Thursday, January 29, 2009

Yam Erez Takes On Community Vetting Committees מתנגדת לועדות קליטה

Well, folks, I warned you here when it was “only” Arabs who want to live in all-Jewish communities that civil rights are just around the bend! Now an “undesirable Jew” wants in, and the High Court has given the ILA 60 days to explain why vetting committees for communities occupying state land should be permissible.

The Hebrew Talkbacks (90 responses) are roughly 50-50 in favor / against (I submitted two “pro” responses, nos. 89 and 90). The opposing responses seemed to be mostly in the category of, “Why shouldn’t a community get to decide who joins?”, clearly deriving from a century-old mindset of overwhelmingly communal-style settlement that’s even reflected in the Hebrew language, which takes special care to specify an entity known as ישוב קהילתי yishuv kehilatì, or “community settlement”*, as Hebrew-speakers have a hard time conceiving of a planned community being an ordinary bedroom community wherein nothing officially ties the residents together other than their common ZIP code.

It’s also reflected in the designation ישוב בודד yishuv bodèd [individually-owned settlement] labeling what everywhere else on the planet is known as a [family] farm or homestead, which we foreign-born wouldn’t bother specifying that it belongs to a single, nuclear family or individual(s).

In this particular case, the psychological assessment of the applicant (now the plaintiff in the case) described him as perceiving the move to the community in question as a refuge from his challenges. And that’s undesirable because…?

In regard to my own case, that of a kibbutz member, I understand that in its legal status as an income-sharing community, a kibbutz is exempt from the High Court ruling. As I wrote in one of my talkbacks to the article, I’m waiting for someone to challenge this state of affairs as well. We too occupy state-owned land; therefore, does the fact that we’re income sharing have any bearing on whether we have the right to restrict a citizen from living here (which is not the same, by the way, as accepting hizzer as a member).

My thoughts are wandering now: Are whites allowed to reside on Indian reservations? What constitutes an Indian / a white? Hmmm…

*I would normally translate ישוב yishuv as “community”, but couldn’t go as far as to translate ישוב קהילתי yishuv kehilatì as “community community”; and it’s not a communal community, because there’s no income-sharing element as there is in a moshav or kibbutz.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Our Culture" = Patriarchy? "התרבות שלנו"

While in New York this summer I was lucky enough to see the Broadway musical “In The Heights”, the plot of which involves an African-American who falls in love with a Hispanic. The latter’s family is patriarchal in the tradition of Hispanic families. Her father tells her lover angrily, “You do not understand our culture!”

Now, what does he mean by “our culture”? Our food? Our music? What’s to understand or not understand? Therefore, he can be referring to only one thing, i.e., “our culture” is code for “patriarchy”. Unfortunately, patriarchy typifies non-Western cultures, so that us Westerners are often accused of not understanding “X culture”, when what’s really going down is that Westerners are not patriarchal, which yes, we equate with progress.

It made me wonder what there is to admire in a culture wherein (as in “In The Heights”) young women are given approval for dressing sexily / provacatively / suggestively and for wearing shoes that might as well be stilts for how vulnerable these shoes make them. Where’s the female empowerment there? What’s admirable about this picture? Pray to a different God than I do? No problem. Eat monkey brains or other foods I find repulsive? I’m cool. Listen to atonal music? Go wild. But I find it difficult if not impossible to be relativist about patriarchy. Just sayin’.

Yom Kippur = Bike Day? ?יום הכיפורים: יום אופניים

Jeremy Benstein writes that by creating a car-free environment, “…on Yom Kippur, it's no accident that we create an urban environment that makes us all fellow citizens…”.

While I applaud all reduction of car use and consumption, I fear that Benstein is being too kind in his interpretations, correct though he is politically. For my part, I’ve always had an uneasy sense regarding the whole “Yom Kippur equals bicycle free-for-all” phenomenon. In fact, I beg to differ that this one-day phenomenon makes us all fellow citizens; I propose that the contrary is true.

Implicit in all this “fear-free” cycling is the assumption, once again, that everyone here is Jewish. While the kids whiz around on their bikes and scooters, the grownups smile in approbation. Saturday in the Park. Feelin’ Groovy. Everyone’s enjoying themselves. But are they? In those smiles, and in all this seemingly innocuous fun, lie wholesale disregard for the fact that fully a quarter of Israel’s population isn’t Jewish. Along with that comes the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israelis are not observing Yom Kippur, any one of whom could by rights drive down any street at any moment, oblivious (or not) to the fact that we Jews are (arrogantly) assuming that our pedestrian and two-wheeled safety on this day is (Divinely?) guaranteed.

Where Benstein sees fellowship and coexistence, I see, once again, the colonialist face of Zionism, i.e., this land was empty when the first Jewish pioneers came, and a century later, we’re still not owning up to the fact that it’s not all ours, that others live here too.

It’s just another manifestation of the worldview that allows that certain groups (e.g., the ultra-Orthodox) have the right to close off their streets on the Sabbath, or that this practice is even negotiable. Do Jews residing in Crown Heights or Borough Park do this? Of course not, and that’s because in the States, at least, the streets are understood to be the public domain, whereon anyone can drive; no one resident or group of residents is allowed to decide on their own that use of their street is prohibited to the motoring public. Yom Kippur cycling is nothing more than a secular version of the Sabbath street-closing phenomenon. The message is the same: “We’re creating facts on the ground. We’ve taken over, like it or lump it.” It certainly doesn’t resonate as the fellowship that Benstein has in mind.

Women's Wednesdays רביעי נשי

Warning: The following article may offend some readers’ sensibilities, but I feel that the endeavor reported herein should be publicized, because the items requested at the end are ones that most of us have and can spare, and donating to this cause is so easy. Readers outside Israel: There’s likely a similar program in your community.

The article also reminded me of a conscious decision that I’ve made to give to beggers―yes, even if they’ll end up using my money for a fix. My not giving them money won’t cure their addiction, and at that moment, this is what they do. If they need that fix―as repugnant as the whole street drug industry is―I’d like to alleviate their suffering.

It’s the social welfare agencies’ job to try to bring them services and hopefully get them into rehab. But as a layperson without those resources, here in real time, I’d rather get the sufferer what s/he immediately needs. I can’t judge why s/he’s in this predicament or how s/he got here, but s/he’s here, and I’m here, face to face with it; I won’t turn my back.

Hebrew link: עברית
From Haaretz English edition, Monday March 31, 2008 [edited by me]

Human Dignity Once a Week
By Vered Lee

Galit really wants to attend. The Health Ministry vehicle is parked across from Tel Aviv's old bus station on 1 Finn Street, and two workers from the Revi'i Nashi ["Women’s Wednesdays"] project are looking for female addicts who work as prostitutes. The Health Ministry workers want to bring the street workers to the nearby center operated by the Anti-Drug Authority, where they’ll get a chance to shower, eat a hot meal, get clean clothing, and counseling. "I want to come with you, but first I have to get over my withdrawals," says Galit, her body writhing in pain and sweat. "I won't make it," she mumbles. Twenty minutes later, she can be seen on the street looking for clients. It appears as if she’s handcuffed to the dealer who gave her a fix, and who waits next to her for her to pay him.

It’s noon in the old Tel Aviv bus station, where some 250 to 300 female addicts work as prostitutes; business is bustling. Daylight reveals all: the open trade, the injections, the crack smoking, the customers who arrive in cars, and the tottering addicts who peddle sex.

The two women who run Revi'i Nashi are Rani Halabi, Field Coordinator for the Levinsky Clinic, located near the bus station; and Sara Boano de Mesquita, a social worker; the two continue rounding up the addicts. They circle the building at 1 Finn Street, go into the brothels whose entrances are at street level but end up on a dark, lower floor, survey the alleyways where the addicts are strewn on the ground in a daze, and stop beside each woman, address her by name, and embrace her, without being put off by bleeding wounds and the festering abscesses. "Rani, look, I think a rat bit me while I was asleep," says one addict, revealing her wounded leg and asking about further treatment.

In the Finn Street building, Halabi and de Mesquita invite 29-year-old Na'ama, three months pregnant, to join them. Na’ama is contorted and in the midst of withdrawals. After numerous appeals, she agrees to come and gets into the car, writhing in pain. Ya'ara, 29, runs to the vehicle from nearby Erlinger Street, laughing. "I heard you calling my name and looking for me; just then I was with a client," she says. "I rushed him: 'Here comes the Health Ministry wagon. C’mon. Finish,' and he panicked and ran away in the middle. I made a hundred shekels the easy way."

Na'ama loses patience. "I have to get a fix to get over this," she says, trying to get out of the car. "I'll buy you a fix when we come back," Ya'ara promises her. The Health Ministry vehicle makes one last round in an attempt to gather a few more prostitutes.

Undernourished and sleeping out

Revi'i Nashi emerged from the realization of the staff at the Levinsky Clinic, which operates a nighttime mobile clinic for the addict population, that the women in particular suffer from neglect, and their situation requires special treatment.

"These women are homeless," explains Yifat Ben-David, director of the sexual health clinic operating on Levinsky Street. "They sleep on the street, are undernourished. and don't have anything; sometimes even the clothes on their backs are torn. They’re rejected by their families and by society, lonely and exposed to the extreme dangers present on the street. They’re raped and beaten by clients, pimps, and dealers.

"The city [of Tel Aviv] currently has no place where they can sleep and have a break from the street, if only for a few hours, and that can provide them with basics such as food, a shower, and a bed, whereas for male addicts there are centers that provide such services." WW operates in collaboration with Avner Cabel, coordinator of the Levinsky Project, for the Anti-Drug Authority, which operates a center to assist addicts in the area. The Anti-Drug Authority enables the WW team to use some of the center's rooms.

"We noticed that on the street, the girls don't feel comfortable talking to us because of their fear of the dealers and pimps," says Halabi. "We wanted to give them the chance, at least once a week, to get a little attention, to experience warmth and support, and connect them to basic human needs."

According to Halabi, WW's goal is to provide the women with preliminary rehab, "but more than anything else, WW is meant to tell them that we know them by name and see them as individuals."

"Women engaged in street prostitution are neglected," says de Mesquita. "Thy who have no faith in the welfare institutions or in the community. They may even feel that they don't even deserve help. They’re disappointed, hurt, and afraid to accept treatment or help. If a social worker approaches them on the street, from a nonjudgmental place and out of a desire to help, she can bring them back into the circle of communal services."

13 out of 83 referred to rehab

So far 83 women have participated in WW, 13 of whom were referred for immediate free rehab treatment with the Anti-Drug Authority, and half of whom are now in some rehabilitative program. Each week, five or six women on average are served by WW. "Our goal is for WW to operate on a daily basis," stresses Ben-David, "not just once a week, so the female addicts will be able to have a hot meal and a shower every day."

The addicts exit the Health Ministry van and enter the building. Upon their arrival, a hot meal awaits them, which they eat with gusto. Their hunger is apparent. After the meal, the support group starts, led by Cabel, joined by de Mesquita and Halabi.

”Would you like to share with us what's been going on with you?” Cabel asks the pregnant Na'ama, who nods restlessly and bursts into tears. "I feel bad. I want rehab," she says.
Cabel: "So far you've been in rehab three times. Let's go through why it didn't work, so you can understand the weak points and succeed next time."
Na'ama: "My weak point is in jail right now."
Cabel: "What do you mean?"
Na'ama: "My partner’s there. From the day he left, everything got harder."
Cabel: "I'm going to ask you and you don't have to answer: We're talking about the one who beat you and took your money?"
Na'ama: "He beat me, yeah, but he didn't take my money; he didn't want me to work [in prostitution]. Every time I was in rehab, I ran back to him."
Cabel: "When you're in rehab, you forget the suffering and the violence and the hell of living here, and you run back. I'm touching on this because it may happen again in rehab, if you don't grasp that you're running away from the emotional struggle that rehab floods you with."

"The main issue that comes up in the support group is motherhood," says de Mesquita. "There’s a huge sadness―nearly every woman talks about it―about failure and guilt of having her kids taken away from her and how will she be able to get them back. They talk also about the rapes they suffer on the street, the violence, the wish to die, the daily fear of street prostitution and of their low self-image of feeling scorned and sub-human because of their work.

“It's important for us to bring them in and encourage them, and not to have them come out of the support group more exposed and vulnerable," notes Cabel. "The goal is to instill hope, to let them back onto the street with inner faith that they can change their fate, that there is somewhere that accepts them as they are."

Toward the end of the meeting, the Levinsky Clinic staff relates that the incidence of sexual diseases in the neighborhood has been on the rise recently, and they ask the women to exercise caution and use condoms.

Sex: ₪5

"I’ll you what's been happening lately," says one prostitute. "New girls show up who are willing to have sex for five or ten shekels, and offer the works for twenty, without a condom. So when I ask a client for fifty for a blow job with a condom, he laughs and says he can get it for less without a condom."

The drop in prices stuns the staff. "We know there’s competition and a fight for survival and that you need your fix, but try to protect yourselves. If the client refuses to use a condom, put it on your tongue and don’t swallow," they tell the women.

Halabi and de Mesquita part from the women with a warm embrace. "It's sad that the women who power the sex industry and provide services to men 24/7 are so thirsty for a hug and basic human contact," says Halabi. "In the past when we hugged them, they’d be put off and feel uncomfortable and ask, ‘What? You're not disgusted?’ Now they run up to us on their own and hug us.”

Back the prostitutes go to their turf. Ya'ara wants to buy a fix for Na'ama, but the dose isn't strong enough to ease the withdrawal. Na'ama collapses on the bed in her room, stamps her foot, and vomits. "Maybe I'll get an abortion," she says suddenly, as the WW women search for documents in her room so they can transfer her to rehab.

Meantime, other addicts spot the WW women and run up to hug them. "We forgot that today’s Wednesday," they say, disappointed. "Too bad we missed it. Do you have any food left?"

To donate food, clothing, shoes, underwear, makeup, and feminine hygiene products, contact

Where are all the Swedes? היכן השוודים

Every year our seminar center hosts a large (50) group of pupils from a (the?) Jewish day school in Stockholm. The pupils are of course bilingual, meaning they speak Swedish and English, and are always noted for their civilized behavior.

Ditto for a group from Melbourne, Australia, whose Scopus School I understand is the largest Jewish day school in the world (anyone wishing to corroborate or deny is welcome to do so). The Australians are actually noted for their irreverent behavior.

What do these two groups have in common? They both come visit, go back home, and are never heard from again. What do I mean by “heard from again”? I mean that you never meet an Australian or Swedish immigrant.

Why is this startling news? Well it wouldn’t be, except that most countries that produce zero immigrants to Israel also don’t have Jewish communities that support quality day schools that consistently send their kids here as part of the curriculum.

It seems to me, then, that the Jewish Agency and its ilk (Netiv) are missing an opportunity (what else is new?). A recently discharged soldier I know has been accepted for shlichut in Hong Kong. Another recently discharged soldier I know is being considered for shlichut. Where? Uganda, Jamaica, or China. WHAT? Yes, that’s right. It’s what I call Jew-hunting, just to keep themselves in business.

Instead of this buffoonery of finding long-lost Jewish communities in far-flung places, or “bolstering” newbie communities like Germany that don’t want bolstering, thank you (think American Indians -- “Go away. We don’t wanna be discovered”), why not go after quality, Western, educated identified-yet-in-danger-of-assimmilating Jews like, let’s see…Swedes and Australians?

But no, that would be too simple. Instead, let’s go to exotic places and pick up a few hard cases whose Judaism in any case will undoubtedly be contested the minute they land, and who will undoubtedly become social welfare cases. Anybody been to Chelm lately?

Why Orthodox Violence Grates ?מדוע אנו במיוחד נרתעים מאלימות ע"י חרדים

I received an interesting response from a reader to my post titled, “Environmental Education? Or Just Tidying up?” Referring to galloping consumerism, the reader wrote:

"You once again raise a deep educational question. It has nothing to do with sacrifice. To succeed in cutting consumerism, you would have to replace the progressive liberal ethos with which our children are raised with something else."

I assume he means that there is a spiritual void in the way non-Orthodox raise their children.
Not sure I agree, but he continues:

"My bet is that if reducing consumerism is really the challenge, then by far the most environmentally positive children in this country are probably Haredim. I am sure that the average non-Orthodox family with three children consumes more fuel, uses more metals, plastics, and paper products than the average Haredi family with 10 children. Nor are most Haredi families feeling that they are making the sacrifices you are calling for."

Here I assume that he is referring to the fact that ultra-Orthodox families consume less because they “answer to a Higher Power” than do non-Orthodox, as if Torah has more clout than Al Gore. Well, it does―for a certain population. The question is, does that make them more praiseworthy?

I happen to know the writer, and he is not Orthodox, certainly not ultra-Orthodox. I find it interesting whenever the non-Orthodox rush to the defense of the ultra-Orthodox. What exactly inspires this?

A reader asked me offline why no one raised hizzer voice when five ultra-Orthodox men beat up a woman and another man who refused to change seats on a mehadrin [gender-separated] bus route. While I find the mehadrin route abhorrent even without the violence, when I read of this incident, I seethed.

Then I asked myself, “Why does that make you seethe, and not the many acts of violence you read about every day?”, i.e., the security guards who get knifed by clubbers in the line of duty; the unfortunate fellow who stopped to tell someone he’d accidentally dropped some cash and ended up dead; the murdered cab drivers; the sexual assaults on children. Why do these not raise the same ire as the Mehadrin Riders or the Mea Shearim Dumpster Burners?

The initial response is invariably that the Orthodox purport to adhere to a code of ethics, so we expect them to eschew this aberrant behavior. Yet do not non-Orthodox subscribe to humanist and universalist principles that prohibit violence? OK. So, crossing that explanation off my list.
So now it seems we need to look for differences between the two populations, i.e., what is it about the ultra-Orthodox that makes us have differing expectations for their behavior? That makes us more taken aback when they are violent?

Well, unlike the non-Orthodox, they form a community with leaders and spokespeople. When members of a recognized community misbehave, unless the community is a terror cell, we expect the leaders of the community to disassociate themselves from the aberrants, or at the very least to condemn their behavior. Sadly, this doesn’t happen, or at least doesn’t get reported.

The non-Orthodox don’t have rebbes or spokespeople; it is assumed that we decry violent acts no matter who commits them. In fact, there’s a flipside to the response to ultra-Orthodox violence that we don’t like to talk about: When we read about a murder in the immigrant or Palestinian communities, we mentally shrug, not bothering to articulate the words, “Oh, no surprise there. They’re Russians / Ethiopians / Arabs.” This response doesn’t necessarily derive from racism; it may just be shorthand for, “These people come from deprived, distressed communities. What do we expect?”

Now it looks like we’re constructing a horror-o-meter: On a scale of zero to ten, violence in the immigrant or Palestinian communities registers below 5; in the native-born non-Orthodox community, it registers a 7 to 9, depending on the horrific-ness of the crime; and in the ultra-Orthodox community, a 10. Clearly, we have higher expectations of the ultra-Orthodox than we do for the rest of us.

And I don’t think that’s out of line. If we were to read of violence in the Amish community, we’d be aghast; ditto in the Bruderhoff. These are people who claim to live Godly lives; therefore, we indeed expect them to be non-violent, and /or are shocked if they are violent. Just as “the nations” are shocked when the Jews, former victims, are occupiers, we, the non-Orthodox, are shocked when the ultra-Orthodox are violent. They “wear the uniform”, therefore we hold them to a higher standard.

I welcome insights, because somehow I feel I haven’t gotten to the root of this conundrum. Flamers and seculars-are-spiritually-vapid-mongers need not apply.

Why I Won't Compromise on Separating Church & State כפייה דתית: אין פשרה

MadJack 11* wrote:

“The onus on compromise is always on the one who has control of the limits.”

This quote caught my eye and of course I immediately thought of the two most conspicuous conflicts today: Israel and the Palestinians; and the Orthodox vs. non-Orthodox. I framed the latter as “versus” because I see it that way: As opposed to the other conflict, I don’t feel like “each side should give a little”. If applied to Israel and the Palestinians, it’s clear who controls the limits: the Israelis. Therefore, the onus is on us to compromise―not on us only, but on us ultimately.

Not the same with the Orthodox. If applied to the Orthodox, the onus is on them to compromise. They placed limits, i.e., public transit, retail, and entertainment on Shabbat; personal status, and reproductive freedom. Therefore, the onus is on them to give in. As long as I don’t prevent them from practicing their faith, or force them to violate the mitzvot, they should stay out of my wallet, my home, my womb, my life.

As far as I’m concerned, the word “compromise” doesn’t even belong in the discussion. What does “compromise” mean in this issue? That they’ll “permit” some buses and trains to run on Saturdays? Some stores and entertainment venues to open? Some citizens to marry / divorce? Some women to abort? Unacceptable. Even one victim of religious coercion is too many. I’m not willing to “compromise”, if that’s what you want to call accepting any incidence of religious coercion.

*a fellow commentator on Carolyn Hax’s column Tell Me About It

My Lesson in Bigotry הלקח נלמד: גזענות

In response to my expressions of disdain for Russian-speaking immigrants, my daughter brought up an interesting point: She believes that my aversion to Russians stems from my upbringing, wherein it was intimated to me that today’s Russians are the modern version of drunken, pillaging, Jew-hating cossacks. She also managed to convince me that my response to them is a reflexive one, largely based on appearances. In short, she got me to admit that I’m bigoted.

My daughter also pointed out that most immigrants throughout Israel’s history, starting with those that came during the Ottoman period, were not motivated by ideology, but rather by an intersection of events that brought them here.

Before this conversation with her, I’d watched (indulging in my daily vice) the TV show “Dog Whisperer”. That day’s episode featured John Grogan, author of Marley and Me, a book about his now-deceased, out-of-control Labrador retriever, Marley. The last thing Grogan said to the show’s host, canine expert Caesar Milan, was, “It’s a shame we didn’t have you on hand for Marley. On the other hand, if we’d had you, there wouldn’t have been a book”.

Quite wise on Grogan’s part to recognize that good can come out of what appears to be a bad situation.Therefore, I hereby vow to work on letting go of the anger I feel at the 21st-century Russian immigrants (which, as my daughter pointed out, should in any case be directed at the Shas-headed Interior Ministry that recruited them).

So chastened, I decided I need to look at the situation philosophically, following Grogan’s example: Assuming that it was indeed twisted reasoning (the “demographic threat”) that brought the Russians here, we can’t turn the clock back. They’re here, so let’s capitalize on what they have to offer, and in the process they’ll hopefully absorb what an open society has to offer.

I'm-a-Jerk, You're-a-Jerk אני חנטריש, אתה חנטריש

The above is what my husband refers to as a situation wherein someone behaves jerkily, and you behave in kind. A classic example is a situation that happened to me recently: I entered a performance / sports venue for a free community event, and noticed several unoccupied seats. I made my way to one, and was informed that it, as well as two adjacent seats, were being “saved for my husband”.

Besides the obnoxiousness of seat-saving at such an event, I have to interject here to ask the seat-saver: You can’t be separated from your husband for an hour? Anyway, this is the point at which my husband would simply have walked away, thinking to himself, What a jerk. But not me. With me, it’s a matter of principle; I’m not about to be refused a seat in my own community. So I responded the way I do in seat-saving situations: “I promise I’ll vacate as soon as Husband arrives”. This was met with the catch-all Hebrew phrase *lo na’im li*, which in this case meant, “I’d feel badly”. You’d feel badly? And what about me? I don’t already feel badly being the recipient of your jerkiness?

Well I know you’re in suspense. OK: I sat down in one of the saved seats, and guess what? Husband never showed up. This has happened to me about half a dozen times. My favorite is at a beach or pool, when a large group cops a dozen chairs, places a towel on each, and proceeds to go swim or get refreshments, not returning for hours. Usually at least half the chairs are never sat in. But try to take one at your peril. God forbid two towels should share one beach chair!

Get the Swedes to Do Our PR הסברה ע"י שוודים

My reaction to this article, which reports Foreign Ministry appeals to former Swedish kibbutz volunteers to spread the gospel about Israel: Pathetic. It’s a sorry state of affairs indeed when we have to call out of the woodwork Swedes who volunteered on kibbutzim 40 years ago and ask them to “talk us up”.

Not only is the idea laughable, but the rationale behind it is disgraceful. Whoever in the Foreign Ministry thought this one up is still living on We Invented Drip Irrigation Planet. What does this genius diplomat think? That Swedes don’t read newspapers? Watch the news? That Swedes (along with the rest of the world) wouldn’t be so critical of our policies if they could only hear about these benign income-sharing communities called kibbutzim? If I were a Swede, this cockamamie gimmick would insult my intelligence; I know it insults mine.

Underlying it is the head-in-the-sand premise that all we have to do is improve our PR, and we can keep right on brutally occupying the Palis. This line of thinking is right up there with China thinking it can pull the wool over everyone’s eyes human rights-wise by hosting the Olympics. I, for one, hold us to a higher standard than the Chinese, or the Saudis, or the dozens of other blatant violators of rights.

Instead of grabbing at straws like former kibbutz volunteers, we need to clean up our act, not only vis-à-vis the Palis, but internally. What Shahar Ilan wrote yesterday about the Knesset is downright chilling. This overt racism should be of immediate concern to all democracy-loving Israelis: Only we can save ourselves; no middle-aged Swedes can do it for us.

Gestational Surrogacy פונדקאיות

This article is by far the most thoughtful discussion I’ve read on surrogacy*. I too can’t avoid the associations with Handmaid’s Tale. The part of surrogacy that sticks in my craw is that, to put it bluntly, it seems it’s always rich white couples paying for the services of poor young women, i.e., exploiting someone else’s economic desperation -- a little too close to trafficking in women for my comfort.

I’m also uncomfortable with the role that race seems to play. I understand that if one is willing to adopt a child of color, plenty of infants are available. So surrogacy seems to perpetuate colluding in the commodification of white children. For the record, I’m not an interested party. I have three biological children and advocate reproductive freedom.

*The term "surrogacy" also seems inaccurate to me. Before gestational surrogacy came along, when someone referred to a surrogate mother, s/he meant someone who raised hizzer instead of a biological mother. I much prefer the Hebrew pundakayut פונדקאיות or "hosting" in the innkeeping sense.

Rebranding's For Losers מיתוג-מחדש זה לכושלים

An article in yesterday's Haaretz unveils a hideous plan hatched by our Foreign Ministry to spend our tax shekels to hire a British PR firm to “rebrand” us, as if we’re some product. As if that weren’t obscene enough, the article goes onto “boast” that among the firm’s “clients” are Northern Ireland and…Lebanon??? WTF??? So we’ve now joined the ranks of the mosquito-infested, the AIDS-ridden, the nuclear fallout-contaminated, the drug lord-controlled, and the war-torn? ‘Cause let’s face it, those are the five situations (that I can think of anyway) that would render a country in need of rebranding. Except weather (Iceland?), which is no one’s fault.

By the way, I visited Northern Ireland, and it is this visitor’s opinion that it’s long since not in need of rebranding. In any case, it was no thanks to any such “rebranding” efforts that I visited. Credit for that goes to my longtime fascination with Ireland coupled with my curiosity at how another nation solved its centuries-old conflict that has so many parallels with ours it’s spooky. Not only is NI lovely, I came back an unpaid, enthused ambassador, urging everyone I know to visit and see up close and personal a live example of conflict resolution and the prosperity it can bring.

Yes, I do want folks to visit Israel; not only is it far from mosquito-infested, AIDS-ridden, nuclear fallout-contaminated, drug lord-controlled, nor war-torn, but it’s a lovely, prosperous country. However – and this is a big however – the Foreign Ministry’s plans are pathetic for two reasons. First, because “rebranding” fools no one. On the contrary, it’s “The Lady Doth Protest Too Much” in flashing neon lights atop Dubai Tower. If there’s nothing to fix -- if everything here in our country is hunky-dory -- then why do we need rebranding?

Case in point: Substitute the word “occupation” for “conflict” in every instance, and the whole rebranding premise falls like a house of cards. Either we have a problem that’s keeping people from visiting, or we don’t. And putting ourselves on the needs-rebranding list is tacit admission that we indeed have a problem, which means the problem is what needs fixing, not our “image”.

Second, even supposing that we fix this little problem of being occupiers, let’s face it: People are not going to come to Israel because of the beaches, the scenery, or the cuisine; people visit because it’s the Holy Land. And that’s just fine. In fact, that is our brand, and the best way to sell it is to end the occupation so that all those who reside herein – Arabs and Jews alike – can have a piece of the pilgrimage / tourism pie. Any 10-year-old can understand that this will do more for us than any foreign PR firm ever could.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yam Erez Takes on Taking Your Husband's Surname שמרי על שמך המשפחה

I’ve inserted my responses into excerpts from Kate Roiphe’s article on Why It's OK To Take Your Husband's Surname:

…the entire debate over keeping one's name is only an issue for a small portion of the country, since roughly 90 percent of American women automatically assume their husband's names upon getting married.

Since when do minority members’ opinions not count simply because they’re in the minority? And since when should one to whom an issue is important not keep that issue alive just because the views underlying it are unique or unpopular?

The movement to keep maiden names began in the 1850s in Massachusetts, when a suffragette [make that suffragist - Y.E.] named Lucy Stone decided to keep her name when she married an abolitionist named Henry Blackwell [Check it out!]
…until the feminism of the 1970s brought a resurgence of interest to the issue, almost all women, including highly educated career women [does anyone know any “career men”? Or “family women”? - Y.E.], changed their names to their husband's when they married. Having children, however, presents a conundrum:

Ah, here we go again: Count on those pesky women to create conundrums by that annoying habit they have of having children.

…hyphenating is socially irresponsible…

Socially irresponsible? Try instead “a challenge”. Guns are socially irresponsible. Failing to properly educate our youth is socially irresponsible. Not providing for the needs of the weaker sectors of society is socially irresponsible. Perhaps Roiphe needs a reminder of the meaning of “socially irresponsible”.

Even more impractical is the recent rise of fiercely egalitarian couples inventing a third name out of the components of their last names.

Why impractical? And even if it is, should all decisions be based on practicality? Imagine what life would be if we all did only what Roiphe decrees practical…I know several couples who went this route and not only do I applaud them, their names sound no less fake (or “authentic”) than the rest of ours. I suppose the name Roiphe is the prototypical authentic-sounding name.

In most cases the new, fake-sounding name obliterates all ethnic resonance:

It’s all in the way you look at it. Once the Rosecons explain their choice to me, it actually honors both ancestries, instead of obliterating (only) one. What’s wrong with that?

Not to mention that from a purely logistical standpoint it has become much more difficult to change one's name since 9/11, due to security concerns. For anything other than the assumption of a husband's name upon walking down the aisle, one faces added bureaucratic hurdles like court orders, fees, and long waiting periods, as the Wall Street Journal reported in 2003.

Oh, well if the WSJ warns us, then we shouldn’t take this on. It’s surely too stressful for us delicate ladies. Hello―if America is in the throes of the culture of fear, it’s a problem of society, not of the women who wish to retain their birth names.

I live in Israel, which, as you might have heard, has been the site of a few terror incidents and therefore faces some security issues. Changing one’s name here is not only easy, but more common than in the US.

Lucy Stoners who fervently believe that we will not be free until naming practices are "equal."

Why the quotes around “equal”?

But how can they be [equal]?…We might prefer equal naming practices, but how in a practical sense could they be implemented?

Uh, Roiphe, have you heard of this thing called databases? Computers? Toto, we’re not in Ellis Island anymore.

…there is something unsatisfying about either the bride or groom giving up their names.

I couldn’t agree more, Roiphe.

Interestingly, over the past 10 years, fewer and fewer women have kept their maiden names.

Doesn’t preclude me from dissenting from that view.

These days, no one is shocked when an independent-minded woman takes her husband's name…

I am. Not only am I shocked, I’m continually astounded. And I’m not “no one”, Roiphe. Did you ask me? Or the Lucy Stoners [no quotes around them]?

…it may also be that the maiden name is no longer a fraught political issue.

Wrong. It’s precisely political. If not, then why did Rodham slide into second place? Is it not disturbing to be a citizen of a country wherein a spouse’s name choice could actually affect her partner’s chances of getting elected to office?

…giving in to bureaucratic pressures is easier than clinging to one’s identity. In a mundane way, having the same name as your children is easier.

Perhaps. But is the easiest route necessarily the most satisfying? Since when do thinking, intelligent folks do the easier thing? And what about divorcees? Do they not regret that not only they, but now their children, bear the name of someone whom they no longer love, or even have come to despise?

Certainly it works to take one’s husband’s name; that doesn’t make it right. Slavery worked fine too―for the slave-owners. For me, the idea of giving up my name stuck in my craw; it was not an option.

…you can maintain an extremely confusing relationship to your own name (or names).

Oh. So now confusing equals cute. Before, confusing was “fake”, “socially irresponsible”, and “impractical”.

There's something romantic and pleasantly old-fashioned about giving up your name,

Old-fashioned? Yes. Pleasant? Not here.

…a kind of frissón in seeing yourself represented as Mrs. John Doe in the calligraphy of a wedding invitation...

Picture me sticking my finger down my throat. But first let’s talk about your frissón. Suppose I were to say, “You know, I get a little frissón whenever I see a swastika. It’s such an elegant ornamental figure.” Of course you’d be aghast; perhaps you’d exclaim, “But it’s a symbol of oppression!” And suppose I replied, “What’s the problem? It’s just a symbol.” Yes, just a symbol―and I feel the same way about women copping out and taking their husband’s names.

What I call the semi-copout is keeping your surname but assigning your husband’s surname to your children. What message does this send to your children, especially your daughters? Something like, “I was willing to buck the system, but I only had the energy for my generation. Now you’ll have to start all over again from Square One.”

Why put one’s children in the same dilemma you made a conscious attempt to resolve? Ignore those who ask, “And what will she do when she gets married?” The question is both smug and loaded: It’s implying that your decision to buck the system and society’s norms is going to cause your daughter anguish. While it may cause them a slight degree of anguish, any discomfort is heavily outweighed by my daughters’ consciousness of what their hyphenated surname stands for. All the talking and exposure in the world couldn’t have been more effective at passing on my legacy of feminist values to them.

At the same time it's reassuring to see your own name in a byline or a contract.

“Reassuring”? As in “I was afraid I didn’t exist, but I do: Here’s proof”? I don’t need the proof of being published. I’m Miriam Erez every day, in every situation.

Like much of today's shallow, satisfying, lipstick feminism:

How can it be both shallow and satisfying? Oh…you mean like reading a trashy novel? That’s how you describe today’s feminism? Sorry, Roiphe; not this feminist…

Fair Housing, Fair Play הזכות לדיור

Referring to kibbutz and moshav intake and vetting committees, Alexandre Kedar writes:

“[This] is how some towns, moshavim, and kibbutzim sort through those who want to join them. This filter was limited by the Kadan ruling, in which the Supreme Court made [sic] the town of Katzir allocate land for Adel Kadan, an Arab citizen. The ruling appears to apply to agricultural communities as well.”

I assume that by “agricultural”, he means “rural”. Yet what difference should a community livelihood make? On the other hand, does being an income-sharing community exempt us from anti-segregation laws?

I’ve always felt like a community’s having an intake committee is, if not exactly a ticking bomb, then quite challengeable legally. We’ve always taken it for granted that a kibbutz having a “Jewish members only” clause in its bylaws is legal. But is it? If Katzir can’t, why can we?

I’ve also always been curious as to what defines a private club. How come country clubs can restrict their membership, yet it’s illegal for a company to not hire a candidate or not promote an employee because of race or religion (although it’s difficult to prove)?

Can a church refuse membership to a non-Christian because it’s a tax-exempt organization? JCCs can’t refuse anyone membership because they’re United Fund recipients. So the formula seems to be: If you receive public funding, you can’t restrict membership. Can anyone confirm, deny, or otherwise untangle this conundrum?

Yam Erez Takes On Yair Sheleg and Religious Coercion כפייה דתית

This is one of the more convoluted arguments for religious coercion I’ve read yet. Hebrew link עברית I’ll take it on point by point:

“Judge Tamar Bar-Asher Zaban’s distinction between public and private space with regard to the sale of chametz during Passover may sound reasonable in a legal sense, but the main issue here is not the legal one but rather the public one: Is it appropriate for Israel’s lawbook to include a law prohibiting the sale of chametz [leavened goods] on Pesach? My decidedly unliberal response to that question is ‘Yes’.

”When discussing ‘religious legislation’ [why the quotes? Also, I think it’s more correctly referred to as “religion-based legislation”], it’s important to distinguish between two types of law: those that interfere with private actions, which are unacceptable; and those that seek to shape Israel’s public sphere, which are legitimate and even desirable, i.e., no to imposing religious marriage and circumcision, yet a resounding yes to prohibiting commerce on the Sabbath or the sale of chametz during Pesach.”

I still don’t get the distinction. All of the following are private actions: having an abortion; shopping on the Sabbath; riding a train on the Sabbath; getting married or divorced, circumcising or not circumcising my son. In no way are any of these “felt” by the Orthodox community. If they were, I’d ask what exactly the Orthodox person was doing at the mall on Saturday.

“A society has the right to use legislation to help shape its core values, and in this regard prohibiting the public display of chametz on Passover is no different in principle from legislating the closure of restaurants and movie theaters on Holocaust Remembrance Day or on Memorial Day.”

Perhaps that shouldn’t be legislated either. Better to let peer pressure and the market decide whether the movie theaters stay open on those days. If the society truly cherishes what those days mean, it won’t frequent those businesses on those days. I grew up in a society wherein such businesses are open on Memorial Day, and I never heard anyone suggest that it indicates disrespect for fallen soldiers.

”The comparison to the hypothetical imposition of circumcision is out of place here; the reason that brit milah is not mandatory in Israel is not because that would be ‘religious legislation’, but rather because such a law would constitute acceptable interference in people’s lives.”

Actually I’ve always felt it was inconsistent that circumcision isn’t mandated here. If sperm donation and organ donation can be regulated, how come circumcision can’t be? Moreover, the prohibition against public transportation on the Sabbath isn’t acceptable interference in peoples’ lives?

“By the same token, it’s not the Matzot Law that leads many Israelis to eat chametz on Pesach.”

Who said it was? And supposing they do?

“The proof is that there are many Israelis who oppose religious coercion, yet who nevertheless avoid eating chametz on Passover.”

And this proves…what? Only that those Israelis choose to observe those commandments absent of any legislation. Which supports what the late Presbyterian pastor Reverend Doctor Robert H. Meneilly wrote in the New York Times about religious coercion: “No religion―not even Christianity―is worth practicing if it has to be legislated” [can’t cite directly; searched but couldn’t find it. I believe it’s from 1998].

“Not eating chametz on Pesach or pork at any time and not engaging in commerce on Shabbat are not only religious values. Because of their centrality in Jewish history, they have long been fundamental values of national Jewish culture. That’s why even non-Orthodox Israelis observe them. Indeed, if everything were a matter of individual rights and core values had no significance, then the day would soon come when a restaurateur or theater owner would petition the High Court of Justice for permission to open her place of entertainment on Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day, and the court would not be able to find a solid legal reason to prevent it.”

And that would portend…the sky falling? See above. Not to sound crass, but I don’t see our society crumbling because some people go out to eat on Holocaust Day. And if it crumbled due to that, then it wasn’t strong to begin with.

“If there were no core values deserving of legal protection, then there would also be no basis for destroying the grand monument in Kiryat Arba to Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron. After all, the monument was hidden from public view much more than restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that serve bread during Pesach. It’s also difficult to argue seriously that the erection of that monument represented a ‘clear danger to public security’."

Why not? Erecting a monument to a terrorist seems like incitement to me. If not, why they sure had me fooled.

“In the same spirit, it would be difficult to justify the imposition of a common school curriculum for all sectors, such as that known as the "core program."

Again, why is it difficult to justify a core curriculum? Every state in the US has one, and it applies to all schools, even parochial. At the very least, if schools don’t adhere (examples are Amish schools and some Evangelical schools), they forego state funding. What’s the problem? The Orthodox wanting to have their cake and eat it too? I suppose that’s a core value?

”It is precisely this point that is the locus of the joint problem of the ultra-Orthodox and of the stridently secular populations: Each one wants to fight for the imposition of its own core issues while opposing, with the same intensity, the imposition of the core values that are important to the other.

“Yet principles cannot be split into halves. Secular Israelis who oppose the prohibition against selling chametz cannot demand the imposition of civil-democratic core values (at most, they can insist on criminal prohibitions against harming others). Ultra-Orthodox who reject the imposition of democratic core values in the name of each sector’s right to act in accordance with its own lifestyle cannot expect the Matzot Law to be enforced.”

It is precisely this attitude (“maintenance of the status quo”) wherein lies the problem. As long as a law is on the books, it can theoretically be applied, which is a much greater threat to society than its opposite. Let’s look instead to another model, that of Twin Oaks, an income-sharing community in Virginia, USA whose core values are democracy, equality, and non-violence. The way TO members judge whether their income-sharing is threatened is using an unwritten index called “In Your Face”. Under this index, any item can be owned that can fit into a member’s room. If a member wants to own a Harley-Davidson and is willing to give up the space, she may. However, if a member were to insist on wearing a diamond tiara to work, this would be considered “in your face” and unacceptable. A diamond ring? Less so, but the wearer would be expected to acknowledge that it may offend others’ sensibilities. And so on and so forth (my apologies to TOers if I botched this explanation. All are welcome to correct it).

And herein lies the key: Your sensibilities, religious or otherwise, can’t be offended if you aren’t there to see it. It offends you that people are at the beach on Yom Kippur? Solution: Don’t go to the beach. Or, if you should for some reason find yourself at the beach, then I would hope that your devotion to the Torah would gird you in overcoming any temptation or revulsion found thereon. Ditto for seeing Ploni buying bread when you’re doing your grocery shopping during Pesach. By the way: Supposing that Ploni isn’t even Jewish?

It is for this reason that we have a thing called “zoning”, a system whereby strip joints and pool halls generally do not spring up next door to churches and schools. Zoning is therefore the only expression of protecting the religious public’s sensibilities that I accept. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel with ridiculously concocted Matzot Laws.

Prove You're a Jew הוכיח שאתה יהודי

While laudable for their compassion, Rabbi Seth Farber’s efforts simply send a message to the rabbinate that its Kafkaesque demands for proof of one’s Judaism are legitimate. It pained me to read about the hoops Farber jumped through just to come up with the fact that his client’s mother was decended from people named Goldstein, Mersky, and Reuben.

Nowadays a Jewish surname proves nothing except that one’s father (usually) is Jewish, a useless fact halachically speaking. In fact, during my entire immigration process, I don’t recall once being asked to produce proof of my Judaism. This is all the more curious since my surname at the time (Reiz) is not recognizably Jewish, and my appearance isn’t particularly Jewish.

This is all to say that clearly we must break the rabbinate’s stranglehold ― not simply monopoly ― on matters of personal status. Certainly if you’re a citizen, you’re entitled to a marriage license, period; denying one would seem unconstitutional. I’d be interested in knowing if ultra-Orthodox couples have to apply for a marriage license at the rabbinate, and if so, if they are asked for proof of their Judaism. I have my doubts; if any reader has first-hand knowledge, please inform the rest of us.

Pink and Blue DNA ד.נ.א. ורוד וכחול

Girls and boys are different because we tell them they are. Say that in a roomful of parents, and have your anti-riot gear at the ready. I confess, I’m one of the few left who believe that gender is learned. What astounds me is that many of the most educated, intellectual, progressive, and worldly people I know revert back to the 1950s when it comes to children and gender.

I witness parents saying of their progeny, “She’s definitely a girl!” or “No doubt about it―he’s a boy!”* or “You can’t escape it: Girls and boys are different”. I sit there fuming and think, “Of course they are. You just told them they are; what behavior do you expect them to consequently reflect?” If I do dare express this subversive view, I'm invariably told that I can't talk because I have only daughters, as if only parents of children of both genders can have an intelligent opinion on the nature / nurture debate, thereby eliminating 66% of the population.

I’ll never forget meeting up with a woman I'd known years before and her four-year-old. This woman was the epitome of non-gender-stereotyped: She worked for several years as a date-grower, a physically arduous job; she was independent and neither dressed nor behaved “girly”. But you should’ve seen her when I mistakenly referred to her four-year-old as a girl: You’d have thought I’d mistaken her child for a chimpanzee. She immediately rushed over to her friend who was standing nearby and asked her anxiously, “Does Bertram look like a girl? He’s all boy, right?” Picture my eyes rolling straight out of my skull.

And yes, on more than one occasion my girls were mistaken for boys. More often than not the “offenders” would apologize all over themselves while I reassured them that no offense had been taken. After all, I reminded them, it’s not as if she’s twelve years old―she’s all of four (or three, or two…). If we stop to think about it, what could possibly be insulting about one’s child being mistaken for the other gender? Why is it treated as an accusation? Why do we feel the need to mark our children early on as their gender?

And, while I’m on the subject of female stereotypes, I finally figured out what bugs me about feminists giving their girls “unmistakably female” names, i.e., Ariella (as opposed to Ariel) or Cora (as opposed to Cory). If one believes, as feminists do, that we should be working to eliminate gender stereotyping, then why revert back to it precisely when naming a daughter? Why do something that immediately tags your daughter as a girl (and by society’s extension, a girly-girl)? Words, including our own names, have power; our names are an integral part of our self-image. So why would a feminist want her daughter to start off life with the girliest stereotype there is?

* Ever notice that children are only spoken of in these terms up to about age eight? Could it be because until they start developing secondary sexual characteristics, we feel a need to reinforce their (sterotyped) gender?

This just in:עברית

With no less than 151 responses, many echoing what I wrote above, judging from the titles.

More on the " inborn differences" between males and females here.

Girl Fetus / Boy Fetus עובר בן / עובר בת

Recently I was given the gladdening news that a relative is pregnant with a girl, including the information that “The baby is fine and she's due in June”. Two things about the announcement make me uncomfortable:

1. “The baby is fine” - said baby is a five-month fetus. Anyone who has miscarried -- and I know at least two mothers who miscarried at or after this point -- knows that those words are chillingly premature.
2. "She's due in June” - I don’t want to know the gender of your unborn baby - I’m nostalgic about few things, but I wish we could turn the clock back on this one. I look back fondly on the time when we used to hear, “Eve gave birth to a boy. She and the baby are fine”.

Two beliefs color my opposition to parents knowing the gender of their unborn child. One hearkens back to the Biblical Tower of Babel, an allegory about the worship of technology. Just because we can know the sex, does that mean we should? Or, as astutely expressed by Bill Muehlenberg in his discussion of surrogacy, “…all too often, if technology and science can do something, we assume it should be done.”

While it’s nice that pre-natal testing can give us certain information, do we need information that’s not relevant to the baby’s health as well as that which is? Are we willing to surrender our decision-making powers to a technician’s possession of random information? Because to the technician, that’s all it is, so what difference should it make that “s/he knows, but I don’t”? If the technician could tell you your child’s IQ, would you want to know?

My other problem is that no matter how I look at it, this information -- an unborn person’s gender -- can only add to the reinforcement of gender stereotypes, which I’d like to see less of in the world, not more. Because when parents-to-be say that knowing their baby’s gender helps them to bond with it, they’re actually bonding with a stereotype. If not, what else could they possibly expect to bond to? What are they picturing when they imagine their newborn boy or girl? If a girl, are they imagining her wearing a backwards baseball cap and an NBA Championship t-shirt, making “vroom-vroom” sounds as she races her matchbox cars? If a boy, are they imagining him clean and groomed, singing his baby doll to sleep? Neither seems likely.

If knowing your unborn baby's gender is important to you, it’s worth asking yourself: Why is it important to me what color to paint the nursery*? Or what the “going-home” outfit looks like? Is boy-DNA blue and girl-DNA pink? Why am I threatened by the idea of someone mistaking my newborn for the other gender? Why is important to me that others “relate to” my child as a girl / boy? What indeed is meant by “relating to” someone as male or female?

I dressed my girls in their boy cousins’ hand-me-downs, and not only did they look every bit as cute, but guess what? What we as a society and the clothing manufacturers define as “boys’ clothing” is more brightly colored and longer-lasting than “girls’ clothing”―no kidding. Is it the chicken, or the egg?

Unfortunately, gender typing begins at the moment of birth―or used to; now we’ve pushed it back to in utero. My plea to parents: Your child’s fetushood is the last and only few months of its life when it is free to be just a human being. Don’t take its last gender-free time away.

*When did this ridiculous word sneak into the American vocabulary? Are we in Victorian England? What happened to “the baby’s room”?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jews and Palis: Not a Soccer Game בעד היהודים ובעד הפלסטינים

OK I think we all need to grow up here and lose the labels pro / anti-Israel and pro / anti-Palestinian. These labels are both simplistic and passè. We are beyond them. “Pro-Israel” makes me think of someone waving a flag with Hava Nagila playing in the background. Anti-Israel makes me think of Hassan Nasrallah and the terror gangs (Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyrs, etc.). Pro-Pali makes me think of, well, someone who supports the Pali cause. Anything wrong with that? Does it necessarily mean that person supports Israel’s destruction? And anti-Pali, well, I’ve never actually heard anyone referred to this way, although I’m sure many settlers we read about in the paper are.

My point is that most of us don’t fall into the above categories. Israel and Palestine don’t need fans in the soccer team sense, and most of us who are on one or the other “team” don’t want to wipe the other team off the map (well there are those days when Army of Allah or whatever they’re calling themselves today is playing with explosives and ends up blowing up an entire family and then running to the media and blaming the IDF…).

As I tried to explain to someone, during the Civil Rights movement in the US, did the fact of one’s being white preclude supporting the struggle for civil rights of people of color? So why must the fact that I’m a Jew preclude any sympathy for the Pali cause?

I also want to say a word here about that tired label “a friend of Israel”, which is code for (mostly Republican) politicians who support Israel in all its actions, including expanding the settlements. I believe that a true friend will tell you the truth even if it’s not what you want to hear, and I’m hoping that Obama’s administration will include such friends. In the same vein, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the staunch support of Israel by evangelicals, whose views are opposed to mine on nearly every issue. Perhaps we should stop ignoring that disconcerting embarrassment we feel in our kishkes when we see Israeli leaders cozying up to evangelical preachers. Really, who are we fooling?

Peace Now denied entry into Knesset נאסר על לובש חולצת "שלום עכשיו" מלהיכנס למשכן הכנסת

Last week, my daughter’s 10th grade class was hosted at the Knesset to receive their ID cards. Her classmate was refused entry because he was wearing a שלום עכשיו Peace Now t-shirt. This scares me on two fronts: Firstly, is there an actual policy prohibiting these? If so, should it not ban all clothing bearing any message, including symbols i.e., solid colors only ? Secondly, if there is no official visitor dress code, is the guard at the entrance deciding whom to admit or refuse based on his own sentiments? If so, that’s scary.

Then we move to the issue of what the specific problem is with Peace Now: Did the guard have a problem with that particular political message? Or would any message have been refused entry? How about העם עם הגולן ha’ám im haGolán [“we’re with you, Golan”]? How about political party t-shirts? Would an NRP shirt be OK, but not Bal’ad? Where do they draw the line? After all, the Knesset is where the parties meet to make laws. What message were our new citizen-10th graders getting? Is the irony here not simply stunning?

And what about politically subversive messages? For instance, “I [heart] Tali Fahima / Mordechai Vaanunu”? Would “I [heart] Jonathan Pollard” be OK? How about “I [heart] Meir Kahane”? Supposing it were written in Arabic? Swedish? Japanese? Does the guard know every language? If not, how can he tell that my shirt doesn’t say “I [heart] Bin Laden”? Suppose the guard is too young to even know who Mordechai Vaanunu is. Or that he immigrated here last year from Uzbekistan, and never even heard the name Vaanunu? Suppose the guard only graduated sixth grade and is illiterate?

In fact, at least one Knesset guard’s credentials are indeed questionable. A friend told me that he visited the Knesset accompanied by someone carrying a tote bag bearing a sticker with the message די לייבוש dai lYibüsh, a rhyming play on the anti-occupation message די לכיבוש dai lKibüsh, the former actual being an environmental protest of the drying-up of the Dead Sea. In this case, too, the guard refused the tote bag-toter entry. It took the visitor several tense minutes to explain to convince the guard that the sticker didn’t say what the guard thought it said. And what, indeed, would have been wrong with what he’d thought it said? Out of curiosity, I did some research. I searched for:

Capitol visitor dress code

White House visitor dress code

This one’s a must-read that touches on many issues and mentions the House and Senate.

An analogous case: Cindy Sheehan being escorted out of the House [of Representatives] for wearing a t-shirt bearing the anti-war message: “2,245 dead. How many more?”

In addition, I searched for כללי לבוש מבקרים במשכן הכנסת and found the Knesset dress code.

In short, I hear one word screaming like a siren: Arbitrary. That word should frighten anyone who was under the impression that we live in a democracy. I’ve been told by a couple of European friends that Americans are “obsessed with rights”. It was suggested to me by a non-Orthodox friend who resides in Jerusalem that my views of the Orthodox control of that city are rooted in a male, confrontationalist worldview.

While I appreciate these viewpoints, after living here for 27 years, I’ve come to realize something: I can’t―and don’t want to―erase my American upbringing. I grew up in Kansas, a staunchly Republican stronghold. Yet certain things were taken for granted by both liberals and conservatives. Among these are that one’s national or ethnic group will never appear on an official identifying document, nor will one’s personal status; that retail commerce is governed by demand, not by the majority faith’s day of rest; that the streets and roadways are paid for by the taxpayers, and therefore must be freely traversable regardless of the sentiments of any residents thereon. And by God, it worked. We all respected due process and the rule of law, regardless of individual political sentiments. Arbitrariness was not tolerated. The actions of law enforcement officials were based on rules and policies that applied to all; the public servants’ jobs were to enforce those policies. We trusted the public servants. We felt protected, and that the system was fair.

Based on the above cases, I conclude that there is cause for concern. Anyone who has any information on the existence of Knesset visitor dress codes and their enforcement (who? How much leeway / authority does the enforcer have?) is welcome to get in touch.

Haredim & The Memorial Siren החרדים והצפירה

OK, you say. What do these two op-ed pieces have to do with each other? In one, Gideon Levy protests (עברית) the transformation of Memorial Day into a religion, complete with coercion. In the other, Asher Maoz gets fed up with the ultra-Orthodox (עברית). The interesting thing is that while most non-Orthodox Israelis would agree wholeheartedly with Maoz, they would recoil at Levy’s suggestion that our day to commemorate fallen soldiers is nothing more than legislated grief.

In fact, the image that makes non-Orthodox blood boil more than any other is the requisite annual photo op of ultra-Orthodox continuing to walk (i.e., not stop what they’re doing) for the memorial siren. And here lies the problem: An image is just that―an image―like a flag, for instance. A flag is not the embodiment of patriotism; it symbolizes patriotism. That’s why it upsets folks to see others burn it. But the incense that non-Orthodox feel when they see that annual photo, or are reminded of the fact that the ultra-Orthodox don’t serve in the IDF, is misplaced; it’s a classic example of not separating the wheat from the chaff.

The problem with the ultra-Orthodox isn’t that they don’t stand for the siren, or even that they don’t serve in the army. These are petty details―symbols―that don’t threaten the integrity of our society in the least. Particularly regarding the latter, we all know that it would be more trouble than it’s worth for the IDF to recruit and train ultra-Orthodox young men; they would only be a burden on the system.

The problem with the ultra-Orthodox is far more profound than their ignoring the siren. I can deal with disrespect for symbols; what’s insidious is their utter disrespect for us all, i.e., the fact that I can’t have a legal abortion without consent; the fact that I can’t frigging get home from Jerusalem on a Saturday night without detouring all the way to the coast; the fact that I can’t have a civil wedding―these infuriate me, and are far more threatening to our way of life than not observing a moment of silence for the fallen.

If we had our priorities straight, we’d tell the ultra-Orthodox, “Fine. Don’t serve in the army. Dance a jig during the memorial sirens if it makes you happy. Just don’t come running to us, the taxpayers, to fund your recognized-but-unofficial schools, subsidize your mega-families, and bankroll your vise-like grip over our life cycle events."

Madonna and Feminism מדונה ושחרור האישה

I was asking a friend who’s both a Madonna fan and a feminist (I know a few such creatures) how he can reconcile the two. He pointed me to here, and yes, it’s an age-old dilemma: Do we feel OK about attending the Virginian Slims Tennis Open if a percentage of the proceeds goes to cancer research?

I see Madonna and her entire “religion” the same way: Yes, she does all the politically correct stuff mentioned in the above article; but she also celebrates the objectification of women as sex objects. What others see as breaking puritanical bonds and being out there with her sexuality I see as mere exhibitionism slickly marketed.

In addition, she can afford to strut around skimpily attired in front of millions: She has a retinue that includes bodyguards and other personnel at her beck and call; no one will ever hassle her or sexually harass her; her income will never be in jeopardy because she decides she won't put up with unwelcome sexual attention. Yet what of her (particularly female) fans? Do they have this luxury? Of course not. Yet she sends them the message that she represents empowerment without providing them with the protection that she herself has at her disposal*.

So she adopted a kid. So what? It doesn’t erase the fact that she exposes herself before millions, touching herself, costumed in…well, have a look here. Do these images show us a role model for our daughters? For her own daughter? Poor Lourdes. She’s going to be confused at best. That woman up there is…my mom? How could a kid be anything other than mortified?

So she has a message, yes. But she exploits female stereotypes in order to get across that message. Are there not wholesome (and just as entertaining) ways to get a positive message across other than contributing to the numbing of fans’ minds to sexuality? Because I don’t see anything here that I would want connected to teens’ sexuality; I see mere sexiness, the problem being precisely that many of us, particularly young people, confuse the two.

I’m pleased for her if she managed to break free of the repression of the church she was raised in, but must the response to repression necessarily be in-your-face sexuality?

*Ironically, even being a star doesn't guarantee a woman's safety, as we unfortunately saw in Tina Turner's case. A compare-and-contrast study of the two entertainers would be interesting.

Kashrut Agriproccesors Style כשרות בסגנון אגריפרוססורז

Read this Wall Street Journal article on alleged mistreatment of workers at Lubavitch-owned Agriproccesors, a leading “kosher” meatpacking facility. My favorite quote: When asked about the allegations, the head mashgìach [kashrut supervisor] said, “We’re not involved with cutting and packing. That’s not the kashrut part”. Can you say “copout”?

These are the same people who adhere strictly to the letter of the law, to the extent that cleaning products used in their homes during Passover must be certified Kosher for Passover. The people for whom the O-U symbol isn’t good enough; they adhere to chalov yisroel kashrut, wherein all dairy products must be from the milk of cows milked by Jews only. No, this is not a joke.

Yet the mashgìach feels fine about the alleged mistreatment of workers as long as the latter are “only” cutting and packing (whatever that is), i.e., aren’t directly involved in the actual product. Can it get any more hypocritical?

Hurray for Rabbi Morris Allen for making kashrut about the spirit of the law, not just the letter. How come cigarettes aren’t treif? All it would take would be for the rabbis to declare them such. But no: All’s kosher, as long as the cattle’s lungs are glatt, or smooth. As long as you’re glatt and cholov yisrael, the mashìach [Messiah] will come.

Israeli Arabs Settle the West Bank? ערבים מתנחלים

It may be nearly too late, but in all the years of the settlement movement (1968 ‘til now), I wonder if any Israeli Arabs tried to test the system by applying to join a settlement. Cantcha picture it?

“Hey, I want a red-roofed house with a lush lawn and a paved access road. I’m a citizen of the occupying / settling / liberating power. How come I’m not entitled to all those yummy mortgage incentives and other benefits?!”

Better yet, imagine a group of Arabs and left-wing Jews taking over some hilltop in Samaria and naming it “Zecher Yitzchak” or “Giv’at Rabin”. Or, if they wanted to increase their chances (warning: black humor coming), calling it “Makor Baruch” or “Kfar Kahane”.

Would it not be a great publicity stunt? If anyone out there knows of such an attempt, do tell!

Choosing Your Kid's School בחירת ביה"ס לילדך

Advice for all parents-to-be: Pay attention to the name of the school where you’ll be enrolling your child. For example, our district’s school is named (appropriately) Ma’aleh Shaharut, which means “the heights of Shaharut [the mountain range to the west]”. What does this mean here on the ground? It means that every time we go to the school for a meeting or an event, we have to take our mountaineering equipment with us. No two parts of the school are built on the same level. We’re either climbing up or climbing down, panting and dehydrating all the while.

In my next life, I’m sending my kids to a school called Good Ol’ Baron de Rothschild. It will be a big, square retro building with three floors reached by indoor, built-in staircases, with a courtyard in the middle for lunch period. There will be uniforms, as well as a dress code for the teachers. The pupils will address the teachers as haMoreh / haMorah, the equivalent of “Mr. / Ms. Teacher”.

Getting serious now, I am certain that the above measures would add enormously to the atmosphere of learning in the school. How could they not? How can a teacher expect to earn the respect of pupils and be taken seriously by parents when she shows up in spaghetti straps and showing cleavage the size of the Suez Canal? The message sent by such dress is that school is, y’know, come-as-you-are, kinda cazh, no big deal. And then we wonder why our kids treat school as if it’s an optional activity.

Unlike many of us, I have few criticisms of my high school. It was strict (you had to have a hall pass, you couldn’t go out to lunch) and traditional (no open classrooms or alternative pedagogy), but I certainly didn’t suffer. On the contrary, Shawnee Mission South [hereinafter: “SMS”] and its ilk is looking real good to be right about now. Why? Because as my second daughter machetes her way through this bramble we call the Israeli school system, I see more and more of its shortcomings.

Let’s put aside for the moment the whole debate over the efficacy of matriculation exams. In my high school, the system went like this: There were seven class periods each day. These were filled by required subjects (math, science, English, history daily; phys ed on alternate days) and electives (on alternate days, so it allowed for four, if I recall). The electives included theater, visual arts, journalism, foreign languages, and various vocational arts. The electives branched off into various levels and specialties, for which foundation courses were prerequisites.

For instance, if I were talented at art, and passed the basic art course, I could then go on to take oils, pastels, ceramics, and sculpture. Ditto for foreign languages: I could successfully make my way through Spanish V, and possibly “test out” of lower levels of Spanish in university.

And here’s the nice part: You didn’t have to specialize to the exclusion of electives not in your “track”, i.e., let’s say I’m brilliant at Spanish, but just for the heck of it, I want to draw. I can’t take Oils and Pastels V, but I can enroll in a low-level art course and dabble away: As long as I pass the course, my transcripts are “kosher”.

In order to graduate, you had to pass all your subjects. Period. If you got straight A’s, you could get admitted to The College of Your Choice. If you got B’s, you could get into A Decent College. If you got C’s, you could go to a community college―or choose not to go to college at all. If you got D’s or failed, no college would admit you and / or you wouldn’t earn a high school diploma. No regents or matric exams, just grades in each individual subject. What could be simpler, or more logical?

Now I hear you asking: Yes, but can you prove that your system is superior to ours? No, and it would be difficult if not impossible to prove either way. Yet I feel certain that SMS is not inferior to our system, and it’s certainly more streamlined. No yamìm merukazìm or matkonót and their attendant “missed days” of classes; no tziyunèi magèn; no megamót that track you at the expense of breadth of exposure. I felt like my high school education was solid*.

In contrast, I feel like my kids’ high school education is, well…uneven. While they are taking what in SMS would be required classes, it seems to me that whatever knowledge is being transmitted could be just as well absorbed (and perhaps at less expense) without the major distraction of the infernal bagruyót. The t-shirt says it best: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.

* With the exception of one weak spot: world history―don’t ask. 12 years of schooling passed without my ever hearing the words “French Revolution” or “Josef Stalin”.

Israelis and Rules הישראלים וכללי המקום

I do a rotating Saturday lifeguarding shift in my community, as I have since I came here in 1981. In contrast to the rest of the world, around the pool, not much has changed. One thing that has remained constant is the persona Israeli fathers assume upon their contact with chlorine. They suddenly decide that their offspring must learn to swim TODAY. NOW.

They begin an immediate training regimen that rivals that of the IDF’s Elite Commando Unit. If offspring balks…Abba presses harder. At the tears stage, I intervene. Needless to say, the attempt to teach Little Gal-Gal or Mai-Mai or [you supply New Age Water-related name] fails. I’ve seen it happen so consistently I can almost predict it the minute I lay eyes on the family.

My theory is that most Israelis are accustomed to swimming at beaches, where kids are expected only to romp in the surf and build sandcastles. Swimming pools are still unfamiliar to many Israelis, who associate them with competition swimming, bringing out the males’ macho side, hence their reaction thereto.

Another manifestation of the machismo that pools seem to bring out in Israeli men is their aversion to following the rules thereof. Unlike other lifeguards, who put their enforcement energy into infractions of the no running rule, I intervene in four situations: 1) Diving in the shallow end; 2) Using noodles as weaponry; 3) Somersaults off the side; and 4) Consuming food or drink or chewing gum in the water.
On my last shift, when I approached Typical Israeli Dad who was drinking a cup of juice while standing in the shallow end (after I’d greeted the family on their entrance, introduced myself, and informed them that there’s no eating or drinking in the water), the conversation went thusly:

Me: I’m reminding you that there’s no eating or drinking in the pool.
Macho Daddy: Huh?
Me (pointing to juice being consumed): Get the juice out of the pool.
MD: Huh? How come?
Me: As I told you when you came in, it’s pool rules.
MD: What’s the big deal? It’s just juice.
Me: Yes. And it’s against the rules to drink it in the pool.
Macho’s Wife from behind me: Yossi, get the juice outta the pool!
At which point he complies.

Meanwhile, the social scientists ponder why Israelis are argumentative and have trouble obeying simple rules taken for granted in the rest of the West. Well, there you have it: The child of Macho Daddy sees Abba 1) Break rule, showing disregard of rules 2) Argue when busted, showing disregard for rule-enforcement / authority.

My question: Why does this disregard seem to apply only to rules that make society more pleasant to be a part of? What’s so hard to understand about the advantages of a smoke-free, dog poop-free, garbage-free environment?

Oh, but that same Macho Daddy who catches his kid walking out the door to a Memorial Day ceremony not wearing a white shirt will lecture that kid from here to Kingdom Come about respect for our fallen soldiers, for our country, for sacrifice. What would Macho Daddy say about a citizen who crosses out the *le’om* [“nationhood”] field on her ID card? Well that’s the most heinous act he’s ever heard of. Obviously there’s no punishment harsh enough for a subversive traitor who does such a thing. She should be stripped of her citizenship and immediately deported. What country did she grow up in? Didn’t her parents teach her patriotism? By God, *ein la elohim* [“she has no shame”]!

ADD, ADHD, and all the hyper-s הפרעות קשב + ריכוז

I blame neighter the schools nor the teachers, for kids not being able to concentrate, and I don’t deny the phenomenon of hyperactivity (not the clinical disorder known as hyperkineticism, but the term as it’s widely used today). I simply believe that in the vast majority of cases, it’s not a congenital condition with a medical solution, any more than abused children becoming abusive parents is a medical condition. Both are RESULTS. Of what is hyperactivity a result? Of –surprise, surprise — an entire generation of kids having been parked in front of the TV set from the moment they can sit up alone―that, combined with absent parents and / or doofus-y, spineless, clueless parenting.

From my experience and observation, it generally takes two years to master literacy in one’s mother tongue. Ditto for arithmetic skills. There’s no magic formula: Reading is a skill that demands sitting still and concentrating on a linear, sequential task. No amount of Sesame Street or Multiplication Rock bells ‘n’ whistles is going to make that happen.

So why are we so surprised that kids who’ve been nursed on TV can’t read? Yes, hyperactivity exists. Yes, it manifests itself just as the checklists describe. No, I don’t agree that it’s a congenital condition. My suggestion: Pull the plug on the tube and get parents back into the picture, and perhaps we’ll start seeing six-year-olds who can sit still long enough to learn the alphabet.

Haredim and Settlements החרדים וההתנחלויות

While I agree with Uzi Benziman that the ultra-Orthodox are populating the West Bank, my analysis of their psychology differs. I propose that it’s not that they’re becoming more nationalistic, but rather that their worldview is retro-Diaspora, circa the Pale of Settlement.

What I mean by this is that like the Jews in pre-war Europe, the ultra-Orthodox have little connection to a given piece of land―anywhere, even in the Holy Land―and relate little to geography. Having never studied geography, many may not even be able to conceptualize the size and shape of this country, much less the significance of the Green Line.

Indeed, they lead what might be described as a downright liminal existence, state-wise: My perception is that a few savvy ones get involved politically, and the political involvement of the rest begins and ends at voting how their party leaders instruct them to vote.

Therefore, I imagine a harried ultra-Orthodox father looking for inexpensive housing for his growing brood musing, “Green line, shmeen line. Who cares? Just find me a house and we’ll worry about what happens later, later.”

While the result is the same as that described by Benziman, it may be important to understand what I perceive to be the underlying ultra-Orthodox psychology vìs-a-vìs place: It’s all the same to them, as long as they remain in their self-imposed (yet state-financed) enclaves.

Guns: They’re Not Violent Enough אקדחים: לא מספיק אלימים

Yes, you read that title correctly; it’s the whole problem with automatic weapons. Before there were guns, if you wanted to inflict harm on someone, you had to get up close ‘n’ personal: You had to feel that knife sink in, you had to see that blood spurt out, stain your clothing, wash it off your hands.

Nowadays, with a gun, you can fire at someone across the room just because he looked at you funny, and it’s all no muss, no fuss. Clean-like. No blood. A gun > a trigger > it’s become an extension of the TV remote: “I don’t like you anymore. Zap. You’re gone”. Nice and consistent with our Instant Culture. No wonder we end up with the likes of Columbine.

Those of you who are anti-gun control tell me that lots of things can kill, not just guns. True, but think about it: I’ve never heard of a knife misfiring and hitting the wrong guy, or a tire iron accidentally discharging and killing someone across the room. Have you?

Gardasil: Why? גארדאסיל: למה כן

I’m not running to give my daughters the Gardasil vaccine, even though it’s been offered to my oldest two. I discussed it with each of them, and we decided not to go for it. Why not?

I intuitively felt that it was just three more injections that aren’t really going to be of any benefit, so why get them? Just to satisfy myself that I’m not outside the ballpark in my thinking, I consulted here, wherein is stated multiple times that 1) The vaccine does not replace regular pap smears and 2) It does not protect against other venereal diseases / STDs. Further, there’s fortunately no history of cancer in my family, so we’re not in a risk group.

Therefore I conclude that it won’t have any substantial effect on either my daughters’ health or their behavior, i.e., their partners will still have to use condoms, and they’ll still have to get regular pap smears. I just don’t feel like spending ₪550.00 for what seems like no marginal gain.

Yes, I know that “money” is a dirty word when spoken in the same breath as “health care”; we’re supposed to spare nothing when it comes to our kids’ health. But let’s be honest: Everyone has their ceiling, and every commodity has its market limit. What if Gardasil cost ₪5,500.00? Would it still be recommended? How accessible would it be? I admit that if it cost ₪55.00, I might think differently. Should I be sent to parent detention for such an awful admission?

This decision is consistent with my view that medical advances are not a substitute for healthful living and taking reasonable precautions. This philosophy colored my decisions not to give my kids chewable vitamins and not to run for the medicine chest or to the doctor to beg for antibiotics every time they have a fever. I told them that our bodies need nutrients from actual (nutritious) food, not pills; and that fevers happen for a reason and (up to a point) our immediate reaction need not be to suppress them and their symptoms. Finally, apparently I’m not alone: See here, here, and here.

?חיסון נגד סרטן צוואר הרחם: מועיל

לפני שמתחילים להתרוצץ למרפאה הקרובה, כדאי
לברר כמה עובדות:
· "החיסון אינו מחליף מעקב שגרתי אחר למניעת סרטן צוואר הרחם. על נשים המקבלות גרדסיל להמשיך לעבור בדיקות לגילוי סרטן צוואר הרחם כנהוג."
· החיסון פעיל לגבי 70% מהסוגים של סרטן צוואר הרחם. ז"א שעדיין ל30% מהסוגים, לא קיימת הגנה.
מה זה אומר ברמה המעשית?
· עדיין קיים הצורך לבדיקות שגרתיות, כולל משטח pap שנתי.
· סרטן צוואר הרחם מתפתח מנגיף הפאפילומה האנושית, המועבר דרך מגע מיני. ז"א שזוג אינו פתור משימוש באמצעים (קרו: קונדומים).

"תכלס": החיסון הוא אינו תרופה-המרפאת-הכל.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Candy Store Called "School Programs" ...חינוך ל

Has anyone else observed this phenomenon?
Yesterday we got a cheery update letter from my children’s school trumpteing no less than three programs now being conducted in the classroom: ezrachut pe’ilah [active citizenship]; metzuyanut alpayim [Excellence 2000]; and chashivah yetziratit-hamtza’it [creative-inventive thinking]. I can’t help thinking: If a person has received a solid (science- and humanities-based) education, should it not naturally lead to his or her becoming an involved citizen? Shouldn’t a school and its pupils by definition strive for excellence*? And shouldn’t (a good) education naturally lead to creative and inventive thinking?

I sense that informal education is entering the classroom in the guise of “programs” (usually award-winning ones. Who awards these awards anyway?). As a friend once observed when she was ruefully employed at a meeting-happy non-profit, “Sometimes you just gotta work!” Perhaps if our kids were learning properly, they wouldn’t need applied programming to teach them democracy, conflict resolution, tolerance, excellence, community involvement, creative thinking…fill in your favorite “educational goal”. What’s your take?

* Recalls Rabbi Arik Asherman’s questioning the very need for an organization called Rabbis for Human Rights

English in 1st Grade 'אנגלית בכיתה א

It drives me ‘round the bend when Israelis obsess on their kids learning English…and the Education Ministry caves! “Hapless when confronted by…demands on the part of parents”; “It’s best to adapt to [the trend] rather than fight it”; “It’s impossible to oppose such a demand, even if I don’t believe in it”? C’mon, EdMin and Principal, grow some balls!

How about informing the parents of what the experts say: “In Canada, for example, no advantage was found in pupils who started in lower grades compared to those who did so at the age of 12, and who very quickly catch up to that which their colleagues reached at an earlier age. In the end, they reach the same point." That’s coming from Hebrew University’s Professor Ilit Olstein.

What bothers me even more is the EdMin’s hypocrisy: They preach the importance of learning Arabic, yet invest in English, the latter which is so pervasive and ubiquitous, no kid could possibly avoid learning it unless s/he’s being homeschooled by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.

Not so with Arabic, which should be started in third grade. Kids need two years to master literacy in their mother tongue, then a new language can be added every two years thereafter. If any language should get priority, it’s Arabic, which they will not learn simply by tuning in to cable, satellite, and a steady diet of Disney.

This irrational drive to push English is simply a status chase, plus it disses the Arab public. Where are all the English-worshipping parents when push comes to shove in the discourse on coexistence? To the English-worshippers: Put your middle-class money where your mouths are and push for Arabic language instruction.

Dumpster-burning and Other Pious Pursuits שריפת אשפתונים

In the wake of a baby asphyxiating, I can’t help but wonder whether the physicians “decided that no autopsy was needed” (since when do physicians decide this? Isn’t it up to the coroner?) just to silence the protesters who broke through security. Creepy shades of the Israel Vales case.

What astounds me is that in not one account of this affair that I read, did a reporter actually ask the dumpster-burning community’s spokespeople 1) ON WHAT GROUNDS they were protesting, other than the fact that they were embarrassed by or simply took umbrage with the fact that a member of their community was under arrest by the police, an organ of the “heretic state”; and 2) How they justify destroying property and endangering the public as a means of protest.

It’s as if it’s “understood that they’re a bunch of *meshuginehs*”; therefore the normal rules don’t even apply in their case. I’m not sure whom I’m more outraged at: the dumpster-burners, or the press who reports it, yet doesn’t question it.

It also reminded me of a brit milah [circumcision ceremony] I attended years ago. The parents were chozrei b’tshuva [“born-again” Orthodox]. After a few remarks, the father addressed the guests [I’m paraphrasing -- it’s vague in my memory, but it did happen]: “A member of our community ran into a bit of trouble in the States. He’s being held in a California detention facility. We’re certain he’s innocent―he was no doubt framed [this I distinctly recall being said]― therefore he qualifies as an asir tsiyon [Prisoner of Zion -- an actual halachic status wherein it is incumbent upon one’s fellow Jews to work for one's release. In other words, think Natan Scharansky, Ron Arad, Gilad Shalit, etc.], but he has no legal representation. This unfortunate fellow needs your donations…”

The height of chutzpa: This guy is soliciting his simcha guests for donations on behalf of some unnamed individual who “ran into a bit of trouble”? Is “languishing” in a California prison without representation? Referring to this anonymous loser as an asir tsiyon? It's an insult to the actual *asirei tziyon*. And we’re supposed to just mindlessly pony up money because he’s a (presumably mitzva-observant) Jew?

I want to note that both this solicitor and his wife are college-educated individuals. I have no quarrel with their decision to become Torah-observant, but does observing the Torah mean you check in your brains at the door? And then my kids ask me what my gripe is with the ultra-Orthodox…