Archive | September 2014

Identity. In Italy.

This summer, my husband and I celebrated our 20th year of marriage with our first European vacation.  In the cold clutches of the polar vortex, we asked ourselves, what is the one European city known to be one of the world’s most romantic destinations?

Why, Paris, of course!

Gleefully, we dreamt of a Paris vacation. In the evenings, we played a Paris Jazz Café station on Spotify. Without a single semester of French between the two of us, we spoke sweet nothings to each other in fake Parisian accents.

I dug out my college art history textbooks and plotted my visit to the Louvre.

Then we checked in with the news coming out of France, and our dreams crumbled like a stale baguette.

Anti-Semitism in France has been on a steady incline in recent years, even before Hamas’ most recent war with Israel.  In 2012, a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that 40 percent of approximately 1,200 French Jews said they avoided wearing Jewish identifiers such as kippot or Jewish stars. For me, all it took was one YouTube video filmed on Jan. 26 with throngs of protesters repeatedly shouting “Jews Out” through the streets of Paris, to rethink our plans.

So, forget Paris. We instead spent 10 memorable days in Italy touring Tuscany,

DSCN0634 Venice,

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and Florence

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eating fresh pasta

DSCN0435DSCN1242and  gelato and drinking wine.

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Italy was far from a consolation prize to France.

However, all that wine did not cloud my awareness that war was still raging in Israel (my daughter spent the summer in Israel), and anti-Semitism was all around us in Europe. Still, I refused to be afraid to be outwardly Jewish. In the Jewish ghetto of Venice, I purchased a star of David made of Murano glass and wore it for the duration of my trip.

In Italy, an appreciation for Judaism’s contributions to humanity on the surface outweighed any animosity towards the Jews.  An orchestra in Venice’s St. Mark’s square played Klezmer music.

DSCN0620In Florence, tourists wait on line for hours to see Michelangelo’s David, the boy would be king of ancient Israel.

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I know he is made of stone, but I can’t help having a crush on David.

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Dear Fellow Liberals: I’m Done Apologizing for Israel

May Gd bless and protect your son, and thank him for me for protecting MY daughter while she was there all summer. I’m done apologizing too. Liberalism and unwavering support for Israel need not be two separate things.

TIME

Some years ago, I was seated at dinner next to a British law professor, whom my husband, also a law professor, had invited to a conference that he’d organized. The conversation soon turned, as conversation often does among professional intellectuals, to Israel, specifically to the then-recent conflict between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters in the West Bank town of Jenin, which my dinner partner (and much of the European press) referred to as the “massacre of Jenin.”

Oops—forgot about it already? Here’s a refresher: in 2002, the IDF went into Jenin during the Second Intifada, after Israel determined that the town served as a launching pad for missile and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. The 10-day operation claimed the lives of around 50 Palestinian gunmen, and 23 Israeli soldiers. My acquaintance, after repeating Palestinian claims of atrocities committed by Israeli forces—claims that had already been roundly debunked—capped off his assessment…

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Please, no cheesy touristy selfies here

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Another year.

13 years.

It took us a while to get here, but finally, a fitting memorial has been built to nearly 3,000 victims or more who were snatched from this earth, from all who loved them on this horrible day here at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

I finally made my way to the 9/11 memorial this summer. I was simultaneously taken by the beauty and the heavy leaden feeling of grief as I stared into the waters that seemed to fall forever into an abyss.

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I know there are some who want to come here, but have not the strength to stand here.

I found some names of those I knew, if only peripherally. Like Mark P. Whitford. A firefighter. A fellow high school classmate  a few years younger than me who wrestled for my dad. Just another NYFD firefighter who died trying to save lives. I remember falling to the floor in shock when my dad told me he had been killed.

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For those who lost someone here, and for all native New Yorkers, this place is very personal. Very intimate and very sacred.

So, visitors to NYC, take note.

We are so happy to have tourists in town.

But this is not just another tourist attraction. Don’t turn it into such.

This is a homicide area.

This is a memorial.

This is a mass grave.

So when you come here, please.

No cheesy selfies.

And please, when you come here and take photographs, please don’t smile.

Channeling Anger into Healing: IsrAID is first to respond in Floods, Earthquakes, Tsunamis

I still don’t understand where all the Israel bashing comes from. Ignorance? Brainwashing? Plain old Jew hatred? 

Against all odds, Israelis, especially those living in the south just kilometers from the Gaza Strip, refuse to become vengeful or embittered by terrorism.

The evidence?

Within days of the flood that besieged many Detroit residents, Israeli NGO IsrAID came to town to help. Taking the skills in teamwork and collaboration that come with years of serving in the IDF, IsrAID volunteers have been on the ground all over the globe where there has been natural disasters: Japan. Haiti. Indonesia. And the United States. 

Here is a brief story I wrote about them in this week’s issue of the Detroit Jewish News. 

Lending a hand to the cleanup efforts of last month’s flood, eight Israeli volunteers with disaster relief agency IsrAID left their own war-ravaged country and set their eyes, hearts, and hard work on healing flooded neighborhoods in Metropolitan Detroit. Some got on a plane here just days after finishing their military service and will be cleaning out basements and restoring stability to the lives of flood victims for the next two weeks.  

Beth Shalom in Oak Park has become the temporary home for the volunteers, where over half the congregants there have had damage to their homes due to flooding, said Rabbi Robert Gamer. The volunteers sleep and eat at the synagogue on air mattresses, linens, towels and toiletries donated by community members. The synagogue men’s club, the Jewish Community Center, the Salvation Army and other charitable agencies prepare their meals.

“These floods have become big news around the world and Detroit has many connections in Israel,” said Rabbi Gamer, who hosted the volunteers for a Shabbat dinner at his home. “My congregation is thrilled that they are here to help those in need. We often think about us helping Israel but here Israel is helping us.”

Nevonel Glick, 27, of Tel Aviv, IsrAID program director and the lead volunteer coordinator in Detroit, said the volunteers, highly trained in the art of efficiency, coordination and teamwork after their service in the Israel Defense Forces, help break the downward spiral of depression and hardship commonly experienced after a natural disaster by helping flood victim. Glick has been with IsrAID for over six years guiding relief projects in Japan, Haiti, the Philippines, Kenya and several places in the United States, including New York City after super storm Sandy.

Unlike some of the poorer countries he has, Glick said IsrAID understands that relief work in the United States does not need Israel’s doctors or search and rescue teams. What victims of natural disasters here need is a path back to financial and emotional stability.

 “After a disaster hits, the victim can be stuck in this downward spiral of depression.” Glick said.  “All your possessions from many generations may have been lost. Your house is damaged and you don’t know where to start. IsrAID volunteers understand this and we are here to remove that load off your back, both physically and emotionally, moving the victim from utter chaos to a clean house, a clean slate.”

IsrAID helped Shelly Legg, 61, of Oak Park, a woman out of work on medical disability who found herself with not only a flooded basement and a loss of personal possessions, but now without a car, nor the means to purchase a new one.  Last week, the volunteer crew helped her sort her possessions between what could and could not be salvaged, tore up and disposed of the basement flooring and wood paneling and drywall which black mold had already started to grow. Next, they thoroughly disinfect and dry the basement for future renovations.

According to Glick, this work saves such a homeowner between $3 to $7K. He expects the team to be able to clean approximately 1-4 homes per day depending on the size of the home and the extent of the damage.  

Glick said that his work aligns his Jewish, Israeli and global identities because the work is something he is proud to stand behind. Speaking for some of his volunteers who live in southern Israel, which has endured the brunt of the rocket attacks, the work lets them “channel their anger and frustrations into something good and healing.”

“Disasters foster a lot of unity and resilience and coming together,” said Glick. “It puts things into perspective in my own personal life. Every place we go, we get back more than we give.”

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