Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Most Important Profession In The world

"I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well."  Alexander The Great

The first scene of the poignant Turkish/French film Mustang, which in Hebrew was translated into “Wild Girls,” shows the end of the last day of the school year. A beloved teacher is parting from her young students. They stand in line to bid her farewell, and one little girl is crying. The teacher comforts her, asks her to keep in touch and to write to her.
From the comments of the students we gather that the young teacher is moving away from Trabzon, on the Black Sea in Turkey, to Istanbul a 1000 km away.
At the end of the film, the young student, whose life has become unbearable, runs away from home, with her older sister, in order to arrive at the home of her teacher, the only person in the world whom she trusts.
This may seem like an idealistic portrayal of the teacher, but there are numerous examples in life ,and in fiction, of dedicated teachers who devote their lives to their students.
The teacher has an immense role in in forming the personality of the young child. We could all think of  a teacher who believed in us, encouraged us or did not give up on us. Of course we could never forget that teacher.
At the university level the role of the teacher/advisor is different, but even there, especially at the post-graduate level, the advisor is very significant. Sometimes, for the student, the teacher is the only face of the institution, and the bond between the student and the mentor is often deep and meaningful, and could last a lifetime.
A good advisor could not remain distant and polite, in order to get the most out of the student he/she has be a hands-on mentor, which often means: demanding and strict.
In recent years when higher education has become commercialized and compete for students’ money, the ability of the teachers to do their best is compromised. When the  student becomes a client and therefore is always right, teachers are  pressurized to be popular, and popularity is often in contrast to being demanding.  And then there are the dreaded questionnaires, which ask for satisfaction feedback from the students/ customers.
Today being a teacher seems a bit like walking a tightrope. In order not to fall the teacher needs to keep his balance and stays focused. But that is only the beginning, a “real” teacher needs to be courageous, flexible, strong and optimistic.
At the end of a week in which our education system has  joined a reactionary tradition of banning books, for fear of poisoning the minds of our youth, it is easy for teachers to lose faith.
But the reunion at the end of Mustang, which shows that the little girl reached a safe haven at the home of her teacher, restored my optimism and  gave me hope. It reminded me again that no other profession is more important than teaching.

The essay appeared in the Times Of Israel 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Small Towns In Texas And Personal Friends

When we lived in Texas in the early 1990s, we found a house in a small town in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. We liked it there because the schools were excellent and the price of houses was still affordable.
Still, in spite of the many churches in the area and the good district, people used to say that small towns in Texas in general, and our area in particular, were run like old boys' clubs.
I never believed it, especially since the people we met, our friends, were just like us: professional, hard working, and devoted to their children. Many of them were active in the school and in different activities of the PTA.
But about a year after we settled there, I was involved in a car accident. In a four-stop intersection, a car failing to stop, hit my car. Luckily I was alone in the car and no one got hurt. The other car was a mini van, and it was barely scratched. We exchanged details, and as my car was damaged, I decided to sue the driver of the other car for the deductible on my insurance.
On the appointed day we met in court. I came on my own, it was, after all, a very straightforward matter. The other driver came with her husband, who was very chummy with the judge. Apparently they knew each other and seemed like good friends.
In the short time that passed from the accident till the trial day, the couple managed to sell the mini van and got a new car. Since it was in the days pre smart-phone cameras, it was no longer possible to see any evidence of the collusion and to explain to the judge what had happened exactly.
It took only minutes for that judge to rule in favor of the other party. Needless to say, none of my friends was surprised, I was stunned.
After several occurrences like that, I was relieved when we moved away and no longer lived in a place where the old boys system could affect the outcome of the simplest case of traffic violation.
However, this anecdote is not that different from the embarrassing opinion article  and television appearance of the doctor friend of the Shalom family who denounced the unfair treatment of the couple, and lamented their plight as an orphan (Silvan) and a widow (Judy).
Even if it is conceivable to imagine such gestures on local Television in small towns in Texas, we shouldn’t tolerate them here in Israel.
It is bad enough to think that for years people knew about Shalom’s secret hobby, and no one was brave enough to come forward and speak on behalf of the women he, allegedly, abused.
We are used to seeing  and hearing  upscale lawyers arguing of behalf of famous and infamous clients in an attempt to sway public opinion in their  favor. However, inviting personal friends to speak on national television, and appeal to viewers to feel sorry for fallen celebs, is not only manipulative and parochial, but it makes the media almost a partner in crime

The essay appeared in the Times Of Israel

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Electric Light Is the Most Efficient Policeman: Breaking The Silence

On a recent visit to Hebron with  Breaking The Silence, our guide told us that when he came home for Shabbat, during his army service in the occupied territories, he could tell no one at home about his experience. Even his own mother didn't want to know and said " it’s okay, you are home now.”
Breaking The Silence was founded in 2004, it is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.
The purpose of the organization is to shed light on Israel’s operational methods in the Territories and to encourage debate about the nature of the occupation (from the book Our Harsh Logic compiled by the organization Breaking the Silence)
Publicity has been seen as an effective tool already by the famous supreme court Justice Louis D Brandeis (the first Jew to be appointed to that court in 1916) who wrote that “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases.”(1915)
But in Israel the publicity of Breaking The Silence is seen as a betrayal and not a remedy. Because the organization collects testimonies of soldiers about their experience in the Occupied Territories and then publicize them inside and outside Israel, it has become the enemy of the people. Thus speakers from Breaking The Silence are banned from appearing before  students and soldiers. Even our prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who grew up in the largest democracy in the world, talks about them as traitors..
If we compare our state to a family this is quite understandable. In dysfunctional homes the children are usually instructed never to talk about the problems to people outside the family. Moreover, in extreme cases of abuse children are threatened not to mention it to anyone. Thus, the worst crimes often happen inside the place which is supposed to be a safe haven-- our own home.
We were brought up to believe that our army, the Israeli army, was the most ethical in the world. For us a phrase like "the purity of weapon” was not an oxymoron but an important principle, going back to the time before the founding of the state of Israel. It was also a favorite topic of discussion in our youth movements' activities.
The name IDF explicitly states that the purpose of our army is to defend us, but throughout the years the definition of defense has changed, and what is seen as a threat today is not the same as it was in the early days of the state of Israel.
The public activity of Breaking The Silence, and their educational work should not be perceived as a threat to Israel, quite the contrary. In the age of social network when we could find everything on the web, arguments like this  organization  is causing demoralization, or it is giving ammunitions to those who hate us anyway, is not valid anymore.
We should be proud that in Israel we have watchdogs like Breaking The Silence, which publicize injustice, they help us be better people and stay that way, or as Louis D. Brandeis said in the latter part of his statement “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman.”
P.S This is the link to the essay, which I wrote, following the visit to Kiryat Arba and Hebron with Breaking the Silence.
The essay appeared in the Times Of Israel

Even His Own Mother Didn't Want to Know: Breaking the Silence

During my visit to  Kiryat Arba and Hebron with the movement, Breaking The Silence, our guide told us that when he came home for Shabbat, during his army service in the occupied territories, he could tell no one at home about his experience. Even his own mother didn't want to know and said " it is okay; you are  home now.”
This is how the movement describes itself and its mission in its official page:"Breaking The Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life."
With the demonization of the movement, feel that I should post again my essay about that visit. It describes what I saw with my own eyes, and emphasizes the important educational work which this movement does.
Please read the essay in the Times Of Israel

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Novy God and the Kosher Shrimps

Perhaps some of you remember that in the early 90s in Israel one of the Israeli food companies (Chef Hayam?) produced frozen Kosher Shrimps. It sounds confusing, but actually they were bits of kosher fish which were made to look like shrimps. Since the Israeli customers, who bought the product, had never eaten a real shrimp, no one knew the difference..
A good friend of mine, an Orthodox Jew debated whether it was even ethical to eat them. Although she knew that the shrimps were Kosher, it felt wrong, and she was reluctant to eat something which pretended to be a shrimp.
The fact that this product disappeared from store freezers quite quickly might be an indication that my friend wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
Today on the radio, the Member of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova attempted to explain the meaning of Novy God (New year), to Benny Teitelbaum, another Orthodox Jew, as part of a campaign to make it an Israeli holiday.
More than one million Israelis who arrived from the former Soviet Union celebrate this family holiday on December 31st. It is the only secular holiday that they had in their old country.
As Ms Svetlova explained, in the former Soviet Union religious holidays were banned and as a child, like everyone else, she knew nothing about Judaism or Christianity.
But when Teitelbaum heard that a tree played part in this holiday all hell broke loose. He refused to listen any longer, and in a condescending way announced to the M.K  that Israel was a Jewish state, and the tree was Christian.
Although all around the world trees are traditional Christmas custom, like many other pagan symbols, Easter eggs for example, they do not have their origin in the New Testament and have no religious meaning.
Two years ago, before the last election, a member of the Knesset, Dr. Hanna Swaid, an Arab Christian, had sent an official request to Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the House, asking him to place a Christmas tree at the entrance to the Knesset building before the holiday, the Speaker refused. This is part of what I wrote then.
* * *
Granting a permission to place the tree at the entrance could have been a wonderful holiday gift from the Holy Land, showing Christian people in Israel and around the world the enlightenment of the Jewish nation. Such decision could have been a triumphant moment in that Speaker’s political career, singling him out as a leader dedicated to promote pluralism and religious tolerance toward minorities in our country.
I was disappointed, I had thought that the Speaker had more courage. He must have forgotten that, like him, many Soviet Jews left for Israel because they had suffered there due to their religious beliefs and their Zionism. He also didn't remember that Jewish people from his native land still celebrate New Year with a small Christmas Tree.
In Israel we have no separation of State and Church, but surely a Christmas tree in the Knesset would threaten no one. Besides, everyone knows that a tree is just a tree: Christ was born in the Middle East and not in the evergreen forests of Northern Europe, and the Christmas tree is more a holiday spectacle than a religious symbol.
* * *
I wouldn't like to think why it was so easy for Yuli Edelstein to refuse Hanna Swaid's request, but that was then. Now that his compatriot Ksenia Svetlova explained the secular meaning of the tree, perhaps like the shrimp, we could kosher the holiday and make more than million people proud of their heritage and comfortable in their identities as Israelis.
Happy New Year or Novy God
The essay appeared in the Times Of Israel

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ethiopian Jews Are Not Welcome

This morning on the radio I heard, again, horror stories of discrimination against Ethiopian Jews in areas like housing and education. Apparently there is a silent agreement in certain neighborhoods to keep Ethiopian Jews  away and not let them buy or rent apartments.
It seems that in Israel today, discrimination, in many ugly forms, has become a way of life.
I would like to devote today’s post to the discrimination against black people, specifically the West Indians, from the British colonies in Britain during the 1950s. Although the circumstances are different, the content would seem very familiar.
The West Indians fought together with the British in WW2, and regarded Britain as their “mother country.” They were totally unprepared for what they found when they actually moved to Britain after the war.
The 1948 British Nationality Act  confirmed the right of all citizens of the British Commonwealth and Colonies to settle in England. After the war, the West Indians were the first group of colored immigrants to come to the UK in significant number.
The West Indians were keenly conscious of their status as British citizens. They spoke English, and their education was focused on Britain and its history. The church, often the Anglican Church, had played a significant role in their lives in their home country, and their social values had been modeled after those of British society. West Indians who relocated to Britain referred to themselves as ‘migrants’ rather than ‘immigrants’, pointing out that since they were British citizens their ‘migration was essentially the same as internal migration within the British Isles. Thus they arrived in Britain fully expecting to be integrated into the new society, believing that their life in the West Indies had taught them what to expect in Britain.
Once there, West Indians experienced great difficulties in their search for housings in Britain. Clifford Hill, a minister who worked closely with the immigrants, testifies that in house-after-house they were met with ‘we don’t take niggers’, or were politely informed that the room was already taken. They were often driven into the mercenary hands of landlords who saw their plight as an opportunity to make money.
As many more West Indians arrived, property owners seized the prospect of buying up large old houses, sub-divided and ‘furnished’ them and then let out the rooms. The choice of location for West Indians was then very narrow; they needed to be fairly near to the central London labour market and according to testimonies they generally found rooms in miserable conditions and in noisy locations near  railways or  markets.
A report published by the Fabian Colonial Bureau at that time, cites that the status of colonial migrants was determined by three factors: first, as the West Indians or African migrants were people of color they were likely to face race-associated prejudice; second, since they were  considered  foreigners, they were subject to the attitudes directed toward foreigners regardless of race; third, because some Britons associated colored people with ‘extremely low social status,’ they were likely to suffer class discrimination.
The survey quoted a typical British response to the newcomers: “I dislike discrimination but I am obliged to practice it.” Overall the study found that the attitude to the black immigrants was that of superiority. The foreigner was inferior and not really regarded as British.
In Britain of the 1950s the insufferable conditions of the West Indians led to a series of riots known as the Notting Hill race riots of 1958.
Even if Britain today is not totally discrimination-free, this, previously insulated island, welcomes cultural and racial diversity and it has become a multi cultural society .
Earlier this year we witnessed the demonstrations protesting discrimination against Ethiopian Jews. I hope that we do not continue to turn a blind eye to the injustice in our own backyard. If we do, it is likely that an Israeli version of Notting Hill riots would have to wake us up.
P.S The information in this essay appeared in my published paper about the West Indians in 1950s Britain:
“From Greenland's Icy Mountains: The Church and the West Indian Immigrants in An Unsuitable Attachment.”  Kunapipi 30/1 July 2008

The essay appeared in the Times Of israel

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sour Grapes of Parents, Sons’ Teeth and Chapter 2

Less than three months ago, the beloved journalist and television personality Motti Kirshenbaum passed away at the age of 76. Kirshenbaum was a widower, and in recent years he had a partner. Although he loved the attention of the media, It seems to me that, he would have hated to think about the public inheritance feud between his adult children and his partner, following his death.
Of course, inheritance feuds do not happen only in families of public figures or millionaires, people could fight bitterly over their parents’ money even when there is hardly anything left to divide.
But when it comes to individuals who chose to open a new chapter in their life, the hatred and contempt, between the opposing sides: the children of the deceased and the remaining partner,are often not concealed. From the two articles in Ma'ariv about the Kirshenbaum family, it was evident that in this case the gloves were off.
In Hebrew we call that new chapter “Chapter Two” and it refers to the meaningful relationship, which occurs if or when chapter 1, in which people get married and have children, ends. Many people are lucky to have only one long chapter in their life, others, due to unfortunate circumstances such as death or divorce, are left on their own. Some of them choose to find a new partner.
A good friend, who is a widower, told me once that the main bones of contention in chapter 2 are children and money.
In novels, unlike the significant first chapter, the following one is somewhat secondary. While chapter 1 sets the action and the tone for the whole book and creates certain hopes, chapter 2 works best when it develops the themes of the first, and fulfills some of its promises. If it doesn't it could confuse and irritate the reader, and may lead to frustration and disbelief..
It happens outside literature as well, and as couples who choose chapter 2 try to be independent and carve out a new life for themselves, it often creates feelings of suspicion and even ill-will among children and other family members. And, as my friend suggested, most often this mistrust manifests itself in issues related to money.
Like a skilled author, those new couples  find themselves trying to give power and significance to their allotted chapter 2 while trying to keep promises which were given in chapter 1.
I don’t see how, following the death of a parent, conflicts between adult children and the remaining partner could be resolved, especially as both sides are motivated by anger and suspicion. But it helps if there are specific instructions that both sides know. My husband explicitly told me that he hoped that I would start a new chapter once he was gone, but that he trusted me to take good care of our daughters' future.
Thus, the first thing I did once I got up from the Shiva was to fulfill his wish and wrote a will. We have no way of knowing what happens after we are gone, but putting our affairs in order ahead of time is a small step toward leaving our children a better world, and keeping our legacy unmarred,

 The essay appeared in the Times Of Israel