Heroes

I saw Black Panther last night in IMAX 3D. I love a superhero movie! With no spoilers, I can tell you that this movie is for EVERYONE. The message is simple:

Be who you are.
Remember where you came from.
And, most importantly, be a light unto the nations.

There is plenty of digital ink out there about what this movie means, how important it is in society right now, how empowering it is, and how universal the appeal is. It is all of those things and more. Instead of a trailer, here’s a little featurette about the warriors of Wakanda.

When I left the theater I was struck by the popularity of superhero movies in recent years and I was reminded that during the Great Depression people in the US went to movies and listened to radio plays to keep their spirits up. Through the years since then, people have turned to these kinds of hero stories when the world seemed to be a dark and scary place.

Joseph Campbell wrote about the Hero’s Journey pattern in many of humanity’s stories and many people have translated his thoughts into a self-actualizing phenomenon to show people that they can be the hero in their own stories.

Today the world is again (or still?) in crisis: corrupt politicians, lack of leadership, economic instability, refugees, war or threats of war. As I typed that list, I realized that these crises could be in any country. I was thinking about Israel, but it might just as easily be anywhere else.  So it’s no wonder that I would rather sit in a darkened movie theater and be inspired by a hero who reminds us that courage is defined by your ability to go forward even after you fall and even if you are afraid.

Today’s superheroes are often imperfect. Long gone are the days of good is good and evil is evil. Black Panther is a great example of this. The beloved father and the ancestors made a huge mistake and it is the villain who points it out and tries to right the wrong. The hero is heroic because he accepts the lesson and moves forward in a positive way.

It’s not that the real world is lacking heroes. We see them every day. They are the quiet ones standing between danger and innocents under attack. They are first responders who go toward danger and keep calm when chaos is all around. They are people who see something and say something. They are the ones who give a word of encouragement to someone who needs it. They are the people who lift others up to join in success. They are the helpers and the givers. And yes, they are also imperfect.

Hero seems like a weighty title, but it doesn’t have to be. If we can all be heroes in our own stories, then perhaps we can also take a page from the superhero movies coming out these days: the world is in crisis and it’s up to us to save it.

Use your gifts to make the world around you better.
If your gift is very powerful, use it to do great good.
Every day you can choose to do good.
And remember, no one expects perfection.

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There is no debate about guns in Israel

When people visit Israel they see 18-year-old soldiers carrying M-16s casually slung over their shoulders. They see guards at supermarkets – checking you when you go in, not when you go out. Metal detectors are everywhere. I work at a museum. There are both guards and a metal detector. You see armed guards on public transit. You also see private citizens with pistols tucked into their waistbands (most often covered with an untucked shirt).

You might think that Israel is a heavily armed society. And you would be totally wrong.

One statistic stood out to me this week: the number of privately owned small firearms per 100 residents by country. The US has 101 guns per 100 residents. Israel has 7.3. The number 2 country with 58.2 guns per 100 people is Serbia. No matter what the margin of error might be, it is an astronomical difference.

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After the tragic school shooting in Florida this week, I had a few conversations about gun ownership. Israelis across the board cannot believe how easy it is to get a gun in the US. Here are a few things I found out:*

  • Israelis do not have the right to own a firearm
  • Israelis must request a license for gun. In order to qualify, you have to prove a need for a gun based on your job or where you live
  • If you have served in the army, you are eligible for a gun license at 21. If you have not served in the army, the age is raised to 27
  • If you prove the need and you pass the medical and psychological exams, you are sent to an expert who determines what kind of gun suits you
  • You are required to take a gun safety course
  • One license = one gun
  • You have to go to a shooting range at least every six months to keep up your shooting skills
  • You have to renew your license every three years
  • Soldiers in basic training are forbidden from leaving their gun anywhere. It has to been on their person at all times (even while sleeping, I’ve been told). The consequences of losing a weapon include serving time in military jail
  • Soldiers in the reserves may be able to lock up their gun and leave it at home, but they need it to be under two locks (for example, a locked cabinet in a locked room; I don’t think the front door counts). This rule may also apply for personal gun ownership too

Israel has soldiers and guards to protect against terrorism, not crime. Israel has low rates of personal crime (as I’ve mentioned before) and in general Israelis feel safe. We depend on our army – filled with the sons and daughters of everyone we know – to protect us against threats to our national security.

Yesterday, Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, suggested that the US should follow Israel’s lead in preventing mass shootings. Putting in more guards might create more jobs, but I can confidently say that it is unlikely the US would impose any of the restrictions Israelis have on gun ownership.

Israel is a country of approximately 8.5 million people. It’s small, but we still have plenty of problems to deal with and debates every day on how best to handle any given situation. Personal gun ownership is not even on the radar.

*Please leave a comment if anything I’ve written here is inaccurate.

Expat life and aliyah-versary

I can honestly say that the four and a half months traveling around Europe and the Middle East with my then husband was one of the best times of my life. On the flight home from Egypt, I nearly kissed the ground in Minneapolis and I wanted to hug everyone I met who spoke with that glorious Midwestern accent. But that feeling faded fast. Upon returning home to small-town Washington, I sank into a depression. Suddenly I was waking up in the same room every day seeing the same things and experiencing everything in English in an easy and familiar way.

One of the gifts from my mother is finding a way to be proactive and analyzing feelings to figure out what to do about them. So I went to the library and started researching how to live abroad. I decided that I would do whatever it took to live an expat life. I didn’t know where and I didn’t know when, but this was something that I would make happen.

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Could it be a lion in Zion?

***

On the kibbutz, I met a guy from Uruguay. I barely knew where Uruguay was, but I could safely say it was in South America. I had nothing in common with him other than the fact that we were both Jews participating in a Hebrew immersion course in Israel. It was nearly Passover and somehow we had a deep, animated conversation about matza balls. His grandmother and my mother made them exactly the same: they were lead balls that sank in the soup and sat in your stomach for days. And suddenly I understood what the notion of a Jewish People means in the sense of a shared history, traditions, and culture. Meeting Jews in the US still allows us to connect as Americans. But what do I know about Uruguay? I was connected to this stranger in a way that I could never connect with strangers in the US. There a friendship starts at zero and builds. With this guy, we already started at two and grew from there.

I had found the place, Israel the ancestral homeland of the Jews. The when was sooner than I expected. I turned my life upside-down and was living in Israel ten months after this matza ball moment.

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Connection

***

Moving to Israel is called “making aliyah” in English. The verb in Hebrew is “to go up” (l’allot). Sixteen years ago this week, I made aliyah. Many people who come to Israel look back on their lives here and conclude that they’ve “made a life” here and they have been uplifted. They usually mean that they found their soulmate, got married, had kids, bought a home, and became part of Israel in some way.

That traditional path didn’t work out for me in the US and it hasn’t work out for me here. And yet, I still choose to be in Israel because I ran to Israel, not away from the US.

Here I was able to discover myself and define who I am. It’s been a slow process. It was only a few years ago that I gathered the courage to go to Thailand to learn Thai massage. I was 42 and apparently finally had the answer to life, the universe, and everything. I came home, quit my stable job (that was draining my life energy), and became a massage therapist and copy editor. I wouldn’t have even thought to enter the field of copy editing if I hadn’t lived in Israel. Even when I have exhausting days and stress myself over deadlines, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What has been uplifting to me in Israel is giving myself permission to live an expat life and exploring what it means to me to be part of the Jewish People. And the most uplifting thing – my true aliyah – is my journey of self-discovery.

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Looking back at far how I’ve come already

Center of the Universe

In my first year of graduate school, I lived in a house in town rather than on campus. We didn’t have cable and for some reason we couldn’t pick up local stations, but the Canadian stations came in clearly. I started watching the news from Canada and I noticed something that really surprised me: the 30-minute evening news spent 20-25 minutes on world news and 5-10 minutes on local news. (The other thing that surprised my poor puritanical ears was the use of the F-word in primetime, but that’s another story.)

My point is that somehow it took until I was 22 years old to really understand that there was a big wide world out there where things happen. It’s not like I lived a sheltered life. I’d traveled internationally with my family. I knew who the prime minister of Israel was. Many of my mom’s friends were from another country (like we were). It had just never really sunk in that there might actually be something happening outside the US. I mean, isn’t the US the Center of the Universe? (And isn’t its capital the neighborhood of Fremont?)

Fremont

But now I live in a different center of universe. Although sometimes when I travel it is made abundantly clear to me that a lot of people couldn’t care less about Jerusalem and some have never even heard of it.

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By Heinrich Bünting – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=698773

Given my recent posts, it may surprise you, dear reader, to know that I did not listen to a single word of the State of the Union speech. Honestly, it hardly made a ripple in the Israeli news. Over here we were dealing with something else entirely and my attention swerved from one center of the universe to another.

This week’s headlines in Israel were about Poland. On the eve of international Holocaust Remembrance Day the Polish Senate passed a law criminalizing any mention of the Polish nation as complicit in or as perpetrators of the Holocaust. It’s not clear to me how they plan on imposing this law internationally and how it will affect the vocabulary allowed to historians (the problematic phrase is “Polish death camps” or statements implying the nation of Poland was complicit) and it’s a backhanded insult to Israel and Jews around the world.

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Israeli 11th and 12th graders go to Poland for their class trip and visit concentration camps, say prayers over the dead, rebury remains, and remember the atrocities that were committed on Polish soil. Outside of Israel, thousands of people participate in the March of the Living trips to honor their lost family members and show that they survived. Will this law mean that if anyone says the phrase “Polish death camps” during the trip, they might be liable for a fine or up to 3 years imprisonment?

There is no doubt that there were Poles who rescued and protected Jews – Yad Vashem has documented proof – but there were plenty who did not. The question for me is: why is there is a need to criminalize any mention of Poland as a perpetrator? You can argue, debate, and present facts and witnesses. Why threaten jail?

Israel is angry about this law. Schools and Jewish groups are reconsidering their Poland trips. Poland is scrambling, but it doesn’t look like they’ll back down on the law.

Here’s a thought: Maybe this diplomatic wrinkle will give Jews the opportunity to reevaluate the purpose of Poland trips. The world and Jews especially should never forget the horrors of the Holocaust and the extinguished souls should be remembered forever. But maybe it’s time to also balance the history of victimhood and survivor guilt that color a large part of Jewish identity with the drive toward a future of strength and unapologetically doing good in the world (start-up nation, center of R&D in technology and medicine, etc.). If Israel is a phoenix rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, maybe all Jews would be better served with the more universal idea that while we will always remember where we came from, we can and must allow ourselves to fly and reach for the stars.

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VP Pence in Jerusalem

I usually walk to the office on King David Street, but this week, I had to take an alternate route. US VP Mike Pence was in town at the King David Hotel and the street was completely closed to traffic and was more or less a sterile security zone, complete with cement roadblocks, security gates, and plenty of personnel.

Pence’s itinerary included speaking at the Knesset, visits with the President and Prime Minister, visiting Yad Vashem, and a trip to the Western Wall.  Diplomatically, this itinerary is a huge deal. Pence is the first vice president who has ever addressed the Knesset. Weirdly, the Israeli news noted that it was also one of the few times that a teleprompter was installed in the Knesset.  Visiting the Western Wall is also a big deal, and the visit was not without controversy – but not the controversy you might expect.

I may not have noticed much this week because of my cold, but this visit was hard to miss.

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Knesset

Several of the Arab members of Knesset disrupted the beginning of Pence’s speech by protesting and holding signs up that said “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine!” They were immediately ejected (zero-tolerance for heckling during a foreign dignitary’s speech) and Pence remarked on the “vibrant democracy” of Israel. Overall, the speech was extremely well-received by almost all the parties.  One reporter on Israeli news said that there were somewhere around 20 standing ovations. Personally, I was most impressed that when Pence referenced Israel’s 70th Independence Day, he recited the Shehecheyanu (“who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion”) with not-too-terrible pronunciation.

Jpost summary and Transcript of the speech.

Western Wall

Pence and his wife went to the Western Wall – he to the men’s side and she to the women’s side. The Western Wall plaza follows the rules of an orthodox synagogue, so women are not allowed on the men’s side. That was a big problem for the women journalists trying to cover Pence’s visit to the Wall.  Haaretz had a field day with it (and rightfully so).

The weird thing in my neighborhood

The Friends of Zion Museum tells the story of non-Jews who were friends and supporters of Israel – people like Lord Balfour, Orde Wingate, Harry Truman, and others (full disclosure: I haven’t visited it yet). The person who initiated the project is a well-known evangelical Christian Zionist. So the museum put these signs up all over my neighborhood.

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The weird part isn’t that the signs were put up. The weird part is that they are all in English. These signs are not for Israelis and they’re not for Arabs.  They are posted all over the hotel area of Jerusalem, so Mike Pence might have seen one or two, but the majority of people who saw these signs were tourists.

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I have to question the sign that suggests that Trump could make Israel great. Trump is at most an ally of Israel. Allies don’t make a country great. The country has to be great on its own merits.

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Ironically, all these signs on my street were probably never seen by the VP. The official route to the hotel was changed to a side street named George Washington (really!).

Unofficial reaction

When I spoke to other Israelis about the visit, the main reaction was: “Ugh! Traffic was ridiculous! Why do they have to close off so many streets?!? Can’t he just take a helicopter?”

And the next day, everything was back to normal as if it had never happened.

[Expletive deleted]

The president of the United States is a racist, anti-Semitic, lying, paranoid, philandering, nepotistic, potty-mouthed, narcissistic, reality TV personality, who makes everyone uncomfortable when he talks about his daughter.

Unfortunately, none of those things make him unfit to be president.

As a person with a background in history, I try to think about events in a larger frame than the 24-hour news cycle.

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JFK was a philanderer and gave his brother the Attorney General position.

LBJ was a racist. He used the N-word. A lot.

Nixon was a paranoid anti-Semite and a crook. His secret tapes brought into the public lexicon “expletive deleted.” He pointed out once that while he swore a lot, LBJ was worse. He resigned before the impeachment process started.

Ford and Rockefeller were the only people who held the office of president and vice president and were not elected by the people to either office.

Ted Koppel’s count of the days of the Iran hostage crisis brought down the Carter administration (Carter, by the way, also had anti-Semitic tendencies) and ushered Reagan, an actor who had some governing experience, into office and Reagan proceeded not to remember anything about Oliver North or Iran or the Contras.

Bush Sr. cleaned up the Iran-Contra mess with 6 pardons in his last days in office.

Clinton was a philanderer, made improper use of a cigar in the Oval Office, and had too many whatever-gates to count. But that’s not what he was impeached for. His crimes were perjury and obstruction of justice. There were not enough votes to remove him from office.

Bush Jr. was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he managed to convince the American people to go to war in Iraq to dispose of non-existent weapons of mass destruction and to fight Osama bin Laden, a Saudi who was actually hiding out in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan.

There is a lot floating around about Obama, but in historical time, it’s too soon for an analysis.

I bring all this up because I’m still annoyed by Fire and Fury and the short-sighted debates of the 24-hour news cycle.

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Two books came out this week that don’t talk about all the petty relationships within the White House: It’s Even Worse than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston, and Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic by David Frum, senior editor of The Atlantic. They talk about how the Trump machine capitalized on all the holes in the system, how the presidency is based mostly on tradition and Trump has thumbed his nose at all that (which is not technically illegal), how previous presidents may have been flawed but at least they put forward their ideas of how to improve America and Trump is doing nothing of the kind, and how everything that the Trump administration is doing in every department is destroying the foundation of US democracy as we know it. Just reading the excerpts available on Amazon is blood-chilling and nightmare-inducing.

How did the internet respond? Crickets, as the internet is wont to say.

Meanwhile, Fire and Fury is set to become a TV show and is currently #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List.  (To be fair, we’ll have to wait a week to see the numbers for the other two books.)

What will bring down the president?

Verifiable impeachable offenses. According to the Constitution, these are “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” And then a vote to remove him from office. Get busy, Mueller!

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His own choice to resign. Nixon resigned when he saw that he lost all political support in Congress. Republicans! Are you listening?

But I’m worried. The American people would rather read a journalistically problematic book of gossip. Two journalists wrote serious critiques of the Trump administration and few people even noticed. The GOP won’t recognize that the emperor has no clothes. I’m not even sure where the Democrats are.

So come election time, will a slim majority vote for another episode of the circus? It sure does make for riveting TV.

Thinking about the Constitution reminded me of the SchoolHouse Rock song about the Preamble of the Constitution (We the People), but Youtube suggested another oh-so-appropriate video: an explanation of the Separation of Powers depicting government as a three-ring circus. Sadly, the analogy is apt.

 

 

“True”

The news has taken a lot of my attention this week and I want to share a thought about the controversial book, Fire and Fury. There was this quote (image from the Kindle preview and full disclosure, I haven’t read the book)

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It sounds like what he’s saying is that untruth is part of this book. So then what do you believe? This is something that has been touched on in different reports, but is not explored in depth.

It reminded me about biased journalism against Israel that reporters often deny. One well-known example of this is the battle in Jenin in 2002. Journalists faithfully and accurately quoted the residents of Jenin and Palestinian spokespeople who said that 400-500 Palestinians were massacred in Jenin and that the Israelis committed war crimes. These allegations spread throughout all the news outlets because they were indeed accurately reported. It’s just that what was said was not at all true. In fact, 52-54 Palestinians and 23 IDF soldiers were killed in the fighting. By the time that came out, no one was listening and so when people think of Jenin, the first thing they usually think is “massacre.” (It’s also true that Israel did not handle the media properly at the time and restricted their access.)

I’m not defending the Trump White House here, but Michael Wolff has basically done the same thing. He has faithfully and accurately reported things that were said to him, but he has no way of knowing which parts are true unless he was a witness. Does DT go to bed at 6:30pm with a cheeseburger? Who knows? Did all those people call him different variations of stupid? Only if Michael Wolff heard it with his own ears. Did he not want to win the presidency? Unknown.

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Some in the media think that it’s enough to say that what they are reporting is “true” simply because it is exactly what someone said. They need to also check that what is being said is objectively true. When Sean Spicer said that the crowd was the biggest that there had ever been for an inauguration, the media did their due diligence and showed that this was objectively untrue. They need to apply the same standards across the board to all their news stories. They need to remember that they are not just reporters of statements (or tweets), but investigative journalists who have a responsibility as the Fourth Estate to find out what is true, and not limit their investigations to what fits their own personal agendas and the story they want to tell. That means that whether a journalist is pro or anti Trump or pro or anti Israel, their first responsibility is to get as close to the objective truth as they can.

I saw an interesting piece about journalists in the Netherlands grilling US Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra about false statements he made about Dutch politicians being burned and “no-go zones” taken over by Muslim extremists. The Dutch journalists banded together and no one asked any other question except if he would give an example or retract his statements. They asked quietly and respectfully, but did not back down.

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If we can get the media to investigate something, what I’d like to know is: If the president is playing golf and cutting back on his schedule (starting his day at 11am and scheduling “executive time” for hours every day), then who is picking up the slack? I can imagine that the ship of government continues to sail without a strong rudder, but shouldn’t someone be at the helm? Is there an autopilot? Can the ship run aground? And if so, what happens then? Or, and I may be veering into conspiracy theory territory here, perhaps there is someone in the background (who did not run for president) who is actually steering the ship? Is the apparent chaos in the White House a distraction?

The 24-hour news cycle and ratings/clicks-driven stories don’t necessarily leave a lot of time for journalistic integrity and investigation. But maybe we as consumers need to demand more, demand better, and demand verifiable and objective truths.