Over the last six months I’ve written a book — even though my schedule didn’t seem to have room for it. It’s not the longest book in the world, but also not particularly short; if published it will come to maybe two hundred pages. Efforts to get it published are, of course, already underway.
But how did I write it if I didn’t have time for it? For that I can thank my favorite cafe here in Beersheva — along with a few principles I’ve mastered over the years. I know that many people harbor plans of writing a book, but have trouble getting to it. But even if you think you can’t do it, it may be that you can.
1. Write the book someplace other than where you work — like a cafe.
In my case, I work at home and do the bulk of my work on my PC. If I had tried to write my book in that same setting, the inner reaction would have been, “Oh come on, I’m supposed to do this too?”
But what about my cafe? It’s only ten minutes from here on foot. That means I can tell the always-lazy, always-recalcitrant guy who lives within me: “Come on, we’re taking a little walk. Yes, you’re going to do even more work — but a totally different kind of work. And you’re going to get treats!”
If, like most people, you work at some workplace, it may be that back in your home you can find some niche that’s quiet and pleasant enough to work on a book. Cafes, though, offer certain advantages. To me, it’s mainly that you can keep being alone, without being too alone. Having people around — people you don’t know, so that you don’t have to talk to them — provides a kind of support.
You’ve hit some kind of snag in the flow of your prose? Staring into the void? Look up, and be distracted by the people around you. You don’t have to sit there by yourself thinking “I can’t write. I’m never going to write again…” and all that junk.
“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”
So wrote Benjamin Netanyahu in a Facebook post on March 17, the day of Israel’s elections. Since then the words have been a cause célèbre among critics of Israel—and not least, American Jewish liberals.
The Jerusalem Post reports that a “yawning divide has opened between liberal US Jews and the right-wing Jewish Israeli majority that reelected…Netanyahu,” and that:
More than any of the prime minister’s other statements—which included skepticism about the feasibility of the two-state solution and complaints about foreign influence on Israeli politics—Netanyahu’s fear-mongering against Arabs touched a deep nerve among US liberals who voted for Obama.
Among many other responses, Netanyahu’s words have sparked calls by American Jewish liberals Peter Beinart and Jeremy Ben-Ami (president of J Street) for the Obama administration to “punish” Israel and boycott its presence in lands captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
Now that Passover is here, we hear the usual calls for Jewish unity: we’ve all been in it together a long time, and continue to face challenges. But is unity really a possibility? Is there a way to bridge the “yawning divide” between Israel and liberal American Jews who are convinced that the Jewish state has lost its way?
To begin with, Netanyahu’s words weren’t lovely. He could have softened them by substituting, perhaps, “Arab citizens who oppose me” for “Arab voters.” He was indeed playing on fears; he wanted to make sure complacent people went out and voted for his Likud Party.
It’s been pointed out, though, that such things have been known to happen in bitterly contested campaigns. In the 2012 U.S. campaign, Joe Biden’s statement to a largely African-American audience that the Republicans would “put you all back in chains” was a clear case of racial fear-mongering.
It didn’t, however, evoke horror among American Jewish liberals—let alone calls to punish America, or declarations that they were disengaging from it as a country.
It can also be pointed out that Netanyahu’s remark was atypical of him, and that a few days later he apologized to Israeli Arabs. And it may also be worth pointing out that Israel’s Arab minority indeed “votes in droves,” has full rights, and sees Israel as a “good place to live.”
But it’s not enough to impress Jewish liberals of the Beinart and Ben-Ami stripe. They say they can no longer “identify” with an Israel that—in their view—no longer makes the grade morally.
Apart from Netanyahu’s Facebook post, their bitterest complaint is that Israel’s 2015 elections have returned two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties to the governing coalition—parties that take a dim view of the Conservative, and particularly Reform, Judaism that many American Jewish liberals practice.
Here, though, it seems that Israel can’t win. Ultra-Orthodox Jews form about 10 percent of the Israeli Jewish population and are entitled to political representation. It’s known as democracy. Real friends of Israel admire its democracy and are prepared to respect the results of its elections. But for American Jewish liberals, Israel only gets credit if the election results are to their liking.
Confession: I normally don’t pay too much attention to American Jewish liberals or read much of what they write. My own impression, though, from some Facebook disputes with some of them is that Netanyahu’s “Arab voters” indiscretion didn’t so much cause them dismay, but something more like schadenfreude—or even, deep down, celebration.
In other words, they’ve been looking for an excuse to disengage from Israel, and Netanyahu’s words gave them one. Their real problem with Israel is that, when they look at it, they don’t get the sensation of looking into a mirror; they don’t see themselves.
In the closed cultural, moral, and political world of what is now called “liberalism” — of which American Jewish liberals are very much a part — a hawkish Israeli electorate that views its environment as threatening is not acceptable. Environments are not threatening by nature; one makes them threatening by creating grievances among people — in Israel’s case, by “denying the Palestinians a state.”
Here, objections about Hamas, or the violent outcomes of previous Israeli concessions, will get you nowhere. In the comfortable world of Israel’s “liberal” overseas brethren, one resolves threats by making deals and goes on with one’s comfortable life.
The antagonism to religion’s role in Israel similarly disregards the fact that Israel is a Middle Eastern country where religion is not just a marginal phenomenon but a key source of identity and values, and yes, a significant political player. For most American Jewish liberals, religion has to be quarantined from public life. Israel follows a different historical trajectory; its sense of self, symbols, commemorations, and even language have grown from a substrate of Judaism. Again, it doesn’t fit the “liberal” box.
If Israel and part of Diaspora Jewry are in different orbits of values and ideology, how much should it concern us here in Israel? That some Diaspora Jews adopt a general mindset that weakens their bond to specific Jewish nationality or religion is actually, from a Zionist standpoint, inevitable. One could wish it otherwise, but it’s in the cards that some Disapora Jews drift away from us.
The main downside is that some of these “liberal” brethren, endorsing an anti-Israeli government of their own, are going to be hitting us hard in public. It doesn’t make for much “unity.” But Passover tells us that, since the days of the Book of Exodus, we’ve survived worse things.
image illustration via shutterstock / tomertu
Editor’s Note: See the previous installments in P. David Hornik’s fascinating series on the Hebrew language: “4 Ways That the Hebrew Language Redeemed the Jewish People in Our Time,” “4 Ways the World Changed for Me When I Learned Hebrew,” “4 Biblical Sayings That Spice Up Today’s Hebrew,” “5 Ways Hebrew Is (Very) Different from English,” and “10 English Words That Are—at Heart—Hebrew Words.“
Hebrew goes back very far in the Holy Land. The earliest inscription believed to be in Hebrew, discovered in 2008 at the Khirbet Qeiyafa archeological site, dates from the 10th century BCE.
Professor Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa is convinced that it’s a Hebrew inscription and says it
indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.
Other scholars, though, believe the inscription is written, at least partly, in other ancient languages like Phoenician, Moabite, or Canaanite.
Other finds, however—including, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves—are indisputably in Hebrew. What follows are some of the more notable examples out of many.
It’s hard not to notice certain parallels between Saturday’s events in Copenhagen and events in Paris last January 7 and January 9.
In the latter case, first people were attacked (at the Charlie Hebdo offices) for having insulted Islam, and then “folks” (in President Obama’s memorable formulation) were attacked for being, well, folks. In the Copenhagen case, similarly, first Islam-insulters were attacked, and then…folks.
In both cases the “folks” were Jews—what a coincidence.
Of course, sarcasm aside, it wasn’t really a coincidence at all. For thousands of jihadists in the world and many millions of Muslims—certainly not all, but significant numbers—who support them, having been born a Jew is sufficient grounds to be killed. In an earlier iteration, this was known as Nazism.
Yet, while there is clearly an Islamic tradition of antisemitism rooted in the Koran, Jews and Jew-killing have generally not been an obsession in the Islamic world. What makes our era different, of course, is the existence of that intolerable outrage known as the state of Israel, which occupies one-sixth of 1 percent as much land as the Muslim Arab countries, and of course, an even tinier proportion of the total land mass of the Muslim countries.
If Israel didn’t exist and there were only some Jewish minorities in today’s world, jihadists and their supporters would not be obsessed with them and attacking them. Because of Israel’s existence, jihadists now view all Jews, wherever they live, as members of the same accursed, demonic tribe that has no right to life. Hence the current situation in Europe, where synagogues and Jewish schools require the presence of armed soldiers and police officers.
It would be one thing if the assault was basically being mounted by part of the Muslim world while the rest of the world was standing behind Israel and the Jews. Unfortunately, that is hardly the case. The sad reality is that, seven decades after the Holocaust, the Jewish state is the most vilified country in the world, and the Western countries play a large role in the vilification.
A poll this year, for instance, finds that Britons view only North Korea as worse than Israel, while viewing Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia more favorably than Israel. Also this year, a poll finds 35 percent of Germans equating Israeli policies with those of the Nazis and 48 percent having a “poor” opinion of Israel. More generally, a BBC poll of world opinion in 2013 found only North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran to be less popular than Israel.
Other examples abound, of course. The goal of the BDS movement, increasingly trendy on Western campuses, is Israel’s eradication pure and simple; no comparable movement exists regarding any other country. The body known as the UN Human Rights Council is a kangaroo court for ritual denunciation of Israel—one that Western countries participate in and finance. And as former AP journalist Matti Friedman has powerfully documented (here and elsewhere), Western media deliberately pursue an Israel-vilifying agenda, poisoning its image in the minds of millions of mostly poorly informed people.
Compared to Europe and the Muslim world, of course, the situation in the United States is much better, with Congress and a large majority of the population showing support for Israel. The same, however, cannot necessarily be said about the administration. With Jews—or “folks,” if one insists—now increasingly being targeted in murderous attacks as a corollary of Muslim rage against Israel, is it time for the administration to rethink its prominent role in the Israel-bashing?
In 2014, for example, the State Department called Israeli actions “unacceptable” 87 times; only Syria, Iran, and North Korea tolled higher numbers, while Pakistan, Russia, Afghanistan, and Iraq got fewer “unacceptable” tags. With Israel it’s a “scandal of the week” onslaught: approves building plans for Jews in Jerusalem! Bombs a UN school! It goes without saying that no other U.S. democratic ally gets anywhere near such an amount of criticism; most, actually, are not publicly criticized by Washington at all.
And then there is the severe vilification of the thrice-elected Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. “He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” That Mafia-style bluster was an administration official’s reaction in January to Netanyahu’s accepting an invitation to address Congress. In October it was: “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit.” Of course, you’ve never heard the administration talk that way about David Cameron or Angela Merkel—or even Hafez Assad. It seems the leader of the “folks” gets a very unique treatment.
It is said that Obama, in his last years as president, is concerned about his “legacy.” Unless things change soon—which is not exactly likely—helping create a climate of aggression toward the Jewish state and Jews is going to be part of it.
In the previous article in this series I noted some differences between Hebrew and English—differences that are not surprising since the two are from different language families. And yet, at the same time, in large part via the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew has considerably influenced English.
As this informative article notes:
Both because of a desire to read the Bible in its original tongue and a belief in Hebrew as “The Mother of Languages,” it figured prominently in the Puritan movement in England…. English Puritan emigrants were also instrumental in promoting Hebrew as part of the curriculum in such prominent American universities as Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Brown, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth and Pennsylvania (Yale, Columbia and Dartmouth still bear Hebrew inscriptions on their seals). In Harvard’s early years, more time was devoted to the study of Hebrew than Latin or Greek.
It makes sense, then, that not a few common English words originate in Hebrew—and the following, of course, are just examples.
The word camel comes from the Hebrew gamal (גמל). Camels—or gamalim (plural)—were a common sight in biblical times, and these days tourists still take camel rides in Jerusalem, in the Negev desert, and elsewhere in Israel.
Camels are especially common in the Book of Genesis. For instance, when Isaac (Gen. 24:63) “went out to meditate in the field at the eventide,” he looked up and—“behold, the camels were coming.” Among the riders on these beasts was Rebekah, arrived from a different land and soon to be his wife.
It turns out that Israel—which is a frontrunner in many fields including hi-tech, medicine, agriculture, defense, and others—is actually leading the world in the field of veganism.
The nearly 5 percent of Israelis who are now vegans is the highest per capita total in the world. Another 8 percent are vegetarians. This is a very dramatic rise from just four years ago, when Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics found that only 2.6 percent of Israelis were either vegetarians or vegans.
And the trend is apparently growing. The Times of Israel quotes Israeli vegan activist Omri Paz:
The makeup of the community is the biggest change…. In the past, maybe they were more spiritual, or people society viewed as a little different, a little strange. A lot of the new vegans are mainstream—vegan lawyers, vegan teachers.
The Times goes on to note:
Israeli veganism took root in secular liberal circles, but religious Israelis are joining the movement, too. Many note that the biblical Adam and Eve were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden.
And as another report notes:
Even the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], in which most Israeli young men and women have to serve, now offers soldiers leather-free boots and a small allowance to buy themselves alternatives to the food in mess halls.
To some extent Israelis’ vegan tendency could be rooted in the kosher laws, which take meat-eating seriously and set restrictions on it.
Meanwhile, an article by Mary Eberstadt last month on National Review Online reports:
Conservative circles in Washington and New York include a growing number of…animal softies, ranging from mindful carnivores to all-the-way vegans. As the respectful treatment accorded theologian Charles Camosy’s recent book For Love of Animals goes to show, Catholic/Christian hangouts harbor fellow travelers like that too.
Eberstadt goes on to note:
within American conservatism itself, a growing coalition of newly attentive carnivores, vegetarians, and vegans is steadily acquiring new momentum. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that the freshest thinking on animal welfare these days is emanating not from the Left but rather from writers who are Christian or conservative—or both.
As both an Israeli and a conservative, I welcome both these trends. I’ve been a vegetarian for about twenty-five years, and in more recent years, a near-vegan.
The reason is simple. You’ve had dogs, or cats, or both? So you know how sensitive and emotional they are. Why would you think the cows, pigs, chickens and so on that people slaughter and eat are any different? Why put them through ordeals and death?
I used to think this didn’t apply to dairy products, since animals aren’t killed to obtain them. But modern dairy farming—like modern factory farming in general—is actually full of appalling cruelty to the animals involved.
But even if there were a sweeping reform of factory farming, and farm animals were allowed to live more or less decent lives before being subjected to “humane slaughter,” I would remain a near-vegan (and I may make it to full veganism). Should we be killing animals so we can eat their dead flesh? Is it civilized? And is it much more civilized to have a cow’s milk on my table?
I would agree that it was justified if people, like cats, needed animal products for their health. But that, of course, is not the case; there are many millions of perfectly healthy vegetarians and vegans in the world. My quarter-century of increasingly stringent vegetarianism finds me at the peak of health. And I will never forget the light, pleasant feeling I had as soon as I stopped eating meat; by now, of course, I take it for granted.
So if health isn’t the justification for meat, that leaves two others: it tastes good, and it’s what people have been doing for a long time.
Yes, I recall that it tasted good—and so do all sorts of delightful non-meat dishes, including ersatz meat products if you miss meat. Is a good taste really a reason to kill a living being?
And as for the fact that people have been eating meat for a long time, that, of course, is not a strong argument. Other “traditional” human practices have included cannibalism, human sacrifice, and slavery. Longevity is hardly a justification.
What I’m saying is best summed up by the image of a vegan soldier with non-leather boots. There is, lamentably, still a world of belligerent, murderous humans out there whom one has no choice but to fight. But by going vegetarian-vegan you link yourself with the world of peace, harmony, and respect for life, and you expand it.
When I started learning Hebrew at age 29, one year before moving to Israel, it seemed daunting. Until then, English was the only language I knew; now, at a relatively late age, I was setting out to learn another one that had a different alphabet, belonged to a different language family, and was overall distant and exotic from the standpoint of English.
Some of the ways in which Hebrew differs from English were indeed hard to get used to, others not so much. What was fascinating was to find how there are different modes of human speech. While the content of what gets expressed is basically the same, the mechanisms for doing so are not. It would be all the more intriguing to learn a third language; I wish I had the time.
In 2014, the year before the murder rampages at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the kosher supermarket in Paris, about seven thousand French Jews (out of a community of about half a million) emigrated to Israel.
With Muslim and other antisemitic harassment and violence constantly intensifying in France, that was twice the number of the previous year, and a record high.
Even before this month’s terror attacks, a higher number of French Jewish immigrants to Israel was expected for 2015. Now, after the attacks, a higher number yet is expected, possibly fifteen thousand. There is even talk of the Jews leaving France—mainly for Israel—altogether.
Meanwhile it’s reported that:
An unprecedented 15,000 soldiers and police officers have been mobilized in France to protect potential sites from terrorist attacks, of whom one third have been stationed at Jewish schools and synagogues for 24-hour-a-day supervision.
Five thousand police officers will guard 717 Jewish institutions, in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks that killed 17 people, including four Jews at a Paris kosher supermarket.
And in a speech after the attacks, French prime minister Manuel Valls said:
How is it possible to accept that France…how can it be accepted that we hear on our streets “Death to the Jews”?… How can one accept that French people be murdered simply because they are Jewish?
…We must say to the world: without the Jews of France, France would no longer be France. And that message is one that we all have to deliver strongly and loudly. We did not say it in the past. We did not show our indignation in the past.
On the one hand, one can ask whether sending one’s children to a school that has to be guarded round-the-clock by seven or eight soldiers and police officers is much of a way to live. On the other hand, one could ask, in light of the protective measures and Valls’s words: should France be given another chance, before Jews give up on it?
As I noted in the first article in this series, “In the Diaspora, Hebrew was retained primarily as a holy tongue, a language of prayer and sacred study.” But with the onset of Zionist settlement of the Land of Israel in the late 19th century, Hebrew gradually became the official language of the Yishuv, the prestate Jewish community, and then of the state of Israel itself.
That, however, required a good deal of modernization and adaptation of classical Hebrew. The driving force behind that project was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1921), a Lithuanian-born Jew who moved to Palestine in 1881 and—among much other activity on Hebrew’s behalf—produced a 17-volume lexicon of ancient and modern Hebrew, sometimes working on it 18 hours a day.
If Eliezer Ben-Yehuda could see today’s Israel, he would know that his labors were crowned with great success. Hebrew now permeates all dimensions of Israeli life, from scientific studies to street slang.
And yet, with all the modern coinages—many of which originated with Ben-Yehuda himself—Hebrew’s biblical core remains vibrant. It pops up, for instance, in colorful phrases and sayings that are part of today’s Israeli Hebrew.
An Israeli year is usually tumultuous. It has to do with the hostile Middle Eastern environment, with Israel’s problematic parliamentary system that often produces rickety, short-lived coalitions, and with the dynamism of a young society undergoing dramatic economic and demographic growth.
This wasn’t one of Israel’s most tumultuous years but also definitely not one of its quietest. The Gaza war and a wave of terrorism broke five years of relative calm since the 2008-2009 Gaza war. The Obama administration kept lambasting Israel publicly, while in Israel a governing coalition collapsed after less than two years in office. Outside the media limelight, though, Israel kept making diplomatic and economic gains, and the immigrants kept coming.
I decided to move to Israel (make aliyah) when I was 28, and came to live here with my family when I was 30. At the age of 28, I knew zero Hebrew; by the time we made aliyah I had learned just a little from a cassette-tape course. (Yes, there were things called cassette tapes back then.)
Our first residence in Israel was an absorption center in the town of Hadera on the coastal plain. There we had to take an intensive Hebrew course—meaning I immediately started learning this difficult language more seriously. And right away, even with only a few words and phrases at my disposal, I started to feel connected to my new environment in ways I couldn’t have if English had still been the only language residing in my brain.
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.
Author and journalist Judy Bachrach started volunteering in a hospice in the late 1980s, and her real motive was to try to overcome her fear of death. About two decades later, when her mother came down with Alzheimer’s, Bachrach decided to look into the subject of near-death experiences.
So she delved into the literature, and journeyed around the United States and the world to interview near-death experiencers (NDErs or, as she calls them, “death travelers”) and leading researchers in the field. The result is her book Glimpsing Heaven. Her conclusion from her inquiries: “there are simply, as some of the doctors and scientists I’ve interviewed point out, too many experiencers and too many experiences to discount.”
How many? Dutch cardiologist and NDE researcher Pim van Lommel says that in the last 50 years over 25 million people worldwide have reported NDEs. A 1982 Gallup poll found eight million Americans reporting them. As Bachrach comments: “Not every self-proclaimed death traveler could be an arrant liar or deeply unbalanced or both.” If you want to hear accounts by “travelers” who are evidently balanced, mature, and intelligent, you can easily find them on YouTube.
But were these people really “dead”? Aren’t these experiences just hallucinations caused by oxygen deprivation? Having looked into the NDE subject myself for a few years, I believe one can only hold that view if one is ill-informed or determined.
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.
PJ Media contributor David Solway, an award-winning Canadian poet and author, has revealed another side of his multiple talents. Solway the songster is now available on his new CD Blood Guitar and Other Tales (individual tracks available for download at CDBaby.com). It’s a stunning musical debut.
Blood Guitar offers thirteen gems with lyrics and music entirely created by Solway. Ably rendering his own compositions on voice and guitar, Solway is expertly backed up by Canadian musicians Ted Paull and Margaret Armstrong. I cannot too strongly recommend this musical stroll through essential issues of life.
In the extraordinarily poignant “So It Goes” Solway sings of “the silence in between the tick and tock….” Time is one of the main concerns of this set of songs. The other is love. How does one embark on new love when one has long been scarred by time and knows that it keeps “ticking in the heart” (“The Most of It”)? Taken together these songs are a vote in favor of love, of taking the leap of faith even if it means being “half-demented” (“Speaking Eyes”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week I explained that I was in the dating game from 1996 to 2007, and described four mistakes I made (of course, there were others, too) that kept me in the game by taking me on detours that led nowhere.
As I also mentioned, one day in 2007 (it was July) I had a truly successful date, creating a situation that lasts till today. I’m now thinking about what, in the early days of this partnership, were some of the signs that it was promising and headed in the right direction, and what made it different from those other attempts that were ill-starred.
I divorced in 1996, and in 2007 I blessedly struck it rich on a blind date and have been in a stable situation ever since.
Looking back at the eleven years I spent in the dating game (or more accurately, in and out of it), I’m struck by how many pitfalls there are and how many of them I did not manage to avoid. A retrospective review might shed light on how to arrive at a good place without taking all sorts of detours that just lead you right back to the dating game.
One of the most handy, readable, informative books about near-death experiences (NDEs) is Jeffrey Long’s Evidence of the Afterlife. In it Long, a radiation oncologist, offers nine lines of evidence for why NDEs are real and not just dreams or hallucinations.
Among those nine lines of evidence, Long considers one of the strongest and most dramatic to be the fact that, during NDEs, blind people can see—including people blind from birth. People with that unfortunate condition do not see even in dreams. They know that vision exists, but can’t imagine what it is—as if someone had told you about some additional, unimaginable sense.
Yet, in NDEs, even blind-from-birth people see—in full, vivid detail. Long calls it “medically inexplicable.”
Probably the best-known case is that of Vicki Umipeg-Noratuk. Her story was first told in a 1998 study of blind people’s NDEs (and OBEs, out-of-body experiences) by Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper of the University of Connecticut. Ring, a professor of psychology, and Cooper went on to publish Mindsight, a book based on their study.
Are you just a physical entity, ultimately reducible to the physical entity known as your brain? Is that organ—a bundle of neurons weighing about three pounds—the source of all your thoughts, feelings, and any illusion you may have of a “soul” or a “spirit”?
I recently finished reading a 600-plus-page book by a group of academic psychiatrists, psychologists, and philosophers, called Irreducible Mind, that argues exactly the opposite. The book presents a huge body of evidence from scientific studies of psychokinesis, split personalities, psychic healing, near-death experiences, and other phenomena that seems to constitute powerful proof that, while the mind and the brain obviously interact, the former is not reducible to the latter and there are circumstances where consciousness clearly exists and functions independently of the brain.
Irreducible Mind is a subversive endeavor, swimming against the tide of about a century of scientific reductionism (though not, it should be stressed, in quantum physics) that says all phenomena, including your most delicate or exalted sentiments, are ultimately physical. The book has definitely had some impact; googling the title gets almost two million results, and though published back in 2007 it keeps selling well on Amazon.
One of the coauthors is Bruce Greyson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia and leading researcher of near-death experiences. A few months ago a video surfaced of a lecture Greyson gave in India in 2011. It’s about an hour long, fascinating, and seems to point to even more dramatic findings since Irreducible Mind was published seven years ago.
Greyson presents four lines of evidence for the mind as an independent entity, which I’ve taken the trouble to summarize, and they could be an eye-opener. First he gives this caveat:
The evidence that I’m going to discuss…is derived entirely from scientific research. But I do not want to give you the impression that this evidence is…accepted by Western scientists. In fact, most Western scientists are completely unaware that this evidence even exists.
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.