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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Your Tax Shekels At Work

While recovering at home, I decided to pay some bills. Like David Bogner's attraction to the blue tractor beam called 'television' I, too, suffer from an insatiable lure called the 'internet.' I cruise a bit (sometimes more than a bit) while mentally preparing for electronic debt-confrontation and elimination.

I am well-acquainted with the internet site called Campus Watch in the United States. As a liberal University of California student living in Davis, California, I quickly found out that most conservatives were more tolerant than most self-described liberals, and that the farther "left" a student or professor was, the more self-righteous, unliberal, censorious and smug that person was. I haven't noticed in the last 30 years that this has changed; if anything, the Left now embodies even more extreme smug self-righteousness and intolerance for any viewpoint but its own. I thought at its inception that Campus Watch was a good idea: good teachers can stand public scrutiny and the public has a right to know what's being peddled at the university our taxes are paying for.

In today's web-surfing, I found the Israeli Campus Watch at Israel-Academia-Monitor.com, which is not only informative, but hilarious. Of particular hilarity was the outrage of Tel Aviv University head Itamar Rabinovich, who waxed apoplectic at the revelation that TAU's psychology department offered an anti-Israel brainwashing course called "The Psychology of the Occupation" taught by another tenured Israel-hater, Uri Hadar. This class, of course, failed to address the effects of daily blowing-up-buses-and-pizza-parlors-full-of-mothers-and-children on the Israeli psyche.

Apparently when the Israel Academia Monitor writer revealed this in the mainstream media, Rabinovitch, who like most Leftists considers himself an icon of free speech and promotor of the marketplace of ideas, ranted and demanded that his superiors silence him!

The rebuttal from the Left is absurdly specious: it's okay to demonize Israel, inject our own Far Left political ideologies into course-work (and believe me, students are graded by their enthusiams for adhering to their professors' world-view--there is nothing objective about grading in the university system) because, in our own Left-wing opinions, the academic field was too right-wing and needed to be corrected. That's a paraphrase but check it out:

"The McCarthyists here are Israeli professors like myself who are critical of Israel’s rights-abusive policies while being inspired by a deep concern for Israel’s population and the occupied Palestinians. Apparently, our offense against free speech is that we do not allow zealous nationalists to voice their views – an absurd allegation considering that for some years now the balance of power within Israel has been tilted firmly towards the right." Neve Gordon, History News Network (http://hnn.us/articles/9418.html)

My emphasis was added above, because I failed to find any "deep concern for Israel's population" in any of the rants listed at IMM or on the internet by any of the suspect professors. I found instead a tremendous desire to fit into the salon-liberal elite of Europe, a deep and abiding loathing of anything Jewish or Zionist, and contempt for anyone who feels differently or dares to question the sacrosanct agenda of these professors.

And yes, Professor Gordon, your offense is exactly that: that you do not allow zealous nationalists to voice their views. THAT is a clear violation of free speech. In a university or society which promotes free speech, or even in a department of political science which claims to be a watchdog for such a fundamental right, you MUST allow the opposition to speak. You, and your university, fail to pass the "marketplace" test -- can a person who disagrees with you publicly say so, and take a contrary position, in the marketplace, without penalty?

The answer, apparently, is No - not in Israel's academia.

THIS is not liberalism. The Left has gone fascist. It may attempt to wrap itself in the cloak of liberalism but don't be fooled.

This is an online definition of the word "liberal:"

–adjective 1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman.
–noun 14. a person of liberal principles or views, esp. in politics or religion

--Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1)

By this definition, I am a liberal. Neve Gordon is not. I still embrace much of the traditional liberal agenda. Neve Gordon supports the censoring of those who don't share his agenda.

Fascism is often defined as system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

While Israel's government is anything but fascist, I cannot say the same about it's universities and their suppression of any dissenting views. Is there a word for a system of education marked by centralization of authority under oligarchy of academics who allow no dissent, threaten the socioeconomic status of any dissenter, suppress any opposition through censorship, public ridicule and economic threat (lack of tenure, refusal to hire, refusal to recommend to a position), and adhere to a policy of belligent internationalism and anti-Israel polemics?

Comes close to fascism, doesn't it? Why are we paying for this, fellow-taxpayers?

Sunday, October 15, 2006


The uncommon quiet at this blog was due to a three-day trip to the North (along with what seemed to be most of the rest of the Israeli population). However, our trip, while wonderful in many respects, also included my unintentional hi-dive off of an ancient stone staircase in Tiberias.....so I'll be recuperating and nursing the bruises and sprained thumb for a few days. No pictures. Sorry--I couldn't hold the camera and shoot, and it was way too hazy anyway for good shots.

Back soon....

Sunday, October 08, 2006


The High Holy Days, also called the Ten Days of Awe, are the holy days that start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur. These are solemn holy days, days spent in introspection, seeking the forgiveness of G-d and our fellows, and examination of our lives and strategies for doing better next year. The Jewish New Year, unlike January 1st, is NOT a moment for celebration, partying, frivolity or excess.

However -- the High Holy Days are followed by my favorite holiday, Sukkot. Sukkot literally means 'booths' since those are what we built on our roofs or on our balconies and in our gardens.

The individual sukkah is decorated every bit as festively as the Christmas tree back in the states -- complete with decorative strings of winking lights. The sukkot here in Israel aren't as drab and plain as those we have back on the West Coast -- here the walls come imprinted with rich designs; people run electric lines out to their sukkot, and in addition to the pretty lights that string the inside walls of the sukkah, folks often have a chandelier over the table to see by. Every makolet has strings of plastic fruits or peppers to hang from the sukkot (it IS a harvest festival) and children decorate their sukkot with pictures of the "Ushpizin" or 'guests' (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David) who are said to visit the sukkah every night in turn. Children also make ribbons of color-paper rings to hang from the beams and pictures of fruit, of harvests, of landscapes and of rainbows to hang on the walls.

Chabad has an additional tradition of Ushpizin. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn taught that there are "chassidic ushpizin" as well: the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid (Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch), and the first five rebbes of Chabad: Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the "Tzemach Tzeddek"), Rabbi Shmuel, and Rabbi Sholom DovBer. The Lubavitcher Rebbe would speak each night of Sukkot on the special characteristics of both the biblical and the chassidic ushpizin of the day and their connection to each other and their specific day of the festival.

But the key is hospitality and kindness, whether you have secular guests or Biblical guests or Chaddische guests as well. Guests are a necessity on Sukkot as well as one of the holiday's chief joys.

That's why there is a table and chairs in everyone's sukkah. Most Sukkot celebrations here and in the States involve rotating dinners at friends' homes. This is a lot easier here, when tomorrow isn't a work day and daylight saving has already ended, than in the States where you're coming home at 10pm and dreading pulling yourself, your spouse and your children out of bed early in the morning. Here, too, you see people eating in the sukkah at dinner, as well as at breakfast (the commandment is 'to eat in the sukkah' and that means everything. (Here, let me add our thanks to our generous neighbors upstairs who hardly know us, but who have installed a giant super-sukkah on the apartment building's front plaza and allowed us to eat breakfast and recite Shacharit with our lulav every morning in their sukkah.)

And sukkot themselves are everywhere. They bloom on people's balconies, they cover rooftops, they crowd the sidewalks. Last night near Mahane Yehuda, we walked ON Agrippas Street instead of on the adjoining sidewalk because the sidewalks were covered with sukkot. Walk home from a Jerusalem dinner in someone's sukkah and look up -- the balconies of apartment buildings are covered with the walls of the sukkot and people are eating dinner with their guests in each one.

You can tell that Sukkot is approaching in Jerusalem by watching the hotels. During the High Holy Days, sukkot begin to sprout from the rooftops and sides of the major hotels, followed shortly by more sukkot sprouting across the sidewalks in front of the city's restaurants.

We have that rarity in Jerusalem, a backyard. It is a large mirpesset (patio) and a generous patch of grass beyond the mirpesset. It's perfect for a sukkah. So we went sukkah-shopping. We returned empty-handed. Israeli stores DO have sukkot for sale--and at Home Center, my husband and I looked in amazement at the price tag: $550 for a sukkah? "It would be cheaper to order it from New York and pay for shipping," my husband muttered loudly.

I wanted this sukkah. It was beautiful. The price included the skach, the beams, and all the decorations (including some strings of electric lights) and delivery. But still.....$550? But...we're moving next year and there is no guarantee that a sukkah purchased for our apartment this year will fit our home next year. Mike cinched it: "For that kind of money, I'll take you out to dinner every night and you can eat out in a sukkah--it will be cheaper than buying the sukkah!" he said.

Done! A true festive week -- no cooking, no dishwashing, no shopping! THAT'S my idea of a holiday!

*Sukkot pictures are credited to RomKri of Jerusalem Photos. The first is a family sukkah in the Old City and the second is the Jerusalem Municipality's sukkah at Kikar Safra, the city government center.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Sounds of Silence

I'm sure many of us miss parts of our old lives. I told someone today that I miss the summer fog and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I think I also miss super-sized everything. My uncertainty is due to the fact that while I love not having to purchase dish soap, or milk, or juice as often when I buy it supersized, I certainly don't like lugging it home in my agulah. That said, I love being here.

The holidays here are the same holidays we celebrated in California: 2 days of Rosh Hashanah, one day of Yom Kippur, BUT only one Yom Tov of Sukkot instead of two....okay, my week's holiday is one day shorter--I can live with this.
But there are other differences, both tangible and intangible. The biggest difference is that we're celebrating these holidays in a Jewish country. That's right, it's OUR party, as another blogger so wittily put it. For a change, the holiday being celebrated officially by the government is a Jewish holiday. For those who have grown up in Israel, or been here since their 20-somethings, this may not be a big deal. For me, who scrimped and saved vacation time every year so I could spend it on Rosh Hashanah, on Yom Kippur, on Sukkot and Pesach, it's amazing. Schools close; businesses are only open for a half-day; government offices are closed. We can all celebrate together!

I don't have to explain to my supervisor what Yom Kippur is and why I can't work on it "just this one time;" I need not explain ever again that my colleague is NOT lying when he says that Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday; I don't have to recite Avinu Malkenu to the sounds of the swim team practicing next door, our prayers punctuated by the coach's whistle.

Its different in Israel. A better difference. A wonderful difference.

Yom Kippur was a day that dawned cool and clear. I was awakened by the silence. We live in an apartment building on Derech Chevron, a busy major thoroughfare to downtown Jerusalem. Most mornings I am awakened by the sounds of the rush hour traffic long before the alarm rings. I awoke on Yom Kippur to Silence.

It was SO silent that I got up and went outside. I had, of course, heard that no one drove on Yom Kippur. It was quite another thing to actually experience this. At 6:00 am, there wasn't a car on the street except for an ambulance. People were already walking to synagogue, most dressed all or partly in white. I sat in the park and watched as more and more people appeared, like a stream running downhill into Baka, heading to prayer with tallit and siddurim under arm, or in some cases, the tallit streaming from their shoulders. The quiet deepened as the sun rose higher, and then I saw a large group of Ethiopian Jews, men and women, dressed completely in white robes, walking down the middle of the bus lanes of Derech Chevron, singing, as they made their way to the Kotel for Shacharit.

When I was a child, I saw the world more completely than I ever have as an adult: I noticed the pattern of the leaves, the twining of the tree trunks, the pattern of the bark, the different kinds and elevations of the clouds, the textures of the grass and became acquainted with those who lived in the grass, the trees and the sky. Somehow adults lose the close acquaintance with the real world as we rush around our industrialized lives, peering into our computers and producing reams of paper that have some immediate purpose that will mean nothing in another century.

But this day, on Yom Kippur, the world here in Jerusalem was still. For the first time in many years, I was reacquainted with that world of grass and tree and sky, and in the silence of the city I heard the birdsong, the sigh of wind in the pines and I realized that Jerusalem really is a city built in the mountains. For this one day it felt like a mountain-top and not like a city. For this one day, I could feel the Heaven and the Earth without the interference of traffic, of horns, of brakes, without the cacophony of daily life that intrudes on us all.

I've never experienced a Yom Kippur so completely in my life. Even if it is every bit as quiet next year, there is something about this first, most perfect, silent and introspective day that will always remain with me.

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