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.”
I received a wonderful Nowruz (New Year’s) greeting from my good friend, Narimon Safavi, yesterday. I have learned so much from Nari about Iranian history, politics, and culture that I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. I think the best way to demonstrate this to you is by sharing his lovely thoughts and informative excerpts with you (I don’t think he will mind):
Doostan, Beloved Ones,
One of the gifts of having been born into an Iranian family is the nearly religious commemorations of the change in seasons and the cycles of nature , serving as a constant reminder of one’s position in the cosmic order of things.
In the past three millennia many nations have been created and then vanished. Yet several historians consider the survival of the Iranians ( or the Persians as the Greeks called them ) to have been due to the dogged obsession with the precise calculations of the sacred moments of balance in nature ; along with the poetically subversive nature of their language ( in other word, Calender / Math and Poetry ) .
The Spring ( Vernal ) Equinox ( March 20-21 ) represents one of those sacred moments, as well as being symbolic of renewal. It is celebrated for nearly three weeks , starting with a fireworks ceremony on the Tuesday night before the arrival of the equinox and culminates with a day of picnics and outdoor activities on the 13th day of the new year. In between one celebrates the arrival of the new year with the family and starting on the second day, a series of home visits with the elders begins in a proper chronological order. One could consider all of this as the ancient Persian version of the pre-party, the party and then the after-party for the new year’s eve, stretched out into a three week process without leaving the senior citizens out of the action. Meanwhile, not much work gets done in countries that celebrate this holiday, much to the bewilderment of the other societies of our globalized world.
Early Tuesday morning ( 12:14 AM CDT ) on March 20 , the earth will be in the exact position where both hemispheres will receive equal daylight and darkness. Hundreds of millions of people who reside in areas with historic connections to the old Persian Empire, from western borders of China , to Central and South Asia as well as the pockets in the Caucuses and the Balkans and North Africa ( not to speak of Iran ), will simultaneously celebrate that very moment. As you step out of your home that day, if you even briefly contemplate the glory of the arrival of the new season, you will have proved that being Iranian is not about bloodlines, but a state of mind.
Pasted below is an article that explains the decorative and symbolic components of the festivities.
Happy Nowruz ( No-Rooz ? ),
No-Rooz, The Iranian New Year at Present Times
No-Rooz, in word, means “New Day”. It is the new day that starts the year, traditionally the exact astronomical beginning of the Spring. Iranians take that as the beginning of the year. This exact second is called “Saal Tahvil”. No-Rooz with its’ uniquely Iranian characteristics has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian (This was the religion of ancient Persia before the advent of Islam in 7th century A.D.).
Iranians consider No-Rooz as their biggest celebration of the year, before the new year, they start cleaning their houses (Khaane Tekaani), and they buy new clothes. But a major part of New Year rituals is setting the “Haft Seen” with seven specific items. In ancient times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. Today they are changed and modified but some have kept their symbolism. All the seven items start with the letter “S”; this was not the order in ancient times. These seven things usually are: Seeb (apple), Sabze (green grass), Serke (vinager), Samanoo (a meal made out of wheat), Senjed (a special kind of berry), Sekke (coin), and Seer (garlic). Sometimes instead of Serke they put Somagh (sumak, an Iranian spice). Zoroastrians today do not have the seven “S”s but they have the ritual of growing seven seeds as a reminder that this is the seventh feast of creation, while their sprouting into new growth symbolized resurrection and eternal life to come.
Wheat or lentil representing new growth is grown in a flat dish a few days before the New Year and is called Sabzeh (green shoots). Decorated with colorful ribbons, it is kept until Sizdah beh dar, the 13th day of the New Year, and then disposed outdoors. A few live gold fish (the most easily obtainable animal) are placed in a fish bowl. In the old days they would be returned to the riverbanks, but today most people will keep them. Mirrors are placed on the spread with lit candles as a symbol of fire. Most of the people used to place Qoran on their Sofreh (spread) in order to bless the New Year. But some people found another alternative to Qoran and replaced it by the Divan-e Hafez (poetry book of Hefez), and during “Saal Tahvil” reading some verses from it was popular. Nowadays, a great number of Iranians are placing Shahnameh (the Epic of Kings) of Ferdowsi on their spread as an Iranian national book. They believe that Shahnameh has more Iranian identity values and spirits, and is much suitable for this ancient celebration.
After the Saal Tahvil, people hug and kiss each other and wish each other a happy new year. Then they give presents to each other (traditionally cash, coins or gold coins), usually older ones to the younger ones. The first few days are spent visiting older members of the family, relatives and friends. Children receive presents and sweets, special meals and “Aajil” (a combination of different nuts with raisins and other sweet stuff) or fruits are consumed. Traditionally on the night before the New Year, most Iranians will have Sabzi Polo Mahi, a special dish of rice cooked with fresh herbs and served with smoked and freshly fried fish. Koukou Sabzi, a mixture of fresh herbs with eggs fried or baked, is also served. The next day rice and noodles (Reshteh Polo) is served. Regional variations exist and very colorful feasts are prepared.
The 13th day of the new year is called “Sizdah Bedar” and spent mostly outdoors. People will leave their homes to go to the parks or local plains for a festive picnic. It is a must to spend Sizdah Bedar in nature. This is called Sizdah Bedar and is the most popular day of the holidays among children because they get to play a lot! Also in this day, people throw the Sabze away, they believe Sabze should not stay in the house after “Sizdah Bedar”. Iranians regard 13th day as a bad omen and believe that by going into the fields and parks they avoid misfortunes. It is also believed that unwed girls can wish for a husband by going into the fields and tying a knot between green shoots, symbolizing a marital bond.
Another tradition of the new year celebrations is “Chahar-Shanbeh Soori“. It takes place before Saal Tahvil, at the last Wednesday of the old year, well actually Tuesday night! People set up bon fire, young and old leap over the fires with songs and gestures of merriment like:
(Sorkhi-e to az man) Give me your beautiful red color
(Zardi-e man az to) And take back my sickly pallor!
It means: I will give you my yellow color (sign of sickness), and you give me your fiery red color (sign of healthiness). This is a purification rite and ‘suri’ itself means red and fiery.
No-Rooz Mobarak (Happy No-Rooz, Happy New Year);
Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak (Happy New Year to you);
No-Rooz Pirooz (Wishing you a Prosperous New Year);
Sad Saal be in Saal-ha (Wishing you 100 more Happy New Years).
After all No-Rooz is a fun time for all of the Iranians, old and young.