I lit Shabbat candles this past Friday night for the first in a very long time. I made the decision somewhere between learning that the Grand Synagogue of Paris had closed its doors on Shabbat for the first time since the end of World War 2 and the starling fact that 15 Jewish patrons of the kosher supermarket in Paris huddled in a storage freezer to avoid being executed by terrorists.
Roger L. Simon wrote a compelling piece in the wake of last week’s barbaric attacks perpetrated by radical Islamists in Paris. Reading his article I observed with irony that he writes about America’s need for a Churchill. Perhaps, pray to God in His mercy we have one, as we are now surely England with a Neville Chamberlain at the helm. Europe, on the other hand, does not have a Churchill in sight. Europe’s Churchills and their children have fled and are fleeing, some at a breakneck pace. The only Churchill I see on the world horizon is Bibi Netanyahu, which is why he will no doubt be elected to another term as prime minister in Israel, regardless of the deals he may or may not cut with the ultra-religious. Internal politics have to be placed on the back burner when international enemies are this bloodthirsty.
I have no interest in seeing Ridley Scott’s epic IMAX 3-D meisterwerk Exodus: Gods and Kings. Why would I want to spend money on a “gloriously junky” movie that turns my history into a collection of high-tech special effects laced together by a biased, biblically-inaccurate script? Yet, for however lousy the movie itself might be, it has inspired some interesting commentary on Jewish peoplehood from Emma Green over at the Atlantic. For Green, the film inspired a polemic that highlights the seemingly eternal struggle Jews have with the idea of being called out, that is to say “chosen” by God.
I’ve always found this to be rather asinine as far as ideological burdens go. Most people struggle to find their purpose in life. Jews are born into it. We are here to bring God’s teachings into the world in order to make this earth a better place. This chosen status, this calling doesn’t make us any better than anyone else. It simply gives us a job to do, a role that manifests itself through every aspect of existence, every academic discipline, every profession we’ve ever encountered. Whether we’re religious or not, or politically Left or Right, we (for the most part) are bent on doing our part to make the world a better place. Which is probably why those who hate us the most love to rub our chosenness in our face, intimidating the Emma Greens among us into second guessing our God-given responsibility.
When I was a guest at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu 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.
Years later I became a guest again at another kibbutz, Ramat 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With 49 states buried in snow and most schools in the northeastern U.S. looking at anywhere from 7-10 snow days to make up, our country is ready for a warm up of national proportions. Throw on your heat lamps, put on a bathing suit under that fleece, and cuddle up to these 18 (the number of chai or “life”) warm images of sun, beach and desert (sweet, hot desert) from Israel.
The boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has been the stuff of universities, investment groups and the American Jewish community until now. Thanks to the stardom of Scarlett Johansson the BDS battle has made its way into the mainstream. While pop culture addicts more attuned to the size of Kim Kardashian’s rear end will pass by the politically fueled story, chances are that the more intelligent among us, including ScarJo’s Avengers following, may take a second look at the morality behind the latest #BDSFail.
The players in this story have drawn a more definitive line in the sand than Walter Sobchak, with left-wing Jewish American sources like the Forward throwing early punches at Johansson’s presumed first move into the political realm:
…Johansson would do well to realize that “normalizing” the Israeli occupation is a bad use of her celebrity.
Justifying the sucker punch with statistics from the openly biased “Whoprofits.org” (“a project that researches and exposes ‘the commercial involvement of Israeli and international companies’ in the occupation”), the Forward got its own slap down from the Israeli leftist paper Ha’aretz, which lives too close to the facts to avoid them completely:
It is true that SodaStream employs hundreds of Palestinians under terms they probably wouldn’t get at a similar Palestinian firm and Birnbaum, to his credit, was willing even to embarrass the Israeli president in defence of his Palestinian workers.
ScarJo’s decision to leave OxFam was the star’s reaction to BDS movement leaders who demanded the international non-profit organization cut ties with the SodaStream spokeswoman who defended the Israeli company, saying:
SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.
Editor’s Note: With PJ Media’s co-founder Roger L. Simon blogging from Israel this past week, now is a good time to think about a first trip to Israel for those who have not yet visited. This article from Kathy Shaidle first appeared as four pieces originally published November 23 — December 13, 2012. - DS
5 Places to Visit in Israel
5 Hidden Gems to Visit in Israel
Food, Manners and Unrequited Love: What Every Visitor to Israel Needs to Know
About five years ago, after my husband and I first heard Paul Wilbur perform at a messianic temple in Ft. Lauderdale, we became instant fans. Since then, we have played his CDs in our cars repeatedly.
Wilbur’s songs appeal to traditional Jews and Christians alike. He has performed in Israel on numerous occasions, and his love for that nation, coupled with his own Jewish heritage and love of Christ, is the hallmark of his music ministry, making him a unique performer.
As a result, Wilbur’s popularity as a singer, songwriter and praise/worship leader has grown tenfold around the world since we first heard him perform in a small venue.
His music resonates with me, and not just because we are both Jewish believers in Jesus Christ, but in the extraordinary way his songs fill any room (or car) with passion and love.
Now, as so often happens when I’m inspired to write something with a spiritual theme for PJ Lifestyle, a deeper dimension of the topic is revealed while I am doing “research.” (A quick Google search.)
Such was the case with Paul Wilbur. I had already decided to write about him because I thought PJ Lifestyle Sunday readers would appreciate knowing about him and hearing some of his music.
That was when I discovered, just this past December, Paul Wilbur made history as the first singer to perform at a religious concert event in Cuba with the full permission and “blessing” of the communist Cuban government.
Watch him here as he speaks about this historic trip.
His Cuban concerts were truly amazing events for this struggling nation and its oppressed people.
Perhaps, just the fact that Wilbur’s two “praise and worship” performances were even allowed to proceed, is a signal that some potentially major political, social and or spiritual changes are about to be instituted by the Cuban government.
Which begs the questions, “Is God at work in Cuba and if so, is HE using Paul Wilbur as a catalyst?”
Only time will tell, but in the meantime, check out Paul Wilbur Ministries and discover what a tour de force he has become around the world.
And, if you are ever presented with the opportunity to see him perform live, do not hesitate. Trust me when I tell you your faith walk could be impacted, even if you have little faith or none at all.
Finally, I will close with a video of Paul Wilbur performing a song that ranks high among my favorites.
Please do watch until the very end, for this song builds and soars and I predict your spirits will be uplifted right along with it.
In previous installments of this series, I’ve suggested famous (and not so famous) must-sees on your trip to Israel. You won’t want to miss your chance to float in the Dead Sea, snorkel with exotic fish in Eilat and fire a gun or two at Caliber 3 in Gush Etzion.
Now, onto some helpful hints and observations about everyday cultural cornerstones like food, language and manners.
PLUS: a crash course on words — like “settlement,” “refugee camp” and “checkpoint” — that don’t mean what you think they mean, at least in Israel.
The Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years because they couldn’t decide where to eat.
Food is a very big deal in Jewish culture, so it’s not surprising that you can eat well in Israel, and as cheaply or as expensively as you wish or can afford.
Contrary to what you may think, not all restaurants there are kosher.
Many people believe that kosher food, wherever it is served, is healthier and cleaner. I for one do get this sensation when I’m in Israel, that somehow the food is fresher and more carefully handled. When it comes to kosher food, a bug on your lettuce isn’t just a faux pas — it’s a serious violation of the law.
Every hotel offers a breakfast buffet. It’s an Israeli institution, and differs little from a similar spread in North America except for the addition of chilled fish like herring, and the absence of bacon and ham.
In fact, the presence of dairy at these buffets means that no meat — pork or otherwise — will be on the menu. Milk and meat are not combined because — to put it simplistically — milk represents life and meat represents death. (So while there are McDonald’s in Israel, they don’t serve cheeseburgers. Coffeemate was invented so that Jews could enjoy “cream” in their coffee while eating, say, a steak.)
One dish that’s standard fare in Israel, and that we fell in love with, is shakshuka. “Dr. Shakshuka’s” restaurant was closed the day we visited Jaffa, which is too bad because it is world famous:
We went to the charming Nelly’s Kitchen instead, and really enjoyed it.
In the evening, across Israel, a “switch” takes place in restaurants and dining rooms: meat is offered but dairy is not. The types of cutlery at your table setting will be different, too.
Expect your lunch or dinner order to come with bountiful plates of appetizers like humus and salad. THEN your main meal arrives. Keep this in mind when ordering (and eating.)
Since I’m from Toronto, I’m familiar with the cuisine of most cultures, and have long been a falafel fanatic. The falafel is the “hamburger” of Israel, so be sure to try one. If you’re a bland “meat and potatoes” person, this and other Israeli dishes may be an acquired taste.
Starbucks isn’t there yet, but the Israeli equivalent — Aroma — is arguably superior anyhow. You get a little piece of dark chocolate with your cup of coffee, and their sandwiches are exceptional.
In Jerusalem’s Old City, treat yourself to a poppy seed bun or other fresh pastry sold by the Muslim merchants who push their wares along on old wooden carts.
Check out the previous installments in Kathy Shaidle’s Israel Travel Series:
- 5 Places to Visit in Israel (Once It’s Safe To Go Back): Part One
- 5 Places to Visit in Israel (When It’s Safe to Go Back): Part Two
5. Caliber 3
This Gush Etzion range is one of the few places in Israel where tourists are permitted to fire guns. That makes its 2-hour courses for tourists incredibly popular, even though they aren’t exactly a walk at the beach:
At our program we combine together the values of Zionism with the excitement and enjoyment of shooting which makes the activity more meaningful. The contact with real soldiers who have experienced anti terrorism fighting means that everything shown and taught is authentic.
Don’t worry: you aren’t expected to run an obstacle course, but there is some running back and forth, yelling, and briskly paced team competition with lots of surprises.
Stick it out and you’ll be rewarded with the chance to fire a Ruger (too heavy!) and an M16.
They’ll even serve you lunch. (This is Israel; food is VERY important.)
Definitely one of the highlights of my trip.
(P.S.: Remember to wear long pants, and leave the flip flops at home. Ask permission about whom and what you can film and photograph.)
Our trainer was Steve Gar (below), an impressive guy originally from South Africa. Besides being a weapons expert, he is studying to be a rabbi and he works with special needs youth (one of whom served as Steve’s range assistant). Sorry, ladies — Gar’s married (to a Toronto girl!).