Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ayman Odeh, New Head of Israel's Arab party, wants to be Israel's MLK

This interview in today's TOI is a must read. In it, Ayman Odeh, head of the largest Arab Party in Israel's history, The Joint List, makes a plea to Israel's Jewish majority to work towards helping Israel's Arab citizens attain genuine civil and economic equality, as well as some small modicum of a national symbol that while Jewish, could also be embraced by Israel's 20% Arab minority as a source of pride.

The part where he quotes the Shaul Tchernekovsky poem actually had me tearing up a bit - Israeli Jews ignore Odeh and his message at our own expense. He is the ultimate litmus test of whether Israel is genuinely capable of being moral to the 'stranger in our mist' as the Torah so often beseeches us. Or are we too scarred by our own recent history to take up his call for true equality of opportunity and rights here.

Time will tell - I am optimistic we will react positively to Odeh's message as we claim we've been waiting for an Arab leader like this in Israel for a long time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Best Case Scenario/Worst Case Scenario

My co-worker and co Yesh Atid voter Michael Lipkin's assessment of the Israeli Election - and my reply:

First Thoughts on the Election Results...
by Michael Lipkin

I love democracy even when I don't love the outcome. And I'm not even sure how I feel about the outcome. I would have preferred a more centrist government than it appears this new one will be.
But there are some potential bright spots like the idea of Kachlon as finance minister. And since Likud itself is not being pulled as much to the right internally, combined with its number seats, it should be able to be more moderate. Also, I think we'll see Bibi walk back some of the more extreme statements he made leading up to the election. And I would love to see him use his new-found electoral strength to seriously engage with the Arab countries with whom we now share some very serious dangerous enemies.
I have an optimistic take on the equal service bill too. As much as I'm not a fan of the Chareidi parties, I don't think their MKs are idiots. They know darn well the this bill, more than anything else, is a jobs and education program their community so desperately needs. My prediction is that they'll make a huge to-do about removing the so-called "criminal sanctions" and leave the rest pretty much intact. We might even see increased funding for some of the programs.
Hopefully also, given the relative small size of these parties, the damage they can do to religion-state and education will be mitigated, though they'll definitely retard the progress that was being made.

And my reply:

I'm less optimistic - Bibi will be emboldened to... do nothing for another 3-4 years. Kahlon will meet the same fate as Lapid, where any plan he has to actually even things out economically will be blocked by a Likud that is beholden to unions and monopolies. Bibi would never want to allow Kahlon to gain popularity under his nose like that.

On the Hareidim I tend to agree with you but we'll see - they have a lot of leveredge.

And 2 key issues you left out - leave me most worries: His reliance on racist tropes with Arab citizens of Israel mean repairing relations with that community (most of whom are non-violent) will be nearly impossible - and will lead to increasing unrest

And Bibi has burned nearly every bridge he had with even our top allies - something he is less inclined to repair with this government. 

Bibi also learned a valuable lesson (had it greatly reinforced): that racism and fear mongering pays off big time at the polls. Instead of enacting good policies, he can just scare people into voting for him by drumming up security crises, real and imagined. 

My biggest fear is that Bibi goes after the Supreme court, which is the only body that has blocked his various 'power grab' tactics to date. If he succeeds in this task, may god have mercy on us all. We will be living under an Erdogan type ruler where we get told who is a good Israeli, the media becomes increasingly 'state sponsored' and Bibi's opponents are expected to try and unseat him with both hands tied behind their backs. 

We're nhot there yet thank god - we'll just have to see how this all plays out though. 

The Fulfillment of a 2000 Year Old Dream

Yesterday's reelection of Bibi Netanyahu - nearly 67 years after the founding of the modern State of Israel - was the culmination of 2000 years of the hopes and aspirations, dreams and prayers of the Jewish people.


  • We are free to be openly racist on our way to victory
  • We have a prime minister strong enough to tell us who is a good Israeli (and who isn't)
  • We can openly disrespect the leader of our greatest ally - who we rely on for advanced weapons we can't produce ourselves, massive amounts of trade to keep our economy from collapsing and protecting us with a veto in hostile world bodies
  • We can feel good about creating a society with a growing divide between the haves and have-nots while living like kings in our state-funded mansions
  • We can freely demonize other Jews who also serve in the army and risk their lives for this country but have a different point of view on security or economic issues
  • We can rest assured knowing we live in a country where our official Rabbinate is ruled by religious fanatics
  • We can enshrine into legislation the 'special' status of the ultra-orthodox where if my son doesn't want to go to the army he is assured he will sit in prison for 2 years but if one of his many second cousins decides not to go to the army he will suffer no significant consequences at all
  • We can put to bed this silly idea of universal suffrage and rule millions of people without giving them a vote or any hope of ever having a vote

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Ancient Tradition of Igloo Building in Jerusalem

I think we're coming to accept the fact that we live in a genuine wintry climate here in Jerusalem. Not like Scandinavian or Minnesota winter climate but a place that gets multiple snowstorms a year. Probably the coolest part of last night's storm was watching Mohamed from the local supermarket build an igloo - without gloves on!

All in all I'd say we got a bit more than a foot of snow - not too shabby for the desert!

The view from our balcony

 Playing outside

 Selfie mode
 Park bench piled high with snow

The ancient art of Igloo building, circa Middle East 2015

 Mar veGiveret Shalgia

 Selfie mode part deux

The view from my car trying to get home from the train station at 9 p.m. last night - it was treacherous but all my snow driving skills came back to me very quickly!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Awesome Israel-Hamas Comics

We're currently staying with my in-laws in Syracuse. My in-laws love the weekend comics so in that vain, here are a bunch that I think sum up the absurdity of the current conflagaration between Israel and Hamas perfectly:

And my favorite:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How Civilized Societies Behave Under Fire (and How Uncivilized Ones Behave Too)

Civilized societies build warning systems, bomb shelters, and defensive missile shields to protect their citizens.Uncivilized societies use their citizens to protect the missiles and terrorist apparatus.

Civilized societies warn the civilians on the other side before striking so as to minimize civilian casualties as much as possible.
Uncivilized societies fire indiscriminately at civilians in an attempt to maim and kill as many as possible.

Civilized societies are nearly unanimously disgusted and ashamed when one of their own commits heinous crimes against an innocent 16 year-old boy on his way to pray.
Uncivilized societies hand out candies and flash '3 fingered' salutes to celebrate the murder of 3 teenage boys returning home to see their families after a week of school.

Civilized societies place life above all else.
Uncivilized societies are obsessed with death and martyrdom.

Civilized societies dedicate the lion's share of their financial resources to providing basic welfare services and universal healthcare to their citizens, regardless of those citizens' race, creed, or religion.
Uncivilized societies divert nearly all of their resources to building and obtaining the instruments of war to use against civilians.

Civilized societies overwhelmingly support sharing the land that they have with another people for the sake of peace. They have withdrawn from land conquered in defensive wars on multiple occasions for this very purpose.
Uncivilized societies overwhelmingly support reconquering all of the land between the river and the sea.

Civilized societies are home to diverse populations, with Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, straight and gay, liberal and conservative, living together in the same cities and towns.
Uncivilized societies are so inhospitable to anyone even remotely different that you wont be able to find them living there.

Civilized societies try to teach their children to have tolerance for people that are different than them, even for those they vehemently disagree with.
Uncivilized societies nurture their children on hatred of Jews from cradle to grave.

Individuals that believe there's any moral equivalence between Civilized and Uncivilized societies are those Edmund Burke was referring to when he said "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Half a Lifetime Later, I Finally Get to See Soundgarden

I saw Soundgarden in Tel Aviv last night - great concert through and through with a great setlist and excellent musicianship on display - especially from Kim Thayil. Opener Gogol Bordello was really awesome too - they play Gypsy Punk music and have a crazy eclectic set of musicians and instruments on stage.

Last night was also filled with nostalgia and had me remember the time I almost saw Soundgarden in the 11th grade, back in 1996.

When I was in 10th and 11th grade, Soundgarden was easily one of my favorite bands. I knew 1994's Superunknown note for note and remember going out of my way to buy Down on the Upside with my brother Yaakov very soon after it came out - and both of us listening to that album over and over again.

I was supposed to see Soundgarden at NYC's Roseland Ballroom during the fall of 1996. I had gotten back from a 6-week teen tour in Israel and one of the girls I had become better friends with, Allison Ashenberg (who actually lives in Israel now), hooked up tickets for me, her and a couple of other people who now escape me to catch Soundgarden on the 3rd night of a 3 night run. From what I can remember, by night 2 of the run Chris Cornell's voice was totally shot to hell and they only played for like an hour and 15 minutes.

At this point in the story, I should point out was not allowed to see concerts at the Roseland, Irving Plaza, or any other place that had a mosh pit. My parents being good protective types had read in horror that some kid was stomped to death in the moshpit at a Smashing Pumpkins show at the Academy and that was the end of my chance to see most of the bands I was listening to live in concert.

I had no choice really - I did what any teenager that was even remotely independent would: I made up an elaborate alibi about some get together from my summer teen tour in the city that was going to end late and force me to sleep in the city. Thankfully people under 20 didn't own cell phones in 1996 so once I left my house in Riverdale, I didn't have to worry about being called by my parents and getting caught in my web of lies.

I headed downtown and went to hang out with this girl from my bus that summer who I kind of had a thing for, Aliza Finkle. Plus her apartment was right next to Washington Square Park in the West Village, which in high school seemed to be about as cool a place as anyone could live. And her parents were really interesting people - her mom used to be a model of some sort and they had really cool books and music and seemed incredibly worldly.

At about 5 Allison got a call that Soundgarden had cancelled the show because Chris Cornell had the flu. Fuckers! I had made up an elaborate alibi for no reason. They would reschedule the show at a later date they said. A couple months later, Soundgarden broke up and so I never got to see them. Until last night that is.

After hearing the show was cancelled, I hung out downtown for a few more hours and then made my way up to Jonathan Smith's house on the Upper East side where I was sleeping. I was supposed to catch a bus out to my school in New Jersey the next morning.

At roughly 10:30 p.m., I got a panicked call from my Dad. He had somehow tracked down Jonathan Smith's number. He had realized I had never left the number of where I was staying and called another kid from my summer tour's parents (AJ Stone) - and found out that there was no bus get-together that night.

Smith and I were sitting facing each other taking waterfall rips and blowing them through a laundry sheet stuffed into a cardboard paper towel roll in his bathroom (as if that's actually masked the smell of anything before) when his Dad knocked on the door and said I had an urgent phone call. I'm pretty sure the Smith's entire east side apartment smelled like the lawn at a Grateful Dead show - maybe his parents had an insanely bad sense of smell - but there didn't seem to be any parental issues on his end, only mine.

I had smoked marijuana only a handful of times at this point of my life - and I'd never had to actually talk to my parents before while high. Needless to say as paranoid as I was, my Dad was a lot more paranoid as he suspected that the reason I had made up an elaborate web of lies wasn't to see Soundgarden - which I had had to confess to when he found out there was no get-together - but to engage in the evils of teen soft drug use.

I somehow managed to eventually get off the phone with him - and when I got home from school the next night I had to endure a multi-hour interrogation from both him and my Mom, with the two of them playing good cop/bad cop.

The entire experience didn't stop me from occasionally getting high in high school - very rarely on school nights - I was a very responsible student with aspirations of attending a top college. The occasional toke is too damn fun - we'd generally spend hours acting goofy and giggling after a smoke - to believe all the stupidity adults feed you about how it will get you to try harder drugs, stop caring about anything and ruin your life.

Actually I can say based on my own personal experiences that in retrospect, the opposite of all those things is true. The occasional smoke in high school made me less constrained by standard modes of thinking and allowed me to take more mental risks that I think ultimately have made me a much more successful person - in both work and life. It turns out that in most fields and human interactions generally, the ability to step outside of your preconceived views and break down the doors of perception (to use an overquoted phrase) is highly valued and rewarded. I'm not saying you need a literal drug to achieve that - but very few people are born with the ability to step outside themselves and be truly creative. And so there's generally some out of body experience or trigger experience that allows the people that are truly creative to tap into an ability that we're all born with, a bit better and more deeply than the rest of us.

All of this was going through my mind as Soundgarden burned through 19 songs in a little over 2 hours - including half of Superunkown, which just had a special 20th anniversary release (that made me feel old!). My personal highlights were an especially hard-rocking Jesus Christ Pose (with Chris Cornell introducing the song as 'about a dude born not far from here, a craftsman, a carpenter and generally badass guy' which left most of the Israelis scratching their heads trying to figure out who he was talking about), pretty much everything from Superunknown including a slowed down, especially angsty 4th of July and great audience sing along on Blow up the Outside World, and Beyond the Wheel which was their final song and ended with Kim Thayil on stage alone in some sort of weird guitar worshiping ritual that created lots of cool distortion and ambient sounds.

And yes, I got to taste my first mosh pit, finally at age 34 ;-) The mainly tattooed and pierced dudes in the pit were all smiles whenever they collided with someone - all that angst that must have existed in mosh pits when the participants were 16 seems to have melted away now that they're in their 30s and early 40s. Seems like we all turned out pretty much ok in the end.