The Rule of Law

One of the big headlines in Israel this week is that the Supreme Court of Israel ruled to allow a student to enter the country to attend Hebrew University in a Master’s program even though this student has a history of supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel. It was among the first test cases of the anti-BDS entry law that Israel passed last year blocking entry to Israel of people who actively advocate BDS and act against Israel. (*Note: this is not the law that allows suing for damages if Israel is harmed by BDS activism. That was a different test case.)

Crash course on Israel’s governmental structure

Israel is not at all like the US system and is much more similar to the UK system. The Prime Minister is the head of the party that wins the election (thus the executive branch and legislative branch are combined). The President of Israel is a ceremonial position and is filled by a person elected by the Knesset, usually after a long career in politics. The President appoints the 15-member Supreme Court based on the recommendations of a judicial committee. Judges on the Supreme Court may serve until the age of 70 unless they resign for other reasons.

The Supreme Court in Israel serves two functions. Like the US Supreme Court, it is the final court of appeal. But unlike the US Supreme Court, the Supreme Court in Israel – operating as the High Court of Justice – may also hear petitions to rule on the legality of laws or other issues that would not normally be heard in a court of law. Since Israel doesn’t have a constitution, the Court uses the Basic Laws of Israel as its guide.

In 2017, a law was passed in the Knesset that said that a non-citizen who actively uses a public forum to call for a boycott of Israel and has a reasonable expectation of causing a boycott to occur, can be barred from entering Israel. This more-or-less applies to leaders of organizations, not someone who supports BDS on Facebook.

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It’s pretty divisive issue in Israel. The Left says that the law and its application violates freedom of speech and that Israel has nothing to hide. The Right points out that the democratically elected members of Knesset are acting on behalf of the will of the people and defending Israel at the border against enemy agents trying to destroy Israel from within.

Other BDS activists/supporters have been turned away at the airport, but the student in question here decided to take it to court.

The Court ruled that the law itself was in accordance with the Basic Laws, but that it did not apply in the student’s case. She claimed not to be involved in BDS for the last year and a half and was not planning to be a BDS activist while in Israel. So she’ll be starting at Hebrew U. next week.

Two comments

Academia the world over tends to lean to the left and it’s the case in Israel too. There are a good number of Israeli academics who support the BDS movement – even if it sometimes backfires and they themselves are uninvited to conferences or blackballed in publications. So while it seems on the face of it that the student wanting to attend Hebrew University, and who was backed in court by Hebrew U., is not supportive of BDS, I’m not so sure that it is quite so clear-cut. I guess we’ll see what this student does while she’s here.

This court case is a microcosm of the existential question of what kind of state Israel will be. Will Israel be a state of wide-ranging freedom for all or a repressive state that only allows opinions that agree with the majority?

And that’s where the Court comes in. It should not be a question of political Left or Right, but a question of what is just, not only legal. When the Court took upon itself the responsibility of protecting human rights, the Right called it an “activist court.” And when the Court allows a law to stand that the Left feels is repressive, the Left calls the Court a “rubber stamp.” The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. The Court must act to stop tyranny of the majority, but they must also allow the state to act on behalf of the safety and security of its citizens. The principle is simple, the application is complicated.

“Justice, justice shall you pursue.” – Deuteronomy 16:20

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Palace of Justice, Jerusalem

Something to make me smile – Ethiopian Women Bus Drivers

In some ways, Israel is quite progressive in gender equality. And in many other ways, Israel is still in the Dark Ages.

Bus driver was one of those jobs in Israel that was always done by a man. Ethnicity didn’t seem to matter, but it was always a man. I don’t know if it’s related, but bus drivers are notoriously aggressive drivers. I was once on a bus – a double-length bus with an accordion middle junction – on a two-lane street. The car ahead of this bus was annoying the driver and in spite of the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the bus somehow passed the car. There may have been some popping up on the curb and shouting back and forth, but I cannot really explain how it was physically possible for a double-length bus filled with people to maneuver in traffic like a two-seat roadster.

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A few years ago, I noticed that things were starting to change. I saw more Arab drivers, still men though. And then I saw a woman driver.  And then I noticed more women drivers, even Arab women drivers. Women drivers are still pretty rare to see, but I get very happy when I see them. Is our sexist country finally starting to change a little bit?

I have to say that I’m happiest when I see an Ethiopian woman driver.

When you examine the social strata of Israel, I think the group with the most obstacles facing them is Ethiopian women.

They face blatant racism. There are plenty of rabbis in the rabbanut (the religious authority in Israel) who do not accept Ethiopians as properly Jewish and require that they go through a formal, Orthodox conversion.

The Ethiopian struggle to come to Israel is awe-inspiring. Some were brought in emergency airlifts having never seen a plane before. Some walked the whole way facing hunger, thirst, natural dangers, and human dangers. They faced unimaginable odds and obstacles at every turn. And many thousands died along the way.

Some Ethiopians face a cultural gap – in some cases a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon. Can you imagine living in an African village, more or less self-sufficient in your community, and then you arrive in a place that is technologically a hundred years more advanced? Once you didn’t need to read and write, and then suddenly everyone is asking you to fill out a form in a foreign language?

It’s a sad fact that some older Ethiopian men haven’t adjusted to life in Israel very well. They come to Israel and because they don’t succeed in society, they feel emasculated. And their frustration gets taken out on their families, especially wives.

But then you see her, a petite Ethiopian woman – the steering wheel of the bus is nearly the entire length of her arm – and she’s maneuvering this monster vehicle in the crazy traffic of rush hour Jerusalem and dealing with impatient, hot, frustrated passengers.

Imagine a two-lane road with cars parked with two wheels on the sidewalk (yep, that’s legal parking) along both sides and both lanes are bumper-to-bumper. Now you have some idiot who parked their car badly and it’s sticking out in the street blocking part of the lane. You’re the bus driver who has to get this huge vehicle through an even smaller space than usual.

It just so happened that in the opposite lane was a bus from a bus-driving school with an instructor and a student driver. As our Ethiopian woman driver perfectly executed the right moves to get the bus through the narrow gap left to her without touching any other cars, she got cheers and fist pumps from the instructor and student in the other bus and a murmur of approval from the passengers who could see what was going on.

And in that moment, she was on top based on her own skill, her own merits, and her own grit in getting things done. It was a beautiful thing to see!

(And I was much more forgiving when she nearly missed my stop, which was right after this little drama.)

 

Book review: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

Actually, I listened to it. I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and am a proud member of Audible.com. Audiobooks allow you to get stuff done while enjoying a story, a lecture, or listening to advice. My first book was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, performed by the incomparable Edoardo Ballerini. I use the word performed because readers don’t just drone along in a monotone (like I probably do when I read aloud), they do the voices and they bring the story to life. When it’s really good, in all honesty, you can’t do anything else but listen.

After that, I was hooked.

I recently finished The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg. You might remember the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, which is based on another one of Fannie Flagg’s books. The main characters have a few things in common, I think.

The best scene from Fried Green Tomatoes: “Face it, girls. I’m older and I have more insurance.” Nobody does it better than Kathy Bates.

Fanny Flagg performed her own book and it was nice to hear her lightly southern-accented voice tell the story while bringing out other characters – like the ones from Wisconsin with their own completely different accent.

Short review: It’s excellent. Give it a listen!

Long review: Below the picture. Watch out for spoilers.

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We meet Mrs. Earle Poole Jr. Her first name is Sookie, but it seems that she has no identity except in relation to other people – wife, mother, daughter, sister. She feels like she’s never been good enough or smart enough. Well, in comparison to her narcissistic, drama-inspiring, southern belle mother, she’s pretty tame.

Until the letter arrives. At the age of 60, she finds out she’s adopted!

The story splits and we stay with Sookie trying to figure out her place in the world and also hear the story of her biological mother – a Polish Catholic girl from Wisconsin who flew airplanes in World War II!

I loved the movie Fried Green Tomatoes and its message of empowerment. Here again Fannie Flagg reminds us that women are amazing just by doing whatever it is that makes them happy and fulfilled.

It was a bit sad to listen to the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). They were just as good as the men and when they were needed, they were tolerated, but when they started to threaten the jobs of men who didn’t want to be foot soldiers, they were shoved out and forgotten. Only recently were these brave, inspiring women recognized and remembered.

By the end of the book, Sookie learns that she’s wonderful just the way she is. She has her own talents and she has grown into who she is all on her own. She has her southern roots in the family that raised her, but she also has her roots in the DNA that was passed down to her. Now, she’s learned to be proud of the life she’s lived – she was not “just a housewife”– and to use her talents to the fullest. It’s a good message for women and frankly anyone.

 

“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

“Mom, can I go visit with Mr. Rogers?”

Taking her 5-year-old’s request very seriously, she asked, “Well, how long will you be gone?”

“Oh, about a half an hour.”

“Ok. Have a good time.”

And I plunked myself down in front of the television and had an undisturbed visit with Mr. Rogers.

***

This Google Doodle is only in the United States and I know Mister Rogers is more or less an American phenomenon. I wish it was global.

There is only one person in the whole world like you, and people can like you just because you’re you.”

A great message to give to children.

You are special and so is everyone else in this world.”

A reminder that we should not only value ourselves, but that each person has value.

“Childhood lies at the very heart of who we are and who we become.”

Our childhoods don’t have to be perfect, but if we are allowed to use the tools to learn and grow from our experiences, then we can make ourselves and the world around us better.

***

All of Mr. Rogers’ messages fit in with the Jewish value of choosing life.

And where there is life, there is hope.

Perhaps this Google Doodle will remind people, especially people in power, of a few simple truths:

“I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen – day and night!”

“I’d like to be remembered for being a compassionate human being who happened to be fortunate enough to be born at a time when there was a fabulous thing called television that could allow me to use all the talents that I had been given.”

So now, in the New Year, and a day before my birthday (my own new year), I wish you all a life of purpose and meaning, doing the things that you love that make you, your families, and the world around you better.

And if you need a little inspiration, go have a visit with Mr. Rogers. It is surely time well spent.

A Thought about Yom Kippur

When I worked at the University of Washington, I asked to take Yom Kippur off.

“Will you be going to synagogue?”

“No.”

“Will you be fasting?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.”

“Then why are you taking it off?”

**what?**

I hated that conversation. And I love the fact that I’ve never had to have that conversation in Israel.

I usually go to the Kotel (Western Wall) for Yom Kippur, but I live further away now and it’s probably going to be hot, even in the morning. I don’t know if I want to walk 2 hours round trip to have a few words with God. God is everywhere, right? So I should be able to stay home.

And that is the beauty of living in Israel. No one will question what I choose to do on Yom Kippur and no matter what I do, I don’t feel any less Jewish.

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In the US, there’s a lot of effort that goes into maintaining a connection with Judaism. You have to plan ahead to coordinate holidays; if you want a community, you have to join a synagogue or community center (often paying dues and fees); if you want to be more religious, you have to shop at certain stores, live in certain neighborhoods, reorder your life slightly out of step with the surrounding community. It’s hard.

Here in Israel, I can effortlessly connect to my Jewish heritage. The nation functions on the Jewish calendar, I can walk into any synagogue at any time or never walk into any synagogue ever, I’m in-step with everyone and everything around me. I don’t have to try so hard.

I sound lazy, I’m sure. But it feels to me like my soul is planted in the fertile soil that it needs so that I can grow in other directions.

My dad had a pin that he liked a lot. He probably got it from Chabad. It said: “We never lost it.” I asked him what it meant and he said that we never lost the answers. I was about seven, so it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Now I can see that even if you never lost a thing, sometimes it doesn’t always fit properly. But once it’s in its rightful place, everything else seems to realign itself.

I never lost my Judaism, I just didn’t have a way to make it fit properly for me in the US. Now that I’m in Israel, I feel that everything is in its rightful place no matter what I do on Yom Kippur.

***

I’m sorry if my posts offended anyone. I’m sorry that some posts got a bit too long. I’m sorry if I misrepresented something or someone my writing. I hope you can forgive me. I will try to do better next year.

Wishing everyone a Gmar Chatima Tova!
May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life!
May you have a meaningful fast (if you’re fasting)!

***

Traditional Yom Kippur posts: 2015 | 2016 | 2017

A Cultural Interlude – Happy New Year!

It’s the New Year and I need a new day planner!

Sounds weird in September, but the Jewish New Year comes in autumn. It’s early this year, which is why it snuck up on me and I suddenly had to get a new day planner.

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The shelves were pretty empty so I feel quite lucky that I managed to find this snazzy one.

Notice anything odd?

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How about now?

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No filters. No flipping. Everything indeed goes from right to left.

Hebrew is written from right to left, so office supplies cater to the right to left flow of language.

NOTE TO LEFT-HANDED PEOPLE: Come to Israel for your office supply needs! I have known left-handed Americans who stock up on notebooks when visiting Israel because it’s just so comfortable for them.

One feature of an Israeli calendar is that candle-lighting times are noted every week (20 minutes before sunset usually) and the Torah portion of the week is noted.

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The first line in bold is the Torah portion: Nitzavim. (The Torah – or the Five Books – is divided into weekly portions that are named after the first word of the reading.)

You can see on the second line Friday night candle lighting times for Jerusalem (18:21, yes that’s a 24-hour clock), then Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheva.

The second line is when Shabbat ends. That’s about a half an hour after sunset. Then you can get back to your regularly scheduled activities.

A LITTLE HEBREW LESSON: The days of the week are not named, they’re numbered.

Sunday = Yom Rishon (First Day) | Monday = Yom Sheni (Second Day) | etc.

But Saturday is Shabbat or the Sabbath.

A LITTLE CULTURAL LESSON: A “day” starts in the evening because when God created the world, it was evening and then it was morning, the first day …

You might also note that holidays are colored blue in this calendar. Notice anything in this picture?

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January 1. Not a holiday. That’s what it means to have Jewish rhythms of life.

This week we are starting a month of holidays to start the new Jewish year 5779. More on this in future posts.

Let me take this opportunity to say Thank You to everyone who reads this blog!

Wishing you all a Shana Tova u’Metuka!

A year of much happiness, good health,

and great success!

(Did you think we’d get away from the Chinese theme? Not likely! A short video for the New Year about not giving up. May you all be inspired this year!)