Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gan Chanan - A Beautiful Park

For the last week, we’ve been waiting for Wednesday, Yom Yerushalayim, with a mixture of anticipation and sadness. The yishuv has been busy preparing a beautiful new park right by our son, Yehuda’s gan. This, however, is not just any park.
It is a park being built to remember Yehuda’s best friend, Chanan Sivan who died early last fall. (The sign, with Yehuda eating home-made pita sitting next to it, reads, 'Gan Chanan', in the name of Chanan Sivan, of blessed memory, Our Dear Son, a playful boy, donated by his family, his friends to the yishuv in his memory. Yom Yerushalayim, 5767) Chanan’s parents, Pinny and Tzippy, have spent months raising the money to make it a special park, fit for little children like Chanan. We helped in their efforts to raise some of the money that they needed through our amazing family and friends. We felt a special satisfaction feeling that we were able to do something – however small – to show the Sivans how much we cared and how much we missed Chanan.

So, every day for the last week, Yehuda and I have been visiting the park. We’ve watched them laying the stones and setting up the equipment. We’ve watched with great excitement as they poured the rubber (most parks here have sand and pebbles on the ground and it’s very exciting to see a park with rubber!). It’s been hard not to show my tears as I’ve walked by the park. It is so beautifully cheerful and so poignantly sad at the same time.

Yesterday, the park finally opened in a moving ceremony for the whole yishuv hosted by the Sivan family. It rained in the early afternoon and I was desperately worried that the event wouldn’t go ahead. They ended up moving certain things inside, but the event did continue. They had a play about Yom Yerushalayim, pita making, songs by Chanan’s friends, and then the presentation of the plaque. Pinny thanked everyone who contributed including all of our friends and family who contributed to the creation of this park.

The park was flooded with children who were excited to jump on new equipment and enjoy the day. It was wonderful to see so much joy coming from something so tragic. The park reminds us so much of Chanan and the sweet spirited, pure little boy that he was. It’s hard to go there without crying.

Yehuda woke up this morning demanding to go to Chanan’s park before school. I figured we’d be there alone – but there were many children who had, apparently, had the same idea. And this afternoon it was packed again. Chanan’s sister, Hadas, was there laughing and having a great time. Of course, watching her made me want to cry, but it also filled me with amazement that she is still able to be a kid and able to have fun. And now she can do it in a park for her brother.
We feel very proud that we were able to help, in our own very small way, in the creation of this perfect memory of Chanan and we thank everyone who contributed from the bottom of our hearts.

May we know only S’mchot.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Happy To Do Laundry

I’ve never been so happy to do my laundry. I was sitting in the laundry room today, which looks over highway 60 and Efrat, and suddenly saw an army jeep. The road was completely empty of cars. It could only mean one thing – there was a problem on the road and the jeep was trying to take care of it. Then, suddenly, I saw a slew of bike riders with Israeli flags attached to the backs of their bikes. The flags were waving in the wind and they were biking by with glee. The bikers kept coming and coming and coming. I stood there, wiping tears from my eyes and being grateful that I happened to be doing laundry just then.

Today is Yom Yerushalayim – the day when we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. 40 years ago today our army was fighting for the country's survival, again, in the 6 Day War. 40 years ago today we re-entered the Old City, prayed at the Kotel (the Western Wall) and rejoiced in the streets. After so many years away from our beloved city, we had gained access to our holiest sites once again and could take care of them as they need to be cared for. 40 years ago today, we were also reunited with the Judean Hills where we live and where I was doing my laundry just then. On these very same roads, Jews had died in 1948 trying to bring supplies to the trapped and desperate heroes of Gush Etzion who were struggling to save Gush Etzion and Jerusalem. In 1967, we reclaimed this land, where I am proud to raise my family.

I felt a similar way only one other time, watching Israeli flags wave in the wind with pride. This was when I was at Auschwitz and saw a huge group of Israeli school children walking draped in flags. With their bodies and their flags they were yelling "I'm here! You didn't win! You tried - Hitler - but I'm still standing and I've come here to tell you that there is a State of Israel and we aren't giving in." I look out on the hills of Yehuda and I can’t believe that I have the privilege to watch my fellow Israeli citizens enjoy a bike ride on a road that has served as the path to Jerusalem for two millenium. What a country and what a day!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Yom HaShoa

Today is Yom HaShoa. The two-minute wail of the air raid sirens that brings the entire country to a halt just ended. As the first sounds of the siren pierced the silence of my office I immediately stood--silently by myself and my thoughts. My first thought was that I wished I was still driving to work or at the mall or some other public place so that I could witness the two-minute halt of the day to honor the Jewish souls martyred over 60 years ago. Only six-plus decades ago one-third of my people were slaughtered and where is the world today as a modern day Haman in Persia is plotting to do away with another 6 million Jews? The words 'Never Again' ring hollow in 5767. The world urges (demands?) our elected officials in Israel meet with the powerless and spineless 'leader of the Palestinians' himself a Holocaust denier with a PhD to back him up.

So as I, at first, wished to be out in public to witness the memorial; my thoughts quickly brought me back to a time that I did not witness. Sitting alone in my office, my laptop on my desk next to my cell phone and pda it felt somehow appropriate to be alone with only my thoughts and the siren for company. My thoughts raced to the millions of children who were orphaned and left utterly alone in a big, very scary world; then my mind thought back the a nameless young man hiding in a root cellar or an attic hoping upon hope that the footsteps he heard weren't Nazi SS men; Polish peasants; or their Hungarian neighbors looking for the Jew in hiding.

Never Again? Let's hope not.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Jews in the Muslim World Today

Excerpted from Israel HighWay Staff March 29, 2007

As Passover approaches, Jewish families the world over are preparing to come together for the traditional Pesach seder commemorating the Jewish people's Exodus from Egypt approximately 3300 years ago. While the Exodus is a universally known event, not that long ago there was another, less known, mass exodus of Jews from the Arab world to Eretz Yisrael. This time the Jews were fleeing modern day despotic rulers of the Arab world and this time they were arriving on the shores of a new, modern State of Israel.

These Jewish communities had grown and often prospered throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa from as early as the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. On the eve of the birth of the State of Israel, in 1948, there were approximately one million Jews living throughout the Arab/Muslim world. Through forced emigration, pogroms and natural attrition, the once great Jewish communities of the Arab world have dwindled to no more than 10,000-12,000 scattered remnants. This mass migration from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, among others, has left most of the Arab world virtually devoid of the Jewish presence.

Today, these communities largely consist of elderly Jews, too old to make the move to Israel or the United States, who are living out their days in difficult circumstances. In 1948 there were approximately 265,000 Jews in Morocco; today there are about 5500. Tunisian Jewry numbered over 100,000 in 1948, and today there is less than one percent of that. In Algeria there were 140,000; now, fewer than 100. In the land of Babylon (now Iraq), home of the great Jewish academies and birthplace of the Talmud, there were over 150,000 Jews in 1948, and now there are perhaps 35.

Just last month, members of the tiny community of Jews in Yemen, numbering less than 1000 souls, were physically forced to leave their homes when faced with a threat from Islamic extremists associated with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida terrorist network. Locals and Yemenite Jews in Israel have stressed that this is not a government-sponsored threat and that the Jews of Yemen are not in imminent danger; however, they also admit that the community lives in difficult conditions with little hope of survival after this last generation slowly dies away.

The situation of the Jews in Yemen typifies the circumstances of the other tiny communities in other countries throughout the Arab world; the people who remain are elderly, generally poor, with minimal education and still in their country of birth seemingly against all odds. In the Arab world, only the communities in Morocco and Tunisia have enough Jews to sustain any real communal structure – and even that structure is generally quite limited. In Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Algeria there are only small handfuls of Jews left and, within another decade or two, these countries will be completely void of Jews.

In Iraq, the tiny Jewish community of 35 was free to pray together in the last synagogue in Baghdad even under the dictatorial reign of Saddam Hussein. However, the community, led by the last rabbi in Baghdad, Emmad Levy (pictured left, with his father), stopped praying together after the U.S. invasion for fear of being attacked by roaming bands of Iraqi gunmen.

Today, the largest Jewish community remaining in the Arab world is in Morocco. Estimates place the total Jewish population of Morocco at approximately 5500 people. The community still has functioning synagogues and other community institutions and is even served by a Chabad emissary, who oversees schools, camps and other educational institutions and centers throughout the country.

In Islamic, non-Arab Iran

In Iran, which is not an Arab country, there are still approximately 25,000 Jews. The community, which is generally more financially well-off than their brethren in other Muslim countries, is an anomaly. As many as 100,000 Jews lived in Iran prior to 1948. While most have fled to Israel and the United States since the Islamic Revolution, a sizable minority have remained and have no plans of emigrating. They state that they are equally proud of their Iranian/Persian heritage, which dates back 3,000 years to the time of King Cyrus, as they are of their Jewish heritage. At the time of the Revolution, the community was recognized as an official religious minority and is even represented by one Jewish member of parliament, Maurice Mahtamad. Mr. Mahtamad has spoken out publicly against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial, showing that the community has some limited ability to speak for itself. However, there have also been periods of stress when community members have been arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel or when attacks were carried out against synagogues.

The legacy of Jews in Muslim lands is an important piece of Jewish history and heritage. The Jews of the Muslim Middle East have made many lasting contributions to the rich fabric of Jewish life, ritual and custom. Yes, remnants of these once-great communities still exist. At this year's seder, make it a time to recount the second great exodus of Jews from the Arab world in addition to the story of the Jewish exit from Egypt thousands of years ago.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Palestinian State: Wither or Whither?

Excerpted from Israel HighWay (March 22, 2007)

Since September 13, 1993, when the Oslo Accords were signed on the White House lawn, the notion of a Palestinian state has driven much of the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic discourse. Until the early 1990's, the idea of establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel was anathema to much of the Israeli populace. However, with the outset of the first Intifada and the apparent PLO acceptance of Israel's right to exist in 1988, support for Palestinian statehood began to gain traction in Israel and abroad. >From the signing of the Oslo Accords until the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, Palestinian statehood became an accepted norm among much of the Israeli political community, in the United States and throughout Europe. There has, of course, always been a vocal opposition to Palestinian statehood from the Israeli right; but, since Oslo, this opposition has often found it difficult to make inroads in public opinion. However, since the outbreak of the second Intifada and especially since the political rise of Hamas, opposition to Palestinian statehood has increased. Both the United States and Israel have declared that they favor the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and large areas of the West Bank. Presumably the Palestinian Authority would like to rule over a Palestinian state, but is it capable of taking the reins of a full-fledged state?

Every peace plan since 1993 has included as its centerpiece the goal of Palestinian statehood. Today's two major peace initiatives, the Road Map(sponsored by the Quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations) and the Saudi plan (also endorsed by the Arab League) operate under the assumption that a Palestinian state will be created. There are disagreements in the various plans as to the future state's borders and the parameters under which it will function, but the general acceptance of a Palestinian state remains strong. However, while official support remains strong, there are a growing number of voices beginning to rise in opposition. The Boston Globes' Jeff Jacoby recently asked, "Has any population ever been less suited for statehood than the Palestinians? From the terrorists they choose as leaders to the jihad promoted in their schools, their culture is drenched in violence and hatred." Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli-Arab journalist for the Jerusalem Post and NBC News, obviously speaking from a very different perspective, recently told an audience in Texas, "A two-state system is great, but it's not going to work. Gaza and the West Bank are too far separated geographically, politically and culturally to work." See also Myths & Response Just last month U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated at a three-way summit in Jerusalem that both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reaffirmed a commitment to a two-state solution in the Middle East. So, if the international community, Israel and the Palestinians all purportedly support the two-state solution, why is there no movement in the peace process? In short, the answer to this question is the recently formed Fatah-Hamas unity government. The unity agreement was forged in early February under the sponsorship of the King of Saudi Arabia after months of internecine fighting, kidnappings, assassination attempts and pitched gun battles between those loyal to Fatah (the party of President Mahmoud Abbas) and those loyal to Hamas. However, the unity agreement does not force Hamas to accept the stipulations of the international community, specifically that the Palestinians accept Israel's right to exist, halt violence, and uphold all previous agreements with Israel. Hamas' rejection of these basic terms has forced Israel, and much of the international community, to reject the new government. While some countries have already rejected relations with the new Palestinian unity government, others are taking a more measured approach in hope that the unity government would serve as a moderating force on Hamas. However, only one day after the unity agreement was officially signed, Hamas took responsibility for the shooting of an Israeli Electrical Company employee doing repairs near Gaza and for five Kassam rockets fired into Israel from Gaza. Now, only a month after Secretary Rice visited the region, her tone is less positive. She publicly questioned Palestinian intentions saying, " of 'resistance' from the Palestinian prime minister doesn't sound very good to me." The issue is far from simple. Every time the Palestinians appear to make progress toward their stated goal of statehood, the rejectionists within Palestinian society, led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, make their voices heard through violence directed both toward other Palestinians and toward Israel. The Israeli electorate still supports the idea of a two state solution, but becomes more and more wary with each outbreak of violence and the obvious Palestinian Authority failures in governing Palestinian society. What will happen now? Some speculate that there will be a total Hamas take-over of the PA leading to a further embrace of Islamic fundamentalism in Palestinian society and continued rejection of Israel. A full Hamas take-over of the PA would also cause the already struggling Palestinian economy to continue to suffer the worldwide economic boycott of the PA. Others believe that Palestinian society will eventually reject the path of violence and Islamic fundamentalism, will turn to a more moderate leadership to pursue peace with Israel, and rehabilitate its tattered economy. The outcome is far from decided. The coming months may prove to be the critical time that will decide if there is to be a Palestinian state.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Israel Uncovered: Unusual Places to Visit in Israel

Excerpted from the Israel Highway (March 15, 2007)

Israel Uncovered: Unusual Places to Visit in Israel
by Israel HighWay Staff

Everyone who comes to Israel knows that there are many incredible historic and important sites to see. The Western Wall, Masada, Caesarea and Yad Vashem are all well known and popular sites. But Israel also offers a vast array of other interesting and fun tourist destinations. From amazing adventure vacations to quirky hotels and hostels, and even a one-man country within the country, there are exciting and out of the ordinary attractions from Metulla in the North to Eilat in the South. No matter your interest - whether you love to ski or scuba dive - Israel has what you need to make a great vacation.

Here are a few ideas to make your next visit extraordinarily memorable.

Let’s start our brief, virtual tour in the northernmost tip of Israel at the Mount Hermon Ski Resort, where you can ski, snowboard, sled and enjoy a day of winter fun - in the heart of the Middle East! If you haven’t gotten enough of the cold with this adventure, take a brief drive to Metulla’s Canada Center where you can work on your figure skating or join the occasional pick-up hockey game. Moving away from the cold, and looking for a fun snack, stop in Upper Nazareth, where you will find the Elite Chocolate Factory. The factory offers tours of the facility with the added benefit of some very tasty (and kosher) treats to sample at the end of the tour. With your sweet tooth satisfied, it’s time for a relaxing dip in the Mediterranean. Visit Akhzivland near the ancient port city of Acre. You won’t need a visa or passport to enter, but Akhzivland is a one-man country founded by the President and only permanent resident of Akhzivland, Eli Avivi (pictured). This is an Israeli original. You have to see it to believe it! After relaxing in Akhzivland, head South along Route 2 which hugs the coastline and offers some impressive views of the Mediterranean Sea. About 10 miles south of Haifa, you will come to Atlit, which has a long history dating back to the Bronze Age. You can still see the remains of one of the largest crusader castles in Israel, Chateau Pelerin (or Atlit Castle), but the real attraction here is the tour of the former British detention center at Atlit. During the Mandatory Period, the British imposed severe immigration quotas on Jews. Atlit was the site of a British detention center housing over 200 Jewish immigrants. However, on October 10, 1945 the Palmach, led by the young Yitzchak Rabin, carried out a daring raid on Atlit, freeing the 200+ detainees. Shortly after this successful raid, the British began detaining Jewish refugees on Cyprus to make them more easily contained. Continuing South along the coastal road, you will soon come to Hadera, with the famous smokestacks of the Hadera power plant serving as a hard-to-miss landmark. Just outside Hadera is Moshav Talmei Elazar - home to one of the most interesting plant nurseries in the world. Agronomist and former landscape architect Ada Barak owns and operates a carnivorous plant nursery. This nursery features a 90 minute show with snakes and frogs jumping out of carnivorous plants and explanations about the various species. After expanding your understanding of carnivorous plants, continue your tour at the Afrikef Monkey Park, located at Kfar Daniel near the Ben Shemen Forest. Here there are dozens of species of monkeys, large and small. The highlight of this park is the monkey habitat area where you can walk around as your hosts - the monkeys - scamper about freely. In Rehovot, about 30 minutes south of Tel Aviv, we come to a small museum that highlights the ingenuity of the pre-State Jewish community in Israel as they struggled to build the State. At the Ayalon Bullet Factory Museum, a secret munitions factory hidden over 20 feet below ground beneath a kibbutz bakery and laundry facility (to hide the noise of production), the Hagannah clandestinely manufactured over 2.5 million bullets between 1946 and 1948. Further south is a wonderful and quirky place to spend the night at Moshav Dekel in the Western Negev where you can rent a luxury yurt, authentic tents imported directly from Kazakhstan (native land of Borat!). Unlike the typical Kazakh yurt, these wonderful accommodations feature jacuzzis, mini-refrigerators and cable television. After a restful night in your yurt and a relaxing dip in the jacuzzi, head over to Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which will soon open a one of a kind elephant park with a herd of over 30 elephants roaming the open park. While in the Negev, choose from a vast array of hikes, jeep tours, rappelling adventures and camel rides on your way down to Eilat on the Red Sea. If you haven’t had your share of animals yet, make sure to visit everyone’s favorite maritime mammal, the dolphins at Dolphin Reef Eilat. Here you can actually swim with the dolphins in a rare opportunity to have real interaction with the chirping and diving mammals. As you can see, Israel offers activities for the entire family, no matter what your individual interests may be. From skiing to chocolate and monkeys to dolphins; from historic sites to amazing museums and archeological sites, Israel has something for you. Make your plans today! (Israel HighWay)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Brit and the Wedding...

We had an amazing day yesterday filled with smachot ('simchas'/happy occurrences/etc) which, again, brought our lives here into focus. The two smachot were on the opposite ends of the Israeli cultural spectrum, which made it all the more interesting.

We started the day at a brit milah for our friends' newborn son. Erez Yoseph Shai Blendis was brought into the Covenenant of Avraham Avinu surrounded by loving family and friends (and five older siblings). It was a beautiful event, as all britot are, and we count ourselves lucky to have become friendly with Erez' parents since they moved to the yishuv last summer. Like us, the Blendis's are English speaking olim from North America and, not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the people who were fortunate enough to attend the brit were also native English speakers (and by 'overwhelming majority' I mean well over 90%). Bagels and other typical brit food were enjoyed by all and we were all thrilled to welcome another Jewish neshama into the world, especially here in Israel.

The rest of the day went by as days typically do--work, school, etc. Then in the evening we quickly showered and changed to run off to another simcha, this time to the wedding of Ro'i Ta'asan and Morit Ron. Ro'i is the second son of our across the street neighbors and former landlords, Yoram and Michal, and we were thrilled to share in the family's simcha. Unlike the Blendis's the Ta'asans and the Rons are not native English speakers; in fact, they are all native Israelis. So, while we spent the morning with a group of Israelis who were almost all like us, we spent the evening with a group of Israelis who we hope our kids will be like. We were among the very small handful (probably less then 20 people total out of over 500 present) who were English speakers. The Ta'asan family, originally from Yemen, is a family of 9 children. As if this weren't enough, they took in twin foster children about four years ago and are raising them along with their own. They are lovely boys who really needed a good influence and they have become good friends with our oldest two. This is the type of people the Ta'asans are - amazing. They are an incredible family filled with a great ruach (spirit) that emanates from their home.

Ro'i and Yoram were absolutely glowing when we arrived at the wedding hall at Kibbutz Tzora and the glow did not leave their faces for the rest of the evening. Every wedding is a beautiful, moving event and, at least in our experience, the Israeli wedding has a special uniqueness that sets it apart from the average wedding we were used to in America, but this wedding stood out even from the other weddings we have attended since our Aliyah. Part of it surely stems from the Ta'asans themselves. Just last summer, during the war in Lebanon, we watched as Yoram and Michal struggled to cope. All three of their older boys were fighting in Lebanon simultaneously. Ro'i and his younger brother Matan (or better known as 'the Big Matan' in our house) both serve in Duvedevan, a special elite unit of the paratroopers, quite literally the best of the best. At the outset of the fighting, I was asking Yoram, generally a jovial and happy man, how the boys were doing and where they were. His response was something that sticks with me to this very day. He became very quiet, told me that he and Michal hadn't been able to sleep in days and that all three of their boys (including the oldest brother Elad, who was called to serve as well) were fighting in Lebanon. Yoram then said pleadingly, 'this isn't right that sons should have to fight the same war that their fathers fought over 20 years before'. As you can guess, like many in his generation, Yoram fought in Lebanon in the early '80's in what is now being called the First Lebanon War. And here his sons were, years later, risking their lives for the same war. During those days, our boys drew pictures to encourage Yoram and Michal. They brought them over and their house had a strange feel to it. It was like a home on edge - waiting every minute for the other shoe to drop. You could feel the house exhale as the boys all returned home - it was an incredibly tense time.

Here we were, only 7 months later, and the mood of the family was now wrapped in absolute joy. The wedding hall was filled with friends and army buddies, many still in their military uniforms with their distinctive red berets tucked neatly onto their shoulders, their signature brown boots and M-16's on their backs. Baruch HaShem, all of their boys made it through the war intact and healthy and now they were coming together to celebrate a new Jewish family being born. But, I think it was more than that...I think they were celebrating our continued survival in our homeland, the one Jewish state in the world and their small part in helping to build and defend our country.

You can really feel what life here is all about when you see a soldier dancing with school age glee at his friend's wedding. The emotions people have in this country are so palpable and fierce as we fight to survive in the same breath that we celebrate, love and rejoice. Now we just have to hope that Erez Yosef Shai doesn't have to fight the same war that the Ta'asans and countless other families have had to fight twice.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Middle East Primer--Do You Know the Basics?

Excerpted from the Israel Highway (March 8, 2007)
A Middle East Primer -
What Are the Issues? Do You Know the Basics?

by Israel HighWay Staff

Missiles, terrorists, tanks and bullets are not the only weapons of the Middle East conflict. So are words, concepts and diplomatic formulas. In fact, they can be more important than the weapons of war because they can be the tools for ending the conflict or for creating the conditions for the next round of fighting.

June 4, 1967 borders; UN Resolutions 242; UNIFIL ; Armistice lines; UNRWA; the list is long and complicated, but these are the phrases, abbreviations and words that play key roles in almost any discussion of the Israel-Arab conflict.

Most young American Jews will attend universities in North America. Parents, teachers, and teens go to great lengths to ensure that you will be well prepared for the SAT, but will you be ready for the tests you are likely to face at university when challenged about Israel or your Zionist affiliations? Just last month, on campuses across the world, Israel's detractors staged "Israel Apartheid Week." Pro-Israel students were confronted with "in your face" challenges calling for boycotts, sanctions and divestment from Israel.

The following is a brief introduction to some of the major terms and issues related to Israel's history and current events to serve as a starting point to further your education and increase your knowledge level:

Balfour Declaration - the declaration of 1917 by British Foreign Minister Balfour supporting the establishment of a "Jewish national home in Palestine." This was the first international recognition of Zionist aspirations for a modern Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael.

Blue Line - the internationally recognized border between Lebanon and Israel. After Israel's withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, the UN certified that Israel had fully withdrawn from all of Lebanon.

British Mandate - the period from July 24, 1922 to May 15, 1948 when the British ruled "Palestine" - on both sides of the Jordan River - under a mandate from the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations).

Green Line - is the demarcation between the 1967 borders of Israel and the West Bank territories captured in the Six Day War. The color green has no particular significance, but refers to the color of the crayon used on the 1949 map of the armistice agreement with Jordan.

Oslo Accords - refers generally to the multi-stage agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The accords led to the mutual recognition and the signing of the Declaration of Principles which served as the basis for all negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians from their signing in September 1993 and the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000.

Partition Plan(s) - refers to the various international proposals and plans to divide Palestine (pre-1948 Israel) into autonomous areas controlled by Jews and Arabs. The British Peel Commission recommended a partition plan in 1937 and the UN's 1947 resolution that ended the British mandate also intended for the land to be partitioned to create two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Arabs rejected both of these proposals outright. Listen to the UN vote here.

Right of Return - refers to the Palestinian demand that refugees have the "right" to return to their homes and towns within Israel. Israel has consistently rejected this "right"; if the country acceded to these demands, Israel would cease to be a Jewish state. Under international law, the Palestinian refugees have no "right" of return to Israel.

UNIFIL - the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was first created by the UN Security Council in 1978 to "confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security and assist the Lebanese Government in restoring its effective authority in the area." In the aftermath of last summer's war in Lebanon, UNIFIL increased its forces and mandate to ensure the terms of the cease fire were met. Unfortunately, it appears that the force has not fulfilled its mandate and has allowed Hizbullah to fully re-arm to pre-war levels.

UN Resolution 242 - on November 22, 1967, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242 calling for a "just and lasting peace in which every country in the area can live in security" and established the concept of "land for peace" as the basis for all negotiations since its inception. The resolution calls on Israel to withdraw from "territories occupied in the recent conflict," but specifically does not call on Israel to withdraw from all of the territories captured in the Six Day War. "Palestinians" and Jerusalem were not mentioned in 242.

UNRWA - the United Nations Relief & Works Agency for Palestine was created in December 1949 in the wake of Israel's War of Independence. UNRWA, largely financed by U.S. government donations, oversees over 600 schools and numerous health and social services agencies throughout the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. UNRWA has come under criticism by Israel and pro-Israel advocates for anti-Israel curricula in its schools and has faced occasional accusations that its facilities and staff give cover to terrorists.

Obviously, there are many more topics to address and myriads of arguments to make in order to defend Israel effectively. These topics are an important starting point which will allow you to talk with more familiarity and knowledge. Now, it's your job to become even more educated and aware. You are Israel's best defense and best source of education. Take your job seriously; many misconceptions and erroneous assumptions can be dispelled with a little knowledge.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Purim Week: What Makes Israelis Laugh

The following was originally published via Israel HighWay . If you would like to receive the Israel HighWay directly, please click here.

Purim Week: What Makes Israelis Laugh?
Political Satire in Israel
by Israel HighWay Staff

Sometimes it’s hard to laugh in Israel.

It seems everyone knows someone who was wounded or killed in last summer’s war in Lebanon or who fled Israel’s north to escape Hizbullah’s rockets. Terrorist acts strike every few weeks, including this week when a 42-year-old father of three was stabbed to death in the Etzion Bloc. And the growing regional threats against Israel and the crisis of leadership gripping Israelis today are hardly a laughing matter.

And yet, Israelis do laugh and they laugh heartily, sometimes at themselves and often at their leadership.
Israeli television has a long tradition of biting political satire. Thirty years ago Nikui Rosh ["clearing one’s head"] skewered Israeli politicians. "The skits," writes the IMBd online review, "were often viciously stinging of social and political norms in Israel and were criticized by people from all corners of the political arena."

Nikui Rosh was soon followed by Zehu Ze, a brilliant satire and entertainment show that was broadcast in Israel between 1978 and 1998. Its many memorable characters included an elderly religious authority, "Babba Bubba"
(pictured). After 20 years, however, Zehu Ze and its actors were getting a little stale and they left the stage, making room for a new, more daring show, HaHarzufim, starring large foam latex puppets portraying Israel’s leadership. [See puppet of Shimon Peres.] The satire was so sharp that it is actually considered responsible for ending the political career of one national politician who was portrayed as a sniveling wimp!

One Israeli performer/impersonator is credited – or blamed – for making fun of Israeli politicians and for diplomatic "incidents" with foreign countries. Over the years Eli Yatzpan has impersonated Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, France’s President Chirac and even Yasser Arafat. Yatzpan’s Arabic and French interviews are remarkable expressions of gibberish, and his subjects of ridicule were never too happy.

A Wonderful Land

Today, Israel’s funny bone is tickled by Eretz Nehederet ("A Wonderful Land"), the grandchild of shows like Nikui Rosh. This may be television in the Holy Land, but there are no sacred cows in this land. Recent shows have made fun of the diplomatic maneuvers of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Syrian President Bashar Assad. One of the most popular television characters ever portrayed on the Israeli screen was Eretz Nehederet’s Granny Luba, a spirited older immigrant from Russia who works as a cashier in a supermarket. Two years ago, Luba’s wig and uniform was one of Israel’s most popular Purim costumes.

In 2003, at the height of the Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians, Eli Yatzpan was asked about comedy in Israel. "We have a different situation in Israel than in the U.S.," he explained. "If you hear on the radio that 20 people died [in a terror attack] we cancel that night’s show. But the day after we have a show like nothing happened. The show must go on. We are very satiric, very sharp. We laugh at ourselves, our situation, and the Israeli leaders."

Yatzpan's description of the transition from sorrow to laughter should sound familiar. In the Purim story, the Jews of Shushan were about to be exterminated by Haman. But the tables were turned and the Jews emerged "cheerful and joyous." From the great darkness, the "Jews had light and joy and delight and honor."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Me and the Misrad HaChinuch

Like everywhere else, there are days here when we feel victories, and days when we get frustrated and ready to scream. Today was a victory. I still can’t believe what I accomplished and I must say that I’m quite proud of myself.

In order to transfer my teaching certificate from the States, I have needed to jump through a number of hoops. I took a once a week course all year last year for people who wanted to be English teachers. Then, I had to take a series of six courses, all in Hebrew! And…sit through SIX exams, which were THREE hours each (which seemed a bit odd since each of the six classes was about 10 days long...this may be the longest test for the shortest class in history!) Oh boy…so, I went to class for months on Wednesday nights last year and then I spent six hours a day for the entire summer hearing lectures in Hebrew about Jewish religion, Israel History, Israeli Literature, Civics, Hebrew language and Torah. It was actually a very interesting collection of courses and I certainly learned a great deal. Those of you who know me know that I’m a very serious student – so I, of course, went to every single class and studied for each test. I knew that I had done terrifically. But, I also knew that there would be a catch – the Ministry of Education is not an easy system to navigate, and I was sure that I would get ensnared in some way.

And ensnared I was. After hounding the ministry for six months, I was finally informed of my scores – 100%, 95%, 92%, 93%, 75% (Hebrew language – thank Gd for that grade!), and 51%. Um – come again? Did you say 51%? Yep, 51% on Israeli History. Well, that certainly didn’t make sense. Ask me anything from the course that you want to and I can tell you about it. I know my Israeli History. So, there had to be a mistake. I was informed that it was what it was. The way the system works – they said – was that I could sit for a second three hour exam on Israeli History. Period. No chance to see the exam – no questions asked.

Well, that was simply not going to be acceptable. But, I had no idea how to fight with a system that declared that you couldn’t fight with it. So, first I wrote a letter to one person, and Cd it to another demanding that I had a right to see the test. I had my friend translate it and I sent it off. No answer. Then I hounded and hounded the office. Did I mention that the woman in charge of the testing was on leave until mid February? So, I finally got her to call me and I booked an appointment to go and see her. I told her that I had a right to see the test. She had already heard about me from other people in the Ministry and understood that I wanted to see the test and meet with her.

So, I took a day off of work to meet with her. When I went in she was truly bewildered. She completely and totally could not understand why I was going against the system. The system works in a certain way, she explained. If I failed the first exam, I could take the second exam, no questions asked. Why, she wanted to know, was I fighting the system and making more trouble for myself and a delay, when I could just follow the rules. In the best Hebrew that I have, I tried, for over half an hour to explain that I had studied for the test, that I knew everything, and that I had the right to see the exam. I wanted to understand what I had done wrong, because I certainly couldn’t do better over six months later without an understanding of my mistakes. She absolutely did not understand my point or why I was being so rebellious. I, of course, could not fathom her viewpoint; nor could I believe that no one had ever asked to see their exam before!
When she finally let me see the test, it was as I expected. They had marked down points in the margin with no explanations. I missed 15 out of 25 points on a Holocaust question. I showed her that I had brought along the materials for our course and challenged her to compare my answer with the course materials. She didn’t appreciate the challenge. It went on like this for quite awhile with her telling me to just sit for the test again and me explaining that I wasn’t sitting for a test without an explanation of how to do better.

Finally, she said, “Ok – give me 24 hours.” She was willing to talk to her supervisor. Long story short (sort of?), she agreed to have two other people grade the test. I only needed 9 more points to pass – a 60%. She told me to call Thursday, and I think she was quite relieved when I left the room.

So, I called today, very nervous. What would she say? Would I pass or have to fight for an answer as to why I didn’t pass? She started to explain something – and of course I didn’t know the word she used! Oh dear – was she saying you passed or you failed!? It turned out that the two graders did agree that I had passed.

But wait – there is MUCH more. Then she went on to say THANK YOU. I swear – I almost fell off of the park bench. Thank you? “Yes, thank you,” she said. “I have never had anyone challenge how we do things,” she continued, “and I appreciate that you stuck by your convictions. You believed that you had passed and weren’t willing to just do what I told you to do. I’ve learned a lot from this experience.”

The Ministry is not an easy system to navigate, and getting my certificate transferred has been quite a process. I’ve wanted to give up, scream, and demand a new system quite a few times. Today, it was all worth while. Rather than doing any of these things, I used an incredible amount of energy to push and push for something that I knew was right. And not only did I come out with the answer that I knew was true – but I got someone to consider how she works, and to consider change. Now, that is worth all of the effort!

Israel HighWay

One of the various small jobs that I do is working on a weekly, on-line publication called Israel HighWay. The target audience is North American high school students and the goal is to educate and inspire them about Israel. So, we are going to start posting the 'Issue of the Week' each week on the blog. In addition to the Issue of the Week, there is a collection of 12-15 additional articles on all sorts of different subject pertaining to Israel. While the target audience is for highschool kids, the articles are interesting to adults as well. If you are interested in getting this weekly in your email box (or have kids who you think would enjoy it) please click here. This is a great tool for Jewish educators who want to bring current events and interesting Israel angles into their classroom.

No One Uses Snail Mail Anymore - Too Bad
by Israel Highway Staff

In May 2008, in conjunction with the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the State, Israel will host the World Stamp Championships. Over 2500 stamp exhibits from 70 countries will participate from May 14-21, 2008. For one week, Israel will be at the center of the world of stamps, confirming what many Zionist stamp enthusiasts have always believed.

Stamps have an incredibly colorful history and tell a detailed story of a country. They are like a footprint, recording history, culture, politics, and even food. In Israel - a young country of less than 60 years and, at the same time, an old land with a history dating back thousands of years - stamps capture both the vigor of the new country while simultaneously paying tribute to the ancient land.
Prior to 1948, the stamps of the British Palestine Mandate usually showed a British monarch or an ancient site in Jerusalem. After Israel’s founding, however, Israeli stamps became a window into Israel’s ancient and modern history, culture, heroes, flowers, geography, Zionism and Judaism. Israeli stamps have a high level of artistic expression and are produced with strict attention to the balance between the number of issues, variety of topics and range of denominations. Their unique creativity and vibrancy make Israeli stamps highly valued in the world’s philatelic circles. Israeli stamps reflect Israel’s aspirations for peace and the country’s efforts in building and developing its society and culture.

The history of the country is recorded through stamps in a way that appeals to stamp aficionados, history buffs and lovers of art and design. Through stamps, the collector or the recipient of a piece of mail anywhere in the world can get an original perspective on the images, symbols, personalities, and events in the story of life in Israel.

Each year, the Israeli Postal Authority's Philatelic Service produces approximately 25 to 30 stamps in five series. Stamps are accompanied by first-day covers, a collector's page, an annual album, postcards, and artistic posters. The Philatelic Service is also responsible for producing special postmarks, which are also valued among stamp enthusiasts. The Philatelic Service has some 44,000 subscribers in Israel and another 7,000 overseas who receive every new stamp as it is issued. Israeli stamps are also sold at counters all over Israel, through stamp dealers, and via some 15 agents overseas.

This week, on February 20, the Israeli Postal Authority issued its newest stamp series dedicated to Israeli Educational Television; Physical Education and Sports in Israel; and Development of the Galilee and the Negev. These three series offer a perfect example of the uniqueness of Israeli stamps and how they reflect Israeli society. The series feature favorite characters of Israeli children’s television; the Israeli enthusiasm for sports and the outdoors; and the Israeli/Zionist pioneering spirit of settling the Galilee and the Negev.

Last year alone, Israel published stamp series dedicated to Israeli leaders, flowers, Rabbis of Jerusalem, Crusader sites in Israel, the Mishna, Sephardi Hamsas (hand-shaped good luck amulets) and more.

To draw further attention to the variety and quality of Israeli stamps, the Israeli Postal service is currently running an on-line contest to choose the most beautiful Israeli stamp of 2006. Prizes are available for those who choose the winning entry. The contest runs through February 28 - so vote today!

If you are looking for an interactive and fun way to learn more about the history of Israel, Judaism and the Land of Israel, look at Israel's stamps. There’s even an on-line stamp game that is a fun and easy way to learn about Israeli leaders, flora and fauna, famous rabbis and more!

Since the founding of the State of Israel, collecting Israeli stamps has been a favorite past-time for both the serious stamp collector and the curious Zionist. No wonder Israeli stamps are still scooped up by collectors around the world. Now, if only we could figure how to use them on email... hmmm.