Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What's it got to do with the price of peanut butter? מה הקשר עם מחיר חמאת בוטנים

In the wake of last summer’s cost-of-living protests, Haaretz ran a weekly feature on its business page wherein the reporter would pick a consumer product — I recall chewing gum, mouthwash, and ketchup — and calculate how many hours an Israeli, a Brit, and an American have to work to earn enough to pay for said item. The highest number of hours was always worked by Israelis.

The reasons therefore were always the same, regardless of the product: shipping costs, the fact that Israel is a relatively small market, occasionally extra labeling or kashrut requirements. What’s the takeaway? Get ready: Israel is more costly to live in than the US or Europe. Get outta town! As if I hadn’t noticed, and it took an intrepid reporter to give me the wakeup call.

Am I incensed at this disparity? Indignant at having to pay more for chewing gum? Not at all. I actually have no grievance with the reasons given for the extra expense. I came here with my eyes wide open. I knew that my standard of living would go down, and I didn’t mind the sacrifice; I didn’t come here to get rich.

What’s galling isn’t the price of mouthwash; it’s when I read about the shortage of facilities for at-risk youth due to lack of funds; or the 1,000-bed shortage in neonatal care units; yet strangely, $17 billion is somehow available for the settlements.

Do the social protest activists not see the direct line that leads from Judaea and Samaria to Rothschild Avenue? It’s a zero-sum game, folks. There’s a finite level of resources, and as bad as I am at arithmetic, somehow I connect the dots.

Why do they believe that they can keep the protest apolitical? And why should we want to? Because the minute we point an accusing finger at the settlements, we lose momentum, or support, or whatever vagaries they think they can’t do without?

The non-settling public needs to hear the truth: Their anger at the manufacturers and retailers, while legitimate, is misplaced. I want the faucet that irrigates the settlements turned off, not so the price of peanut butter will go down (it won’t), but so that at-risk teens won’t have to be held in police lockups and preemies won’t be released from the hospital appallingly early. That’s social justice, not some wrong-headed goal of “including everyone inside the tent”.

Why are these victims different from all others? מה נשתה הנפגע הזה

As I wrote nearly a year ago, while Israelis won’t touch the word “political” with a ten-foot pole, curiously they have no problem politicizing issues that should remain outside the political arena. Or perhaps I should say “co-opting” or “exploiting for cynical purposes”. I’m referring to the myriad non-profits (seven are listed here not including One Family; another five here) whose stated purpose is serving the surviving family members of Israelis who have been killed in terror attacks. I have two problems — or shall I say discomforts — with these organizations:

The first is that I notice that the vast majority of the children they serve (you see them on organized outings and weekends) appear to be Orthodox, which prompts me to ask: What? Non-Orthodox aren’t killed in terror attacks? Or is there something else going on?

The second is that, while my experience with loss and bereavement is fortunately and admittedly scant, I don’t understand why children who lose parents in a terror attack are in a category separate from those who, say, lose parents in a traffic collision, God forbid, or to the Versailles [wedding hall] collapse. Do the former’s needs differ from the latter’s? Or is it possible that the former is “sexier” in terms of keeping the fans of bigotry flamed and / or eliciting sympathy for what is termed the “pro-Israel cause”?

Out of curiosity, I wrote to two such organizations: One Family, and another whose name I can’t recall, as they never replied. I wrote: Do your services extend to Arab victims of terror, such as the victims of Eden Natan Zada in 2005? Or the families of those gunned down in the Cave of the Patriarchs mosque in 1994?

Yehuda Poch of One Family was kind enough to reply courteously: “Shalom Yam:
Our services extend to all victims of anti-Israel terror since September 2000.
That includes Druze, Beduin, Israeli Arabs, and foreign residents/citizens.
Eden Natan-Zada's attack, while horrible, was not an attack against Israel.”

To which I replied: "Interesting. So if one of Zada's victims happened to have been Jewish? And who determines who's Jewish? My friend is the child of an Arab father and Jewish mother. She could easily have been riding a bus in Shfar'am. How do you determine an individual's eligibility for your services?"

Poch’s reply: “Hi, Miriam: Eligibility for our services has nothing to do with the ethnicity of the victim – or of the attacker. It has to do with the nature of the attack. If the attack is an anti-Israel terror attack, then the victims are eligible for assistance.

For instance, an Arab bus driver driving a bus that was bombed would be classified as a victim of an anti-Israel terror attack, and would be eligible for our assistance (as in fact has happened in more than one instance).

If one of Zada's victims happened to have been Jewish, such as your friend's child, s/he would have been eligible for the same government assistance provided to all the Arab victims, if there was any. But they would not have been classified as victims of anti-Israel terror, either by the government or by us.”

Me: “How is ‘a terror act against Israel’ determined? If an Arab enters a mall and starts randomly shooting people, is it assumed to have a nationalistic motive? Who / which agency(s) determine whether a random act of violence is terror?”

Poch: “That decision is left up to the police and/or military authorities. In general, while a case such as you describe would almost automatically be ruled a terror attack, there are cases that are far less cut-and-dried.

For instance, a few years ago an eight-year-old was raped and murdered in Beit Shemesh, by an Arab. That case was never ruled a terror attack. There have been others.

There was even a case about four years ago of a Kassam attack in Sderot wherein a boy was killed in the explosion, and he was never ruled a victim of terror because he was ill and the authorities ruled that he died of a reaction of his illness.

There are cases that are contested, and cases that are not. We, as an organization, are limited to helping only those recognized as terror victims by the State authorities.”

Fair enough, and while Poch deserves credit for taking my queries seriously and responding to them thoughtfully, the two discomforts I have with these organizations remain*. If anyone has any insight thereto, I’d be pleased to hear it.

* No critique of Poch here; I did not address my discomforts with him.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who is a Jew Goes Diaspora מיהו יהודי לא רק שואלים פה

Two recent articles, both from the Forward, bolster my claim that it is impossible to prove an individual’s Jewishness. The first, by David A.M. Wilensky, tells of his rabbi’s reaction when Wilensky, a patrilineal Jew (now converted) stopped accepting aliyot at the congregation he attended in his pre-conversion incarnation: “She asked why I was telling her about my situation: She never would have known, she said.” Precisely. Since anyone can slip in under the radar, ergo, anyone who identifies as a Jew is in practice if not in “fact”, Jewish.

The second article, by Naomi Zeveloff*, tells about non-Jewish inmates requesting kosher food. Now we have a situation wherein Corrections Department officials in 35 US states are “rightly hesitant to set themselves up to say who is Jewish and who is not, … often leav[ing] the decision in the hands of chaplains, Jewish or otherwise.”

When my dad was explaining to me that the local Jewish assisted living facility and JCC “provide for all Jewish cases", I kept asking him, “But how does the institution decide whether the applicant is Jewish?” After all, gone are the days when all the Jews knew each other. He finally had to concede that it’s based on the honor system, i.e., no individual Jew or admissions committee really has a way to prove or disprove a given individual’s claim to Jewish identity.

What it all comes down to is that where for centuries there was no advantage to being Jewish, we now have non-Jewish inmates looking at Jews’ plates and wanting to have what appears to be superior food; and non-Jews from countries as disparate as the former USSR and Eritrea, Sudan, and Nigeria looking to Israel as the nearest place of refuge from hunger and strife, i.e., being Jewish has become not simply fashionable (as in the 1970s) but downright appealing.

Of course our grandparents could not in their wildest dreams have imagined such a scenario, but here it is, our new reality, and it is incumbent upon us not to resist it, but rather to embrace it and let the chips fall where they may.

*Let’s hope she changes her surname if she ever moves to Israel.