Middle East Conflict, Politics, Religion


I have a big personality flaw.

I do not like the heat, but I can’t stay out of the kitchen.

Meaning, I have a strong opinion. And I like to share that opinion with others. But then I get all bent out of shape when I have to defend my self-publicized opinion. My brand of bent out of shape usually looks like me whining to my husband (“That’s it! I am done with blogging!”) or, if involved in an in-person debate,  looks like me blubbering.

I’m one those people who cannot argue without crying.

It’s genetic.

Since moving to Israel, I’ve intentionally steered clear of political conversations. Especially since I’m such a cry-baby and, come on, I’m trying to make friends, here!

The very few heated conversations I’ve accidentally found myself a part of have reminded me that I’m a little unpracticed in debate. Moreso, I’m not as schooled as I used to be in “the situation” here. I’m trying to recall data I learned in 1995 and quoting OpEd columnists now dead or retired.

Once upon a time, I was a recent college graduate with a degree in International Politics, and a concentration in Judaic Studies and the Middle East Conflict. I sported impressive internships and jobs on my resume. I read and wrote articles all the time related to American Jewry, as well as Israeli politics. Back in those days — before I had to worry about things like education, vaccination, and summer vacation  — I  could easily hold my own in a conversation about the region.

But I took a ten year hiatus from Israel…until I moved here. And now, I find myself gravitating back towards the articles I stopped reading when I traded politics for parenting.

Except, now I don’t read those articles as an academic or as a reporter or even as a student of the situation. I am full aware that I am reading these articles as an Israeli. As an American Jew living abroad. I know full well my response to these articles now is at least 75% subjective and is more emotionally-driven than intellectually.

Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I think I am among a small group of writers on the topic of Israel who will actually admit that.

I mean, REALLY, how much of what is written about Israel is truly based on “fact?” On “truth?” On “history?”

Is it true because it’s in The Atlantic? Or written by a Village Voice editor? Is it truth when it’s in The New York Times International section? Or Newsweek? What about The Jerusalem Post? Al-Jazeera?

Is it the truth when it’s been photographed? Or featured in a documentary?

What about when it comes out of the mouth of a Jewish professor? Or an anti-semitic one?

Is it true because you think so? Or your parents told you so? Or you learned it in school or in camp?

There has been much conversation in the blogosphere over the past fews days stemming from Allison Benedikt’s first person essay, in which recalls the Zionist indoctrination of her youth and compares it to what she considers her enlightenment on the topic of Israel today.

Possibly surprising, I strongly related to Benedikt’s article, and could totally related to her experiences as a Jewish girl growing up in the suburbs, going to camp and Hebrew school, and participating in a Jewish youth group. And, where some were offended and put off by her tone, I was not. In fact, it reminded me a lot of my very first post on this blog, “Too Jewish.” Many of her critics are calling Benedikt naive; many think it took her too long to realize that the “situation” in the Middle East is a multi-faceted, complex one. But I think Benedikt knew a lot more than she claims to in her piece. I think she has to be brighter than she gives herself credit for.

In fact, I think Benedikt may be a lot like me, like a lot of American Jews. Her opinions on Israel are “in flux.” Influenced by the world around her. By the books and newspapers she reads. By how much taxes are taken out of her paycheck. By how old she is. By who she has to care for at home. By the tragedies she’s witnessed…or hasn’t. By the people she loves and spends her time with.

When she was a girl, in a Zionist home and at Zionist camp, these were people who wholeheartedly and unabashedly loved and supported Israel and her policies. Perhaps blindly, and perhaps not.

Now, not so much so.

But were her parents and Zionist camp counselors really more or less blind than her anti-Israel husband?

Are her  and her husband’s opinions about Israel now really based more on fact than her opinions were as an active Jewish youth?

Or were they all…always…based mostly on emotion and experience (or lack thereof)?

I have an opinion about Israel. I think it would be impossible to live here and not have an opinion about Israel.  But I am well aware that my opinion is not based on truth.

It’s not based on fantasy either.

It’s based on some education, some experience, some past dialogue and debate. It’s based on living for a time as a lone Jew in a non-Jewish community and  Jew among Jews in a very Jewish community. It’s based on Hebrew school and Jewish day camp. It’s based on Thomas Friedman and Amos Oz and USY and two Congregation Beth Els and The Arizona Jewish Post and JCC Maccabi Xperience Summer 2000 and marrying an American Israeli/Israeli American and a host of other reading materials, dialogues, professional and personal experiences.

But, undeniably my opinions on Israel are 1) emotional and 2) ever-changing.

I think this fact is the main reason I don’t share them very often.

I don’t want to come off as one of the many people who I read and hear spouting off opinion as if its fact. Something members of both camps — pro and anti Israel — seem to be really good at these days.

Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Letting Go, Living in Community, Parenting

Yin yang

It’s almost 6 months since we moved to Israel…and I’ll soon compose a contemplative look back at our transition to life here. But in the meantime, I’m doing eight loads of laundry in a crappy stackable washer/dryer set that’s shoved in too tight into our bathroom and it got me wondering…how is my life easier and harder compared to my life in the NJ suburbs?

I recently discovered this blog post at BrainPickings.org in which they feature a film of people discussing their “perfect city.” I loved watching what people had to say about their ideal community, and then thinking about my own answer, particularly since I have been so immersed in and focused on intentional community since we moved here.

The answer for me, if I’m offering the simple one, is “my ideal community would make my life feel easy.” Why? Because I find that the “easier” my life feels, the easier it is for me to give and receive. To love and be loved. To enjoy life. To live in the present. To smile. To breathe.

Why “feel” easy? Because, as you must know, there is no easy and hard. There’s only what you feel is easy and what you interpret as hard.

Now, of course, living in (or participating in)  intentional community isn’t always easy. Like life, living in a small, intentional community is give and take; sweet and sour; hot and cold; easy and hard. It’s our job to be mindful of the balance, no? 

Much of what makes my life feel easier here has to do with living in intentional community. I’m very present to that fact, and thankful for it, because it really counterbalances most of what makes my life seem harder here:

  • Bugs
  • Parasitic bugs that like to live in your hair
  • Critters
  • Poisonous critters
  • Critters that hang out on your ceiling while you’re sleeping
  • Critters that hang out on your porch waiting to bite you
  • Dirt
  • Dirt that somehow ends up in your dryer, despite going through a wash cycle
  • Dirt that won’t come out of your laundry…ever
  • Dust
  • Dust on your window screen, on your floors, car windows
  • Cleaning dust on a tri-weekly basis
  • Being far away from family and friends
  • Being far away from family and friends, and trying to find a good time to Skype with a 7-hour time difference
  • Food
  • Food-centric society
  • Food-centric society that loves the foods my kids are allergic to
  • Food-centric society that isn’t necessarily mindful about how said food leads to rotten teeth, poor behavior, and childhood obesity
  • Crappy appliances
  • Foreign germs
  • Language barriers
  • Bureacracy
  • Crazy drivers
  • And, in a nutshell, a society that cares little for clear order, rules, organization, structure, or advance notice

When I get aggravated about, annoyed with, or frustrated by the things that seem to make my life harder here, I try to remind myself of what makes my life feel easier:

  • Intentional community: Neighbors that want to get to know me, and do
  • Family-friendly community (and by community, I mean both specifically the “yishuv” of Hannaton, and Israeli society)
  • The sharing, caring, and intimacy that comes with living in small community
  • Open space
  • Open space filled with children my children’s ages
  • Mild weather
  • The beach
  • Less time in the car (walking the kids to preschool, the bus stop, etc.)
  • Family nearby
  • Shabbat
  • Shabbat dinners at my house (where your kids to entertain mine)
  • Shabbat dinners at your house (where my kids eat your food and you clean up after them)
  • English-speaking co-workers
  • English-speaking neighbors
  • Hebrew-speaking neighbors that are tolerant of my “Heeblish”
  • Minimalistic lifestyle
  • Yoga on my neighbbor’s rooftop

  • Letting go…

The list is much longer than this, I am sure. And could get a lot more detailed and specific. And perhaps it will…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on your “ideal community.” What about where you live makes your life easy or hard? If you could live anywhere, would you live where you do? And if not, where would you live?

Middle East Conflict, Politics, Religion

Looks Jewish

The fact of the matter is there are a few things that when said out of the mouth of a non-Jew sound racist but are perfectly reasonable exiting the mouth of a fellow Tribe member.

This maybe be unfair. Un-PC. Un-liberal. Whatever. It’s fact.

A perfect example of such a remark is the statement: “She looks Jewish.”

Looking Jewish is, of course, a stereotype. It’s one that’s been used for hundreds of years by people who wanted to, at the very least, make fun of Jews, and at worst, completely annihilate them. But, as a Jew, I have found myself looking around the room from time to time, moreso when I was young and single, and asking myself or my Jewish companion: “Do you think he’s Jewish?” We’d then go about hazarding a guess based on the way he looked and how he dressed. As we got older, we might also take note of his hair, or lack therof.

Another twist on the same question is wondering out loud how a blonde-haired, fair-skinned girl is possibly Jewish. “She doesn’t look Jewish.” For many years, back when I used to be blonder than I am now, I often got strange looks from people when I told them I was Jewish.

I’m not the kinda Jewish girl who uses words like shiksa or goy; they don’t feel right coming out of my mouth. They never have. But I have said to a girl friend once, “That boy looks so ham sandwich. There’s no way he’s a Jew.” My friend, a Jew, knew exactly what I meant.

Since living in Israel, I have been amazed — yes, truly amazed– at how varied Jews actually can get. In the States, if you went to the AMC Marlton 8 movie theater in NJ when I was a kid, and there was a group of 5 guys standing smoking cigarettes in a corner, and those guys were all wearing black parachute pants, black v-neck t-shirts, and earrings, you knew those guys were not Jews. If you were a good Jewish girl, you knew not to date them; and if you were a naughty Jewish girl, you headed straight over. Those boys were Italian or Hispanic, or some version of Catholic.

Not so in Israel. That pack of Z-Cavaricci wearing boys either grew up, converted, and moved to Israel; or were born and raises in Tiberias. And YES, Mom, they’re Jewish! Here in Israel, the good boys and the bad boys — all Jews! The ones who open the door for you and the ones that would date rape you — all Jews! “Nice Jewish Boy” takes on a whole new meaning here in Israel. (Something I am fortunate not to have to worry about for another decade or so ’til my daughter starts looking at boys that way.)

Last week, I attended a hi-tech conference in Jerusalem. It was attended mostly by men, some of whom were non-Jews, I’m sure. (There was no formal poll, but it was a highly-attended international conference geared towards start ups and really rich people who want to invest in start ups.)

All the conference attendees were wearing name tags. If you are a Jew, you know (but likely won’t say out loud to a non-Jew) that it’s even easier to hit a bullseye when guessing if a man is Jewish by his name tag than it is by his looks. That said, without the name tags, if you had put these same guys in a hi-tech conference in San Francisco, I would never have been able to guess the Jews from the non-Jews.

I played a game with myself during breaks between workshops. I’d see a guy, and try to guess if he was a local (Israeli…Jew) or a foreigner. The fine-looking, finely dressed guys I thought were surely from Paris or Madrid or some other European cultural center were all named Yigal, Alon, and Amir! They were all Israeli. Jews!

This happens where ever I go here in Israel and it never ceases to amaze me. Whether I am buying my groceries or walking down the beach, there are Jews everywhere and they all look different. It astounds me that the most beautiful, model-like, bikini-wearing blonde leggy girl is sitting next to an obese, tattoo-covered guy smoking from a hookah in one hand and drinking a beer in the other; and they are both Jews!

(And if you’re wondering how you tell the Jews from the Arab Israelis, you can often hear a slight difference in the accent of their Hebrew.)

To the anti-Semites out there; or to the Jewish women (that I know personally) who sadly will not date Jewish men because they look “too Jewish;” I suggest the following antidote.

Visit Israel.

You will surely see once and for all that there is no way to color a Jew. We are hot; we are ugly; we are skinny; fat; dark; light; hairy; hairless; big breasted; flat-chested. We’ve got noses that look beaks and noses that look like buttons. We smell like aftershave; and we’ve got B.O. Some of us dress like hippies and some of us look like we just left our job at the strip club.

Why it took me moving to Israel to figure that out, I do not know.

But it’s clear to me that we Jews are a nation not only of many colors, but of hair textures, clothing preferences and chest size.

Now, if we could only teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.