Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Spam Doctor Strikes Again

Fresh from the Spam Doctor. Apparently that's a male bird on the left, and a female bird on the right. Ahem.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

That's One Disturbed Kitty

There are few creatures in the world able to go all psycho on you and look really cute doing it. I knew a person like that once, but alas, I've said too much already. Bad kitty! See, this would never happen with my cat's Soviet-inspired discipline regime. My feline knows that it's just one growl away from seeing the inside of a dryer (drier vs. dryer). The key is to follow through with it, because no cat ever believes they will get stuffed into a dryer against their will. That is, until you trap them with a towel and stuff them into a dryer against their will, and then they never forget. And neither will I, judging from the scars.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This Never Happened: Real West Bank Water Theft

For years, we've been told that Israel is stealing Palestinian water resources. This slogan, much promoted, particularly in Europe, was then disproven, conclusively and authoritatively, by Israel's Water Authority, which described clearly the rational, fair and, most importantly, mutually agreed upon management and distribution of water resources to both Israel and territories under Palestinian administration.

Since then, the narrative has shifted slightly. It is no longer the government of Israel which is stealing water, but Jewish settlers who are accused of the dastardly deed. The following video was taken at a well outside the Jewish community of Sussya, in the South Hebron Hills. It depicts a situation which, depending on your level of blind commitment to ending Israeli "occupation" either never happened, isn't supposed to be happening, simply doesn't fit the media narrative of Jewish theft of Arab resources or, if all sense of justice fails you, is perfectly defensible - Israeli leftist radicals helping Palestinians steal water from wells which supply Jewish communities.

Haaretz did not report this story, if you can call it a story. It's as if it never happened. Just another day of anonymous Jewish life in the Hebron Hills. This well did not go dry, not that time, not that day, and hundreds of animals - at least the ones Arab thieves didn't steal the other night - did not go thirsty. You can see the distances involved, and the constant vigilance necessary on the part of the residents to protect their rights and property.

It wasn't always this way. Sussya once had good relations with neighboring Palestinian villages. They used to help one another with the harvests, with irrigation. It's only in recent months and years that Palestinians have begun to show up, always with the encouragement and participation of radical Israeli leftists, emptying communal water cisterns, stealing livestock, making claims on prime agricultural lands cultivated by Jews that were arid desert in aerial photographs 30 years ago. This relentless harassment and predation is a daily reality for residents of Jewish communities. Yet none of it would be possible without incitement by Israeli extremists, who agitate and convince the hotheads among local Arabs to create a disturbance and then get on their cell phones to inform Haaretz and the foreign media of yet another “atrocity”.

In Sussya it's water theft. In Bat Ayin last November fields were torched. Entire orchards were burned to the ground in Achiya (next to Shvut Rachel) during October, or was it the olive groves hacked up in next-door Shilo. After a while, it's hard to keep them all in order. The settlers get hung with the “price tag” policy that no one in the settlements supports, but meanwhile the cases of arson and sabotage against the Jewish communities mount without redress or reprisals. Farmers who raise the vandalism with the Civil Administration or the Army are told to pocket the loss; if no one was hurt the Army usually isn't willing to risk going into Arab villages to go after the culprits.

Havat Gilad, a community of 24 families built on privately owned Jewish land, was nearly burned down by arsonists last fall, again, as it is every six months, sometimes in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep. And as the fire meant to destroy the village burned through the Jewish fields of clover and, spurred by a change in wind spread to neighboring Arab trees the Jews were blamed in the foreign press, without a single interview on the Jewish side. The sense of frustration and abandonment among residents of the communities, victimized first by Arab arsonists and then by international media, is palpable. This is a reality that Peace Now does not describe in its requests for donations.

One of the primary challenges in advocating for the Jewish communities in Yesha is the total absence of media coverage of their experience. With the exception of INN, no Israeli news outlet goes into the settlements and speaks to the residents, except to quote some crazy gun-toting idiot, for flavor. Instead, what gets coverage are press releases from the IDF, Civil Administration and human rights groups, which rarely represent the perspectives, challenges and rights of the residents in the communities.

This is not to say that the settlers are made of puppy fuzz. There is plenty of coverage when they do wrong, along with condemnation and criticism, domestic and international, including from within the settlement communities, including by me. What is lacking is a balance in reporting that addresses the legitimate grievances, aspirations and perspectives of hundreds of thousands of people. No matter one's position on the settlements, we cannot be content to live in a world where political convenience makes necessary the creation of a type of subhuman to whom anything can be done and then justified with a media blackout.

The attempted theft of Sussya's water, on this particular day, would never had happened, to the extent that no one would have known of it, except that someone released a video now seen by a paltry 500 people showing us that it did. That is the reality, one which does not conform easily to the prevalent media narrative, and those who wish to stand on the side of peace and justice must acknowledge it as such.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Decline of Conservative and Reform Judaism

Anyone following trends in Jewish affiliation, as I do, should read the following two pieces in the Forward describing the double-digit declines in attendance for American Conservative and Reform Jewish congregations over the past decade.

Liberal Denominations Face Crisis as Rabbis Rebel, Numbers Shrink
The Theological Roots of Reform Judaism’s Woes

I think the numbers speak for themselves, and the causes of decline, well known by many, are sufficiently elaborated on in the articles to exempt me from having to risk offending anyone's sensitivities. There is an unfortunate tendency among some in Orthodox and Hassidic circles to wax triumphantly over the decline in membership being experienced by more "liberal" denominations, particularly when contrasted with the growth of more observant communities. Partly, this is a reflection of and retribution for the low regard and disrespect with which many in Reform and Conservative communities have long treated their more observant coreligionists.

Such denominational factionalism and institutional competition, while understandable and often based on legitimate theological disagreements and long-standing grievances, misses the point. Some Jews leaving Reform congregations may gravitate towards more observant communities, but many, out of frustration, a lack of basic Jewish education of sheer indifference, are opting out of expressions of faith altogether. In no way can this be considered a positive outcome from any Jewish perspective that I'm aware of, to say nothing of Orthodox or Hassidic philosophy and values.

Observant Jews need to waste less time comforting themselves that the Reform and unaffiliated will "breed themselves out", as a trusted friend and Rabbi once told me, in a moment of uncharacteristic insensitivity, and do more to help reach out to Jews who, through a lack of proper education or circumstance, have not been given an opportunity to understand and express their faith in a way that's meaningful to them. Knowledgeable people don't need a lecture about their responsibilities towards fellow Jews (anyone who needs a lecture can email me directly). So, instead, for those who are listening, I'll make a renewed call to action and a note of encouragement, paraphrasing the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that words that come from the heart enter the heart.

Europe Strikes a Balance Between Rights and Interests

Popular Arab unrest has now reached Libya, for the moment shattering (Professional Rapist, Mass-Murderer, Serial-Pedophile, Blood-Soaked-Terrorist and vomit-inducing Fashionista) Qaddafi's despotic control of that sad country. The sadist's regime is now being tempted into the most violent repression of human beings in recent memory, complete with indiscriminate, or rather, targeted aerial bombardment of protesters. In light of unfolding events, Europe, of all places, is finally faced with a challenge to its principled, yet rarely tested stand in support of universal human rights.

You see, it was all fine and good that societies halfway around the world, or at least beyond Europe's line of sight were convulsing in popular protests, unseating dictators and autocrats that were only recently lauded as regional bulwarks of stability and hedges against forces of intemperate variants of political Islam. Mere weeks ago, it was downright uncivilized, in certain circles, to suggest that all who cherish liberal freedom should hold our collective breath before throwing our lot in with revolutionary forces we do not fully understand, but which may usher in governments that are aggressively Islamist in composition, with consequences unknown.

It is another matter altogether when Europe itself is faced with the prospect, merely an undefined potential, at this point, for a radical Islamist threat to develop within stone's throw of its own shores. It seems that no civilized country (or continent, no matter how rich and powerful, and Europe is both) is prepared to allow a rocket-lobbing Islamist terror state to exist on its periphery - except for the one, small Jewish state being forced to do so. Enter Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, who, while addressing EU Foreign Ministers warned...
...of the potential danger of a power vacuum [in Libya] leading to the formation of an Islamic state in the east of the country. Mr Frattini predicted that the collapse of the regime would lead to the “self proclamation of the so-called Islamic emirate of Benghazi”.

He said: “I’m very concerned about the idea of dividing Libya in two, in Cyrenaica and in Tripoli. That would be really dangerous. “Can you imagine having an Islamic Arab emirate on the borders of Europe? This would be a really serious threat.”
I've never before heard of the "Islamic emirate of Benghazi", and I'm quite certain, neither have you. This is partly because I don't know very much about Libya, modern or ancient, and have not really cared to know more than I do, focused as I am on matters that directly concern me more. However, I'm prepared to accept that the Italians, who have been fighting, dying, trading and colonizing in Libya since Roman antiquity, might know more than I do about the social, political and religious movements which might threaten them, and Europe, following an uncontrolled dismemberment of Qaddafi's vile regime. I am similarly prepared to accept that well-meaning Frenchmen, Germans, Norwegians and others know much less than they think they do about the intricacies of Israel's conflict with the Arabs; a struggle of only peripheral and intermittent interest to Europe, as it is to much of the world.

Nor is Italy the least sensible member of Europe, given the relative support and understanding the country has shown for Israel's perpetual balancing act between principles and interests; between ensuring human rights and democratic norms in a generational struggle against adversaries who value neither rights nor lives which stand in their way, all the more so Jewish rights and lives, and providing basic security for its people.

Europe's interest-laden ambivalence at seeing the last totalitarian regime in North Africa be swept aside is a direct challenge to the continent's traditionally unrestrained and uncompromising support for human rights near and far. Though, more far than near, as we must point out that such support does not appear to have been extended to freedom-seeking Libyans in the last four decades of Qaddafi's reign of rape and terror; certainly not on the scale with which it has been lavished on Israeli human rights organizations confronting a democratic government making largely the better (and more humane) of bad choices.

It would appear the world is more complicated than it often seems from picturesque Parisian cafes; a world where support for human rights and vital interests may diverge, with moral tension pulling equally on one as on the other, and still imperfect choices must be made, and then accounted for. Empowering another people's freedom accomplishes just that, their freedom to be and act as they choose, including against you, should they so choose, and nothing more.

The Libyan unrest has set in motion Europe's return from heady irresponsibility to a world where another people's human rights are necessarily balanced against vital European interests, where difficult choices must be made among imperfect options, even at the cost of relinquishing moral purity. Europe has responded to a hypothetical threat created by a week of anti-government violence in a country separated from it by hundreds of miles of open sea by questioning the wisdom of removing from power a mass butcher and child rapist who has condemned generations of his people to despair and sponsored bloody acts of terrorism abroad.

Israel isn't perfect, but the balance its policies have achieved, between respecting the human rights of its adversaries and ensuring it's own, moral interests, is starting to look more reasonable by the day.

Friday, February 18, 2011

When Good Babies Go Bad

I know, I haven't written much lately, and you're all very, very disappointed (you Egyptian protesters most of all). In my defense, it has been a strange few weeks: work, school, family, friendships, electric eels, politics, window decals, procrastination, road trips, long-forgotten psycho ex-drama queens who can't seem to spell "calendar", activism, faith, tears, shwarma... Peanut Butter Shabbos Time couldn't come soon enough! But all that weirdness simply pales in comparison to the downright bizarre, haunting and horrifying spectacle you're about to witness.

Okay, then, my work here is done. Good Shabbos.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Our Younger Brothers in Faith

Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews -- A HistoryIn the last few days, I've finally taken on Constantine's Sword; The Church and the Jews, James Carroll's masterful crash course in the Church, Catholicism and the longest hatred. I hope to write a full review of the book when I've completed it, surprised as I have been with the author's turns of faith and potent intellect. If only to witness the fate of the disquieting storm that Carroll has raised amidst his own beliefs, I await his theological reconstitution, his spiritual conciliation with eager anticipation.

Still, I wonder, the book is now a decade old, and what has come of these ideas, and how much further will they travel within the Church, and extant of it. Is this merely a temporal slice of Catholic thought, too cerebral and challenging for canonical adoption, for mass contemplation and enduring reflection? Andrew Sullivan wrote an endorsement of this work when it launched - it's right there, on the back cover - and perhaps reviewed it on his blog (actually, in the NYT). And yet, not so long after, I could charge Carroll's own words with unmasking Sullivan's betrayal of them. A man who once termed Constantine's Sword, "Remarkable... a book of a deeper sort," has spent the last half decade ignoring its vital insights, forgetting its imploring lessons.

Perhaps Carroll will yet turn on me, as I am not yet halfway through, but surely it says something that a Jew of my persuasion has found little in this work at conflict with my core sensibilities, if we're honest about it, and that is no small achievement given the complexity of the subject. Carroll writes as a Catholic and a Christian, yes, and unapologetically so, but what will these terms mean to him, or to me, when he's done with them? Perhaps the stage being set for the answer lies in the following excerpt, on page 109:
Even though the pope's visit to Yad Vashem [John Paul II, in 2000] was the emotional high point of that week, his subsequent stop at the Western Wall was more important. For the pope to stand in devotion before that remnant of the Temple, for him to offer a prayer that did not invoke the name of Jesus, for him to leave a sorrowful kvitel, a written prayer, in a crevice of the wall, in Jewish custom, was the single most momentous act of his papacy. It was a culmination of the slow reversal of ancient Christian denigration not only of the Temple but of the Jews who had, as the scholar Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi writes, constructed "memory temples... out of the ruins of their material existence." That denigration has been the essence of supersessionism, and the source of antisemitism. The pope's unprecedented presence in Jerusalem had said, in effect, that the Catholic Church honors Jews at home in Israel - a rejection of the ancient Christian attachment to the myth of Jewish wandering, even if Catholic ambivalence about the Jewish state seems less than fully resolved. But whatever political problems remain, a religious threshold has been crossed. The pope's religious devotion at the Western Wall was an unmistakable act of affirmation of the Temple [the physical Jewish Temple, which the early Christians purposefully superseded with "the body of Christ"], and of G-d's unbroken covenant with the Jewish people today.
Never before had I contemplated the pope's visit having this significance. Indeed, the lay Jewish views of the pope's pilgrimage to Israel, frankly and to the extent that I know them, range from suspicion that Rome was staking a claim on the Western Wall to diplomatic but irrelevant interfaith dialogue. If the sentiment Carroll describes is widespread among Catholics, or Catholic thinkers and theologians, then a theological revolution in the Church is well under way. For if the Temple - and it's spiritual purpose, physical necessity and centrality in devotion (or as we Jews call it, avoda, divine service) - were never supplanted by Christ, in the mind's eye of the Church, then a real healing of the Christian-Jewish rift is neither impossible, nor so distant as we imagine.

On My Bookshelf