surprise.
Hope all is well!
Friday, November 11, 2005
'Go forth from your land...to the land that I will show you'
This week we come again to Parashat Lech Lecha (the weekly Torah portion of Lech Lecha) which is the story of Avraham Avinu (Abraham) heeding the words of Hashem and leaving his homeland, his family and friends to go to Eretz Yisrael, where Hashem promises Avraham that He will make him (Avraham) a great nation.
We wrote briefly about this last year at this time and our previous message still rings true. This is the 'Aliyah parasha' as it documents the first Aliyah in Jewish history by the father of Judaism (and all monotheistic faiths). The message resonates with us as much this year as it did last; we are fast approaching our 18 month 'anniversary' of being in Israel and the adventure continues. As you may recall Avraham was required to pass 10 tests of faith, the first being his leaving his home and venturing to an unknown land in Eretz Yisrael. There are a number of interpretations of just what those ten tests were, according to the Rambam (Maimonides) the ten tests were:
- Leaving his homeland
- The hunger in Canaan after Hashem had assured him that he would become a great nation there.
- Sarah's abduction to Egypt.
- The war with the four kings.
- His marriage to Hagar after despairing the Sarah would never give birth.
- The Mitzvah (commandment) of circumcision.
- Avimelech's abduction of Sarah.
- Sending away Hagar after she had given birth to Ishmael.
- The commandment to drive away Ishmael.
- The binding of Isaac.
Like Avraham new immigrants to Israel face tests as well and like Avraham, if one passes those tests the rewards are enormous. Moving to Israel is indeed a test of faith (especially for those coming from Western societies). After all we, and many others like us, have left behind stable lives with good jobs, family, many friends, familiarity with the culture, a command of the native language and an over-all level of comfort to which all of those things contribute.
So here we present our '10 Trials of Aliyah':
- Getting to Israel. Not the actual physical act, but overcoming that last emotional hurdle to making the commitment. For some this may be leaving family; for others it may be overcoming their financial conservatism or risk aversion and for others a combination of many factors.
- Telling your family and friends. This is the dreaded time that all of our olim friends talk about. No matter the family background, no matter how strong your friendships are, it is hard to have that conversation. We all share similar stories--the nice surprises of people who 'rise to the occasion' and show incredible support and understanding and the disappointments of those who react with hurt and defiance of whom one may have expected more; but for everyone this was a heart-wrenching experience.
- Language. No matter how good one's Hebrew pre-Aliyah may be, it is still a second language and will always be.
- Finding a community. Big or small; city or small town; center of the country or around Jerusalem; religious, secular or mixed; large Anglo-population or more 'Israeli'. Every family has their own needs and priorities and there are so many choices...thankfully, the plethora of choices means there is something for everyone.
- Finding a job. Whether you were a lawyer or doctor; an accountant or a teacher; everyone has to readjust their goals to the reality of the situation. Some have to re-invent themselves, some need to take a fairly large step back; but, by and large, we all seem to 'make it' sooner or later.
- The grocery store. Many of those tried and true recipes just don't come out quite the same way. Maybe the the ingredients are a little different, maybe its the water. Nobody is quite sure why, but things are just a little different. Eventually though, everyone seems to work it out and nobody appears to be starving.
- Kids as translators. While we are all kvelling at the progress that our kids make with the language, it is, admittedly a bit tough to have your young children correct your bad Hebrew grammar and translate words for you.
- Donkeys on the Road. Highway 60 that runs N-S down the spine of the mountains of Yehuda and Shomron (Judea & Samaria) is, for the most part, what appears to be a 2 lane road. However, looks can be deceiving because it is in fact a 5 lane 'super highway' with two car lanes (one each for North and South) and 2 donkey lanes (again one each going North and South) as well as the ever-present 'Israeli passing lane' in the middle, which doesn't actually exist until someone 'creates' it by deciding to pass. The donkeys, the most famous of the beasts of burden, are in fact just that and sometimes carry such wide loads that their cargo (usually consisting of sticks and farm trimmings) juts out into the road, forcing cars to carefully pass and swerve around them.
- Banking. Unlike America where banks appear to actually want your business and you can get free checking, free savings accounts, effective on-line banking, etc. In Israel the banks charge you for the privilege of doing business with them. Every line on a statement has a charge (I believe it is NIS 1.21 with the exchange rate being roughly $1 = 4.5 NIS), which can really add up over the course of the month. That doesn't include the mortgage process which we are still attempting to navigate (somewhat helplessly) without the help of our favorite mortgage broker Daniel Rebibo.
- Bumper Stickers. This sounds silly, but in this country bumper stickers are how many define themselves. Left or Right? Religious or Secular? Pro-disengagement or anti-Disengagement? Labor or Likud? Hawk or Dove? Bumper stickers are such an important part of Israeli society and personal expression that there was recently at top 10 hit called 'The Sticker Song' which incorporated the slogan/jingle from the most popular bumper stickers of the day into the lyrics of the song. This is the way that you define yourself to others and the way that other perceive you...and it isn't just on cars, kids have stickers on their back packs and bikes and sometimes even on their clothes.
Even with all these trials and tribulations (and others that surely exist) we feel much like how Avraham must have felt....blessed by Hashem. Our kids are absolutely thriving (they are speaking Hebrew well, Matan is starting to read, they have lots of friends and have a zest for life and a love for Israel that is hard to put into words), we have found meaningful employment and all in all our lives here are fulfilling and meaningful.
While we may not merit having Hashem speak directly to us, we do feel that living here brings us closer to Gd. While we may not 'become a great nation' our family is one small part of the rebuilding of our people's ancient homeland and hopefully a piece in the ultimate success of Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel), Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the People of Israel).
Am Yisrael Chai!! (The People of Israel Live)
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Many have argued repeatedly as the scourge of Islamic terrorism has spread from Israel, to the US, to the heart of Europe in London, Spain and France, that if only 'we' could solve the Israeli-Arab conflict the terrorists would be appeased and the violence would stop. If there was ever any validity to this specious claim, it has now been put to rest. There is no Western country that has shown a more pro-Arab foreign policy over the last 30-40 years than has France. No country that has welcomed more Muslim immigrants (now numbering 10% of the entire population of France). But, after five years of ignoring Arab/Muslim violence against Jews and Jewish institutions in France the rooster has now come home to roost. These same 'immigrant youth' who have been burning synagogues and attacking Jews have now turned their ire toward the rest of France. The mainstream media has seemingly ignored the role that radical Islam has played in the spread of this violence, instead focusing on unemployment and dissatisfaction of not being part of the great French ideal of "liberte, egalite, fraternite". It appears that when it comes to 'brown' and 'black' immigrants to France at least the 'egalite' and 'fraternite' are conveniently forgotten. However, the working-class suburbs of Paris and other major cities which are home to six million African-Muslim immigrants have been ignored by French authorities who have been replaced by fundamentalist Islamic imams who have been allowed to spew hate from their mosques and via the internet in a lawless, no-mans land. That hate has now found a new target and it is France itself. If the 'home-grown' terrorists of the 7-7 subway bombings in London didn't wake the West to the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism, then maybe the burning of France will do the trick.
Israelis are feeling strangely vindicated as the French authorities are shooting rubber bullets and tear gas and imposing strict curfews in an attempt to quell the riots. These are tools that have been used in Israel in our own battles against violence and terror and have always been harshly criticized by France and other countries of Europe.
We can only hope and pray that these type of incidents will bring the Western world around to one mind regarding radical Islam and its dangers. May we all be spared and further terrorism and violence and we, hopefully, wake-up to a new and more peaceful reality.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
He's Got Game
Hilary Leila Krieger, THE JERUSALEM POST
(click here to see the article on-line).
Nov. 1, 2005
The year was 1938 and the Aumanns desperately wanted to leave their native Germany. Salvation dangled in the form of US visas, available for passport holders who swore they wouldn't be a burden on their new country and passed a test of basic American terms and concepts.
Robert "Yisrael" Aumann saw his parents studying hard and thought he should do likewise. After his parents passed the exam, his mother confided in the consular official that her son had also prepared very diligently and would like to be presented with a test question.
The consul leaned over to the eight-year-old and asked him to name the president of the United States - at the time Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Aumann answered enthusiastically: "Rosenfeld!" The consul burst out laughing. He also granted the boy a visa.
The qualities Aumann displayed at a ripe age - a propensity for hard work, a fierce intellect and a commitment to Jewish values - and has continued to exhibit throughout adulthood, earned him this year's Nobel prize in economics.
An emeritus professor of mathematics at the Hebrew University, he shares the prize with Thomas Shelling of the University of Maryland for, in the words of the Nobel academy, "enhancing our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game theory analysis." Game theory examines how individuals and groups act in a given situation when they have different, and possibly opposing, goals.
With an air of magnanimity and community-orientedness, Aumann says the prize doesn't constitute recognition of his own personal achievements alone. "I feel it is not only for me, but for the whole school of game theory in Israel."
At the very least, there are a lot of local applications for his work, particularly his examination of "repeated games," or long-term relationships.
Cooperation, he argues, can be aided by patience, since "If you have a long-term future relationship, then you can cooperate today, but if you're thinking about today - if you're not thinking about the future - it's not going to work."
He faults Israel for being too impatient when it comes to reacting to the Palestinians. "If you have to have peace now, then it might be difficult to get peace next year," he says. "Maybe in Israel we're trying too hard. We should take it easy. It's true that people are getting killed. The situation is rough, and in the wake of the expulsion it's going to get rougher ... but I think we still have to say ... peace next year is almost as good as peace this year."
"Expulsion" is his term for disengagement, which he strongly opposed, and which he sees as a "disaster" in Israel's efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians is concerned.
"One of the important signals that we were sending to them was, if you are not willing to come to an accommodation with us, then gradually we will establish a bigger presence in the territories." Disengagement, he believes, is "saying that everything is reversible. Tel Aviv is also reversible." He sees Israel's impatience as the culprit that led it to forfeit a major means of pressuring Palestinians to come to an agreement with Israel.
"My son was killed in Lebanon in 1982, so I don't take it lightly when people are blown up on buses. But if we respond too quickly to this, then we're going to have more people blown up on buses at greater frequency."
Grappling with game theory concepts has affected how he views the Middle East conflict.
"To some extent, my political position is informed by my scientific work," he says. "There are other things, maybe deeper [things] than my way of making a living, that informs my political beliefs."
Those beliefs have already invited criticism about his being awarded the Nobel Prize.
An online petition calling for the prize to be rescinded from these "two warmongers" is already circulating. Aumann is vilified for his membership in Professors for a Strong Israel, an organization opposed to "yielding control of any part of the Land of Israel to any foreign entity." Schelling is attacked for a theory that "encourages the coercive use of military force."
"This criminal and dangerous school of thought should not be honored. It should be condemned," the petition declares.
According to the Nobel Foundation, a Nobel Prize has never been revoked and it's impossible to do so.
"Our task is to select the most significant scientific contributions," explains economics professor Jorgen Weibull, chairman of the committee that selects the prize-winners. "We do not consider the political views behind the research."
He notes that, having met Aumann in the past, he was aware "that he had opinions," but stresses that the role of the Swedish Academy of Sciences is "not to be an umpire for what is politically correct or not."
He adds that though the critics assail the political implications of Aumann's research, in fact it provides many insights beyond the political realm, including how to maintain scarce common resources when some groups are tempted to exploit them in the short-term.
Aumann refuses to comment on the petition, though in general he has no qualms about sharing his views - "opinionated" is one of the adjectives frequently attached to this 75-year-old grandfather of 19 and great-grandfather of two.
Despite his impassioned stances, according to his family and friends, Aumann remains open-minded, both in terms of his attitude towards others and of his interests.
"He certainly has strong opinions, which he can defend very skillfully," says his 26-year-old grandson, Yakov Rosen, whose mother is the second of Aumann's five children. But "he's very much a non-judgmental person. He takes everybody as he is."
"He's really a Renaissance man - he's everything," says Berel Wein, the rabbi of the Orthodox congregation in Jerusalem to which Aumann belongs.
Wein describes his neighbor as a Jewish scholar, a gourmet chef and someone knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics. In Wein's estimation, Aumann's got "the whole package. You don't often see that in one person."
Wein could have added mountain climbing and skiing to the list.
"He works very hard all day - he works very hard at everything he does," says Rosen. "When we [his family] hike with him, he doesn't give up. He keeps going. He displays more stamina than a lot of the younger people."
(Occasionally, the unusual combination of pastimes yields a special payoff, such as the time he and Rosen climbed to the Annapurna base camp in the Himalayas in 1997. Suddenly the door to their cabin flew open and a man announced in Hebrew, "I heard there's a Jew here!" The man wanted to lay tefillin [don phylacteries], and Aumann obliged.)
Neither his passion for outdoor sports, nor his his vocation as a member of the Hebrew University's Center for the Study of Rationality seem to jibe with his venerable, orthodox image.
IN AN interview conducted by his colleague, Sergiu Hart, last year, Aumann points out that "Game theory says nothing about whether the 'rational' way is morally or ethically right. It just says what rational - self-interested - entities will do."
He also states says that "science is built to satisfy certain needs in our minds. It describes us," while "religion is an experience - mainly an emotional and aesthetic one."
In short, "Belief is an important part of religion, certainly; but in science we have certain ways of thinking about the world, and in religion we have different ways of thinking about the world. Those things coexist side by side without conflict."
As a young man, however, Aumann did experience a conflict between his pursuit of science and his religious studies.
"I underwent a bit of soul-searching when finishing high school on whether to become a Talmudic scholar or study secular subjects at a university," he told Hart. After an exhausting semester rushing back and forth between yeshiva and City College in New York, he realized he needed to focus on one of them. He chose to get a BS in mathematics and then a PhD, also in math, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He continued, however, to maintain a strong connection to Judaism and Zionism, which brought him to Israel.
"The dreams of thousands of years coming to fruition is something beautiful," he says. "That's why I came here. I'm a Zionist; it's very simple."
He arrived with his Israeli-born wife, Esther, in the middle of the 1956 Sinai campaign.
He recalls that the cab driver had to make the trip from the airport to Jerusalem without using his headlights for fear of attracting the attention of Egyptian aircraft.
"I don't think I was frightened - it gives you a lot of adrenaline," he relates - adrenaline he says has "kept up."
It certainly did for the Aumanns during the 1967 Six Day War.
They decided to remain in Israel despite the risks. Aumann stresses that in the weeks leading up to the war, it was by no means clear that Israel would sail to victory in a mere six days. They thought there was "a real possibility that we would be overrun and butchered."
He recounts this episode to illustrate how decisions people make in the midst of conflict can be very different from those they would make from a more disinterested perspective. He is now collaborating on a new model of "games" based on this difference.
In Israel, he immediately came to work at Hebrew University.
He watched as several of his peers - John C. Harsanyi, Reinhard Selten, and John F. Nash, Jr. - in 1994 won the Nobel prize for their pioneering work in game theory. Nash's life was later chronicled in the movie A Beautiful Mind. Many felt Aumann was overlooked and expected that he, too, would win it one day.
"I thought he should have won it  years ago, when Nash and the others got it," Wein says, describing how other Nobel winners would relate to Aumann when he hosted them at his Rehavia home. "They treat him always with awe, so I thought, it's got to happen."
"The first reaction was amazement, [but] the second reaction was, we're not totally surprised," Rosen notes. "We always knew that he was very special and now the world is recognizing it."
For Aumann's part, he acknowledges in an interview for The Nobel Foundation's Web site that in the past it had crossed his mind that he might get the prize. But he said hadn't been thinking about it now because "I gave up on it a long time ago."
In awarding Aumann the prize, the committee cited his work in repeated games. "Robert Aumann was the first to conduct a full-fledged formal analysis of so-called infinitely repeated games. His research identified exactly what outcomes can be upheld over time in long-run relations," the academy said in its statement announcing the 2005 award recipients.
The committee also highlighted his contribution to understanding the role of information - and the lack thereof - in negotiations between parties. Not only can concealing information be part of negotiating strategy, but negotiations run the risk of parties revealing information they might not want to reveal. Aumman gave as an example the clues arms control talks would give about the number of nuclear weapons a country has.
He also tried to explain his insights about repeated games as "the relationship between repetition and patience and cooperation."
Basically, he says, "It's not easy to understand."
He laughs, "If you could say it in a sentence and a half, I wouldn't have gotten the prize."
"You have to be him to understand him," Wein says. "He lectured in his field in our synagogue, but I don't know if anybody got it."
His grandson, Rosen, is well aware of this problem. He tells of attending a scientific conference in Brazil with his grandfather three years ago, where "many of the lectures I heard were [full of] terms beyond the scope of my understanding of economics and mathematics."
Aumann, Rosen explains, often took one of his grandchildren along with him to conferences after his wife, Esther, died of cancer seven years ago - and before he became involved with his current fiancee, Esther's sister, who, he says, should be his wife by the time he travels to Stockholm to receive the prize on December 10. While initially there was concern that the ceremony would conflict with Shabbat, it won't begin until after sundown Saturday.
The family has always been close, and all but one of his 35 descendents and their spouses plan to accompany him to Sweden: his son, Shlomo, who fell during Operation Peace for the Galilee.
That's when Aumann started growing his trademark beard.
"One grows a beard during the shloshim [first 30 days of mourning], and I think he couldn't really shave it off. He wasn't ready to give up the sign of mourning," Rosen explains.
Rosen notes that Shlomo and Esther are always mentioned at family gatherings of which there have been many lately, including a celebration of Aumann's winning the Nobel Prize.
Rosen points to Shlomo's sudden death, Esther's illness and subsequent death and the difficult childhood Aumann had in Nazi Germany.
"He's managed to come out of all those things strengthened, and to produce a wonderful family and apparently a well-appreciated body of work," he says. "We'd just like him to keep on doing what he's doing."