Margie and I current traveling in Israel with four Congresspersons: Jan Schakowsky, Barbara Lee, Hank Johnson, and Raul Grihalva. We’ll be meeting with government officials, business leaders, settlers, Palestinian officials, and representatives of NGO’s. Travelling from Tel Aviv to Sderot to Hebron to Ramallah. More to come.
December, 1992 – I will never forget the first time I saw Eretz Yisrael. After a long journey flying over the Atlantic, there was a break in the clouds that revealed bright green, verdant fields dappled in sunshine, looking for all it was worth like the proverbial land of milk and honey. I had never been particularly connected to Judaism, my Jewish identity or Israel, but my heart welled up as I peered out the window. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it truly looked magical.
As we landed and taxied up to the terminal, it was as if we had stepped back in time to the 50′s. There were no jetways at all. Instead, we walked down a portable stairway and got on a bus that took us to the terminal. In some ways, it seemed appropriate — harking back to the Israel of the War of Independence. This was country that had pulled itself up by its bootstraps and wanted to retain that memory.
April, 2005 – Reaching landfall over Israel was still exciting. Looking through the window, it seemed that there was a large superhighway that hadn’t been there the last time. This time when we landed, there was no portable staircase, but instead, a typical jetway as seen in any modern airport. We had arrived at Terminal 3 – Ben Gurion’s brand new showcase. We walked off into a sparkling state of the art airport. I was awed as we walked down The Connector (the long corridor from the Airside building to the Landside building) greeted in royal fashion with sparkling ceiling-to-floor glass windows on one side and beautiful granite and Jerusalem stone on the other. It was a (literal) shining example of the progress and success of this little nation. Israel was now a first-world country.
February, 2013 – Flying in over the Mediterranean has become old hat. Highway 1 running past the airport to Tel Aviv looks crowded with cars streaming in and out of this city, just like any other in the Western world. But this time, as I disembark from the plane and get through the jetway, the first thing I notice is that the gray carpet looks worn and dirty. Not quite shabby, but close. And as we walk through the corridors, I can’t help but observe that all of the windows are dirty. They look as though they haven’t been washed since the last time I was here. Perhaps, this too is a symbol of being a first-world country in this decade: government has no money to spend to maintain its infrastructure. Whatever the reason for it, it makes Israel now seem like a country in decline – or perhaps one that just doesn’t care what impression it made on those coming to visit it. Frankly, it was strikingly disappointing and depressing.
I very intriguing post about conceptualizing Israel, Palestine and our relationship with them. This is from Jerry Haber, a pseudonym for an Orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor who blogs as The Magnes Zionist.
As a religious Jew, I believe that the Jew qua Jew has three homes: the state of which she is a citizen; the Jewish community of which she is a participant, and the land of Israel. Jews do not need political sovereignty in an exclusivist ethnic state in order to feel at home in that land. In fact, increasingly I am feeling less at home in the State of Israel, then in the United States.
As Richard Goldwasser points out in his op-ed “Jerusalem The Divisible“ in today’s Times of Israel:
The ostensibly unassailable assumption that Jerusalem must remain Israel’s undivided and eternal capital, however, fails to take into account the evolution of Jerusalem’s boundaries.
He goes on to give an extremely brief – but enlightening – outline of some of the highlights of the history of Jerusalem’s boundaries. His conclusion:
Abraham Lincoln once posited, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.” So it is with Jerusalem. Calling the Palestinian village of Beit Hanina Jerusalem doesn’t make it Jerusalem. At least not in a way that has any meaning for the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem. Perhaps that is why two of Israel’s past prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, were prepared to cede the Palestinian neighborhoods in present-day Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state.
Now here is an opportunity for REAL creative diplomacy. Since part of Iran’s justification for their nuclear program is for internal energy needs, why couldn’t our government reach out and suggest that U.S. companies be allowed to bid on this project? Of course, this runs counter to all of the current clamoring for sanctions+ and military action.
But when one has a logjam, you typically can’t break it up by continuing to push the logs in the same direction. The logs just keep getting more jammed up. So, instead it calls for something – sometimes an explosive charge, to break up the jam. It seems the same way with diplomacy. The current round of negotiations with Iran seem to be déjà vu all over again. There is a need for a type of creative, out-of-the-box action to break the logjam.
It seems that providing U.S. knowhow, project management and efficiency to a peaceful, energy project (which could be used as a face-saving reason for Iran to scale back its nuclear program) could go a long way to setting a new tone in relations with a country that cannot simply be “put in its place”. Iran is going to continue to be a key player in the region no matter what the West and Israel try to do – simply because of geography, economy and religion. It can be argued that continuing the lack of ongoing diplomatic relations and the presentation of negotiating positions that contain clear non-starters (for several reasons) for the Iranian regime, actually gives the West and Israel much less control on the outcome of the current standoff.
Time for creativity.
- Iran cancels $2 bln dam deal with China: report (dawn.com)
- Iran cancels $2 bn dam contract with China: reports (terradaily.com)
- Soltanieh: IAEA report proves peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities (EndtheLie.com)
- Iran exploits diplomacy to advance its nuclear program (articles.boston.com)
- Sanctions against Iran to tighten despite talks, US official says (timesofisrael.com)
Pesach is my favorite Jewish holiday. The traditions are so rich and the Seder is the ultimate joyous, jubilant Jewish celebration: the symbols of the Seder plate, the smells and tastes of real Jewish food (I will put Margie’s golden chicken soup up against any in the world), the struggle with matzoh for eight days, the four cups, the laughter, the singing, Elijah. Those are all so memorable.
But it is the message that permeates the holiday that is so important. While the book of Exodus holds perhaps more of the basic concepts, precepts, commandments and narratives of the Torah than any other book, the Haggadah‘s lessons seem much narrower.
There are many different interpretations of the meaning of the story from the manifestation of The Lord acting directly in the world, to the molding of the Jewish people into a nation, to the miracles of the Passover and the parting of the Sea of Reeds itself. Yet to me the most straightforward and overriding message is simple:
- REMEMBER. You were slaves in Egypt
- RELIVE. How it felt to be enslaved. To be oppressed
- REPUDIATE. So that, You, personally, and, Jews as a people, will never become oppressors yourselves
Every Jewish holiday harks back to a connection with bedrock stories from the Jewish community’s past like the recitation of the Akedah and story of Jonah on the High Holidays, the Megillah on Purim, Akadmut and Ruth on Shavuot,, or the rededication of the Temple at Hanukkah. But the Seder and the Haggadah ask something of us that is wholly unique and of an entirely different nature than any other Jewish holiday. It specifically tells us that we must place ourselves inside the story – we must be in Egypt to feel the pain and oppression – and the redemption. This is one of the main lessons of the telling of the story of the Four Sons, which acts as an answer to Mah Nishtanah – Why is this night different from all other nights?
So why is it so important to more than sympathize, more than empathize, but to actually experience being slaves in Egypt? The answer seems straightforward. Each of us needs to understand what it is like to be oppressed so that we will never become oppressors ourselves. We must feel the weariness of the excruciating labor, the pain of the task masters’ whips, and shed the tears of a people without rights or freedom. Having lived through it ourselves, it should be unthinkable for Jews to oppress others. And lest we forget, we are commanded to relive our slavery each and every Pesah. We must understand the pain of the oppressed and the evil of the oppressor – so that we never allow the roles to be reversed.
One of the traditional prayers at the end of the Seder is “next year in Jerusalem”. The problem is that now when I look to Jerusalem, I see Israel occupying Arab neighborhoods. Pushing people out of homes that have been in their families for decades or longer. And beyond that, I see checkpoints, and identity cards, and political prisons. Most of all, I see one people subjugating another. This is not fantasy. This is reality for anyone who cares to take a look. But if an American Jew talks about it, he is told, “You have no right to criticize Israeli policy because you don’t live there. You don’t have to serve in the IDF. You don’t have to dive into bomb shelters when the sirens sound. You don’t have to fear that your children will be killed riding in a school bus.” That is so very true. And I am so sorry that life is indeed that dangerous for those living in Eretz Yisrael. But I am also sorry to say that I believe the Haggadah not only gives me the right, but also the obligation as a Jew, to speak out when I see fellow Jews oppressing another people. As Peter Beinart said when he spoke at Northwestern, “The morality of a people must not be measured when they are powerless. The question is how they act when they have the power.”