Thursday, August 21, 2014

Seeing the Whole Picture


Today was one of those days when I fell in love with Israel again.This thought occurred to me in the bathroom of a restaurant.

Okay, restaurant is overstating it. It was a pizza joint. A few greasy tables out front. A tiny bathroom that hadn't been renovated in, well, in forever.

The bathroom was both cramped and, ahem... not overly clean. The lock didn't really work. Nevertheless I was so happy, because there was toilet paper. And when I went to the sink, there was running water and a small bar of pink soap.

I had a fleeting realization that something has switched in my head. Something I associate with living in Israel. I see things differently. So instead of being horrified that the bathroom wasn't up to snuff, I focused on how lucky I was to find toilet paper, running water and soap.

It's all a matter of perspective.

There's a concept that there is a heavenly Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel mala) and there is an earthy Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel mata). In the earthly Jerusalem, there are crummy bathrooms and greasy tables. In the earthly Jerusalem, there are thousands of rockets pointed at Israel. There are hostile enemies at every border. There are financial struggles, small apartments, washing machines that take two hours, insanely expensive goods and not one Target or WalMart.

Having said that, when it comes to understanding life in Israel, I believe that we must see both the shel mata and the shel mala. If you only see the shel mata part of the story, you're simply not seeing the whole picture.

The Yerushalayim shel mala - the heavenly Jerusalem, looks completely different. The destiny of the Jewish people looks different. Looking at life in Israel through the vantage point of shel mata is like seeing Disney World for the first time. Looking at life in Israel through the vantage point of shel mala is like taking the 5-hour Keys to the Kingdom, behind-the-scenes tour at Disney World.

Everything looks different once you understand the whole picture.

It's my contention that it's impossible (okay, very difficult) to live happily in Israel if you only see the shel mata. If you only see the harsh realities, life in Israel can seem untenable.

It takes a paradigm shift, the openness to understand that what we see with our eyes is only part of the story.

And it's not even the best part.


Monday, August 04, 2014

Time To Leave?

Many people, including Newsweek Magazine, are convinced that the situation for Jews in Europe has once again become intolerable and that, for Europe's Jews, the time has come once again to flee.


Today, I joined a Facebook group called Time To Leave. The group's mission is expressed in these two sentences. "There are rising violent anti-semitic attacks against Jewish communities around the world. We believe this is a wake up call for the Jews to come home to Israel now."

The group messages are primarily photos and news articles about antisemitic incidents and hate speech throughout the world. Let's say we all, including the Jews in Europe themselves, agree that the worsening situation in Europe is becoming intolerable and it's time to leave Europe.

What's the situation in the US? Here's where it gets tricky. From here in Israel, it's clear. Anti-Israel (a/k/a antisemitic) sentiment has exploded in the US over the past few weeks. Time. To. Leave.

Anti-Israel rallies have been held in the following US cities. These are just the ones I know about. There are likely others. If you click these links you'll see many hateful images and protest chants against Israel.
There are currently terrorist training camps in 22 US cities. Interestingly, there is a very high correlation between the cities where there were anti-Israel rallies and the cities where there are known terrorist training camps. I'm thinking this correlation is more than coincidental.
    Out of genuine concern, I posted the following query on my Facebook Timeline:
    A serious question for my friends and family who live outside of Israel: I, and many friends (all olim), are actually much more concerned for the safety of our family and friends outside of Israel than for ourselves. We see the huge and rapid uptick in antisemitic attacks all over the world and it scares us. Just this morning I read about incidents in a clinic in Amsterdam and in a public school in Chicago. Over the past week, I've heard about at least a dozen in cities all over Europe and the US. Here, we know the enemy and we have an army and tools to fight and defend ourselves. Outside of Israel, Jews have no army. If you live outside of Israel, are you more thinking it's a passing thing related to the war or are you feeling at all unsettled by the bubbling up of anti-Jewish sentiment?
    Without question, the saddest, most painful response came from an individual I don't actually know, but who echoes the feelings of so many of my American friends and family:
    With all due respect to my friends and family in Israel, I beg to differ with you. I am glad that you feel safer in Israel, but the US is a much safer place at this time in history. Two reasons. One is that we do not have missiles fired at us indiscriminately and unknowingly. The USA does not have anything near this type of craziness. We do not have a terror state on our soil building tunnels under our feet infiltrating our land with the intent to kidnap and murder our women, children and soldiers.
    Reason Number 2. The amount of post traumatic stress syndrome is undeniably huge and rampant in the Holy Land. Children are suffering tremendous anxiety and fear on a daily basis. There are not enough psychologists or social services to help them from a lifetime of trauma from sirens, safe rooms, and bombs falling nearby or in our neighborhoods.
    I would not subject my children to that. End of comment.
    It's not hard to understand why he feels this way. But here's the rub.

    He's not reading the current trend, nor is he reading Jewish history, accurately.

    Jews always, always, always stay too long in whatever galut to which we have been sent. We convince ourselves that "it's not that bad" or "it will blow over". And we tell ourselves it's still better where we are, where we've been for hundreds of years, than in the land God set aside for the Jewish people.

    After all, in 1933, which cultured, urban German Jew was willing to leave Germany for the desert of Palestine?


    Sunday, August 03, 2014

    Another Way To Look At It

    When I listen to people speak about the war, they usually speak in terms of what they think ought to be done to solve the problem.

    Often the solutions proposed are military, diplomatic or political. The opinion I hear the most frequently regarding what Israel should do next is an unequivocal one.

    "Level Gaza," people say. Carpet bomb the place.

    Or I hear that we should retake Gaza, pay the remaining Gazans to leave, destroy Hamas and then move Jewish families back in. Other people believe that diplomacy is the solution. Or that more funding for Iron Dome will help. Another ceasefire. And on and on.

    There is no shortage of pundits and armchair quarterbacks and even deeply connected Jews who are desperately trying to think of a solution that will get us out of this mess. Suggestions fill the brains and the speech of so many. And they all, every one of them, have the same common flaw. They are all an expression of the idea that the solution to this matzav, this situation, this war, lies in the power of human agency.

    כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי - My strength and the might of my hand

    It's a fundamental flaw in our perception.

    A month ago, just after the bodies of Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali A"H were discovered, I wrote a post about what I understood was going on behind the scenes.

    A month later, I see the worsening distress in my friends and neighbors. Another soldier gone, another world lost. Another news story that paints Israel as the immoral aggressor, callously gunning down innocent children and mercilessly destroying the homes of ordinary Gazans. Another antisemitic episode on the streets of Chicago, Miami, Paris. It hurts so much.

    There is work for the Jewish people to do here. It's spiritual work. The terrorists have their job. Their job is to humble us. Their job is to get us to the stage of acknowledging that we have erred by putting our faith in human agency.

    Sure, if we're faithful people, we sprinkle our speech with expressions of "God-willing" and "Im Yirtzeh Hashem". And that's at least a start. The embarrassing truth though, is that when you really go deep, for most of us, it's mostly just lip service. We're all still trying to figure out which strategy is the right next thing for us to do.

    At this stage in history, just before the Final Redemption, we are compelled, we are being pushed to the wall by current events, to finally, finally, let go of our faith in the efficacy of human effort. We have to come to believe, in the deepest place in our souls, Ein Od Milvado. There is none other than God.

    Not like a bumper sticker.

    Like life support.

    We have no choice. We are being compelled, by the force of Jewish history and by the impending redemption, to finally wake up, open our eyes and say, "I get it now God. There is only You."