“It is very nice that you and your other American friends care about protecting the Arctic Circle and the polar bears against global warming. And I understand you want social justice and equal rights and the right to choose for a woman. Yes, all these things are very nice and good and important. But here in Israel, the first thing we need more than anything is security for us and our children. We just want to live. We want to go to sleep at night and not worry that Iran is building a nuclear bomb to shoot at us.”
I sat in my host family’s living room. On my 2008 educator mission to Israel I stayed with Keren, a teacher, her husband, Omer, a systems manager (or something like that), and their two young daughters. It was in the evening and Keren was upstairs putting the girls to bed in their two-level condo in Modi’in Israel.
Next to the girls bedroom, which they shared, was another room that many in Israel had if their home was built after a certain year. In their house, It is an inner room with thick, lined walls and no windows and closes with a thick door that shuts with a crank. one thick door that when shut,
The thing is, in Israel, space is tight. Square footage is expensive. Like, think close to Manhattan expensive. And although Israelis are not supposed to use this room for anything else but a safety shelter, it is often used as a room. For a home office. A playroom filled with colorful toys. An extra space to store like any other American needs, all the extra stuff that comes along with living in a consumerism society.
I was visiting Israel to teach Israeli kids a little bit about what it was like to be a Jew in America. But that evening, I was the one getting a lesson on the mindset of Israelis as I sat on the white couch with a glass of precious water – no ice – my feet resting on the cold tiled floor.
It was the spring of 2008. Israel was in the wake with its military action in Lebanon and Gaza after the kidnapping of three soldiers from 2006. In the United States, elections were heating up and most of America was fed up with the way things were going under the Bush Administration.
The economy was about to tank.
We were five years out of Bush’s “mission accomplished” announcement, where nothing seemed to get accomplished except hundreds of our soldiers getting killed or wounded. Where were the weapons of mass destruction? When would we ever see a troop draw down from Iraq? Afghanistan?
I was the Democratic Party’s dream voter. I stood, and still, stand for every issue on the Democratic ticket. Strict environmental regulations. Stricter gun control. Pro Choice. Fulfilling the legacy of Ted Kennedy’s call for universal health care.
When it came to Israel, I still believed that supporting Israel was a bipartisan issue. But in 2008, there started to be a shift that if you really wanted to support Israel, voting for a Democrat is not the way to go. I had been warned by friends and certain family and now, I was getting a plea from Omer.
Early every morning, Omer gets picked up outside his condo by a company bus to take them to the offices inside the Ben Gurion Airport. Except, that next week, after I headed back to the States, Omer would be heading out for a month of reserve duty, just as most Israeli men do, one month per year, until they are in their 50’s.
But back to the couch.
Omer did not belittle me for my then progressive beliefs, and said in a big country like the U.S., he could understand why people would back these issues. He did not tell me which way to vote, but told me who he hoped would win in no uncertain terms.
“I think Obama is a good man, but here in Israel, we really like McCain. We need a sheriff in the White House.”
Eight years later I have not forgotten Omer’s words. I wonder what he thinks of the United States now. Does he feel betrayal by American Jews, myself included, who vastly voted for Obama, once and even twice?
And now the Iran Nuclear agreement is up for vote in Congress.
Below, if you care to keep on reading, is my article from this week’s Detroit Jewish News covering the Washington Institute’s David Makovsky’s speech before Detroit’s Jewish community. He offered as balanced a perspective as possible on the Iran Deal. Although the Wall Street Journal contributing writer has written strongly against the deal, I learned later that his sponsors here asked him to give a balanced overview and not his own personal opinions.
I wonder why.
I woke to the news that Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made a statement today coming out against the deal.
Somewhere in Israel, I hope that this news has reached Omer, and that he is smiling with just a little bit of hope.
David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, mapped out the pros and cons of the Iran nuclear agreement to an audience of nearly 1,000 donors to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township on July 30.
Stressing the many questions that still remain on how the deal will be enforced should it be enacted, Makovsky spoke of the “atmosphere of anguish” going around Congress as it heads to a vote on the agreement.
He also emphasized the urgent need for cooperation between U.S. and Israeli intelligence and security departments.
Detroit’s Federation is one of only eight in the nation that have come down in the first week squarely against the agreement. Noting the size of the crowd, Federation President Larry Wolfe said this is a time of “deep concern, interest and anxiety within Detroit’s Jewish community.
“The Federation of Detroit needs to take a stand, particularly with their fellow Jews in Israel who feel abandoned and isolated, especially in light that with this deal, terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah funded by Iran will be flush with cash,” Wolfe said.
“What is at stake is nothing less than the future for Jews here in Detroit, Israel and around the world.”
Professor Howard Lupovitch, director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies, Wayne State University, served as moderator.
To illustrate the complexities of either being for or against the deal, Makovsky walked the audience through a hypothetical face-to-face meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.
Makovsky outlined Obama’s reasoning why this is the “best possible deal” with Iran. It guarantees that Iran would be nuclear weapon-free for 15 years.
After that period, Iran could enrich uranium to weapons grade level within 12 months. Presently, Iran is three to four months away from this threshold.
The deal would also cut the number of Iran’s working centrifuges. According to Makovsky, Obama would argue that it is the best chance to move Iran into “inte grating itself into the global economy” for the general Iranian population who wants to become more Westernized.
In this imaginary exchange, Netanyahu would argue that the deal has not eliminated Iran’s nuclear threat but only managed it by acknowledging that, in 15 years, Iran will be treated like any other nation and there is nothing to stop Iran from “racing toward the bomb” when the deal expires.
Netanyahu would also ask why the U.S. and other countries involved in negotiations did not clearly outline a set of possible violations and penalties as a way of holding Iran accountable to the agreement.
Also, Netanyahu would ask how reasonable would it be to ask countries like China, Russia or France to “snap back” sanctions once they are entrenched with business dealings with Iran and are “lining their bank coffers with money from oil revenues?” Also troubling are the billions of dol lars of frozen assets that could flow back into Iran’s economy upon the agree ment’s enactment. If Iran’s top banks will have sanctions lifted against them within eight years under the deal, Makovsky said the nations involved need to develop a clear strategy of how to follow the money trail so it does not further fund terrorism in the “volcanic” Middle East.
In spite of the uncertainty, Makovsky offered hope in the fact that fractious Arab nations are moving closer to work with each other, united in their fear of a nuclear Iran. If the Arab nations can do this, so, too, should Israel and the United States, he concluded.
“My one plea is that the security and intelligence relationship between us needs to come together as soon as pos sible,” Makovsky said.
“With Israel now encircled by non state entities as governments around it break down, we cannot afford to wait until the next presidency or even another year to start collaborating. We no longer have the luxury to be angry with one another.”
Sitting on the Floor. Thinking about Jerusalem’s ashes of yesterday and tomorrow. But please not tomorrow.
Today is Tisha B’Av. I am well into my fast.
Now is the time of the day when the stomach really starts to grumble. Mornings of a fast are okay. That is the time when the faster says to themselves: What is eating anyway? Eating is more habitual than anything. I even made it to my garden to do some work this morning.
I am not observing an absolute fast this Tisha B’Av – literally meaning, the ninth of the month of Av. I’ve been drinking water and coffee throughout the day. But still, now that late afternoon is here, the hunger is sinking in. But I will dig in deeper. Mentally, I have not taken a fast from thinking deeply, and my troubled thoughts I allow to linger on this day, the saddest of the entire Jewish calendar.
Last year’s memories of Gaza’s war with Israel linger. Last week’s agreement with Iran, and what disasters it could hold for the future of not just Israel but the whole world, weigh heavily on my mind. As it should with yours, dear reader, however or wherever this lovely summer day finds you.
The outsider must see observers of this fast day pretty much as religious fanatics out of their mind.
Are you the average outsider? I’ll test out my theory. Check it out; Here is the crux of this day and the reason why some Jews fast and mourn today:
Over two thousand years ago, we the Jews had the Great Temple in Jerusalem.
On this day, a bit over two thousand years ago, on this very same day a few hundred years before that, not one but BOTH Great Temples were destroyed. One built by King Solomon, then another one five centuries later, built by King Herod . Both destroyed. The city of Jerusalem ransacked, on the same day.
Lots of other bad stuff happened to Jews on or around this day.
Through the centuries, some of our greatest leaders were killed in and around this date.
Through the centures Jews were expelled, from Jerusalem, from England, France and Spain, in and around on this date.
Because of that, that is why we fast. And in the days leading up to the fast, we don’t have fun in pools. Or chow down on burgers at barbecues. At the height of the summer.
So now is your turn to respond: You are in mourning in 2015, in modern times, for the destruction of a building? And the destruction happened
HOW many years ago? But that was then and this is now. That has NOTHING to do with today. Seriously, get over it!
My I am getting dizzy now.
I’m a religious nut, right? You’re thinking this. But the older I get, the more the messages of Tisha B’Av have to do with today.
In all honesty, I didn’t even know about Tisha B’av when I was a kid growing up in Staten Island. It was a summer holiday, and let’s just say that with an afternoon congregational Hebrew school education, it is safe to say that any Jewish commemoration that takes place in the summer is glossed over. Even not taught.
I only learned about it from friends who went to Jewish summer camp. So when my own kids went to summer camp, I decided to observe Tisha B’av.
You start the fast at synagogue sitting on the floor. Mourning brings you mentally to a lower, less comfortable place and you want to match this mood physically. So you sit on the floor.
It is customary for the sanctuary lights to dim. Some bring flashlights or light candles to follow along in their prayer books.
Then, in a mournful melody, a leader or a group of leaders chant the entire book of Lamentations. Eicha in Hebrew.
The imagery in Lamentations is so very sad and graphic. There is no comfort. Gd has abandoned His Chosen People to be starved, stoned, burned, raped and humiliated by our worst enemies. There is no one to comfort them and no one to answer Jerusalem’s cries.
There are mothers sitting in the ashes of what were once the glorious golden-paved streets of Jerusalem. The passage of babies suckling the empty breasts of their starving mothers always gets to me. I can hear the cries of the starving in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem as the Romans attempted to starve them out from behind the walls. You can smell the burning and feel the heat.
“The tongue of the suckling cleaves to its palate for thirst. Little children beg for bread. None gives them a morsel.”
Fast forward a few centuries. Are the images that the author of Lamentations paints in the reader’s head any different or remote than those from the ghettos of Rome? Prague? Warsaw?
The foes set upon our sanctuaries…Our steps were checked. We could not walk in our squares.
Is it any different now? As Jews are afraid to openly show their Jewish identity and safely walk in the streets In Paris? In Brooklyn? Even Jerusalem?
And the hardest lesson to swallow from the book of Ecclesiastes, is that the Jews of Jerusalem had no one but themselves to blame for their destruction. Gd turned His face from the because of their baseless hatred and pettiness towards one another. We were punished because, according to the author, we showed no regard for priests (we had priests, not rabbis during the time of the Temple) and no respect for tradition or our elders.
And how is this different now? In an age where commitment to Jewish education falls to the bottom of priorities, upstaged by everything else from soccer to scouting? Where learning about Jewish history has been scrapped for a bare-bones Jewish education that leaves nothing more than some tutoring lessons to learn how to pronounce some transliterated gibberish for a kid’s big day on the bimah?
I am hungry now. But the hunger has not made me melodramatic. I’m speaking from true experience here. And this is going widely unreported, why I don’t understand. Are we afraid to admit that in our comfortable complacency we are failing to transmit to the next generation their rich heritage?
Ask your typical Jewish kid if they can name one Jewish leader from modern times or ancient times. Ask if they know what countries border Israel, Ask them what Hebrew letters spell basic words like Shalom, Shabbat, and even Moses, and you might get a lot of blank stares.
Will these same kids, once they get off the bimah and for the most part, exit their Jewish education and find themselves in college five years, will they know how to answer in college to cries that Israel is a pariah of a nation, an apartheid state? Who will teach them their heritage and history then?
“The mouthings and pratings of my adversaries…Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles in the sky.”
And now, we are faced with Iran becoming legitimized as a playing power, as a nuclear entity, in the eyes of the world. You don’t have to read every page of this deal to know this deal is a bad one. Will the world wake up in time?
“Our doom is near our days are done – Alas our doom has come.”
The way I see it, those words could have easily been written today.
“Hmmmm, this is interesting. I was just here six months ago and this was all covered in sand. Come, check it out.”
I was in the ancient city of Caesarea on the tail end of an 11-day family trip to Israel. Our guide Vivi led us over to a ledge overlooking a fenced-off excavation site on the Mediterranean Sea.
If we stood in this very spot about… 2000 years ago, we would be overlooking the patio of King Herod’s prime real estate beachfront palace, watching him sunbathe by his freshwater pool. Umbrella drink in hand.
Vivi directed our gaze to the remains of a mosaic-tiled floor (see lower left corner on the above photo) that King Herod himself walked upon, perhaps after finishing his water aerobics class. These remains, hidden from the world for centuries, were such a new discovery that this was the first time our seasoned tour guide had seen them.
Archeological eurekas like this are happening all over Israel – in Akko, in Beit Shean, in the Old City in Jerusalem. Israeli archeologists are not just interested in uncovering Israel’s Hebrew and Jewish past, but the history of every empire that conquered and then crumbled here through the ages.
Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Crusader. No matter the era, Israel makes sure to preserve the artifacts of every past civilization that stood on her soil.
At the same time, Israel struggles to make sure that its flag and its people will be conquered no more.
Archeological discoveries, medical advances in cancer and heart disease research, the boom of Israeli high-tech startup companies — this is what is possible in an Israel with defensible borders.
I’ve been home in Rochester for six weeks. Last night, I listened with about 200 others to a presentation about the news in the Middle East given by Israeli professor, think tank advisor, and political commentator Dr. Reuven Hazan sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.
Considering the ever changing situation in this part of the world, we wondered where he could possibly start. Consider the week’s Middle East headlines.
- More rioting in Syria as the Syrian government massacres its own citizens, even those lying already wounded in a hospital; US and Britain remove diplomats;
- US Citizens arrested and detained in Egypt;
- The Palestinian Authority and Hamas vow to form a reconciliation government;
- Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed a new doctrine explaining why it would be ‘legally and morally justified’ to commit genocide and wipe Israel off the map.
Within all this turmoil, Dr. Hazan tried to focus on the positive, internal news of Israel. Within the chaotic Arab Spring, surrounded by 21 Arab Nations, Israel is the calm eye of the storm.
- The current Israeli government has been stable since 2009.
- Israelis, who once held security and preventing terrorist attacks as their top priority, are now acting more like their American counterparts in the Occupy Wall Street movement. They want fair housing prices and an even distribution of wealth, just like the 99 percent here do.
- Never before in the history of Israel have the hawks of the Likud party and the doves of the Labor party danced so closely together. They understand that in the 21st Century, land that was always held in regard as a buffer zone for national security against wars fought with soldiers and tanks can no longer keep Israel safe in wars fought with long range SCUD or nuclear missiles.
But still, the need for defensible borders will always remain. Israel is a skinny country. In a weight obsessed world, Israel can’t afford to lose its girth.
To illustrate just how skinny Israel is at its narrowest pre-1967 borders, Hazan explained just how skinny Israel’s narrowest point (9.3 mi) really is: If you poured yourself a cup of coffee for work by the coast and your commute was at the other side of this 9-mile drive, your coffee would still be piping hot.
So, within these borders, Israel watches the developments of its neighbors embroiled in its Arab Spring, and she is very scared.
The border between Egypt and Israel is once again active. Money that could be spent on social issues is instead being used to bolster security. A gas pipeline supplying Israel with fuel from Egypt, as part of the Israel/Egypt peace agreement, has been blown up and disrupted no more than five times in the last six months, evidence that the rioters of the new Egypt want no ties with Israel.
Jordan, another bordering country that has received life giving water and agricultural technology from Israel as a result of peace agreements, cannot control the throngs of people in the streets that recently greeted and cheered a visiting leader of Hamas.
Finally, when questioned about Iran, Dr. Hazan sternly warned us that time with Iran is running out.
An attack on Iran to stop a nuclear genocide would be most successful if Israel could depend on the US for military action. But if necessary, Israel will go it alone. Will the world condemn Israel if it strikes Iran? Sure. But, Israel would rather be condemned and stay in existence than be wiped out and be the world’s darling.
As I listened to those words, I thought back to that moment of overlooking King Herod’s pool. In the face of extinction, Israel is continually digging up its ancient past and busy building its high-tech present, all the while threatened by Iran for its existential future. No matter what sacrifices it makes for peace, no matter how much land it gives back, its sunny coastline with its mosaic tiled floor may very well be the Jewish state’s only peaceful border.