Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Rabbi, a Pastor, and a Mensch

It has been quite a crazy week here in Israel. Since no one is running the show, each actor/minister tried to outshine the other, coming up with a series of preposterous ideas.
In the same week we had Israel Katz battling Uber, Naftali Bennet fighting history, and Miri Regev in a crusade against the entire Western Civilization. Luckily one former minister, Benny Begin, played the role of the little Dutch boy who plugged his finger in the dike to prevent a catastrophe.
Incidentally  it was also the week of the International Holocaust Memorial Day. In the past the State of Israel, through Yad Vashem, has always acknowledged the sacrifice of non-Jews, the Righteous among the Nations, and the trees in their honor are the first thing we see once we enter the museum.
It didn’t start yesterday, but recently our leaders have managed to persuade many Israelis that the whole world is against us, and this conviction has made many segments of the Israeli society become more insular, and intolerant.
But perhaps it is still possible, through modeling and education, to change people’s attitudes? and this is exactly what Menachem Daum, an Orthodox Jew and a documentary film maker, tried to do with his own two sons.
In the documentary film Hiding And Seeking (2004), Menachem Daum challenges the hatred of non-Jews within the ultra-Orthodox community. As a son of a Holocaust survivor, who immigrated to the US, he decides to take his wife and two adult sons to Poland on a journey to find the Polish family who saved their grandfather during the war.
Daum’s two sons live in Jerusalem and they have become ultra-Orthodox. He and his wife are aware of the fact that their chosen life style in the Haredi community, isolate them from the whole world.The parents would like their children not to see anti Semitism everywhere and to be more open to the world.
Thus the Daums show  their adult children part of the outside world, which is unfamiliar to them.The sons reluctantly agree to go, but it is clear that in spite of heeding the 5th commandment, they don’t trust the father’s judgment and see no value in that journey
The film consists mostly of conversations, there is nothing dramatic going on, apart from the underlying understanding that the Daum family is alive today because of those Polish people.
Gradually there is a  change, and at the end of the film the Polish family gets the certificate of the Righteous among the Nations, and one of the sons is making an emotional speech in which he shows his gratitude.
At that moment, I knew for sure that Menachem Daum was right not to give up on his adult sons. At the age of 70, he not only changed their attitudes, but he showed them the way to become better people.
Menachem Daum is an Orthodox Jew, but for him this faith means that he is first of all a Mensch. This is the "ethical legacy" which he bequeathed  his sons.
In Israel today we desperately need more Mensches like Menachem Daum. And since Wednesday was International Holocaust Memorial day, it is appropriate to, once again, tell about the courageous Pastor Andre Trocmé who, in response to the demand of  the Vichy authorities to produce a list of the Jews in town, answered: “We do not know what a Jew is, we only know men.”
We should be able to give the same answer here in Israel.

The essay appeared  in the Times of Israel

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Kindergarten Children Under A Magnifying Glass

Yesterday Ha’aretz reposted on Facebook  a popular article with the intriguing name: "Parents do not pity their Kindergarten children." This title is an ironic allusion to the famous poem by Yehuda Amichai: "God pities the Kindergarten children."
Among other issues, the article criticizes the new demand that children will know how to read while they are still in Kindergarten. I agree with the criticism, but can testify, from my personal experience, that it is not a new trend. This is an essay that I wrote about over parenting:
When another mother told me that I had to make sure that my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter knew how to read before she started kindergarten that fall, I knew that I was in trouble. She explained that in the event that she didn’t read she would be put in the lowest ability group, and that would be the end. I was sure no mother in her right mind would risk ruining her daughter’s future and teaching her to read seemed like a small price to pay. But that was only the beginning:
Please keep reading in the Times Of Israel

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Mother’s Wish

When I was a young child my mother took care of a cancer patient, who was also a medical doctor. Then suddenly she was gone. I didn’t think about it much and didn't ask my mother. But when I was  older my mother and I once walked by that woman's house.  My  mother asked me "do you remember the time when I cared for the doctor who lived here?"  I said yes that I remembered her and asked my mother  what had happened to her. My mother told me that one of her friends "helped her," and explained that this was a kind of "professional courtesy" carried out by doctors to help  the suffering of one of their own. 

My mother wasn't much of a talker, but at that point i was old enough to understand exactly what she meant.  never heard about it before and my mother was "only a nurse," but I  promised  myself that, when the time comes, if needed, I would do my best to help my mother.  
My mother studied to become a nurse in Mandatory Palestine. In 1936 two new hospitals were founded in Palestine, one in Jerusalem and another one in Petach Tikva near Tel Aviv, and they also offered nursing training. My mother, who immigrated with her family a year earlier, was one of the first nurses to be trained in Tel Aviv.

Growing up in Israel in the early 60s, not many of us had a working mother. Mine worked as a nurse in our community until she retired and was always passionate about nursing and proud of her vocation.

When I was myself a mother we lived in the US, and whenever my daughters were ill they asked me to call their grandmother so that she could give them, over the phone, a medical advice and some kind words.
We returned to Israel in 1994, two years prior to my mother’s passing. I feel grateful for the gift of those two precious years.
It was only natural that when my mother was hospitalized due to strong abdominal pain I remembered my promise, and as soon as she was diagnosed with cancer I asked to see the doctor  and specifically asked him about the hospital's policy regarding euthanasia. My brother, who sat next to me, was startled; he obviously had not talked with my mother about this topic and was not aware of her wish. But I was calm, and the doctor who promised that he would do his best for my mother, was professional and forthcoming.
The next day I took my mother for an additional exam. She sat in a wheelchair and on the way we passed through a beautiful garden overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. “Look mommy” I said, “This is such a beautiful spot.” My mother, who used to love the sea, seemed detached and said nothing. I realized that she was getting ready to leave. When she asked me a little later to take home some of her things, because she “won’t be needing them anymore,” I didn’t protest, and accepted that it was her time.
My mother died that night, for weeks I was relieved, even glad, that her suffering ended. Then I started noticing that something unusual happened. My mother became part of me, and there was plenty of room for the two of us, it felt natural and comfortable.

I just got off the phone with my brother, and as usual we talked about our childhood. We laughed that our mother always asked him not to tell dirty jokes in front of the kleine (my brother is seven years older than me). My mother was right, I was still the little one when she left me at the age of 40, and even today twenty years later, I still get embarrassed when I hear bad language or dirty jokes and I need my mother to protect me.

Monday, January 18, 2016

"The Parents Circle Doesn't Want New Members"

On a sad day like today, when we lament the loss of yet another victim of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the young Dafna Meir,  a mother of 6 who was murdered in her own home, it is hard to find the energy to think about the possibility of peace, let alone keep working to make it happen.
However, this is exactly what the Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF), an Israeli/Palestinian group of bereaved family members of those who died as a result of the conflict, is doing. Although a membership in this organization means the loss of the person/s closest and dearest to you, the Forum has been working, tirelessly and for years, on promoting understanding between Israelis and Palestinians in order to bring about peace.
For the last 5 months I participated in one of the Forum's activities, and over the weekend we marked the end of the first part of the Narratives Project, an initiative organized by PCFF. The Narratives Project brings together two groups of Israelis and Palestinians for a series of meetings. The two groups spend one weekend together in Beit Jala where they get to know each other, and in addition, there are 6 more day meetings. At the end of the process the two groups are supposed to find common projects to work on them together.
Please keep reading in the Times Of Israel

Sunday, January 10, 2016

How I Became the Enemy of Peace and Givat Haviva

After spending almost 15 years in the US where we lived the American dream -- two daughters, a dog, a good job, and a house in the suburbs, we went back to Tel Aviv . For several years, we lived in a tiny apartment at the old north.
It was a perfect location, but still we longed to move away from the noise and the pollution, and were hoping to recreate our old life at the American suburbs.
It was the 1990s, a time when many of our friends moved away from the cities to places that promised good quality of life together with a garden. Our “solution” was a beautiful community called Oranit, only 28 minutes, by car,  from Tel Aviv. We loved the location in the beautiful hills of Samaria, near Rosh Ha’ayin rand Kfar Kasem.
Several kilometers to the east we saw a  border control station, so we assumed that Oranit was safely tucked inside what is called “the Green Line” (the pre-1967 borders of Israel).
Soon we found a suitable house in the western part of Oranit. The owners, a very nice family with two daughters, just like ours, were going to be our next-door neighbors. We made an offer on that house, and met at the lawyer's office to sign the papers. Then to our dismay we discovered that we had just committed ourselves to buying a house in the occupied territories. It transpired that although part of Oranit was inside the Green Line, it was still a settlement.
Our blindness could be partly excused because these were the pre-internet days. Besides, we had been away from Israel for many years, and didn't know which questions to ask. So we were unaware of the fact that the location of the border control station did not indicate that this was indeed a border. Furthermore, after being assured by the seller, and other members of the community, that our new home was indeed “on the Israeli side of the Green Line,” it never occurred to us to investigate the matter further before buying the house..
We lived in Oranit for seven years, and although I loved my house and the community, I felt uneasy and was always apologetic about choosing to live in a settlement.
We had bought the house in 1998, yet we only moved to Oranit in the summer of 2000, days before the Second Intifada. The Intifada and the political situation in Israel made matters much worse. For years, I have been volunteering in schools in the US and in Israel, and, upon moving to Oranit, I offered to do the same at the school in the neighboring Arab town of Kefar Kasem.
But, even though I was always welcome in Kfar Kasem as a customer, my offer to volunteer was declined.
In a similar fashion, my application to participate in a Peace Initiative in Givat Haviva was rejected because I was a settler. When I spoke to the Israeli and Palestinian coordinators and explained that it was important to include in the peace efforts Israelis and Palestinians from all segments  of the population, they politely agreed, but still did not accept me to the project.
It's a shame, even among the settlers, there are people who, not only say that they want peace, but would like to be involved. Many of my friends in Oranit told me that for peace they would willingly move westward.
For me, Givat Haviva is a symbol of the intolerance of the left, and until this day, it pains me to remember the humiliation I felt there when I was treated as the enemy of peace. Leftist sentiments come in many different shades and degrees. The peace camp is small, and could not afford to act like an exclusive club which leaves certain people out.

 The essay appeared in the Times Of Israel

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Power Of The Written Word: "Naftali Please Ban My Book"

The power of art, in its different forms, has always been acknowledged, and sometimes, in order to control its effect, authorities limit the access of the pubic to different works of art. Throughout history books have often been banned because of the belief that they could affect the minds of the readers and corrupt them.
Like our officials in the Ministry of Education I also believe in the power of art, in particular the novel,  to influence the reader and to change his/her opinions. Moreover, when we consider the minds of our young readers we must be careful in our choices
But unfortunately today, in contrast to the days when books were almost the only source of knowledge and ideas, the written word ,inside the traditional book, has lost its clout. There are many effective and immediate forms of communication which could prove much more powerful and even harmful.
Research has consistently shown that during adolescence students hardly read at all. As a result, this reality makes the decision which books they should read, as part of the curriculum, much more significant.
The criterion for choosing the best books for students, those which will stay with them as they go about life, has not changed throughout the ages. In the 17th century the English writer and literary critic, John Dryden pronounced that a good book has to instruct and to delight, and many other thinkers before him said similar things.
I read in Ha’aretz that banning Rabinian’s novel Borderlife led to some serious discussions, in ten high-schools, centering on the question whether literature could be immoral.
I am not going to discuss this question here, but instead I would like to give an example.
Great novels often provide an opportunity to expose youngsters to philosophical questions.  Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is such a book, and if it is to be taught to teen-agers, the teacher must focus not only on the problematic content of the novel, but show the students how to become  a critical reader.
Since the story is told in the first person, from the point of view of protagonist Humbert Humbert, the students have to become familiar with the technique of unreliable narrator. They have to be able to trace how the author, Valdimir Nabokov, implicitly criticizes his narrator, so that the reader would be able to condemn his actions as well..
On the surface Lolita is the best example of immoral literature, it is about a pedophile, a criminal, and perhaps it is best if young minds stay away from this work of art for fear of turning into criminals. However, like all great literature, Lolita  is much more than that and, if taught properly, it could force students to examine their values and beliefs, and make them aware on their own ethical flaws. The book is written so well that the reader could easily gloss over the crimes which are committed  by the convincing  narrator.
I  believe that books which present serious ethical conflicts should be taught in high schools. But they deserves special attention, and teachers must be equipped with the necessary background and sensitivity in order to introduce such texts to their students.
Even before the age of information people have always been fascinated with lists, among them we could find the “greatest books ever written.” Many of those books, such as Huckleberry Finn, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Ulysses and of course Lolita, had also been banned and then gained a huge popularity:
The same happened to Dorit Rabinyan, once she  joined the long, and respectable, list of banned books her popularity soared and her books literally disappeared off the shelves. All the while, her fellow writers, who are struggling in today's economy, are left to plead with the Education Minister: "Naftali please ban my book."
iThe essay appeared in the Times Of Israel