On Power

I saw this quote in an article this week.

Dumbledore to Harry:

It’s a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.  Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.

We have politicians, not leaders.

We have elected officials, not public servants.  

We’ve been seeing this over and over again in the US and in Israel.  Trump is facing an impaneled grand jury set to deal with the Russia investigation and Netanyahu is facing his own potential indictments for corruption with a former chief of staff turning state’s witness.  It’s not a good time for either the US or Israel.

The common saying is “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s usually used against people who try to gain absolute power, but I think we tend to forget that any amount of power has the potential to corrupt.  We see these corruption scandals and we shout from the rooftops, “Why? Why would they [fill in the crime]?”  The answer is not a complex psychological evaluation of each individual person.  The answer is they do these things because they think they can get away with it.  They do them because they can.

Of course we must resist and say “No!” But we have to do it without getting drunk on our own power, drowning in our viral videos, or sharpening knives of snarky anonymity. That power too can corrupt.

What can we do?

Vote. Obviously.  It would be better to vote with our consciences, for someone we actually believe in rather than the lesser of two evils. Elect officials that represent the best parts of ourselves.

I know. We lack good candidates. Who wants to be a leader today? Who wants to be a public servant? People want six-figure salaries, great benefits (especially health insurance in the US), and plenty of vacation time to get away from all their responsibilities.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi

The truth is that we can’t change other people.  We can only change ourselves.

Maybe if more people decided that “if it bleeds, it leads” was awful and voted with their money to not support news outlets that operate that way and choose instead to support responsible journalism, we would get real, informative, considered news.

Maybe if we made media choices based on human values, we wouldn’t encourage snark, insults, bias, xenophobia, and clever meanness on every form of media.

Are we drawn to a Cult of Personality, or are we choosing our representatives based on their vision for the future?

“It’s not dark yet. But it’s getting there.” – Bob Dylan

Bob wasn’t talking about society with this lyric, but it’s appropriate. Until more people make better choices, we are going to have politicians, not leaders. We are going to have elected officials, not public servants.  We will value people who are famous for being famous, not smart people who want to make the world better.  And we will worship anonymously in the Cult of Snark and take no responsibility for anything since it’s always someone else’s fault.

Unless.

Unless I’ve inspired you. And you can inspire someone else. And that person can inspire someone else. Then maybe, just maybe, politicians will lead, elected officials will serve the public, people will be famous for real accomplishments, and we can all be nicer to one another.

Free to be you and me in Jerusalem

I’m buried in non-blog-related work, but I decided that I still wanted to take time to write this week because I am constantly amazed by Jerusalem.

This week there were two big gatherings in Jerusalem.  On Tuesday, 1,200 Jews entered the Temple Mount on the fast day of 9 Av, which among other things marks the destruction of both Temples.  This is the most that have ever entered the site on that day.

And a few days later, 22,000 people marched in Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade that ended with a rally in Independence Park. (They expected 4,000; I read last night it was 14,000; and this morning it was 22,000.)

The Temple Mount and Independence Park are separated by about a 25-minute walk.

The people participating are possibly miles and eons apart in their beliefs.  Or are they?  This year’s Pride theme was “LGBTQ and Religion.”

The thing is that you can be who you are and still be part of the vibrant city of Jerusalem. There’s a place for everyone here.

Free to be you and me and we can be ourselves in Jerusalem

On the cusp of a slippery slope

In spite of what you see on the news, I still feel quite safe in Jerusalem. However, I’m not crazy and I won’t be reporting live from the Temple Mount.

PANO_20170217_135529 (1)

Unless you’ve been too wrapped up in the drama at the White House, you might have noticed that the Temple Mount has been in the news lately.  This post won’t be a point by point explanation of that, nor will I get into all the vitriol.  The salient facts are:

  • On July 14, two Druze border police officers were gunned down near the Lions’ Gate by terrorists who had homemade guns hidden in the compound of the Temple Mount aka the Haram al Sharif.
  • Jews consider the Temple Mount the holiest site in Judaism. Muslims consider the Haram al Sharif the third holiest site in Islam.
  • Jews and other non-Muslims are only allowed to enter through one gate and I believe they have to go through security (it’s been a long time since I’ve been there). Muslims have access to several gates and undergo spot checks at most.
  • Israel is responsible for the security and the Waqf, a Jordanian organization, administers the site. So when Israel put up security measures (metal detectors and cameras), the Waqf refused to enter and called on all Muslims to boycott the site.
  • Muslims prayed outside the compound, but it was not all “Kumbaya” and strumming guitars in the name of peace, love, and understanding.
  • Israel took down all the security measures and the Waqf still was not satisfied and Palestinian leaders were calling for a “day of rage.” But as of this writing on Friday, prayers on the Temple Mount ended peacefully – though there were plenty of clashes elsewhere.
  • I’m leaving out the attack on the Israeli embassy in Jordan, and the murders of three family members by a knife-wielding terrorist in their house, among other things, which are apparently directly linked to the anger about the security measures.

I’d like to jump out of the 24-hour news cycle and try to look at the big picture.  I’ve written about the UNESCO decisions before (here and here) and I continue to be troubled.

  • I finally found the hundreds of pages of documentation on the Hebron decision and in skimming them, I did not find anything that was blatantly false. One questionable element was that Hebron is in a country called Palestine.

Text 3

Screen capture

  • Israel is always slamming these decisions of World Heritage Sites in Danger and I wondered how sites get nominated. Why doesn’t Israel nominate sites?
    • I found out that a state that has signed on to the World Heritage Convention can nominate sites within its boundaries. Both Israel and Palestine are states that are recognized to have signed on to the convention.
    • That means that in spite of Israel’s Knesset law annexing and unifying Jerusalem, Jordan is the nominating country for the Old City of Jerusalem (though it is listed without a country).
    • In that case, Hebron should technically also be nominated by Jordan, yet the documentation shows that it is nominated by “Palestine.”
    • Alternatively, shouldn’t either one of the parties disputing the territory be allowed to nominate?
    • In both cases, Jerusalem and Hebron are not recognized as being in Israel.
  • The Hebron decision, by the way, was schedule for next year, but they moved it to this year under special circumstances. It seems like UNESCO is de facto recognizing that Hebron is in the boundaries of a country called Palestine, thus recognizing both the country and its general borders.  They also recognize Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Battir as part of Palestine too.  As far as I know, there has not yet been a final status agreement between the parties on where the borders would be should Palestine be created in the disputed territory on the west bank of the Jordan River.

Jerusalem and its Walls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danger.  In skimming the conservation report for 2017 prepared by Jordan and Palestine for UNESCO, Israel is accused of breaking the “status quo” all the time.  So two weeks ago, putting in security measures violated the status quo, which is a strict constructionist view of how to maintain the status quo.  The security measures weren’t there in 1967, thus they should not be there now.  Security is trumped by the politics of the status quo.

Text 1

Screen capture from the conservation report

Here’s my final point about the status quo and why we have to be so much more diligent about paying attention to UNESCO.  Buried in a footnote on page 39 of the conservation report is this:

Under the terms of the Status Quo on holy sites, a decree fixed the Ottoman Sultan in 1757 and codified in more detail by a British government Commission in 1922, 1929 and 1933 the Wall is a Muslim Waqf property and the Waqf owns the Buraq Wall and the Buraq Plaza in front of the wall. In these decrees, Jews have the right to stand on the pavement in front of it and pray. (Emphasis added.)

Text 2

This is what is considered the “status quo.”

So according to documents accepted by UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization – Jerusalem is not in Israel, the Cave of the Patriarchs is an excellent example of first century CE architecture, and the Western Wall is the western wall of the compound of the Haram al Sharif. Oh, and Jews and Christians might have some connections there.

By the way, next week is Tisha B’Av, a day on the Hebrew calendar that marks the destruction of both Temples among other major tragedies for the Jewish people.  I guess we’ll have to see what happens next Tuesday.

Links for more information

Breakdown of what’s happening on the Temple Mount – op-ed.

Old City of Jerusalem listed under Jerusalem – not under any country – and noted that it is nominated by Jordan.

Hebron/Al Khalil Old Town listed in Palestine.

 

According to Plan

Yesterday I woke up with a plan.  I was going to leave work a little bit early and see a matinee double feature (Spiderman and Baby Driver).  Why?  Why not?  I’m stressed and it a little escapism wouldn’t hurt.

But that’s not at all what happened.  Moreover, everything that did happen served a better purpose.

First, I found out that my perfect scheduling was not working out.  The second movie was suddenly not playing at the expected time.  Every other day, yes.  Today, no.  Ok.  I’ll roll with it.  Maybe I’ll just see one movie and maybe, if I’m lucky, it was just a mistake in the schedule.

I’m working along, in the flow, and suddenly it’s past the time I planned to leave.  One last email to answer and I have to make a stop to pick up a book.  Oof!  Maybe I’ll take a taxi.

No, I decide to wait for the bus.  Maybe I’m not supposed to go to these movies today.  What about a later movie?  Hey, Dunkirk is playing a bit later.  Let’s see.  The bus comes within minutes and I’m on the way.  I get to the office to pick up the book and if I get in and out quickly, I can take a taxi.

Nope.  I meet with the person who has the book I need and I meet other members of my virtual editing team, which is really nice since we are only in contact online and this is real human contact in a relaxed, non-work-focused conversation.  Dunkirk starts without me.

Now I’ve given up the double feature plan and I remember that there is a good shawarma place a block away.  I buy one and get back to the bus stop just as my bus pulls up.  Home, Jeeves!

hero-schawarma-laffa

Illustrative picture of shawarma, food of the gods

While I’m stuffing my face with shawarma at home, I turn on my computer to get started on work and find that my mouse is broken.  My beloved cat swatted it off the couch in the morning and it was apparently one time too many.  I cannot work without a mouse, so after the shawarma lands in my tummy I decide to go out a get a new mouse.  And then I remember I should go to the bank (the tangent about banking in Israel can be summed up in a word: annoying!) and it just so happens that the timing is perfect.

IMG_20170715_184740

Oh, she looks innocent, but her spirit name is Mouse Killer

I get to the office supply store and they don’t have my snazzy mouse, but I got one that’s half the price and a spare that was even cheaper. After a miraculously quick stop at the bank, I’m standing at a light deciding which way to go; my decision is made when the light turns green directing me down Ben Yehuda Street.

And I stroll to the odd radio that I missed in previous walks in the area.

IMG_20170720_164448

I don’t know.  Your guess is as good as mine

And I meander along walking off the heavy shawarma.

I get home and I feel … good.  I hadn’t run away to a dark movie theater to hide from my stress, but instead made positive real-life connections, got a new mouse, went to the bank, and got some exercise. Every step along this path was made exceptionally easy and every time I tried to invoke my hiding plan, there was an obstacle. Clearly, letting go of my own plan and allowing this better plan to play out was better for me.

This isn’t quite on the level of “Woman plans, God laughs,” but sometimes we all have to accept that once in a while there are unexplainable forces pushing and pulling us in various directions.  We are, of course, all masters and mistresses of our own destinies and there are times to strive against obstacles and go for what you want.  But then there are other times when the choice is simply to say “Yes” and let the rest flow.

Epilogue: Remember when I bought two mouses?  That seemed odd at the time.  I mean, who buys two mouses for themselves? But it turned out that the half-price mouse isn’t sensitive enough and I actually ended up using the even cheaper spare.

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

Priorities in order

So much happening this week all over the world!

It’s not in the scope of this blog to talk about the Trump administration, but – say what??!!

I wanted to write about the UNESCO decision on Hebron, but I didn’t have time to fully research the topic.  Also, I cannot find the actual text of the decision on the UNESCO site.  I don’t want to quote secondary sources on it, if I can avoid it.  That should also tell you something about the decision.

The Temple Mount is in the news again and not in a good way.  Again, more research is needed before I would want to comment.

So I’m only going to write about the most important thing that is happening today:

Happy Birthday Mom!

Mom early 70s Israel

What would you have told this young version of yourself?

You will move to another country (the third!) and learn another language (the third!), you’ll have two more children (boys!), you’ll have a hand in raising many children in your daycare, you’ll be a teacher, you’ll be a violinist in a symphony orchestra, you’ll be a world traveler, you’ll be curious about politics and will always strive to learn more, and you’ll be a grandma (twice over!).

IMG_20170511_121100

But to me you’ll always be Mom.

cropped me and mom

Jerusalem Light Festival

This week I took two evenings to sprint through the Jerusalem Light Festival.  I’m always so proud of Jerusalem and especially our city administration for coming up with interesting and fun cultural events.

This year’s walking paths for the Light Festival went from the southern-facing Zion Gate up to the northern-facing Damascus Gate (yes, the infamous Damascus Gate).  Tours within the Old City meandered through the Christian quarter and the Jewish quarter.  It felt to me like there was an attempt to tie the two halves of the city together, but it didn’t quite work.  I saw quite a few Arabs and a few Jews and tourists when I ventured to the Damascus Gate, but the main crowds were to the south and I saw many Arabs, Jews and tourists there too.

Let me just say something also about the crowds.  The phrases “sweaty crush of humanity,” “barbarian horde,” “madding crowd,” and “oppressive multitudes” come to mind.  I’m getting flashbacks of mosh pits from my university days, but not in a good way.  It’s as if you plan for an elegant reception with light refreshments and the guests come bringing all their friends. They are ravenous, eat everything in sight with both hands and then demand more.

Still, I’m glad that Jerusalem is putting in the effort.  Now the crowds just need to do the same.  Here are a few lovely highlights from as much of the Light Festival as I could bear.

Damascus Gate as a platform for other gates.

A film presentation on the wall near Jaffa Gate.  It used the texture and shape of the walls to make the film more dynamic.  Well done!

Explorations of light that have nothing to do with the walls.

The walls as a platform and, if you look closely,
the crush of humanity, I mean, people enjoying the festival.

 

It’s not about the Wall

You know when you have an argument with a loved one about something and it turns into a really ugly fight and later you realize that this huge fight was not even about whatever you were fighting about?  It’s actually about something deeper in your relationship.  I think that’s what’s happening this week among the Jewish People with regard to the Kotel (the Western Wall).

What happened?

Prime Minister Netanyahu suspended the plan to expand the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.  The English language press in Israel went bananas and Jewish leaders in the US issued strongly worded statements of disappointment.  Op-eds were written that suggested Netanyahu snubbed the whole of Diaspora Jewry and is a liar, that this act will turn into a security threat because US Jewry will no longer support Israel and thus not push the US government to continue to support Israel, that US Jewry will pull their charitable giving, and on and on.

The Israeli press noted that the decision happened and moved on.

A little background

What is the Kotel actually?  It is an exposed remnant of the retaining wall that holds up the Temple Mount complex, where the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa now stand.  It is *not* a remnant of the Temple itself.

Wall

Screencap: Source

Why do Jews face Jerusalem to pray? Jews pray toward where the Temple once stood; they are not praying to a retaining wall.  People place prayers in the Wall, but the Spirit of the Lord does not actually reside there.  He just picks up His messages from time to time.

When did the Plaza become a synagogue? In 1967, when Jerusalem was reunified, the alleyway that was in front of the exposed section was expanded and became the Western Wall Plaza.  That small section of the retaining wall was conveniently located and it was turned into an open-air Orthodox synagogue (it was not a synagogue before).

How holy is it? Based on the logic of holiness bestowed upon the Western Wall, every part of the retaining wall should be considered equally holy: the southern wall (I’ve seen people praying there), the eastern section (on the Mount of Olives side), the Via Dolorosa (the first few Stations of the Cross starting at the Lion’s Gate), the route of the Tunnel tours, and even a little alley called “The Little Kotel,” which is apparently even closer to where the Temple stood.

So what’s the question? Why should anyone demand that an open-air Orthodox synagogue near an exposed section of a retaining wall accommodate Reform and Conservative practice? To my knowledge, no one has blasted into the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem and demanded that it be converted to accommodate Reform and Conservative practices.  There is a Conservative synagogue across the street and everyone seems to be fine with that.

Perhaps we should ask a different question? Why is there any kind of synagogue at all?  Why not just keep the practice of individual contemplation and personal prayer for all people of all denominations of all religions?

The bottom line

This kerfuffle is not really about access to the Kotel.  Just like the fight you had last week with your loved one wasn’t about who would put the dishes in the dishwasher and how you always do it wrong.

This is about acknowledgement and acceptance.

It could start with the rabbinical authority in Israel acknowledging that there are other visions of Judaism – they may need to negotiate about the different ideas of halakha (Jewish law) – but they should also try to square it a bit more closely with the Law of Return (anyone with a Jewish grandparent on either side is entitled to Israeli citizenship, which is not the halakhic definition of a Jew).

Jews living outside of Israel will also have to accept that Jews living in Israel have their own ideas about how to run the country and preserve holy sites and that donations to Israel and putting your name on buildings doesn’t actually bestow the right to dictate policy here.

Fiddler on the Roof starts with Tradition (video above) and by the end a few things get changed in line with the times.  But we keep our balance, like a fiddler on the roof!

My radical proposal

The question of acknowledgement and acceptance is real and I don’t want to minimize it.  It is symbolized in the questions of access to the Western Wall and that is indeed legitimate.

However, the bigger issue facing all of the Jewish people is that UNESCO continuously and repeatedly calls the Western Wall Plaza “The Al-Buraq Plaza” and calls the Temple Mount only by its Muslim name.  If we want to continue our internal family discussions about access to the Western Wall, we need to ensure that it remains a Jewish site.  And we must also remember that the Temple Mount – where Jews are forbidden to pray and are arrested for doing so – is the actual holy site.