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.
The second annual Walter Duranty Prize for mendacious journalism will be awarded May 5 and, just in time for this year’s prizes, an email alert from the estimable CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting) validates how the Duranty committee’s first runner up for last year was indeed well chosen.
That runner up was Bob Simon for his 2012 report on 60 Minutes — “Christians of the Holy Land” — that blamed Israel for the plight of the dwindling Palestinian Christian community in Bethlehem.
Now one of those Palestinian Christians whose family actually appeared in the 60 Minutes segment — a young woman named Christy Anastas currently living in the UK where she was granted political asylum in only three days — has made a video of her own that contradicts virtually everything Simon said. Christy — who has received death threats from her own family members if she continued to defend Israel (they were that afraid) — tells her story in a compelling speech she gave at Upsala University.
She describes how one uncle was blinded by a gunshot to the head for refusing to pay jizya (the tax demanded of non-Muslims by their Muslim rulers). This man’s life was saved by treatment in an Israeli hospital. Anastas also recounts how Palestinian judges from Hebron colluded in the theft of land from Palestinian Christians. It goes on, of course. The longer you listen, the more blaming Israel for the flight of Palestinian Christians becomes not only absurd, but a disgusting smear with violent implications.
Christy’s talk was so incendiary — the threats to her so severe — that the video was pulled down from YouTube. It is now up again thanks to Jerusalem Institute for Justice with some additional material regarding the prevarications of Saeb Erakat. See it while you can. But most of all Bob Simon and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager should see it, especially now with the true colors of the Palestinian Authority have been revealed (to those who did not allow themselves to see) by its recent alliance with Hamas.
It’s hard to say if we should hold Simon and Fager accountable if something bad happens to Ms. Anasatas, but I know they won’t be far from my mind. It will be interesting to see if they issue an apology. PJ Media has contacted Mr. Fager’s office.
Here’s the video:
The first three months of 2014 saw a rise in aliyah—Jewish immigration to Israel. A 312% increase from France, 70% increase from Ukraine, 100% increase from Brazil. The absolute numbers are not huge; if the current rate continues, the total for this year will be about 20,000—compared to, for instance, much higher numbers of former-Soviet Union Jews who came to Israel in the 1990s.
The present uptick, though, appears likely to continue and could accelerate. Amid rising antisemitism, about two-thirds of French Jews are considering emigrating, and half of those are considering Israel. Similar, if somewhat less dramatic, numbers are reported among Jewish communities elsewhere in Europe.
I read such reports with elation, as if reading that I personally had won some prize or had some other good fortune coming my way. This is rather interesting in light of the fact that I’ll soon have been living in Israel for 30 years. More than enough time, of course, to get over romantic visions, to be inducted into the many dimensions of ordinary, flawed human reality that constitute Israel as they do other societies.
And yet, after almost 30 years, nothing—essentially—has changed the feeling I had when I came to live here on September 6, 1984. That this is the true home, that no other place where Jews live can come close to it.
Editor’s Note: Please check out the previous installments of this ongoing series.
Songs have played a huge role in Israeli nation-building. With Jews immigrating to the land from all over the world, an incredibly diverse mix of influences had to be sifted into the musical melting pot. And yet, even in pioneering days well before the declaration of statehood in 1948, songs of distinct, unmistakable Israeli (or what came to be called Israeli) character started emerging.
The Zionist enterprise was not an easy one, beset with economic hardship and violent attacks, and songs were a huge morale-booster. Public sing-a-longs, often with dancing, were a staple of life in the rural settlements and also became part of the general culture. Songs ran the gamut of human experience, but love for the restored land, and heroism and mourning connected to wars and battles, were common themes especially on the collective level. Songs using biblical motifs and passages were also very popular.
Women have been among Israel’s greatest creators and performers of songs. Here I can only offer a few examples from dozens of worthy cases.
Passover, which began Monday at sundown and lasts for seven days in Israel and eight days in the Diaspora, is one of the major, constitutive holidays of the Jewish people. It commemorates the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt 3300 years ago, which led to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and an arduous 40-year trek to the Promised Land.
The basic instructions for Passover are laid down by God in Exodus 12:
And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever….
And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.
The “feast” is the Passover seder practiced by Jews all over the world to this day; the “unleavened bread” is the matza eaten at the seder and all throughout Passover by observant Jews. Passover is a joyous holiday, and in our era it has the added spice of the return to the Promised Land and the rise of a free and independent Jewish state.
Passover coincides this year with a dramatic political event—the crisis and possible demise of yet another Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” this one shepherded earnestly, passionately, and futilely by U.S. secretary of state John Kerry. We are now at a juncture that offers two options: to remain enslaved to the same flawed assumptions that lead again and again to failure; or to finally get liberated from them and reach a Promised Land of understanding and rational policy.
Megachurch pastor, televangelist and author John Hagee has warned of a “world-shaking event that will happen between April 2014 and October 2015.” He believes that the series of lunar eclipses that will occur between now and then are predictive of major catastrophic historical events. The first “blood moon” will make its appearance on April 15. “There’s a sense in the world that things are changing and God is trying to communicate with us in a supernatural way,” Hagee told CBN earlier this year. “I believe that in these next two years we’re going to see something dramatic happen in the Middle East involving Israel that will change the course of history in the Middle East and impact the whole world,” he predicted.
That’s a rather unsettling prediction, one that is causing a lot of buzz among Christians and non-Christians alike.
What is a blood moon and should you be worried? Here are some facts:
Golda Meir was Israel’s fourth prime minister, serving from 1969 to 1974, and the world’s third female head of government. In her seventies at the time, she charmed much of the world with her “Jewish grandmother” image—especially as juxtaposed with her defense minister Moshe Dayan, a tough sabra (native-born Israeli) with an eye-patch.
Unlike Dayan, Meir was not a sabra; she was born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1898. Her first memory was of her father boarding up the front door because of rumors of a pogrom. In 1905 her father moved to Milwaukee by himself in search of work; a year later, having found a job in a railroad yard, he brought the rest of the family over.
Golda showed leadership qualities early, forming something called the American Young Sisters Society. She was also drawn to socialist Zionism, then an energetic enterprise devoted to creating pioneering settlements in the Land of Israel. She joined a socialist-Zionist youth movement, and in that context she met Morris Meyerson. They got married in 1917, and in 1921 they left to join the fledgling Jewish community in Palestine. (Golda later Hebraicized the name Meyerson to Meir.)
Golda Meir’s story stirs a certain nostalgia. The current Israeli Labor Party—a descendant of socialist Zionism or, as it came to be called, Labor Zionism—is a pallid, even ludicrous remnant. It hardly has the spunk and grit that Golda Meir embodied. True, the decline of socialism left a void for this ideological trend; but it’s not only that.
By any standard, the Palestinian problem involves the strangest criteria in modern history.
To begin with, refugees are defined as individuals who have been forced to leave their land of origin. A new definition of refugee status, though, was invented exclusively for Palestinian Arabs, who count as refugees their descendants to the nth generation.
All the world’s refugees are the responsibility of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, except for the Palestinians, who have their own refugee agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine. Among all the population exchanges of the 20th century — Greeks for Turks after World War I, Hindus for Moslems after the separation of India and Pakistan after World War II, Serbs for Croats after the breakup of Yugoslavia during the 1980s — the Palestinians alone remain frozen in time, a living fossil of long-decided conflicts.
Some 700,000 Jews were expelled from Muslim countries where they had lived in many cases more than a thousand years before the advent of Islam, and most of them were absorbed into the new State of Israel with a territory the size of New Jersey; 700,000 or so Arabs left Israel’s Jewish sector during the 1948 War of Independence, most at the behest of their leaders, but few were absorbed by the vast Muslim lands surrounding Israel.
Instead, the so-called refugees were gathered in camps (now for the most part towns with a living standard much higher than that of the adjacent Arab countries thanks to foreign aid) and kept as a human battering ram against Israel, whose existence the Muslim countries cannot easily accept.
Some 10 million Germans who had lived for generations in what is now Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic were driven out at the end of World War II (more than half a million died in the great displacement).
Imagine that Germany had kept these 10 million people in camps for 70 years and that their descendants now numbered 40 million — and that Germany demanded on pain of war restitution of everything from the Sudetenland to Kaliningrad (the former Konigsberg). That is a fair analogy to the Palestinian position.
It is a scam, a hoax, a put-on, a Grand Guignol theatrical with 5 million extras. Because polite opinion bows to the sensibilities of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims, it is treated in all seriousness.
As a matter of full disclosure, I want to put my personal view on record: The mainstream view amounts to a repulsive and depraved exercise in hypocrisy that merits the harshest punishment that a just God might devise.
Observers like Caroline Glick, Michael Curtis, and popular blogger Elder of Zion have all noted the strange fact that feminists tend to beat up on Israel while giving the Arab (and larger Muslim) world a free pass.
As Glick points out:
if being a feminist means attacking the only country in the Middle East where women enjoy freedom and equal rights, then feminism…has become at best, a meaningless term…. The deception at the heart of the feminist movement is nowhere more apparent than in the silence with which self-professed feminists and feminist movements ignore the inhumane treatment of women who live under Islamic law…. Leading feminist voices in the US and Europe remain unforgivably silent on the unspeakable oppression of women and girls in Islamic societies….
On December 30, 2010, Moshe Katsav, who had served as president of Israel (a ceremonial but significant post) from 2000 to 2007, was convicted of rape and sexual harassment by a three-judge panel. The judges were two Jewish women, Miriam Sokolow and Judith Shevah, and an Arab man, George Kara.
It was an illuminative moment in several ways:
● Whereas in Israel rape, including marital rape, is a felony, most Arab countries explicitly or tacitly allow marital rape; rape is currently endemic particularly in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen; and in many Arab countries the victim of rape is the one who is charged with an offense.
● There could be no parallel phenomenon of a Jewish judge sentencing an Arab defendant, let alone a former high official, in an Arab country, not least because almost all the Jews who lived in those countries had to flee because of persecution.
● Whereas there are very small percentages of female judges in a minority of Arab countries (and none in the rest), in Israel half of all magistrate and district-court judges are women, and for years the Supreme Court has included at least one woman.
Even if it doesn’t fit the warped view of today’s feminists, the difference between Israel and the Arab world on women’s rights (and human rights generally) is night and day.
Darren Aronofsky’s take on the classic tale of Noah is the Jewish guy’s Bible movie. The narrative, which does remain true to the textual account of Genesis, is crafted in the style akin to a scholarly drash. In another lifetime you might imagine this story to have been generated by a minyan of Talmud scholars poring over the story in their classes. Perhaps that is why the Christian audience has reacted so poorly to the film; it is not, in the words of Walter Hudson, told “from a Christian theological standpoint.” The audience is treated to a wrestling, not recounting, of the text for two very good reasons: A four-chapter story would make for a very short film and Aronofsky, for however religious he may or may not be at the moment, is most definitely 100% a Jew.
Aronofsky’s Noah remains, first and foremost, a story of redemption as it was interpreted thousands of years ago when paired with Haftarah portions in Isaiah (42-43 and 54-55) for the weekly Torah reading. Like the patriarch Jacob, Noah wrestles with God: the battle is a question of original sin and free will. Redemption, Aronofsky illustrates, is a choice entered into by covenant with God. It is not simply a no-strings-attached gift granted to perfectly bad people by a perfectly good looking guy who tests well with focus groups.
Contrary to most Bible epics, a faceless, voiceless God communicates His redemptive plan to Noah through the Biblically prophetic device of a metaphoric dream. “You must trust that He speaks to you in a way you understand,” Noah’s grandfather Methuselah advises. Reminiscent of the Tanakh prophecy “your old men will see visions, your young men will dream dreams,” Aronofsky engages Noah with his aged, wise grandfather, who advises him of Enoch’s prophecy that God would, one day, annihilate the world by fire.
…no one who doesn’t already believe in God will go see Son of God. And many who do believe in God and who do go see it are, like me, plopping down $14 or $15 purely from a sense of solidarity with the well-intentioned creators of such projects. There are other, better “Jesus movies.” A dramatic reading of some of the more risqué and exciting parts of the Bible by the likes of Morgan Freeman would interest me more than sitting through Son of God again.
And while neither option likely interests your secular, non-religious co-worker, neighbor, or relative, all of them will go see something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I, as a Christian, am infinitely more excited about Noah than any other “faith-based” film in a long time – regardless of the theology or worldview found in it. I can actually talk to my non-Christian friends about it because they will actually pay U.S. currency (or BitCoin) to go see it.
…what I am suggesting is that while we work to inspire and equip new generations of artists who share our values to boldly venture into the pop-culture fray, we must not miss opportunities to introduce our worldview into the cultural conversation. … Art has the power to transcend and speak to the soul. But it must be able to meet people on their level before pointing them upward.
Upon first read I knew Moeller went out on a limb with his commentary, precisely because what he says is the truth. And truth doesn’t always gel with religious dogma; I’m a Jew, I should know. One advantage I do have over my Christian brothers when it comes to faith is that my Jewish culture encourages — and is built on — wrestling with God’s word. These matches stray far from the polite scenarios common to gentile Christian faith. However, they have resulted in a similarity between us, in that they have developed and sustained a religious culture that reveres commentary as much as the actual Word of God.
Last week, alternative media mogul Glenn Beck announced that he was going to focus on “taking back” American culture through the power of nostalgia:
In the future, Glenn Beck’s focus is going to be more on influencing culture and less on politics and news. After all, news is only “what the culture allows,” he said in a recent interview with National Review’s Eliana Johnson.
…“Beck is nostalgic for an America of decades past, and his cultural projects will aim to resurrect and revive it,” Johnson writes. “It’s an America where duty trumped desire and Americans were bound together by a sort of civic religion created by that sense of duty. ‘I want to impact the culture in the way that people see good again,’ [Glenn] says.”
Beck’s goal is admirable, to a fault. The period he seeks to resurrect was one in which concepts like “good” and “duty” were defined by a Biblical religion, not a civic one. Any history student will tell you that Marx had his own take on the American Revolution; you can show someone Frank Capra movies until you’re blue in the face and they’re still going to see Mr. Smith as the ultimate community organizer if that’s their moral outlook.
As Amy Kenyon notes, there are pitfalls to what passes for nostalgia these days:
…the historical meanings and usages associated with nostalgia were finally mangled beyond recognition until its chief purpose became the performance of sentimentalism, the parceling out of discount memory via television, advertising, heritage theme parks, and souvenir markets, all aspects of what we might call the “nostalgia industry.” As such, nostalgia became kitsch, trivial and reactionary: hardly the stuff of a meaningful engagement with the past or the workings of memory.
Simply put: Glenn Beck needs to do more than embrace the facade of America, circa 1940. Beck needs to dig deeper, to America’s Biblical heritage, to understand what re-taking the culture truly means.
There’s this great story in the Torah that goes a little something like this. The leaders of Israel went up on a mountain for a private conference with God, per His request. With the bosses away, the Israelites decided to throw a party. Grateful to their God for freeing them from slavery, they shaped a golden calf to symbolize Him, worshipped the calf as God, and partied on. When the leaders came back down from the mountain, they were less than pleased. Tablets were smashed, God rained justice, there were a lot of irreversible layoffs. The common understanding of the tale says that God destroyed the Israelites because they worshipped the calf as a god. In reality, their sin was creating an image of God that suited their own liking, then worshipping Him as they wished.
Hollywood, and American culture in general, suffers from Golden Calf Syndrome. Whether you blame it on the instant gratification of social media or simple human impatience, God doesn’t communicate every 5 seconds in 140 characters or less. That’s not enough for us as a culture, so we’ve made a nasty habit out of satiating our need for the Almighty by forcing Him into a box of our own liking. Habit has become trend to the point that we don’t even realize when we’re trying to force God into our mold.
Take, for instance, the conservative Christian idol-worship of Matthew McConaughey for “daring” to use the name “God” in a sentence at the Oscars. Upon remarking on the huge stretch of the imagination performed by Christians (and some Jews, I’m sure) in thinking that McConaughey’s use of the G-word somehow referenced the God of scripture, the common, rather lackluster response I received was best phrased as, “Take it where you can get it.”
One comment, however, caught my eye.
Meir Har-Zion, an iconic Israeli military figure, died at 80 on March 14. He never pursued a political career and you probably haven’t heard of him. Indeed, his military exploits were mostly confined to a three-year period in the 1950s. Yet his fame in Israel never wore off, and a 2005 poll ranked him 15th out of the 200 greatest Israelis of all time.
Moshe Dayan—another iconic Israeli figure who was a chief of staff, defense minister, and foreign minister—called Har-Zion “the finest of our commando soldiers, the greatest Jewish warrior since Bar Kochba,” referring to the leader of the 2nd-century-CE revolt against Rome. It was Dayan who had Har-Zion appointed an officer even though he had never undergone officers’ training.
In eulogizing Har-Zion, current defense minister Moshe Yaalon called him “one of the greatest warriors in the history of the IDF—an audacious, distinctive commander whose influence in molding generations of fighters and units was pivotal.”
There are a lot of great lines in the megillah of Esther. The one most often quoted comes from Mordecai: “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position for such a time as this.” It smacks of drama and makes for an excellent movie poster catchphrase. But, it wouldn’t hold half its meaning without the point-blank observation of evil Haman’s wife, Zeresh.
Upon listening to his frustration over Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him, Zeresh tells her husband to hang Mordecai. But, when she finds out Mordecai is a Jew, she does a complete 180 and admits:
If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is a Jew, you will not get the better of him; on the contrary, your downfall before him is certain.
And this is before Esther convinced the King not to massacre the Jews. It’s refreshing to know our reputation precedes us. But it isn’t a reputation we Jews are always glad to have; we aren’t exactly in it for the fame. In fact, like Esther, our first instinct is to keep our heads down and fit in with the rest of the crowd.
Speaking of “the crowd”, modern feminists have managed to twist the humble Jewess into the villain of the tale, instead opting to celebrate the Persian Queen Vashti for her refusal to appear before the King at his whim. Think: Her body, her self, Persian style. Docile, compliant Esther, meanwhile, is a mere pawn whose beauty comes in handy to persuade the patriarchy to let her live another day. This simplistic interpretation, totally ignorant of the promise and perspective of God, relies on the feminist myth that a woman’s worth is in her ability to manipulate her body to her advantage. Esther could never be considered a hero to these women, because she was inspired by a sense of purpose that outweighed the importance of her own skin.
“Don’t suppose that merely because you happen to be in the royal palace you will escape any more than the other Jews. For if you fail to speak up now, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from a different direction; but you and your father’s family will perish,” Mordecai warns before adding, “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this.”
Vashti Feminists like to think the story is about Esther using her body to pursue the King’s favor. In reality, Esther pursues God’s purpose for her life and the life of her nation, Israel. She didn’t choose to sacrifice her body to the Persian King’s whims. On the contrary, Esther chose to devote herself, body, mind and spirit, to the living promises of God. The King, the death decree, even evil Haman, all of them were nothing more than plot devices in the ongoing love story between God and Israel. Esther, Queen of the Shadchans (Matchmakers) arrived on the scene as a reminder that “relief and deliverance will come”.
Esther was just a regular Jewish girl, redirecting her focus away from herself and onto the bigger picture of God’s plan for humanity. Crowned with the desire and humility to walk in faith, she is remembered as a Queen among her people. Vashti-feminists are oblivious to this plan and the honor it bestows, because their focus remains on the image in the mirror, not the person within, let alone the others who may be around.
Thank God, Esther decided that fitting in with the crowd was a bad idea. Had Esther followed feminist mantra, she would have dismissed Mordecai’s warning and followed the example of Queen Vashti, only to wind up exiled or dead. Instead, she trusted that God’s plan involved every part of her, including her beauty, and used all of her gifts to that end. Typical feminists favor Vashti because they worship tragic beauty; Biblical feminists admire Esther because she plays to win.