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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Orange... it's the new yellow

Every so often I actually notice a trend.  Granted I usually notice it a month or two after it has become passe, but the point is that I do sometimes notice trends.

Several months ago I started noticing some of the teenagers wearing yellow bracelets made of a soft rubber that were imprinted with the word 'Livestrong'.   I was told that this bracelet was a fundraiser conceived by the Lance Armstrong Foundation to raise funds for cancer research.
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Great idea... nice looking... wonderful message for kids to be wearing around.

Since then, I have spotted pink ones (breast cancer), blue ones (child abuse), and red (AIDS awareness)... and have heard of other colors being sold/distributed for various causes.  In short, these soft rubber bracelets seem to have replaced the ubiquitous colored ribbons for those who want to wear their causes quite literally on their sleeve.

Which brings me to the one my daughter came home wearing yesterday.  It was orange.

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[translation: "Let the nation decide"]

Anyone who lives in Israel already knows where this is headed... since we all know which crowd has cornered the market on the use of the color orange.  For those of you outside the country, or who might not be as tuned-in to Israeli politics, the color orange has become the de facto flag of the movement which opposes the unilateral giving of Gaza (and a few isolated settlements in northern Samaria) to the Palestinians.

I've alluded to my feelings on the subject of disengagement in past posts, and those feelings are not really relevant to the discussion at hand.  What troubles me is how and when my 11-year-old daughter became politically active. 

When she proudly showed me her new orange bracelet I asked her where she'd gotten it and what it meant (I obviously knew the meaning... I was interested to find out what she thought it meant).

She answered that it was a sign of solidarity (I think she she actually used the word 'support') for Gush Katif, and that the money she had paid for the bracelet (from her own allowance) was going to support that cause.

It turns out that her Ezra chapter (one of the youth groups in Israel... the other main ones being Bnai Akiva and The Scouts) has adopted this cause and has been spending a lot of time on the topic.

I should probably be pleased that Israeli kids become politically aware at a much earlier age than their American counterparts (some would argue that most American kids never really come of age politically), but I'm still a little troubled that a youth program that is supposed to be about giving kids all kinds of lessons in camaraderie, religion and self-reliance has been spending an unusually large chunk of it's time on this one issue.

Besides the obvious issue that kids may be getting indoctrinated with ideas that run counter to their parent's thinking, there is the larger issue of whether, and how much, political content should be allowed in youth groups.

I honestly don't know the correct answer to that question.  I grew up not fully understanding the basic difference between the Democratic and Republican parties... so I can't really make a compelling argument for keeping kids in a political vacuum.

Israeli youth groups have always had political content.  However, as the Israeli population becomes more polarized over issues of religion and politics, it is sad to see the various youth groups mirroring that trend.

Maybe I'm imagining an idealized past that never existed in practice, but it seems that once upon a time Israeli youth group chapters (from within the same organization) from all over the country could meet at large events to celebrate shared values and ideology.  I fear that the overt politicization of the youth group agenda (on either side of the current hot-topic) sets the stage for the next generation of adults who not only won't talk to one another, but who find it too easy to vilify one another.

From my conversation with Ariella it is clear to me that there has not been any name calling or finger pointing... so far.  Most of the overtly political content has been to express sadness and surprise at Ariel Sharon's as-yet-unexplained co-opting of the Labor party's call for unilateral withdrawal. 

As an example, Ariella said "Abba, when Ariel Sharon was a Chayal (soldier), he helped capture Gaza... and he saw some of his friends die in that battle.  He has said on several occasions that Israel will never give up Gaza.  So why does he want to give it away now?"

I answered her by saying "I don't know precisely what is behind his thinking (I doubt even his closest advisers truly know ), but I can only assume he is still acting like a General."  "You see", I continued, "when a General is commanding troops at war, he sometimes realizes that some of his soldiers are too far forward, or in a position that is too difficult to defend... and then he has to order them to move back... or at least to move to an area where they have a stronger position."

I hated the way the words sounded coming out of my mouth.  It's not that the words were wrong... but I felt as though I were giving her the 'Cliff Notes' version of the situation as I saw it, rather than the reality of the chaos that is currently reigning unchecked.  I also have a kneejerk distaste for implying to my daughter that Israel's leadership is behaving like a military dicatorship (no, I won't argue that one here today).

I suppose that this is the devil's bargain we make for raising politically sophisticated Israelis.  Their youth groups and schools feed them bite-sized (meaning selective) portions of the facts... and the parents are expected to balance that by providing equally condensed commentary.

I should really be happy that she is eager to understand the political forces that will shape the world she will inherit, right?

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Posted by David Bogner on April 6, 2005 | Permalink

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David,

I'm a little surprised by your surprise. B'nei Akiva, Ezra, and all these groups have always been political in the sense of promoting Zionism -- not just the Chareidi "live in Israel" position, but a genuine love for the Medina. Given that political orientation, what's different about an anti hitnatkut (disengagement) attitude? Granted, it's a controversal issue (although I suspect that Ezra kids, especially in the shtachim (territories), are generally from anti-hitnatkut families), but I thought everyone knew and assumed that these groups teach a social, political and religious package all in one.

I agree that it can be somewhat strange to someone more accustomed to thinking of a group like the American boy scouts, although even they have (some) very clear sociopolitical ideals. I do agree that you are correct to note that perhaps our children may not be receiving "the full picture," then again, at what age do we start explaining both sides as opposed to sticking primarily to our views (as we usually do with most other issues, such as religious philosophy.)

Posted by: Mike | Apr 6, 2005 11:48:53 AM

I also won't get into the political arguement.

But it's interesting that you raised the orange bracelet issue in the context of an 11 year old.

Because I've seen them mostly on adults recently. And every time I see them, I think "Yes - orange bracelets will stop the disengagement - if we were all in sixth grade!"

Posted by: Dave | Apr 6, 2005 12:38:53 PM

Dear David,

I really love this post - it's very thoughtful and humanistic. I think this sentence is particularly important: "I fear that the overt politicization of the youth group agenda (on either side of the current hot-topic) sets the stage for the next generation of adults who not only won't talk to one another, but who find it too easy to vilify one another."

Posted by: Lisa | Apr 6, 2005 1:25:12 PM

Mike... I guess my surprise was a bit overstated. Let's just say that I was surprised at the way the disengagement issue seemed to be eclipsing the other elements you mentioned. As someone who is new to the country, I'm not sure how to respond to this... if at all.

Dave... Good point, especially since the message ("let the nation choose") became moot once the Knesset rejected a referendum on the issue. It is also worth pointing out that many of the right wing religious folks rejected the idea of a referendum as well since they felt the nation didn't have the authority to vote on what was essentially a forbidden act.

Lisa... You are so gonna to get me in trouble with the settler council if you keep calling me a humanist! ;-) C'mon, you are a well-respected journalist from the left... if you were to flame me I would be the coolest kid on my block! :-) In all seriousness Lisa, thanks. You picked out the one line that had me choked up when I wrote it. Very intuitive of you.

Posted by: David | Apr 6, 2005 4:12:11 PM

I fear the same will happen as our kids get older, but no political issue is as critical to us as the issues that are happening right in your front yard. Our government isn't contemplating withdrawal from San Fernando. We've had to "balance" some of the things that our kids have learned in school, but they were far less relevant. (For example, our 4th grader learned the typical PC version that the Native Americans were peaceful and lived in harmony with the ecosystem until the evil Christians came and purposefully committed genocide. This is largely false, but isn't going to make them vilify anyone in the country now.)

And on the actual issue of disengagement, I have no idea what to think any more. I only pray that you Israelis stop short of actually shooting at each other over the issue. Maybe bracelets are a good idea. The Gaza residents can wear orange; the IDF can wear blue and white bracelets. They can fling them at each other until one side quits.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Apr 6, 2005 4:29:38 PM

The big question to me is related to the one you posed in general and that is this. Are we heading towards a place in which we have become completely intolerant of views that do not mirror our own, or can we accept diverging points of view.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 6, 2005 4:47:49 PM

Nice post. Just wanted to comment that when I lived in Israel at age 13-14, I was a member of Ezra and it was then, as now, a youth group with a political message. We were given posters promoting the election of certain candidates and so on. No doubt on that. Yet, the issues were not extensively explained. I don't think my parents were aware of how political Ezra was.

Posted by: Mirty | Apr 6, 2005 4:52:30 PM

You like to think that 11 year olds would still be innocent and isolated from this stuff, like we were, but I'm pretty sure that if the US had been considering handing everything south of the Mason-Dixon to Mexico, we wouldn't have been politically naive, either.

Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the youth groups are focusing on this because the kids asked.

I was 14 before I started that (what's a contra? what's a sandinista? why is oliver north in trouble?) and when I did, I asked my biology teacher, of all people, because he didn't make me feel dumb for not knowing. May I humbly suggest that you tell her directly, and in so many words, that she should ask you if she has questions?

Posted by: Tanya | Apr 6, 2005 4:56:51 PM

David,

Fear not, I'm just as much of an Oleh Chadash (new immigrant) as you are! B"H, neither of my kids are at the age yet where I have to deal with these issues (19 mo & < 1 mo). Dr. Bean said it perfectly when he noted that America does not face these issues. Although I was fiercly conservative when in America (not necessarily Republican party, per se, but Republican ideas), I knew that, at the end of the day, it doesn't really make a difference who's elected. While that can be a depressing thought, Israeli politics are often so local, so urgent, and so radically different that everyone really needs to be involved.

I think that relying on Ezra to teach civility is a mistake -- not because they're intolerant radicals, but because whenever passions are high, it's hard to focus on ethics in a group setting. Your attitude vis-a-vis the conversation with Ariella sounds like an extremely helpful and appropriate one. Hatzlacha!

Posted by: Mike | Apr 6, 2005 5:15:32 PM

Just yesterday I was telling my son that our trip to Israel this summer might be during a time of some conflict. I remember Yamit well and was explaining some of what are the concerns at the moment.

Your post reminds me about how much 11-year-olds want to know.

(anyone have any suggestions for less-than-astronomical airfares for this summer? sorry to ask on your forum, I'm getting nervous about the prices at this point...! please feel free to drop me a line or comment over at timna rather than sidetracking from David's subject).

Posted by: timna | Apr 6, 2005 6:44:34 PM

It is a long accepted fact that Bnai Akiva is overtly political, and that it's politics are on the extreme right of the pro-settlers agenda. I am not familiar with Ezra, but am not surprised at your experience. The real problem is that kids from the Dati Leumi camp are exposed to only one political viewpoint. There are no Youth Groups favoring a more balanced approach, or a non political approach. This is the danger of mixing religion and politics. Even religious issues take on politcal overtones and vice versa. Once we start talking about politics however, it's no longer about visiting old age homes or studying Torah. The discussion will inevitably led to men and women carrying guns and peoples lives at stake.
But could we have it any other way and still have a "Jewish State"?

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Apr 6, 2005 6:44:39 PM

So what is the basic difference between the Democratic and Republican parties? From the UK, they always both looked like clones of the Conservative Party.

Posted by: Simon | Apr 7, 2005 1:31:42 AM

Doctor Bean... I am honestly baffled as to why this border readjustment (let's face it... that's what it is) is causing people to dig in like at no other time in the past. Sinai was a big give-back... and we have moved our Lebanese border no less than 12 times! This also begs the question of why the security fence has the world convinced that Israel is creating permanent border with this necessary security measure. If we have demonstrated over and over our willingness to move our borders based on negotiated settlements (and are now doing so unilaterally), why is Israel being treated as though it has no record of compromise. The latter is obviously a hypothetical question (I hate to play the anti-Semitism card...), but the former honestly baffles me. I like your idea about a rubber bracelet fight between the political factions... I'll bring it up at the next Yesha Council meeting. :-)

Jack... More to the point, are we now approaching a level of anarchy where it is impossible to use the word 'we'?

Mirty... Thanks for your comment. As I'm talking about this (on line and off) I am finding out the truth of what you said. Given the choice of my kids growing up without a political compass and having to help them digest the political indoctrination they are getting at youth group... I think (hope) I am up to the task of helping them digest.

Tanya... I am thrilled that my daughter is learning about the world and the forces that are shaping it... and I am equally pleased that she is MUCH less, um, knowledgeable about more, um, intimate subjects than her typical American 11-year-old counterparts. If I have to lose some control of one aspect of her accelerated maturity... let it be the political stuff.

Mike... As a transplanted American I don't rely on ANY aspect of my children's Israeli framework to teach them about tact and civility (or civics). I know that if I want them to inherit any aspect of our (meaning Zahava's and my) world view and manners, it will have to come from our home life.

Timna... Probably the best route to find decent air fares is to check the discount travel sites. You may end up having to fly one of the smaller European airlines (since they typically are much cheaper than El Al) but there are bargains to be found if you look for them. I hope you will get in touch when you are here.

Jordan... I have abandoned the use of the word 'extreme' in talking about anything here, since it has lost much of its value as an adjective. Like the old joke about anyone driving slower than you being 'an idiot' and anyone driving faster than you being 'a maniac'... anyone who does not share your exact political or religious values here is given the label 'extremist'. That having been said, I don't understand the leap you made from political /religious indoctrination of our youth and gun-carrying vigilantism. Please elaborate (Oh my G-d, did I just ask you to elaborate?!).

Simon... I have written and erased my reply to your comment almost half a dozen times. It's not that I don't know the answer, but rather that my answer will make it obvious to all how I voted in the last election (something I am not willing to tell even my wife). Sorry.

Posted by: David | Apr 7, 2005 9:15:01 AM

I did not mean to imply vigilantism. Rather, one of the potential end results of political decisions is the need for soldiers and policemen to bear arms and possibly use them against lawbreakers or enemy combatants. In other words, political positions have life and death consequences.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Apr 7, 2005 9:47:40 AM

Jordan... I am pretty fuzzy-headed today (you'll find out why when you see today's post), but I really hope you aren't saying that anyone who opposes the decisions of the government deserves to be confronted with arms and treated as an enemy combatant!

Posted by: David | Apr 7, 2005 10:41:34 AM

lol...no. I am saying that when we start discussing politics, we are dealing with powerful issues that can have a real immpact on life and death decisions, and so must be circumspect in our approach to such heady stuff.
Youth groups that encourage their children to engage in political action are very good at getting the kids to enjoy the thrill of involvement in great drama, but not so good at making them understand that what seem to them to be black and white issues to thme because after all, they are children and not as capable of understanding nuance, have real life consequences thay the children cannot possibly understand. By indoctrinating young people in extremist political ideologies which are very attractive to unsophisticated minds, youth group leaders are exploiting people developmentally unready to make life and death decisions.
The same on a much smaller scale can be said for groups like NCSY. When answering this charge, Baruch Lanner always agreed, but pointed out that since it was Torah, we know it was true and therefore good for the kids. We see how that worked out for him.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Apr 7, 2005 8:36:30 PM

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