Sunday, April 22, 2018
Just because someone doesn't share your views doesn't necessarily make them your enemy!
Can everyone please tone down their righteous indignation over Natalie Portman?
It seems like everywhere you look these days, people are out for a stroll in public with their sacred cows; just daring anyone to even think about taking a whack!
Last week we had the Holocaust and Memorial Day zealots who saw it as their sacred duty to call out entire segments of the Jewish population for not standing at rigid attention during the requisite minute (or two) of silence. "Here, look at my Facebook feed... I have a video of two Hassidim walking during the siren, so the entire Haredi world must be spitting on the graves of every holocaust victim and fallen soldier. They are worse than the Muslims!!!"
And once the siren zealots get themselves worked into a lather... why should they limit themselves to siren-policing when they can ignore the verified enlistment and employment statistics altogether and accuse the entire black-hat-wearing community - a community that is struggling valiantly to find their place in the modern world without sacrificing the essence of all they hold dear - of being blood-sucking parasites!!!
Give me strength!
And this week we have people tripping over each-other to shout the loudest, most incendiary insults at Natalie Portman for saying 'no thank you' to a third-tier prize that was made up out of whole cloth by a Prime Minister (and his cronies), that she dislikes and distrusts. "Revoke her citizenship!"... "Bar her from entering the country!"... "She married a non-Jew and hasn’t lived in Israel since she was five, so of course she's a self-hating Jew and a BDS supporter!!!"
People, people, puleeze! Do you even hear yourselves? You aren't the thought police, and have no moral authority to be rounding up a posse!
Many of you have likely heard of my friend Allison Kaplan Sommer. If not, go ahead and Google her. I'll wait.
She and I rarely see perfectly eye-to-eye on matters of Israeli politics. But not because she is wrong-headed or misinformed. On the contrary, Allison is one of the brightest people I know and brings the facts to back up anything she has to say. We both love our country deeply, but hold different views about the exact route to where we hope our country should be. She's one of the people I routinely check myself against... not the raving lunatics at the two extremes of Facebook political shouting matches!
Today she had quite a bit to say about the orgy of Portman-bashing going on, and I have to admit that much of what she had to say was as new to me as it was refreshing to read.
I recommend you follow that link and read her well-written case for why Natalie Portman's reluctance to accept the Genesis Prize is, at best, a tempest in a teacup.
But if you need the Cliff Notes version, suffice it to say that people are allowed to look at who wants to give them an award and say, "Um, thank you for the offer, but I feel that publicly accepting your prize would seem like publicly accepting your views."
And frankly, that's fair.
Could she have been a little smarter about heading off the dog and pony show before they actually announced her as the awardee? Of course she could have! I'm sure she was approached well in advance to suss her out... if only to check her scheduling availability. That would have been the smart time to say 'Thanks, but no thanks'. But there are different kinds of smart... and a Harvard degree doesn't confer upon anyone the full set of smarts (just Google 'Noam Chomsky' if you need any more proof of that).
And while we're at it, let's try to quantify just what kind of a 'big deal' this prize is she turned down, and what refusing it has to say about her views on Israel. People are acting as if refusing the Genesis Prize is akin to tongue-kissing Roger Waters during a press conference to announce an endorsement of a wall-to-wall boycott of the entire Zionist enterprise.
Get a grip! The Genesis is not the Israeli Nobel!!! It's not even in the same league as the The Israel Prize (which actually is considered 'the Israeli Nobel').
The Genesis Prize itself is only a couple of years old (they gave out the first one in 2012),, has had only four previous recipients, and by all indications, seems to have the same rigorous eligibility standards as the honorary doctorate degrees we see handed out like Mardi Gras beads at commencement ceremonies everywhere this time of year.
The entire Wikipedia article about the Genesis Prize is exactly one paragraph long, and consists of two short sentences (not counting the list of awardees). Here it is (don't thank me, I'm a giver):
"The Genesis Prize (פרס בראשית) was founded in 2012 as a US$1 million award given annually to Jewish people who have attained recognition and excellence in their fields. The prize was founded with the objective of inspiring and developing a sense of pride and belonging among young unaffiliated Jews throughout the world." [source]
Nothing about Zionism, the State of Israel or Religious Identity. And as Ms. Portman likely learned long ago in Hollywood; there's no such thing as a free lunch (or award dinner). Very few organizations give out anything without expecting something in return.
Just as the Genesis Award seems designed to hitch a ride on the coat-tails of Jewish celebrities in an effort to show unaffiliated Jews how cool and important some of their co-religionists are... it has only slightly more gravitas than Adam Sandler's catchy Hannukah Song, and significantly less likelihood of convincing any unaffiliated Jews to change a single thought or feeling they may have about their Jewishness or the State of Israel.
Add to that the fact that the award is the brainchild of a politically conservative Israeli Prime Minister (and various oligarchs whose friendship Netanyahu enjoys), and it isn't hard to understand that accepting the award isn't exactly a great fit for a politically liberal Israeli/Jewish actress. Let's just say that I'd be just as unlikely to fly to Washington to accept an award from J-Street (not that they are banging down the door to give me anything). Just sayin'.
What can I say, call me oldfashioned, but I still feel that everyone is allowed to choose their favorite flavor of ice cream without being told they have no taste.
... In The Eye Of The Beholder
Many towns and villages in Israel have email and/or Whatsapp groups to allow their respective residents to ask for/seek rides, post important community news, give-away/seek furniture and household items, and exchange other information; both urgent and mundane.
And within regions, it is not uncommon for these email lists and whatsapp groups to have a certain amount of overlap. Meaning that residents of neighboring communities often have members signed up for more than one community's lists. This ends up being helpful if anyone wants to spread a message or seek information beyond the borders of their town or village, since anything posted ends up having a ripple effect outwards geographically.
So it is with us.
My town — Efrat — has a lively email group (sometimes too lively, if you ask me), and there exists a fair bit of overlap with other communities in Gush Etzion and the southern Hebron hills. This offers a sense of extended community throughout the heart of Judea.
The reason I'm sharing this bit of communication esoterica is that last week word went out from one of the other communities that a hitchhiker had caught a ride from one of the villages south of Hebron, to the Gush Etzion junction, and had accidentally left his cell phone in the car.
Now, anywhere else in the world, a hitchhiker leaving something in a stranger's car would simply kiss it goodbye and move on. The anonymity of the brief hitchhiker-driver relationship combined with the long distances that the lost property could potentially travel once the passenger gets out of the car, would usually be insurmountable obstacles to recovering forgotten property no matter how urgently the driver and hitchhiker may want to locate one another.
But because of our overlapping network of email and whatsapp groups, the young man who forgot his phone didn’t lose hope. He simply tossed a pebble into the regionalal pond, and within a short time, word had spread the length and breadth of our part of the country.
The pebble/message was a simple one:
"I was in a 'tremp' (ride) from Susya to Gush Etzion Junction this afternoon and left my mobile phone in a grey Renault driven by an old man with glasses and hearing aids."
Within minutes of him posting that, the ripples of that tossed stone spread from community to community, until someone from a town near ours who knew the route I drive to and from work, called my wife and asked her if I happened to have found a cell phone in my car.
FIrst of all, while I do wear glasses and hearing aids... and I do drive a grey Renault... I'm not 'an old man'!!!
But when I checked, it turns out that a cellphone had, indeed, been left in my car. Which leaves me with decidedly mixed feelings.
On the one hand, it feels nice to have been able to return lost property to its rightful owner. But on the other hand, the fact that I was 'that driver' shines a glaring light on how someone under 25 actually sees me.
I guess age, like beauty, is truly in the eye of the beholder.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Happy 70th Birthday, Israel,
Every Israeli has their own holiday traditions. I’m no exception to the rule.
I haven’t mentioned it over the past few years, but I’ve continued to volunteer every Yom Ha’Atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day), at the Pina Chama; literally a warm corner not far from our house which provides food and drinks throughout the year for soldiers serving in the area.
On Yom Ha’Atzmaut a big group of volunteers throws a big BBQ (locally referred to as a 'mangal’) for the soldiers on duty throughout the region. Hundreds come in during the day to eat and relax, and we send out meals to hundreds more to wherever they are stationed.
This is my 15th straight year working the first shift on the grill. And after I finished my 3 hour shift, I went home and grilled up a nice meal for my family and some friends who joined us.
Here are some photos from the Pina Chama today:
If you look closely at that second to last photo; the one of the guys working on the grill... that’s me in the middle in the light blue shirt (Zahava would call it turquoise)
Oh, and a neat feature of the place is that many of the thousands of soldiers who have enjoyed the Pina Chama's hospitality hang their unit flags, shoulder tags and other insignia on the walls and ceiling.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
We Saw what You Did There!
Who doesn't love watching a well-executed magic show or a dexterous card sharp at work?
But since I think we can all agree that there is no such thing as real magic, what we all know with absolute certainty is that anyone carrying out a convincing illusion of something magical in front of an audience must get everyone to look - at least momentarily - away from whatever it is that would reveal how the trick is done.
So even though we're all dazzled and amazed by the deft practitioner... on some level we understand that sleight of hand and misdirection are at the core of any card sharp or stage magician's success.
This knowledge makes us look even closer... trying to catch them out at their trick. And when we do catch them out, we all want to be the first one to jump up and shout, "Ahah! I see what you did there!!!".
So why do we have such low standards when it comes to what we hear and see from political and military leaders when they perform the very same tricks? All the same elements are present: Not only do we know from experience that what we are hearing and seeing can't possibly be true. But we should know from long expereince that the more exagerated the gesture, the more likely it is to be designed to take our eye off of what is really going on.
Take, for example, the news today that Israel has uncovered and destroyed yet another huge terror tunnel that extended into Israeli territory. None of the newspapers or media outlets that condemned Israel for the deaths and injuries of the Palestinians rushing the border fence last week have seen fit to make mention of the incredible coincidence that the discovered terror tunnel went under the border AT THE EXACT LOCATION along the border fence where that huge 'spontaneous' Palestinian march took place (causing all those poor people to be killed and injured!).
Am I the only one who thinks that, just maybe, those thousands of people were sent there to that exactly location by Hamas in a cynical attempt at misdirection in order to mask the sounds of the digging and drilling going on just a few meters below the protester's feet?
Seriously, just how bad does the magician or card sharp have to be before the audience stands up en masse and yells, "We saw what you did there", and walks out?
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Hurts So Good
Thanks for the incredible feedback on my remarks from the Bar Mitzvah. Not to humble-brag too much, but I had really good material to work with.
I honestly don't know how school principals and community leaders do it. I mean, it's easy to speak about exceptional people. But what the heck do you say about the village idiot?
I guess what I'm saying (badly) is that anyone who knows Netanel could have nailed that speaking opportunity. He's a truly exceptional young man from a truly exceptional family. People are instinctively drawn to him and want to be part of his life. Saying nice things to him - and about him - was effortless. That speech practically wrote itself! I was just lucky enough to have been asked.
That said, I'd like to share a deep dark secret that I've often wanted to reveal... but always held back because I couldn't figure out how exactly to express it without sounding, well, a little nuts.
I have no frame of reference to know if others experience anything like this, but I've lived most of my life with a cruel paradox: Two things that I'm actually pretty good at - writing and public speaking - cause me to experience something so close to physical pain that it would probably be measurable if I were to do either in a clinical setting while hooked up to complex, 'House M.D.'-worthy diagnostic machines.
But... and here's the part which may send you mental health professionals running to the DSM-5 (or as I like to call it: 'The Family Album'), the aftermath of both writing and public speaking leaves me with an endorphin rush akin to what elite athletes experience in the wake of a punishing workout. Or at least that's what I've heard they experience.
Personally, I've never gotten anything more than smelly clothing and sore muscles from even the most arduous physical activity. So as far as I'm concerned, that whole athletic-endorphin-rush thing remains entirely anecdotal... up there with urban legends, like the existence of courteous Israeli drivers or teenagers that wash dishes without being threatened.
So yeah... that's my dirty little secret. Writing and public speaking really, really hurt when I do them.
But it's a good hurt.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
On Being a 'Dutch Uncle'
Last night Zahava, Yonah and I attended the Bar Mitzvah celebration of a someone about whom I've written in the past.
He was a great kid back then. He's a fine young man now.
I was privileged to be asked to be among those who spoke at the party. Afterwards, I received emails, whatsapps and in person requests for a copy of my remarks from a bunch of people. So, to save time, I'm posting my speech here:
"Last year Zahava and I went to the states to attend the wedding of a young man who had lived with us here for almost four years as a ‘Chayal Boded’ (lone soldier). And when I was asked to speak, I realized that before I could even begin to think about what I wanted to say, I had to figure out in what capacity I was going to be speaking.
I certainly wasn’t this young man’s father. His father is my age. And I was too old to really be considered his friend.
So I was torn, because I felt an odd combination of friendship and fatherly protectiveness towards the groom… but I was neither!
So I was forced to go searching for a hybrid relationship; some sort of close connection that combined fatherly protectiveness with friendly intimacy.
What I discovered at the end of that search was something called a ‘Dutch Uncle’; an American expression that has mostly fallen out of use.
For you amateur lexicographers:
NORTH AMERICAN informal
a person who gives firm but benevolent advice.
[By the way, benevolent is just a fancy word for ‘kind’]
So, getting back to my story, when I was called up to the Chupah at our Chayal Boded’s wedding this past year, it wasn’t as a father or as a friend… it was as the “Dutch Uncle of the chatan”.
So why is that story relevant tonight?
Netanel, when I think of you – and I think about you more than you will ever know – I feel that same combination of fatherly protectiveness and friendship.
On the one hand, I want what any father would want for a son: To shield you and advise you and hug you close while at the same time giving you your wings setting you free on a course towards success.
But I’m not your father. Your father was far smarter, far more patient… and understood you far better than I can ever hope to.
I also want for you what any true friend would want: To see you happy, confident, having fun, to be completely natural and at ease with you, to earn your trust and loyalty… and to offer those things effortlessly in return.
But I’m much too old to play the role of friend to you.
You are blessed with lots of good friends much closer to your age; friends who can pass endless hours with you, completely immersed in that secret world of looks, gestures, signals, jokes and mind-reading that comes naturally to teenagers… but which is a complete mystery to anyone as old as myself.
And as much as I’d like you to consider me an uncle-figure, you have real aunts and uncles who love you deeply, and deserve to enjoy that special relationship with you without competition.
So I think what’s left for me is that odd title I mentioned: ‘Dutch Uncle’; someone who is always ready to offer firm but kind advice.
And I am far from alone in that role.
You don’t even have to look beyond this room to see more Dutch Uncles – and Aunts – than you can shake a stick at! Just the few I can see from where I’m standing are as impressive a list of ‘Dutch Aunts and Uncles’ as anyone could ever want in their life:
You have people like Rav Moshe Aberman, who casually dispenses his Torah knowledge each week in shul as effortlessly and easily as you or I might share a pocket full of candy. From that first Friday evening more than two years ago when you began saying Kaddish for your father, Rav Aberman quietly stood next to you, helped you find your place and your voice… and made sure you never, for a single moment, felt alone. You probably didn’t notice it, but months after he was finished with his own Kaddish obligation, Rav Aberman continued to stand with you whenever and wherever necessary.
You have people like Ari Greenspan who helped teach you to daven for the amud, and who, without you noticing, has quietly been placing more and more responsibility on your shoulders and Yonah’s shoulders… to the point where you two are now essentially helping to run the early minyan as assistant Gabbais.
You have people like Johnny Finn, who asks after you constantly and proudly shares stories of your progress and successes with anyone who will listen. He is a relentless, but quiet force for good in your life who would move heaven and earth to clear even the smallest obstacle from your path. Don’t let his jokes fool you. If things ever get tough… Johnny’s the guy you want in your corner.
You have Rav Rosenstark who taught you your Parsha and Haftarah, and learned with you all year towards the Siyum you made tonight…and Rav Lewis, Rav Shrader, and Rav Oren… together with Rav Aberman, these Torah sages comprise a vast ocean of learning and halachic experience so broad and deep that you could test their limits with questions and requests for advice on nearly any topic, and never once glimpse the shores.
I could, and should, go on. There are so many men and women in this room – and far beyond its walls – who have stood with you, and who will gladly jump to your side at the slightest gesture or signal from you; people who care deeply about what you think and feel… what you experience and want… and who are watching with proud anticipation to catch a glimpse of the man into which you will ultimately develop and grow.
You have your Father, who – you must believe me – will never be far away. I am 100% certain that he is here with us tonight. And each and every time you are called to the Torah by name, Netanel Ben Rafa’el, your father will be proudly standing beside you. You couldn’t ask for a better role model. As long as you remember your father and keep him in your heart, he will be there to comfort you in your setbacks, share in your successes and guide you throughout your life’s journey.
You have your mother who is one of the strongest, most wonderful and sensible people I know. Her moral compass always points true north. She will continue to guide you, and love and nurture you unconditionally. She is your sure, constant link to the past… and your secure, straight shining path to the future.
You have your extended family that will always be connected to you by the bonds of love, shared memories and blood. You may not see them as often as you’d like, but take it from someone who also has a lot of family living half a world away; never take those relationships for granted. They’re as much a part of who you are as the color of your eyes and the shape of your face. Email, WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime… whatever it takes. It’s up to you to take care of those relationships and keep them healthy.
And of course you have your friends – really good friends – who would lie down in traffic for you (which, of course, I hope will never actually be necessary). Take good care of those friendships. In this tiny country of ours you will be connected to them by school, army, and work… through the happiest and saddest of times, for the rest of your lives.
There’s a reason our politicians call each other Bibi and Boogie and Bougie and Baiga and Moody and dozens of other nicknames. It’s because Israel is a tiny playground where, through good times and bad, 60 and 70 year olds still call each other by the nicknames they’ve had since gan chovah!
And since I’ve brought it up, it is worth pointing out something you have more experience with than most people your age: bad times.
They say that experience is something you don’t get until right after you need it.
Netanel, I hate to break it to you, but over the coming years you’re going to fall down and skin your knees – both literally and figuratively – a bunch more times. That’s an inevitable part of growing up.
But whenever, and as often as it happens, please try to remember that you will never have to go through any of it alone.
That’s where we come in…the rest of us… your Dutch Uncles and Aunts. We will always be here to help smooth your way through the world. Call it protexia… call it connections… call it finding short-cuts. Call it your own personal ‘plugat si’ur’ (recon unit), walking ahead of you and letting you know what to expect… and rescuing you when you find yourself in a tight spot.
You don’t have to make all the mistakes yourself, Natanel. You don’t have to fall into every single trap that life sets for you.
As luck would have it, looking around this room, we’ve probably made most of those same mistakes already… some of us more than we’d like to admit!
So feel free to benefit from our life experience, and use us like a map to navigate your way through the minefield of adolescence and life beyond.
Please rest assured… we, your Dutch Aunts and Uncles will always be here for you day or night; ready with a sympathetic ear if you ever feel like talking.
And when you are faced with decisions and want to know what we think… we won’t get all judgmental like your friends… or all bossy like a parent.
Just ask us, we’ll be happy to offer you firm but benevolent advice… to give you enough information to help you make up your own mind. As Dutch Aunts and Uncles, that’s our job.
Mazal Tov, Netanel! I think I speak for everyone when I say we couldn’t possibly be prouder!"