It’s fairly obvious that we Jews just don’t get Christmas. Don’t believe me? Check out BuzzFeed’s attempt to get Jews to decorate Christmas trees. (“Who’s Noel?” “Is that like, ‘grassy knoll’?”) Yet, every year we Jewish Americans wrestle as a people over whether or not to incorporate Christmas traditions into our own Hanukkah celebrations. It’s tacky. It’s trite. And it’s really, really lame. Here are five Hanukkah/Christmas hybrids that all Jews need to avoid this holiday season.
When I was a guest at Kibbutz Sde Eliahu in the Beit Sh’ean Valley in Israel, I had to get up at four or five A.M. to get to the fields on a cart driven behind a tractor, with other young people, so that I could pick vegetables before breakfast. These where huge smorgasbord affairs with lots of oatmeal (because it was cheap, hot, and filling) and whatever was the most of the crop of the day. Of course, I wasn’t a paying guest, I was a worker volunteer, but not a paid one either.
Years later I became a guest again at another kibbutz, Rama Rachel, at that time a half hour ride from Jerusalem. I didn’t have to do any work at all, because this time I paid to be a guest. I still had the smorgasbord breakfast (which all kibbutzim with guest facilities offer), but this time it included a variety of cheeses, cereals, sweets, juices, and fish, among other things. Cappuccino was offered along with coffee and tea. I no longer had to work for my meals, and could enjoy all the recreational offerings of Rama Rachel which included a huge swimming facility, and even water slides. I recently revisited Rama Rachel and since Jerusalem has expanded so much, it is now on the edge of the city with a bus stop which offers buses constantly. It also has been the site of an archaeological excavation and offers an archaeological garden to tour.
Editor’s Note: See the first three parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” and “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.
The idea of Olivia Pope is one of a woman who trusts her gut instinct so implicitly that she bases her every decision on it. As a result she unwittingly justifies a range of crimes, puts her life and the lives of her employees and friends at risk, and helps terrorists escape the country. Sometimes listening to your gut just isn’t good enough. Which is probably why God provides a wise alternative in Torah: the prophet.
Biblical culture believes that God speaks to human beings. Sometimes this is done in a group setting, like when the Israelites entered into a covenant with God on Mount Sinai. Other times this is done on an individual level, as when God called out Abraham, spoke to Moses through the burning bush, and when God speaks to His prophets. Given that God spoke to His priests through the long-ago destroyed Temple, Rabbinic Judaism tends to view prophets as the stuff of biblical history, despite the prophecy of Joel:
And afterward [after the restoration of Israel], I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
The Spirit of God in prophecy, known in Rabbinic Judaism as the “bat kol,” is highly regulated by Rabbinic law and culture:
In any event, the consensus in Jewish thought is that no appeal to a heavenly voice can be made to decide matters of halakhah where human reasoning on the meaning of the Torah rules is alone determinative. In non-legal matters, however, a Bat Kol is to be heeded. …In modern Jewish thought, even among the Orthodox, claims to have heard a Bat Kol would be treated with extreme suspicion and dismissed as chicanery or hallucination.
But is it really wise to always trust your gut?
The main factor that redeemed the Jewish people in our time is the state of Israel. It made them an active, generative people again, not merely scattered minorities contending with the Scylla and Charybdis of antisemitism and assimilation.
But a close handmaiden of the Jewish state in effecting this transformation was the Hebrew language. Along with the magnetic pull of the Land of Israel itself, it was Hebrew that enabled the Zionist endeavor to coalesce and take on a distinctive, organic character.
Hebrew—that is, the revival of the Hebrew language in the context of the return to Zion—achieved that in four main ways.
Women are fixers. It should come as no surprise to anyone with an understanding of the sexes that the leading female figure on primetime television is none other than a fixer named Olivia Pope. Fifty years ago women primarily played the role of mother on screen and, in doing so, they fixed things and life was pretty darn perfect. But perfect doesn’t fly on network television any longer. Today it’s all about drama, and drama is conflict. So, we get Olivia Pope: beautiful, intelligent, who fantasizes about marrying an already married man, having his children and fixing a nice little life in the Vermont countryside for them, but is too embroiled in fixing her own life and the lives of those she loves to ever quite reach her American nirvana.
Like Israel’s matriarchs, Olivia Pope has a vision of justice, of order, of the way things should be. The wearer of the “white hat,” she wrestles between good and evil in her many attempts to manifest this divine sense that has been humanized as her “gut” instinct. Watch her and you’ll see the woman in white when she pursues truth, the woman in black when she has given over to evil, and the woman in gray when she questions everything she knows. Being a fixer is a woman’s inherent power and inevitable struggle. It isn’t that we want to “do it all” because doing it isn’t as hard as taking responsibility for it, for the lives under our care. Olivia Pope cares for everyone, wants to save everyone, wants to repair everyone and make everything all better. Her struggle, like that of the matriarchs, is in placing the sole burden of responsibility on her own shoulders. But, the greatest lesson of God-given responsibility is that you are not expected to carry it all alone.
Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day I have one wish: for Americans to mark these solemn days with as much respect and seriousness as our greatest allies in the Middle East, the Israelis, honor their heroes. Today is Veterans Day, and yesterday was the anniversary of the U.S. Marines Corps. Across the United States, we will honor in some strange ways the sacrifice of those who served in our armed forces in peacetime and during war, with sales on linens and kitchen goods being among the most common. On Memorial Day in the United States, a day in which Americans are given the day off to memorialize those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our freedom, we for some reason “celebrate” with beers and BBQ. The juxtaposition between how Americans and Israelis mark the day is stark, and provides lessons for how we can improve how we honor our troops and those who have given their lives for our country.
In Israel, Memorial Day is called Yom Hazikaron. It falls on the day before Israel’s Independence Day — Yom Haatzmaut. The two days are linked — the day of sadness and introspection leads into a day of celebration. This linkage of the two lends additional importance and gravitas for Memorial Day. One day in the future, hopefully soon, generations of Israelis will grow up not knowing war or conflict. For these Israelis, the pairing of Memorial Day and Independence Day will help explain how it is only through sacrifice that freedom and independence come. The feeling of pure elation on Independence Day is felt through the country and celebrated in a multitude of ways, including dance parties in the streets of major cities, like Jerusalem. Israel is a young country, and each generation has faced war. The celebration of the existence and very survival of the Jewish state is one taken seriously by Israelis and Jews everywhere.
On Israel’s Memorial Day all places of entertainment — amusement parks, golf courses, movie theatres, nightclubs, and bars — are closed. It’s understood that this is a day of solemnity, not fun. While schools and most workplaces are closed, it’s not treated as a “day off” by Israelis — it’s a time to truly honor those who have made Israel’s existence and survival possible.
Israel is becoming a more and more popular place for Jews to live. When I made aliyah (a word that means “ascent” or “Jewish immigration to Israel”) from the U.S. in 1984, the Jewish population stood at around three million; today it has doubled to over six million and is the largest Jewish community in the world. The huge rise comes from both natural growth and immigration. Jews who are already here vote “yes” by having the Western world’s highest fertility rates; many Jews who were living elsewhere have been coming here.
And now it turns out that the rate of yerida (a word that means “descent” or “Jewish emigration from Israel”) is at an all-time low—yes, even in this era of globalization, and with some Israelis loudly complaining about high prices here. The Jerusalem Post reports:
In 2012…the number of émigrés—people who left Israel and stayed abroad for over a year—went down to 15,900, the lowest since the establishment of the state….
Nearly a quarter of them had returned to the country or reported a planned return date as of April 2014.
Most of those who left the country were not born in Israel, and 25 percent of them are not Jewish. Many had moved to Israel from the former Soviet Union since 1990.
And the New York Times adds that
Sergio DellaPergola, a leading [Israeli] demographer, said emigration was actually lower now than at any time in Israel’s 66-year history, and also lower than in comparably developed countries. Far more people left Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, when inflation skyrocketed….
Even so, if you’re considering making aliyah, it’s natural to have fears about taking such a big plunge. I had some of them too; but by now they’re a thing of the distant past.
Israel and Islam. What is it that really divides the the two, keeping the children of Jacob and Ishmael in perpetual war?
It turns out the difference stares us in the face, at the root of the words themselves. Clarity in understanding the wars of the Middle East comes when grasping the words in the original languages, Hebrew and Arabic, a point Dennis Prager explains in his book Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph.
In Hebrew the word “Israel” means to “wrestle with God” or “to struggle with God.” Jacob was renamed Israel after spending a night wrestling with God’s angels. Struggling and arguing with the idea of God is what characterizes man’s relationship with Him in the Torah. Abraham talks back to God, arguing humanity’s case. This perpetual shifting and negotiating, new reaching out to the Divine is mirrored in the way the Bible is put together and how Jews and Christians learn to study it. We wrestle with God by wrestling with the text, trying to assemble the pieces in new and better configurations, building on the sages who have come before us. In Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchk’s The Lonely Man of Faith he shows how this movement back and forth is built into man’s nature as reflected in the two creation stories in Genesis. Both describe man’s orientation to God and it is our challenge to shift back and forth between them.
In Islam the idea of man arguing with Allah or debating the proper interpretations of the holy text is blasphemous. In Arabic the word “Islam” means to submit to Allah.
While the Bible is a document made of numerous texts across the centuries depicting many mysterious and often conflicting understandings of God and competing schools of interpretation, the Koran purports to be the revelation of one prophet who supersedes all the others. And his book has an easy cheat system for how to make sense of conflicting passages: when two parts conflict, just go with the later prophecy. Abrogation! The practical result of this is that the violent, later prophecies are still in effect for Islam. And where did its doctrine of “struggle” manifest? In its call to wage Jihad. The struggle is not primarily with a transcendent deity, but to impose Shariah law — a Caliphate — onto the entire planet. There’s no mystery between man and Allah in the Koran, the relationship is clear: we are his slaves.
The more one studies the history, culture, and contemporary conflicts between Israel and Islamic states and Jihadists the more evidence one finds for this root breakdown between a free people and an enslaved people. Two of my most important guides in coming to grasp these issues have been P. David Hornik and Robert Spencer who I’ve had the pleasure of of editing each week for years. Today I present collections of their work together, Hornik based in Israel and providing analysis of the news in the Middle East and the cultures influencing it; and Spencer connecting the Koran with the actions of its modern day adherents today.
If there are themes you’d like to see David or Robert explore then please get in touch with your ideas: daveswindlepjm @ gmail.com or @DaveSwindle on Twitter.
Click here to read “Begin to Understand Islam With These 118 Robert Spencer Articles“
One of the understandings of Israel I’ve drawn from David’s writings is the paradox of the culture: that Israel is both very religious and very secular and that the range of religious expression varies widely within the country. David rightfully posits that this tendency lies in the Torah itself. I start this collection of David’s work with his “Abraham Ancient and Modern” series. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:
Last year a study of Israeli Jews found that 84 percent of them believe in God. It came as a surprise to many. Israeli Jewry is commonly divided into “religious” and “secular” sectors, with the former making up only about 20 percent. It turns out, though, that a large majority of the “secular” are theists.
The “religious-secular” division of Israeli Jewry has roots in the Book of Exodus, which introduces laws about Sabbath observance, kosher eating, personal and ritual purity, and so on. “Religious” Jews in Israel are those who follow these laws — as further elaborated in subsequent books of the Bible, and interpreted and codified by the rabbinical tradition. “Secular” Jews in Israel usually follow some of the laws but are not committed to them as a whole.
For instance, and maybe most prototypically, “religious” Israelis stay home on the Sabbath, observing both the injunctions to “do no work” and “kindle no fire” on this day. Secular Israelis kindle their car engines and go for family outings, their Sabbath in some ways more similar to Sunday (the Jewish Sabbath falls on Saturday) in majority-Christian countries.
“Secular” Israelis, though, are mostly theists; they live in the Land of Israel and are usually committed to doing so, not infrequently to the point of life-threatening forms of army service; and they are generally responsive to the holiness of Jerusalem and other aspects of Jewish tradition. A “secular Israeli” myself for almost three decades, I’ve long thought that the “secular” or “nonreligious” tag fails to do justice to a more complex, interesting reality.
Looking beyond the Book of Exodus to the book that precedes it — Genesis, and especially one of its central characters, Abraham — may offer richer and more affirmative ways to think about the issue.
Click here to continue reading “Abraham, Part 1: Are ‘Secular Israelis’ Really Secular?.” In David’s own approach and body of work he embodies this approach too. This collection contains both the secular in his news articles and political polemics and series on the world’s worst purveyors of antisemitism, to the religious with his series on Jewish holidays, to the territory in between with his skeptical but sympathetic series on the emerging science of near death experiences.
I hope that through this collection more can come to appreciate David’s inspiring worldview and see how they can apply his insights about life in Israel to their own journey through the sacred and secular.
Abraham Ancient And Modern Series
- Abraham, Part 1: Are ‘Secular Israelis’ Really Secular?
- Abraham, Part 2: God’s Gadfly or Meek Servant?
- Abraham, Part 3: Do You Have to Marry a Jewish Girl?
- Abraham, Part 4: Does Holiness Get Lost in the Fog of War?
- Abraham, Part 5: Can The ‘Wild Man’ Ishmael Be Tamed?
Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations?
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 1: The Whole World Against Us
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 2: That Bird Could Be a Mossad Agent!
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 3: From Woodstock to the Promised Land
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 4: Why Is Israel So Lousy at Making Its Case?
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 5: Whichever It Is, I’ve Married It
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 6: Europe Loves Jews, Just Hates Judaism and Israel
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 7: Syrians in Israeli Hospitals Fear ‘Monster-Jews’
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 8: Jerusalem Dig Strikes Rare Gold
Near Death Experiences
- What Near-Death Experiences Tell Us
- Near-Death Experiences: Two Books Provide More Compelling Evidence
- Near-Death Experiences—A New Take on Life, Part 1: Sam Parnia Explains Where the Field Is Leading
- What if They Gave a Review of Your Life and You Had to Come?
- Introducing: A Deity Who Makes Sense
- Near-Death Experiences—A New Take on Life, Part 4: Brian Miller’s Case Challenges the Skeptics
- Near-Death Experiences, a New Take on Life, Part 5: Can God and Evil Be Reconciled?
- 4 Amazing Facts Suggesting the Mind Can Exist Independent of the Brain
- ‘I’-Sight: When the Blind-from-Birth Can Fully See During Near-Death Experiences
- 4 Amazing Archaeological Finds in Israel This Past Year
- 4 Reasons Israel’s Future Looks Bright as the New Jewish Year Begins
- Farewell to a Fighter: Meir Har-Zion, Larger-than-Life Israeli Legend, Dies at 80
- Israel on Holocaust Remembrance Day
- Israeli Independence Day, 2014
- Israel’s Embattled Pro-Israel Priest
- Israel’s First Astronaut: A Tale of Tragedy and Miracle
- ‘Nakba’ Concentrates Israeli Minds
- Obama’s Full-Court Press on Israel
- 5 Reasons Why Liberal Jews Will Never Support Israel
- A Review of David Solway’s The Boxthorn Tree
- 5 Ways Israel Keeps the Peace in the Middle East
- 5 of the Latest, Dumbest Statements About Israel by Jewish Liberals
- Why Is Washington Enraged Over More Homes for Jews in Jerusalem?
War in the Middle East
- Goldstone’s Mea Culpa and Israel’s Wars
- 3 Kidnapped Boys, But the Usual Cold Shoulder
- Israel Buries Sons, Mulls Response
- The 10 Most Disturbing Palestinian Propaganda Videos
- The Insane Hamas War
- 6 Videos That Show the Truth About the War in Gaza
- Why Israel Defeated—But Didn’t Crush—Hamas
- Next Round—Islamic State Vs. Israel?
- The Shavuot Holiday in Israel: Joy in the Law, Joy in the Land
- Purim: A Wacky Tribute to Life
- 4 Things to Get Liberated From This Passover
- Tu Bishvat, Israel’s Holiday of Trees
- Chanukah: The Triumph of Light
- Simchat Torah: Dancing and Singing with the Law
- Sukkot, the Autumn Harvest Festival
- Israel on Yom Kippur: Renewing Life Amid Traumas of the Past
- In Israel, a Rosh Hashanah of Apples and Gas Masks
- Israeli Women, Part 1: Ace Pilots Reporting for Duty
- Israeli Women, Part 2: Island of Progress in a Dark Sea
- Israeli Women, Part 3: The Jews’ Iron Lady, Golda Meir
- Israeli Women, Part 4: Great Ladies of Hebrew Song
- Simone by Starlight: How to Lose a ‘Date’ But Gain the World
- Simone by Sunlight: Can People-Pleasing Save a Romance?
- 4 Things You Should Never Do to Find Lasting Love
- 4 Signs That You’re on the Way to Lasting Love
Life Reflections and Advice
- Memories and Mysteries of a Friend Dead at 40
- Sacred Places: Real, or Do We Make Them Up?
- What I See at the Secret Hour
- Why the Beasts Fail to Understand Israeli Happiness
- American? Israeli? Who Am I?
- How I Became a Conservative
- 3 Tips for Falling Asleep at Night
- 10 Ways My Life Improved Since I Moved to Israel
- 5 Realizations as My 60th Birthday Draws Near
- My Murdered Friend
- The 12-Step Guide for the Recovering Obama Voter
Music, Art and Culture
- Goodbye, Literature
- 4 Old, Dreamy Songs
- 3 Unwritten Short Stories Still Haunting This Ex-Fiction Writer
- The Wonder and Beauty of Israel’s Old, Old Mosaics
- How Great Jazz Artists Express a Peculiar Kind of Hebrew Happiness
- Master of Music, Bungler of Life
- David Solway’s Musical Debut: Blood Guitar and Other Tales
- Habibi: A Moroccan Poet Sings to His Love
The Ten Worst U.S, Purveyors of Antisemitism
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #10: Gordon Duff
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #9: Willis Carto
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #8: John Mearsheimer
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #7: David Duke
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #6: Patrick Buchanan
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #5: Ron Paul
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #4: Ali Abunimah
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #3: Thomas Friedman
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #2: Students for Justice in Palestine
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #1: Louis Farrakhan
The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #10: David Irving
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #9: Roger Waters
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #8: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, # 7: The Golden Dawn Party
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #6: The Jobbik Party
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #5: the Guardian
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #4: the BBC
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #3: The Palestinian Authority
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #2: Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #1: The Iranian Regime
Check out these previous compilations of PJ Lifestyle’s best writers:
The eight-day Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) holiday, which begins on Wednesday evening, commemorates the Israelites’ 40-year trek from Egypt to the Promised Land. As God commands (Lev. 23:42-43):
Ye shall dwell in booths seven days….
That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the Land of Egypt….
Today, many generations later, sukkot—makeshift, decorated huts—sprout all over Israel for the holiday, recalling the ancient Israelites’ rude, temporary dwellings in the desert.
But Sukkot is also an autumn harvest festival, and very much tied to the Land of Israel itself. It occurs in early fall, a wonderfully warm-cool time of year with clear nights, perfect for gazing up at the stars through the thatched roof of a sukkah.
Sukkot is, then, a good occasion to look back at some of the archaeological finds from the Land of Israel over the past year (on the Jewish calendar, running from September to September). I’ve only chosen some of the most striking, since in any given year there is intensive archaeological activity throughout the land and numerous finds. These discoveries link the ancient past to the present and reinforce Israelis’ rootedness in an archetypal landscape.
I didn’t fully appreciate how spiritually free I am as an American woman until I set foot on an El Al plane.
“Do you speak Hebrew?” the fretting woman in front of me asked.
“No, not really.”
“It’s okay, I speak English,” she hurriedly replied, obviously looking for a friendly face. “These Orthodox,” she motioned to the people sitting next to her, “they don’t like sitting next to women.”
“Well, that’s their problem.” My response was pointed, matter-of-fact, American.
She smiled as if a light bulb went off in her head. “You’re right!” Her expression grew cloudy. “But what if I take off my sweater? They won’t like that I expose my shoulders with my tank top.”
Again, I simply replied, “That’s their problem.”
She smiled, empowered. Removing her sweater, she took her seat and stood her ground.
And at that moment I thanked God I was raised in pluralistic America, and realized, oddly enough, that the Holy Land was giving me my first chance to practice the biblical feminism I’ve preached.
Israel is a Western nation in that women have equal rights by law. Israel is also a confluence of religious and ethnic cultural attitudes, not all of which are friendly to women. Two days into our trip to Jerusalem, a family member who also happens to be a retired journalist explained the latest story to hit the nightly news. A man accused of spousal abuse was released to return home. Later that evening, police found his wife had been shot dead. The husband confessed to the murder. Apparently, domestic violence and death is a relatively small but significant problem in Israel. When I asked my former journalist why, he pointed to the influence of Middle Eastern (both Arabic and radical Islamic) patriarchal culture as the primary source.
Yet, even religious Jews in Israel (and around the world), despite their insular nature, are far from immune to sexual abuse. Sex scandals among the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) show up frequently on the evening news. In this case it’s not the Arab/Muslim influence, but perverted behaviors that arise from rabbinic abuse of biblical teachings. How do you expect a man to relate to a woman sexually when he’s not even allowed to look her in the eye?
10. Daniel Deronda
A multi-part BBC series based on the powerful English classic penned by Zionist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Daniel Deronda tells the story of a young gentleman who discovers, through a series of almost mystical events, that his mother is Jewish. A fantastic examination of Jewish identity in Victorian high society, the novel was cited by the likes of Henrietta Szold and Emma Lazarus as influential on their decision to become Zionists. Wonderfully cast, the BBC version is grossly engaging and well worth a marathon viewing.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, falls this year on Wednesday, September 24. The year that just ended—5774 on the Jewish calendar—was not an easy one.
There was the war against Hamas in July and August, which Israel won overwhelmingly while losing 64 soldiers and seven civilians. In June there was Hamas’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenage boys. (The murderers have now met their just fate.) And Israel’s overall security environment in the Middle East seems more and more precarious. Among other things, jihadis are battling the Syrian army just across Israel’s Golan Heights border; Jordan’s moderate regime could be in danger; Islamic State has set up its “caliphate” of atrocity in Iraq and Syria; while Iran keeps being allowed to progress along the nuclear path by Western powers playing feckless diplomatic games. (Another update: Israel has shot down a Syrian plane over the Golan.)
Where, then, does a “bright future” come into all this? Looking ahead to 5775, Israel has a track record of overcoming security challenges, and in other ways keeps thriving.
It’s not an easy time to be Jewish, though there have been few moments in world history where it has been. A recent unscientific poll conducted in Europe found that 40 percent of European Jews hide their religion. The only thing surprising about that statistic is that it isn’t closer to 100%. The sour news out of Europe is never-ending: an arson of a synagogue in Belgium, a Swedish woman savagely beaten for wearing a Star of David, a deadly shooting outside of a Jewish school in France. The list, sadly, goes on, and on, and on.
Unfortunately for antisemites everywhere, Jews have a great deal to be proud of, and always have.
1. We’re wicked smart
Despite being just .2 percent of the world population, Jews have won 22 percent of the Nobel prizes awarded. From the 1920s until the late 1960s, Jewish students were either totally excluded or subject to quotas in Ivy League universities in the United States. Why? The schools had been admitting the best and brightest, and there were just too many Jews in attendance. Bloomberg reports on the Jewish quotas found in the United States,
Harvard, Yale and Princeton, up until the very early 1920s, had an exam-based system of admission. If you passed you were admitted. If you failed you were turned away. If you were in the gray zone, then they might admit you on conditions but basically, if you passed, regardless of your social background, you would be admitted. That was precisely why the system was judged to be no longer viable because too many of the wrong students, the “undesirable” students — that is, predominantly, Jewish students of East European background — started to pass the exams.
I pushed off the idea of writing this article when I first heard that Joan Rivers, one of my comic icons, was rushed to the hospital after a botched outpatient procedure last week. I didn’t want to think about having to say goodbye to Joan, to bid farewell to yet another icon of an age gone by, a powerhouse who managed to be a cultural force until her last breath. The only solace we can muster is in knowing that, for these ten reasons at least, Joan’s memory will be a blessing.
10. Joan never grew old or gave up.
At 81, she was as attuned to pop culture, politics, and current events as a 20 year old. A self-made fashionista, the comedian never retired, sat in a chair, or gave in to technology. Joan will forever be a role model to women who refuse to trade style for a shapeless moo-moo and an office chair for a rocking chair. In her later years she paired up with Melissa, illustrating that mothers and daughters really can work together and get along. She was a modern Bubbe, surrounded by her children and grandchildren as she took the world by storm.
Right now, three Dolphin II-class submarines are under construction at Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems shipyards in Kiel. Once the submarines complete their trials and head towards the Mediterranean, they will become the most powerful Israeli submarines ever.
More than 225 feet long, the diesel-electric Dolphin II class is part attack submarine, part nuclear strike ship and part commando taxi.
They’re also painted in an unusual combination of black, blue and green colors. That’s “meant to make the ship less visible, and thought to be especially effective in Mediterranean waters,” Defense News noted after recently publishing new photographs of the fat, oddly-shaped boats in dry dock and on sea trials.
The most serious part comes further down in the story:
Although not admitted by the Israeli government, the Dolphin II is widely believed to soon possess nuclear-tipped Popeye Turbo cruise missiles. The submarine’s armament includes non-nuclear anti-ship Harpoon and anti-helicopter Triton missiles.
That’s a lot of hurt for the bad guys packed into one boat — and Israel is buying three of them.
These days I’m approaching the six-decade mark in rather odd circumstances. The Gaza War has reignited, and last night we in Beersheva were woken up twice by rocket alarms, meaning we had to rush out to the stairwell and hear the big booms of Iron Dome interceptors knocking Hamas rockets out of the sky. In other words, not the ideal environment for stocktaking and peaceful reflection.
Even so, the onset of my 60th gives rise to thoughts, so I’ll try, amid the commotion, to summarize some of what I see as life’s lessons.
13. Bess Myerson
Recognizing a woman who appears to have parlayed her Miss America recognition into a minor-league acting gig may not seem logical, until you realize that Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, paved an uphill path for diversity in the pageant circuit. She was told by one Miss America exec that she ought to change her name to something “more gentile” and refused. Pageant sponsors refused to hire her as a spokeswoman and certain sites with racial restrictions refused to have her visit as Miss America. This was of no consequence to Miss Myerson, who was the first Miss America to win an academic scholarship. The racism she confronted was motivation for a lifetime’s work with organizations like the ADL, NAACP, and Urban League. She would go on to co-found The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and make boundless contributions to the city’s art community. Along with becoming a television personality, Myerson received several presidential appointments in the 1960s and ’70s and would receive two honorary doctorates.
1. I put my money where my mouth is.
In my twenties in the U.S., I became intensely “pro-Israel.” I avidly followed its affairs, wrote letters to the editor, even got on the phone to solicit funds for it. I spoke of “the Israelis” as a race of ideal people, heroes; but that was guilt talking. I had to be honest with myself: what I was doing was not enough.
Now I’m here; I’m not just an observer or a fan from afar, but a player. Whatever happens here, for good or bad, happens to me. I walk the walk. I’m morally at peace with myself.
The Jerusalem Post reports that NBC will begin shooting a new action-adventure series, Dig, in Jerusalem this week:
Israel’s capital city is slated to play a central role in storyline of the series that portrays FBI agents uncovering a conspiracy of the Old City while investigating the murder of an American archaeologist.
…”The filming of “Dig” will be a boon for the production industry in Jerusalem, drawing more of them to come film here, create new jobs and encourage investments in the city,” Bennett added.
NBC’s first large-scale production filmed in Jerusalem, will reportedly be broadcast in the United States at the end of 2014.
While American versions of Israeli shows (In Therapy and Homeland, another creation by Dig’s Gideon Raff, come to mind) have made their way to the small screen, this will be the first time an American television show is shot in Israel. According to the Wall Street Journal, Dig was co-developed by Keshet Media Group, an Israeli media company, and is expected to make its premiere on the USA Network, with a possible second run on SyFy.
“When we combine Hollywood’s creative potential with Jerusalem’s historic backdrop, it will result in the ability to connect hundreds of millions of viewers around the world to this unique and beautiful city. There is an undeniable inspiration and creative energy in Jerusalem, which is why it has become a center for international film production,” said Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, in a statement.
Good spring morning from northern Israel….beautiful! pic.twitter.com/z4sletnWe3
— reThink Israel (@reThink_Israel) May 25, 2014
CNN reports on Eretz Nehederet, Marcus’s first creation.
Omri Marcus is the #1 TV Geek you’ve never heard of. An Israeli journalist-turned-hit TV comedy writer, Marcus made it big thanks to his scientific understanding of comedy, a theory he delves into in a recent interview with Tablet magazine. The dialogue provides a fascinating look at Israeli television, an industry still cutting its teeth thanks to decades of gross nationalization. Until the introduction of foreign channels, the country lived off of one government-run station that began broadcasting in 1968. Color transmissions, a topic of great bureaucratic battles, didn’t begin until 1983. Hitting the industry on the cusp of change, Marcus, 34, helped launch the nation’s greatest comedy hit Eretz Nehederet (This Wonderful Country – think: SNL meets The Daily Show) from a hall closet next to a ladies’ bathroom. Now he’s sought out by TV execs around the globe.
Not ironically (he is a comedian, after all) Marcus made a funny observation about the one thing all TV writers’ rooms have in common:
“One of the best things about my work is that I’ve been to so many writer’s rooms all around the world and they’re basically the same anywhere,” Marcus said. “They are all dominated by a group of neurotic Jews. You know, my dream is to create the world’s largest Jewish writers’ room: German Jews and British Jews and American Jews and Israelis, all sitting together and writing jokes about how they’re not getting laid.”
So, do Jews run TV? Not quite:
“The fact that the world is this global village allows you to reduce the risks in making TV,” Marcus said. “You learn a lot from other countries, and we are all, after all, just storytellers. The stories we tell may differ in details, but they should all be appealing, with well-crafted characters, leaving viewers feeling as if they’ve spent their time wisely watching your show. By learning from each other, we’re able to create great, longer-lasting, and more meaningful content.”
Along with developing a rather scientific dating game involving Google glasses, the Huff-Po contributor maintains BizarreTV, a Facebook page where he chronicles the strangest television shows he’s encountered around the globe. My personal favorite is While You Were Sleeping:
How would you feel if you woke up in the middle of the night and discovered that you’re in the middle of a TV game show? ‘While You Were Sleeping’ is the first game show that gives you money while you’re fast asleep! In each episode one couple plays for a chance to win a cash prize. The twist – only one partner knows what’s going on! To stay in the game they must answer the trivia questions correctly, or risk performing a crazy and hilarious challenge – without waking up their partner!
Other shows featured include The Shower, in which contestants sing in the shower before a live studio audience, Guys in Disguise, a dating show that requires a woman to choose from 2 secret admirers dressed in bizarre costumes and I Wanna Marry “Harry” a new FOX dating game featuring a Prince Harry lookalike.
Currently working under an exclusive, multi-year deal with European media conglomerate ProSieben, chances are Marcus’s shows will be hitting American shores for decades to come.
On Monday evening and Tuesday, Israel marks its 66th Independence Day. Each year this day is preceded by Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers. The one holiday segues into the other, a few minutes after sundown, with the raising of the national flag on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem from half-staff to full height.
That moment, one of the most defining and resonant in Israeli life, signifies that the country owes its existence to those who have been willing to sacrifice for it. And with Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers coming only a week after Holocaust Remembrance Day, it also represents a subtle, profound shift from mourning to celebration.
Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day fell this year on yesterday evening and today. Yom HaShoah (literally “Day the-Holocaust” in Hebrew) was declared a national memorial day in Israel in 1953, five years after the state’s establishment, and is now observed throughout the Jewish world.
Unlike much older Jewish holidays, Yom HaShoah has had to be improvised. By now, in Israel (where I’ve been living for almost 30 years), the day has a structure and contents that rather effectively convey somberness and an intense identification with the Holocaust’s victims.
Yom HaShoah begins in Israel (at sundown) with a ceremony in a square beside Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. I’ve been watching it on TV now for years and generally find it tactful, authentic, and moving. It includes speeches by the prime minister and the president before an honor guard, the lighting of six torches (symbolizing six million victims) by Holocaust survivors, musical presentations, and most of all the heart-wrenching singing of the prayer “El Malei Rahamim” by the chief army cantor.
Yom HaShoah is a regular workday, but with places of entertainment closed and all TV and radio programs devoted to Holocaust-related themes. At 11 a.m. sirens blare throughout the country and all traffic and motion stops. Drivers exit their cars and, like the surrounding pedestrians, stand for the two-minute duration of the siren in silent commemoration. These are moments of eerie, slightly frightening power.