Last week, the American Jewish Committee renounced a statement made by one of its staffers. The AJC’s Director on Anti-Semitism suggested that some Israel supporters are distorting the 1964 Civil Rights Act when they argue that colleges – that hire anti-Israel professors and support anti-Israel rallies – are in violation of the law. The director said that the Israel supporters went too far.
I am a college professor and a Jew – and a supporter of the State of Israel – but the issue is too complicated for me to address directly, with anything like authority. But it did remind me — as it probably does you — of dealings I’ve had with relatives. The issue is too divisive to leave many Jewish families untouched.
In my case, I have relatives who will brook no criticism of any Israeli government. (And I’m sure they’d complain that I criticize Israel too quickly.)
I feel passionately about it. I have argued that current Likud policies are unjust and what’s more – though I don’t think there shouldn’t need to be a “what’s more” – strategically bad for Israel. For this criticism I’ve been asked: “Why do you hate Israel?” “Why are you a self-hating Jew.” Neither of these things is true about me: I don’t hate Israel and I’m not a self-hating Jew. (Well, there are things about myself I dislike, but Judaism isn’t among them.) The point isn’t just that any disapproval of Israel over any issue is taken for anti-Semitism; it’s that both sides are so emotional, and disagree so heartily about this when they agree on most other things.
As for me, I understand why my arguments drive my relatives crazy. The reasons are clear. 1) The other side is worse; Arab nations and the more radical Islamists among them are unreasonable, and frightening, and undoubtedly behave worse than Israel does. 2) There is a disproportionate response in world opinion; Israel is condemned for every misdemeanor it commits, while much more serious violator nations face no public opprobrium, at all. The reason seems to be anti-Semitism. 3) Israel has been attacked by belligerent neighbors and so needs the support of its supporters at all times.
These are all true. But it’s equally true that Israeli supporters in the U.S. often have a hard time admitting that hardships were suffered by Arabs during the 1948 War of Independence: that the Palestinian grievance is real. (Ironically, Israelis have come to terms with this – and are more honest about it – than we Americans are. Read any of the Israeli “New Historians.”) And it’s also true that, on the settlements issue, there is a lot of room for disagreement. Being critical of a particular government’s particular policy does not equal abandonment.
Again, I know the other side would disagree and call me naive. What strikes me is that, if we can’t agree among ourselves about it — if American, pro-Israel Jews are so divided — is it any wonder that the problem has persisted for over 50 years?
“And I want to say something to you on this day, the Ninth of Av: Those who will succeed in escaping this catastrophe will live to experience a festive moment of great Jewish joy: the rebirth and establishment of the Jewish state. I do not know whether I myself will live to see it–but my son will. I am certain of this, just as I am certain that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.”
–Ze’ev Jabotinsky, August 10, 1938
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The REALITY Israel Experience is a unique leadership development opportunity for selected Teach For America corps members to spend 10 days exploring Israel’s education and social justice systems, gaining exposure to top Israeli leaders and thinkers, and uncovering and recommitting to the values that drive their passion for public service. It is a program of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the Samberg Family Foundation, in partnership with Teach For America and the ROI Community of young Jewish innovators.
I will admit it: I am not the best Jew. Bacon cheeseburgers are a personal favorite, I love a good New Orleans shrimp po boy, and I hate Seinfeld. I also messed around a lot in Hebrew school and as a result only remember three things: 3 words of Hebrew, lessons about the Holocaust, and a lesson about Masada.
Masada, in particular, truly gripped me. It was a mystery why people would voluntarily kill themselves–and yet, in such tragedy we find honor and beauty. I could never wrap my mind around it, and when I saw the itinerary for Teach for America’s REALITY program, I became excited when I saw we would be seeing Masada. I was enthusiastic about the opportunity to look for answers and to gain a deeper understanding as to why this tragedy happened and what we could learn about it.
Once on the trip, my thought process changed. Speeding through the West Bank and across the Judean Desert, I began to wonder why we care about such a tragedy. After all, Masada is in the absolute middle of nowhere, and the events happened almost 2000 years ago. And what separates my caring from anybody else’s–why should it matter to myself or anyone else that I care? It’s not as though Masada is a rallying cry for a movement.
In the past 17 years, the U.S. has been hit by bombings in Oklahoma City, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and several more devastating tornadoes. We see in these events the fragility of life and the beauty of the lives we lead. We need to understand and see the pain of others to fully appreciate our own lives. I do not write this as a pessimist seeing a failing in man, but rather simply see that in tragedy there is beauty and we as humans are complex enough to see the beauty and the darkness simultaneously and intertwined.
At the top of Masada such a hypothesis was confirmed. Even when others speak everything is silent. This place is about more than being peaceful and with one’s own thoughts: it is indeed confusing. All one can feel is an eerie aura that in the middle of this abyss, there was a bustling life. A major event happened, but you cannot see how. I stood in the middle and looked to the west and saw endless mountains and sand. In the east I saw the glistening Dead Sea (an appropriate name for my morbid yet hopeful thoughts). Within tragedy there is beauty and within beauty there is often tragedy.
It is easy to claim to care about a tragedy by taking pity or sending money, but unless we’re all Warren Buffett, let’s be honest: Sending 50 or 100 bucks is going to get lost the bureaucratic fold–that is not leading. Leading is being one of the first responders on 9/11, who showed they cared by risking (and often losing) their lives to save people. Leaders are the people who went into New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and not just cleaned up but reset the city’s focus to a new one of young exciting professionals and the center of educational reform. Leaders are the people who see the homeless and work to put a roof over everyone’s heads, not just to give a band-aid of a few dollars. On the surface of any tragedy, natural or man-made, physical or social, no one cares that I care; however, it is my job to lead and deep down make people care and fix it.
It is too late for me to help at Masada. I am 2000 years too late. However, I can help our youth. I can help inspire and do so in my own way. We are all on a mission to change lives–and change the educational system, which is a tragedy. I don’t just care about the tragedy, I take action on it.
And these are steps we can all take. We must not take the easy route to solving whatever it is we perceive to be tragedy, but rather we must take the active and leading route. It is with this mindset that I realized an important point: I may not be a great Jew…but I can be a great leader.
Jeremy Siegfriend teaches lower elementary Special Education in New Orleans. He has worked for a community court, Major League Baseball, NBC Olympics, and as a criminal investigator in Queens.
Earlier this week, Galit and Gilad Seliktar shared the making of the first story and the second story in Farm 54. In their final post, they share the background behind “Houses,” the third story in their graphic novel. They have been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.
Galit: This story is the most autobiographical of all three texts, the most true-to-life. I was drafted to compulsory army service in 1989 during the first Intifadah and, after basic training as an educational non-commissioned officer, I was assigned to a base near Bethlehem. Already on the first night I asked for a transfer away from the occupied territories but, while my request was being processed, I had to remain there for about two weeks. As in the book, on the very first night I went on a nocturnal house demolition mission, replacing another female soldier who did not want to go. The night left its mark on me and for many years I repeatedly retold the events, until I decided to write them as a short story. With the hindsight of a writer I realized that, beyond the actual events, what was perhaps worse was revealed by the way I described the heroine – as a person completely insulated from the situation and from the suffering of the others. While this dovish character manages to refrain from directly and deliberately harming the Palestinian residents placed under her responsibility, I now think that her (that is, my) decision to obey such orders with little protest is almost as harmful as keen participation.
An egg-sorting warehouse used as reference for “Houses”:
Gilad: There were parts in this story that I found to be too direct or dramatic, too loud. As I approached it, I decided to lower the volume by giving several scenes an understated quality, which is more characteristic of my work, as opposed to some of Galit’s writing that often tends to be more explicit. One of these scenes was the part where the female officer takes the rabbit from the Palestinian boy. In the original text (and, according to Galit, also in reality during that night in 1989) the boy was crying, asking the officer to give the rabbit back to him. Instead of showing the boy crying I drew him sitting quietly on the stairs, staring at how the officer hugs the animal, holding it close to her chest and cheek. The picture of that lone rabbit took me the greatest number of drafts by far. It was meant to facilitate calming the scene while introducing a charged and frozen silence that captures the moment with all its fear, resentment, and banality.
Early sketches for the scene in which the Israeli female officer is taking the Palestinian boy’s rabbi:
On Monday, Galit and Gilad Seliktar shared the making of the first story in Farm 54, “The Substitute Lifeguard.” Today, they share the background behind “Spanish Perfume,” the second story in their graphic novel. They will be blogging all week of the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.
Galit: In 1982 my father was enlisted in the First Lebanon War and my mother was left on the farm with four young children. Communication with the northern frontier was carried out through rare phone calls, messages from those who came home to the village for a short vacation and censor-approved green military postcards that my father would send each one of us. When I found some of those postcards several years ago – my mother’s, Gilad’s and mine – I recalled those chaotic days on the home front and this triggered the writing of “Spanish Perfume”. I was reminded that when my father was away in Lebanon, my mother hit our German shepherd with the car and then asked me and two of my siblings – Sharon & Oren – to take the dead dog out of the basement and bury it outside. Gilad, the youngest, was forbidden from going down to the basement. I also remember that my mother used to pass the stressful wartime evenings playing cards with “men that nobody wanted at war”.
“I am feeling quite well despite the fact that I’m abroad”– A postcard from the First Lebanon War, August 16th 1982
Gilad: If generally most of my work with Galit’s texts involved boiling down, and if the clichés about one image equaling a thousand words have much to sustain them, then there are also many instances where the opposite was the case. Galit’s prose version of “Spanish Perfume” began with two brisk lines:
“In the morning Mom ran over our German Shepherd.
In the evening we celebrated my birthday.”
This may work powerfully in a short story, but graphically such transitions, between day and night and between different settings, seem artificial. Eventually I devoted five pages to drawing only the first line, replacing the abruptness of the transition in the original with a gradual entry into the graphic narrative. When I first visited the basement for references after years of avoiding it, I was shocked to discover how neglected it was. Filled with piles of rusted tools and other forgotten items, including the wheelbarrow in which the dog was carried for its nocturnal burial. When I was very young my father used the basement as a firing range and I even had the chance to shoot a gun there, a nine millimeter pistol. I remember this basement as being very well organized and dry, as opposed to the neglect and water puddles characterizing it today. I chose to draw the basement as I saw it when working on the book, to capture the atmosphere I recognized in Galit’s texts.
“The forbidden basement”
Check back on Friday for Galit and Gilad Seliktar’s final post for the JBC/MJL Author Blog. Their graphic novel, Farm 54, is now available.
The graphic novel Farm 54 is based on three stories written by Galit Seliktar. The stories were first published in Israeli literary magazines and then adapted into a graphic novel by Galit’s brother, illustrator Gilad Seliktar. Farm 54 is a real place where both siblings were raised, an actual farm in Ganei-Yohanan – a small village located in Israel’s agricultural periphery, which was founded by Jewish immigrants from Russia, Yemen and Libya in the early 1950s. All the stories in Farm 54 are based on true events which took place between the mid-1970s and late 1980s. Farm 54 has been published so far in five languages, and was nominated for the 2009 Angoulême book award in France.
“THE SUBSTITUTE LIFEGUARD“
Galit & Gilad: This story was the first collaboration between us and the cornerstone of Farm 54. It was first published in 2007 as a short graphic story in an Israeli literary magazine, Masmerim, and included a framed narrative which is omitted in the book. In that earlier version the story starts with the heroine visiting her brother’s grave where she relives his drowning in her mind.
Panels from the first version of “The Substitute Lifeguard” in which Noga visits her brother’s grave:
Galit: One afternoon, when Gilad was about two years old, our family was barbequing in the backyard. It was a hot day and my father went to look for one of our dogs he had seen disappear at the far end of the yard, a part covered with high grass and infested with snakes. On his way he passed by our blue fiberglass wading pool and heard heavy spattering. He thought he had found the dog, but it was Gilad, fighting for his life in the half-meter-high chlorinated water. I saw him in my father’s arms, fully dressed in his toddler clothes and wet to the bone. Both of them were quiet. The silence broke when my mother started screaming. Only then did we stop eating.
I don’t write about Israel much because writing about Israel is about as fun (for me) as kneeling on the floor and butting my head up on the bottom of my desk. But every once in a while you get a nice story coming out of Israel, and perhaps because of the contrast, it’s especially fun to draw attention to something awesome, like a call center in Israel staffed by mentally and physically challenged adults. Some are Jewish, some are Arab, and all are productive. It’s great to see ways that Israel innovates in the workplace, and supports people with mental and physical disabilities.
According to the No Camels blog:
An Israeli psychologist, Gil Winch, has founded a call-center staffed mostly with disabled Israeli and Arab adults, who otherwise have difficulties finding work. Winch says the worker’s productivity is very high and the amazing business-model, based on parental support, has attracted interest from people all around the world.
Watch the video:
I know that you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I often do. And from the looks of it, The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur is a stellar volume. It is chock full of mind-bogglingly gorgeous pictures. Every recipe looks like the most scrumptious tasting thing you’ve ever laid eyes on, and there are lots of brilliant photographs of life in Israel—restaurants, market places, people making and eating classic Jewish foods, and generally reveling in the amazing cuisine of the Holy Land. And on top of THAT the recipes are phenomenal. A good mix of really basic and more complex recipes for a seasoned chefs. Everything from chicken soup to honey cake to lentil and vegetable soup to Shakshuka with Sausages.
This is a book that you will want to keep on your coffee table because it’s so beautiful, but paging through it will make you want to run to kitchen to start cooking. And you—yes, you!—could be the lucky person to wrestle with that dilemma. You can win a copy of The Book of New Israeli Food.
To win, just leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite Israeli food. Winner will be selected on Friday June 24th, so be sure to leave your comment before then.
If you’re subscribed to Jewniverse (and why wouldn’t you be? Go do it now) you’ll get a different wacky Jewish thingy every day. Today’s was a history of Magneto, the villain of the feature film X-Men: First Class, which opens tomorrow.*
And, sure, it would be cool if one of the main characters of this summer’s biggest blockbuster was Jewish! (Even if he is a megalomaniacal psychopath!) But that’s not all. In last month’s issue of Black Widow, writer Paul Tobin placed Natasha Romanova’s team-up with Marvel Girl in the heart of a deadly bomb attack — in Ashkelon, Israel. And not only does he write Black Widow with a perfect Russian accent (a rarity in comics), but he also gets the Israeli mentality down pat:
And, as if to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that he knows Israeli culture better than your momma, he sets the next scene on a beach. The floppy hats! The skimpy bathing suits! The annoying kids! Man, they did their homework. I’m getting homesick even as I write this. Here, go check out our Israel Today section and commiserate with me.
Thanks for the scans, and the hat-tip, to the good folks at Scans Daily (and follow that link to find out who’s behind the nefarious bombing)!
* — and which, if you couldn’t already tell, I am wildly excited about.
While you might be getting excited for next week’s Shavuot extravaganza (since when does receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai not count as an extravaganza?), you probably forgot about today’s Jewish holiday–Yom Yerusalayim (Jerusalem Day). It’s easy to forget the day. It’s not mentioned in the Bible, the Talmud or any classic Jewish book. In fact, the holiday has only been around since 1968, when the Israeli Knesset designated the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, captured in the 6-Day War, to be a national holiday.
With the holiday in mind, I’ve compiled my favorite Jerusalem videos of the moment. Enjoy and chag sameach.
1) Jerusalem Time Lapse Video:
3) Jerusalem in 1967:
4) Ofra Haza–Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold):
5) Jerusalem 2111: Last Stand (this one’s a little different…):