Holocaust Remembrance Day (5 May 2016) – Yom HaShoah

Every year we stop everything and stand for two-minute national siren to remember six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.  For 24 hours television stations broadcast Holocaust stories and interviews.  Radio stations play somber music.  Restaurants and entertainment venues are closed.  During the siren, drivers pull over to the side of the road and get out of their cars.  Busses stop and often passengers get off to stand for the siren.  Walkers stop in the street.  It is a national pause to take the time to remember.

A video from this year taken on Highway 1 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

In Israel, national and religious holidays start at sunset the evening before.  On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I witnessed an incredible sunset.  It was so stunning not only for the colors in the sky, but it seemed to change the quality of the air.  The air seemed to be infused with pink and gold and so full of magic that you might even be able to scoop some into a jar to save for later.

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In all the years I’ve been in Israel, I’ve never had the chance to be in a public street for the siren.  The siren is at 10am and usually people are at work.  If no official ceremony is held, people will stand up at their desks.  Places where there are official gatherings, people will stand together and often will have a short remembrance ceremony.   I’ve experienced both.  But this year, I happened to be out in the street.  I didn’t take a video or photos because I wanted to participate, not observe from behind the safety of a lens.

Still, I saw some things:

  • A few minutes before 10am, I could feel people start to slow down and start to gather in the square.  They knew what was coming.
  • A woman brought her own package of Kleenex and was prepared for her emotional response.  She shared her Kleenex afterwards with someone who hadn’t expected to have such an emotional reaction.
  • Of the 50–60 people that I could see in the square, everyone stopped what they were doing and stood, except 3 people who continued walking.  Two were a Muslim couple and what I guess to be an Arab man.
  • Several Muslim women (marked by their headcoverings) stopped and stood solemnly with everyone else.
  • Time stands still.  And then when the siren ends, the world starts moving again as if released from a pause.

What I notice in myself is that at first the two-minute siren seems so incredibly long.  And then if I think about it in depth, how could it possibly be long enough?

I feel mixed emotions.  First, I’m sad because this is a remembrance for the light of six million human beings snuffed out due to hatred, along with millions of others who were also crushed under the wave of fear, ignorance, and hatred.  But then, incongruously, I’m happy.  All of us in this square, and actually the whole country, are standing together on this day to honor the memory of the fallen.  “Never Forget!” is not just a phrase, but is an active choice made by every person who stops, stands, and remembers.  I remember not only for myself, but for the people standing next to me, and they remember not only for themselves, but also for me and their neighbors.  During this powerful two minutes, Israel stands together.  Not just in theory or with words, but with an active choice to pause and stand together.


There are those who say that Israel exists because of guilt over the Holocaust.  The UN vote on 29 November 1947 was a short two years after the end of the World War II, so there may be some truth to that.  Whatever guilt there may have been, it still required a lot of political campaigning to get the votes.  The result was not a foregone conclusion.

But can we or should we say that Israel has to exist so that a Holocaust will never happen again?  A Jewish homeland has to exist so that if Jews are suddenly unsafe or expelled, they will at least have a place to go?  There is, of course, a grain of truth to that.  The flip side of that logic is that if Jews are safe in the world, then there is no need for Israel to exist.

Rather than focus on the Holocaust as the reason for Israel to exist, which leads to a victim mentality, it is far more positive and a source of strength to say that Israel exists due to an historic connection to the land itself, the place in the world where the Jews as a nation trace their history.  The Holocaust must always be remembered, but it should not be the defining point of Jewish history or Israeli history.  The memory of the victims must always be honored, but it was the survivors who built the modern state of Israel.

From Passover, we move to Holocaust Remembrance Day, then we will go to Soldier’s Remembrance Day, and then Independence Day.  It is a symbolic journey from slavery, to near annihilation, to fighting for the land, and finally to freedom.

“Next Year in Jerusalem!”

next year in jlemFor Passover in 2001, I was in Israel volunteering at Kibbutz Maagan Michael and I had an invitation to a Passover Seder in Jerusalem.  I think for most people, they just say “Next Year in Jerusalem!” at the end of the Seder as part of tradition with no intention whatsoever of being in Jerusalem the next year.  For me, it had long been my secret wish to have Passover in Jerusalem.  It was less a Zionist imperative and more “I’ve been saying it for years and now I’m going to do it!”  And wouldn’t it be amazing to fulfill that dream?

So here it is April 2001 and I am actually going to be in Jerusalem for the Seder.  This is it!  Dream fulfilled!  I came to Jerusalem for the Shabbat before Passover – known as Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Shabbat).  On Saturday, I had lunch in the home of a religious family who lived in the Old City.  The family spoke very little English and my friend and I were there only there to meet the son (a friend of my friend, both of them were named Yair, which was a little confusing) who was going to walk with us around the Jewish quarter and take us to the Western Wall.  We hadn’t actually planned to have lunch, but our timing was a little off and they were just sitting down, so they invited us to join them.  So with my extremely limited knowledge of Hebrew, I listened to the conversation and the prayers and found that I could pick out a few words.  One of the phrases I remember hearing is Shabbat HaGadol.

There were at least eight of us at the lunch.  The food was excellent and filling.  The conversation flowed in Hebrew, and the two Yairs filled in some of the gaps for me.  And then it happened.  The idea of fulfilling my secret wish, actually being at the center of Judaism here in the Old City, and sitting at a Shabbat lunch surrounded by Hebrew simply overwhelmed me.  My eyes welled with tears.  And then one slipped out and rolled down my cheek.  I was embarrassed, but after the first one, there’s really no stopping them.  I wasn’t crying exactly.  It was really more like my emotional cup was overflowing and it came out of eyes in salty tears.

The family and my friends sitting around the table let it happen like it was the most normal thing in the world, as if everyone who comes to Shabbat lunch on Shabbat HaGadol leaks tears all over the table.  The embarrassment was my own, but it only lasted a short while, because no one seemed to mind.  They noticed, but saw that it was because I was washed over with emotion, not because I was sad.  I did explain afterwards through translation that it was because sitting there in that moment represented a secret wish fulfilled.  It was next year and I was in Jerusalem!

The story of my tears became sort of a legend in the family.  I spent other holidays with them – without all the tears.  But they always remembered that I was the one who cried at their table and by the next Passover, I had turned my life inside out and upside down and moved to Israel.

So That Happened

On Monday a bus blew up.

I heard a lot of sirens all of a sudden just before 6pm.  At first I thought it was a VIP and his entourage.  But then there were more.  And more.

Facebook.  A friend’s comment.  “Anyone know what happened on Derech Hevron?” And then the answers started flooding in.  It wasn’t Derech Hevron.  A bus.  Was it terror?  Wait.  The police don’t want to say that yet.  Definitely bus on fire.  Second bus also on fire.  Then the evidence pointed to terror.

*Sigh*  I remember those days.  I didn’t like those days.  I don’t want those days back.

Between 6pm and 7pm I had to make a decision.  My Tai Chi class is in the same neighborhood as the bus bombing.  Should I take a bus as usual?  Class wasn’t canceled (of course), so I decided to walk.  I walked in part because I could use the additional exercise.  The chance of another bus attack was pretty small, but it’s been so long since a bus attack that I just didn’t want to get on a bus.

It took 45 minutes and I was pretty pleased with myself.

On the way back, another choice.  As I was passing the bus stop, the bus came.  I could have gotten on.  There were plenty of people taking the bus right then.  But I chose to walk.

I was happy with the accomplishment of walking to and from class.  It was a good long walk and something that I had considered doing before.  But I’m bothered by the fact that the thing that pushed me to do it was a bus blowing up.

Two days later, I had a chance to ease my bothered feelings.  I took a train and a bus to where I needed to go.  I walked in crowded areas where I needed to run my errands and life was back to normal.

Since this is Israel, “normal” right now means high alert.  Over major holidays in Israel there is a much more visible presence of security personnel and starting today and for the next 48 hours the West Bank and Gaza Strip are closed off.

I am sure that upon hearing the words “West Bank closed off” there are those who would cry “oppressive occupation” and excuse all violence against civilians as “legitimate protest.”  I disagree.  Besides nothing being “legitimate” about blowing up a bus filled with civilians, as a citizen of Israel, I expect my government and our armed forces to protect civilians.  I expect to feel secure as I walk or take a bus in my streets.  And when I look at images like this, I’m glad that security personnel are doing everything in their power to keep us safe.

bus bomb

Screen capture from HaAretz

Originally, I had plans to write a nice Friday email about my first Passover in Israel, but this week provided many other potential topics – this bus bombing, a follow-up on Western Wall/Temple Mount issues, and Prince, another icon from my childhood, passed away.  Well, it will still be Passover next Friday and I may yet write about these other things too.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Passover!

A Trip Through the Kitchen and Down Memory Lane

I’m not a chef.  I know how to cook a few things, but I wouldn’t say that my skills in the kitchen are particularly stunning.  So why would I go to a cooking workshop?  For the company and the food, of course.

many hands
Many hands doing the work.  Plenty of spices, plenty of oil, plenty of fresh vegetables, plenty of good company.

I used my talents to do what I do best: I took raw material and massaged it into a relaxed, fluffy work of art.

​​The bread is baked on river stones in a very hot oven.  (Thanks to CB for these 3 photos.)

The truth is that throughout the evening of fun cooking adventures and fabulous dinner companions who chop vegetables better than I could ever hope to, I found myself happily remembering other cooking experiences and other dinners that were very Israeli and very special in their own ways.

Israeli food is flavorful.  Each recipe of our excellent dinner involved many “exotic” spices that are not at all exotic in Israel: sumac, turmeric, “spice store blend” – unique to every store and includes things like cardamom, cinnamon, pepper and at least three or four others that I can’t remember – both hot and sweet paprika, coarse cut black pepper, cumin, and who knows what else.  It’s also not measured by the teaspoon.  Spices in Israel flavor food by the rounded tablespoon.  Don’t be shy! Throw that stuff in there!

An ex-boyfriend of mine in Israel once described my cooking as having “delicate flavors” and with a pleading look in his eyes asked if I would mind terribly if he sprinkled half a bottle of chili sauce on it so that he could tolerate eating it.  He was (and I imagine still is) a MUCH better cook than I was.  But I learned.

As my adventuresome spirit in the kitchen expanded, I made a stir fry for this particular boyfriend and asked if he could recognize the spices I put in.  Spoiler alert: I used just about everything on the spice shelf using my nose as a guide.  It wasn’t too bad, if I do say so myself.  So he took a few bites.  Then closed his eyes and listed everything I put in there including stuff that he didn’t know the name of but knew the flavor of.  To this day, I can’t even come close to doing that.

2 pots compressed
​The first two pots.  One the left is the basis for shakshuka – very spicy! – and on the right is the basis for the meatballs with mangold leaves (something resembling Swiss chard).
meatballs compressed

The cooking workshop focused on Moroccan, Tunisian and Kurdish food using fresh, seasonal ingredients from the shuk, so as the cooking progressed, I was transported back to my former neighbors’ home for a Shabbat dinner.  The mother is Moroccan and a superb cook – and she ensured that both her sons and her daughter followed in her cooking footsteps.  She and her whole family are generously hospitable, so I had the pleasure of savoring her food in all seasons.
full stove compressed

My neighbors’ kitchen looked a lot like this on Friday afternoons.  Plenty of food for as many people as could fit at the table.  Everyone was always welcome and there was always enough.  Once I had surprise guests on Friday and I already had an invitation to the neighbors’ house.  I asked if I could bring a few more people and without thinking twice or batting an eyelash she said that they were welcome.  And even then, there was plenty.

The final result:  Full plate, happy (and full) tummy, stimulating conversation with new friends, and a pocket full of memories from years past.

Purim in Israel

Today and yesterday were Purim in Israel. The story of the holiday can be found in the Book of Esther.  A young Jewess wins a beauty contest to become queen and is uniquely poised to save the Jews of Persia from the very powerful Haman whose mission is to exterminate the Jews.

The story of Esther might not be your first thought if you are here in Israel on Purim.  Purim is celebrated as a cross between Halloween and April Fools’ Day.  Top items on the to-do list:  Drink A LOT and party like it’s 1999.  Give baskets of sweets to neighbors and friends (the opposite of trick-or-treat).  Pull pranks and laugh a lot.

You could liken this version of Purim with secular Easter celebrations.  Why does a bunny bring eggs in a basket?  Why does he hide them?  Why is the Easter Bunny a he?  What does a bunny have to do with Jesus rising from the dead?  Moreover, why is it that in France, Easter bells deliver eggs from Rome?  Well, I digress.

There are 4 things that you are actually supposed to do on Purim.

  1. Listen to the Book of Esther (in Hebrew, it’s Megillat Esther – you have to listen to the whole megillah)
  2. Have a festive meal where you drink a lot
    • This is where the sages suggested that you drink until you don’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman
  3. Send gifts of food (in Hebrew, Mishloach Manot) to friends
  4. Give to the poor

You’ll note that dressing up is not mentioned and neither are pranks and jokes.

Purim is not one of those holidays where offices are closed, but workers are given the option of taking one of the two days off.  One of two days, you ask?  Purim in non-walled cities is on the 14th of Adar and Purim in walled cities is on the 15th of Adar (don’t ask, it’s complicated).  Jerusalem is considered a walled city, so we celebrate on the 15th, but since people have families outside of Jerusalem, some of them celebrate on the 14th.  Nowadays, the celebrating goes on for 2 days because it’s less confusing and a lot more fun.

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This guy’s video went viral in Israel for his awesome flight through Tel Aviv.

Back in the day, people used to dress up as characters from the Book of Esther.  No longer.  You’ll see superheroes; characters from literature, movies and TV; fantastical characters; clever visual puns; or at a minimum, people wearing funny hats or wigs.  If ever I dress up, I just plop on a tiara and call it done.  I read one article that traced the dressing up to Italian Jews following the traditions of Mardi Gras.  But the retroactively spiritual version, which I like, is that everything is hidden in the Book of Esther.  She wears the mask of a non-Jew to win the beauty contest.  God is not mentioned in the story, but the story is propelled forward by several coincidences that might be considered the invisible hand of God.

If you try to ask for hamantaschen in Israel, people will look at you funny.  The triangular, filled sugar cookie traditionally eaten for Purim is called oznei haman in Israel.  You might notice that Haman is mentioned in both cookie names, but strangely enough taschen and oznei are not the same.  Hamantaschen is the German for Haman’s pockets.  Oznei haman are Haman’s ears.  And then there is the common story that the cookie represents Haman’s hat.  But still, why are we eating anything related to Haman at all?  He’s a villain!  There’s no good answer for that, but the cookies are yummy nonetheless.


There’s a joke about Jewish holidays that goes like this:  Jewish holidays can be summarized as “They tried to kill us.  They failed.  Let’s eat.”  Purim is a great example.  But it is also a reflection of day to day life in Israel and we don’t need any holidays to remember that.  So Happy Purim!  Let’s eat!

Mourning in the Morning

Mourning in the Morning

Yes.  That’s a play on words. Is it appropriate? Well, in my family it kind of is. We deflect with humor.  That’s not to say that the jokes always work.

At the same time, the statement is also true.  During the day, and even late into the evening, I can distract myself and I don’t have to face the reality that Dad is gone.  But in the morning, in those moments when I’m coming out of a strange dream and I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t, I notice a hollow feeling just under my sternum.  And then I remember that Dad is gone.

Death is easy, mourning is hard

At the risk of sounding too glib, I feel like death is easy, but it’s mourning that’s hard.  We don’t understand death and we don’t know what happens, but it seems like once we’ve wrapped our minds around death, then mourning is swept under the rug.  You know, life goes on and you just have to pull yourself together.  Do what you gotta do and move on.  If you don’t move on, well, there’s something wrong and you should get some professional help.  After the trauma of death, moving on with life should be easy, shouldn’t it?

I don’t know about other religions, but the Jews have an app for that (I know, terrible).  There are a lot of traditions and rituals for all sorts of things, but the general principles of the one for mourning make a lot of sense.  The relationships that call for these mourning rituals are: mother, father, spouse, brother, sister, son, daughter.  Once the burial occurs, the family goes home and “sits shiva” for 7 days (shiva is based on the root for the word 7).  Everything stops for them – no work, no taking part in their normal lives.  The next milestone is the “shloshim” (30 days after the death).  The family goes to the cemetery for the unveiling of the headstone and has a special ceremony.  Every day for 11 months, the mourners say Kaddish (a prayer said when someone dies, which is not about death at all, but praises God).  And then on the anniversary of the death and every year after, the mourner remembers their loved one and lights a candle that lasts 24 hours.  (There are many, many other rituals and traditions, but this is not meant to be a primer on Jewish mourning.)

The basic principle here is that you are able to mourn and take note of every “first” without the person in your life – the first week, the first month, the first birthday, the first holiday, the first year.  I like the principle, but I have to admit the format doesn’t quite work for me.  Living in Israel and being 10 time zones away from my dad created a distance that is also felt in the mourning process.  I didn’t see dad every day.  I didn’t even talk to him every day or even every week.  We just talked whenever.  So the first 7 days was important to allow myself to wrap my brain around the fact that dad is gone, but I didn’t “sit shiva” in the traditional sense.  My firsts will be the first time I want to call dad and tell him about something that happened, the first Father’s Day that I have no one to call, the first time I can’t call Dad on his birthday, the first time Dad doesn’t call me on mine, the first New Year’s.  These will be the days that I feel the loss more acutely.  As for my everyday life, Dad was distant before, and now he’s just a little bit further away – without any cell service.


This is a memorial candle that burns for 7 days – more on this in another post.  This picture was taken on Day 5.  I haven’t let the flame go out (even at night).

Jews also have some guidelines for those who visit the mourners.  It’s common sense, for the most part.  Be quiet.  Let the mourner start the conversation.  Listen.  Share memories of the loved one.  So while I didn’t shut down my life for a week and sit shiva in a traditional sense, I had what might be called a virtual shiva.  My friends called and let me talk about Dad and they took the time to listen.   Some shared their thoughts about how they dealt with death of their own fathers.  Facebook allowed my friends from around the world to share their condolences.  My close family in Israel came over and we shared memories about Dad.  The whole process felt much more genuine to me than having a lot of people stopping by.

Thank you to all of you who sent good wishes.
It made me feel truly loved and supported.
Big virtual hugs all around!

My own process of mourning brought into much clearer focus the aftermath of a terror attack – and we’ve had quite a few this week.  When it isn’t our loved one, we look at the political ramifications, figure out how to defend against it so it doesn’t happen again, celebrate the heroism of defenders, share briefly in the sorrow of the mourners.  After the funeral, the press moves on and so do we.  But someone actually died.  That person’s family is grieving.  They are going to go through all the firsts and that hole that was created in their lives will never be filled again.  It will heal, but there will always be a scar.

The blessing of memory

While baruch dayan emet (Blessed is the true judge) and the Kaddish help to ensure that you don’t lose faith when you’re going through such a hard time, yehi zichro baruch (May his memory be a blessing) helps you to heal the scars in your heart.  I find myself smiling at memories of my dad.  I’m happy to hear about the memories of my dad from others.  I’m slowly filling up that hollow feeling in my chest with good feelings and happy memories of my dad.  I don’t expect that the empty feeling will  go away entirely, but the memories will definitely be a blessing.

Only in Israel moments?

Another season, another reason, for makin’ whoopee…

In the family values corner, we have a hotel ad playing on the fact that it is a leap year.  In Hebrew, they say a “pregnant year” rather than a leap year, so one hotel in Jerusalem decided that that would be the basis of their promotion.  “Make babies in our resort on February 29 and you’ll celebrate your life events at the hotel, on us.” (For the article and whole video ad see here.)

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Wedding crashers?

A couple from the US came to Israel to have their wedding and for various reasons many of their guests couldn’t attend.  Nearby another group was celebrating a bat mitzvah.  The guests of the bat mitzvah saw that the wedding lacked guests and so joined in to bring a little life to the party.  Wedding crashers, you say?  Not in Israel.  When a bride and groom are married, the guests are there to perform the mitzvah of simhat chatan v’kallah, rejoicing with the groom and the bride.  Guests provide the joyful spirit, dance with the bride and groom, give their all to make the couple happy on this very special day.  (For this story, go here.)

Hipsters in Zion

I read a blog post written by a woman who suggested that early Zionist leaders could have been hipsters.  They had pretty awesome beards.  The author went with Herzl for looks.  I don’t know what she was thinking with A.D. Gordon.

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But when I first saw the headline, I thought she meant these artist renditions.

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Hi-tech history

The Dead Sea Scrolls are getting even more digitized.  Just imagine:  Some guy wrote stuff down 2,000 years ago.  Those scrolls were put into pots and kept in caves.  Someone accidentally came across them and – long story, short – they ended up in a museum.  Scholars study them.  People visit them.  They were digitized and visible online to anyone with an internet connection.  This new project is upping the digital ante by making a whole new virtual environment to work in to decipher mysterious elements of the scrolls.


Copyright: Shai Halevi – Source.

And what do you do on school field trips?

Oh, you know, find 3,400-year-old artifacts.  How about you?

Surprisingly, some of the biggest and most important finds in Israel were found by children on school trips or hiking on their own.  The nice part of the story is that the child and his family turned it in to the Israel Antiquities Authority.  He got a certificate for good citizenship and IAA officials visited his school.  Will it inspire him enough to become an archaeologist some day?  I hope so!


Copyright: Clara Amit – Source.

And that was another side of Israel for this week.

Danger in Israel

It’s not terror.  There have been more deaths in Israel due to traffic accidents than terror.  I had a friend who kept track of these things (I trust him because he is a science person) and he found that even in the worst days of the Second Intifada, there were still more people killed in traffic accidents than due to terror attacks.

This week a full bus collided with a truck stopped on the side of the road on Highway 1 in Israel.  Six people died, three of them were under 18.  It’s especially horrible because the driver of the bus had already had an accident similar to this one on the same road and was suspended from driving between cities for two years.

Israel is still safer than other places in our part of the world.  (For statistics and another opinion, see this article.)  I remember being in Sinai and our driver was driving on the wrong side of the road.  When asked why, he said that this part of the road was smoother, so there was no reason for him to do damage to his car if the road was simply better on the other side.  You could see miles ahead, but it was still a bit disconcerting because he drove like he was being chased.

In Egypt, a taxi driver was taking us to the airport in the wee hours of the morning.  He didn’t have his headlights on, so we mentioned that he might want to turn them on.  He said that having them off saved gas.  (If anyone can tell me that this is true, please comment.)  Besides, there were streetlamps on the highway, so nothing to worry about.

Here in Israel, there is a different driving culture than most Americans are used to – and thankfully it’s not quite like Sinai or Egypt.  Streets are noisy.  The horn is a method of communication with your fellow drivers.  It might say, “Hey! I’m right here (in case you are not using your mirrors).”  Perhaps, “Woohoo!  I’m going through the intersection.”  Taxi drivers often use it to say, “Hey! Wanna taxi?”  It is also used aggressively, “Go!!! The light changed .3 milliseconds ago!!!”  Or “what the hell is the matter with you?!?! Why are you making a 3-point turn in the middle of the road and blocking both directions of traffic?!?!”  This last one is more common than you might think.

A video of driving on the highway in Israel.  It’s not that bad.  Really!

My Israeli driving test

When I converted my US license to an Israeli license, I was required to take at least one lesson, but I didn’t have to take the written part of the test.  In those days, English-speakers told many horror stories of awful driving tests and almost no one passed on their first try.  Additionally, in Israel you can get an “automatic only” license or “manual transmission” license that allows you to drive both standards and automatics.  I went for the manual since I knew how to drive one.  But I was worried.

You take the test in the instructor’s car, which is why it’s good to have at least one lesson so that you can get used to the car.  I arrived at the testing facility and was going to be tested with another student in the car.  The person giving the test didn’t speak a lot of English, but we decided it would be fine.  I carefully pulled out of the parking lot, taking my time and generally being over-cautious.  We get on the road and the tester says “Left!”  I was in the outside lane so I changed lanes to the inside lane.  He started yelling, “Left! Left!” and then tried to grab the steering wheel.  I used a Karate Kid wax off motion to block and shouted back “Ok.  I got it!”  He meant the left turn lane.  So I made the turn.  “Pull over.  Stop the car.”  End of test.

I was sure I had failed.  It was Friday and I wouldn’t get results until the next week, so I spent the weekend wondering how many more lessons I would need, how much it would cost, hoping that I wouldn’t fail too many times and have to take the written portion in Hebrew.  The results came out and I passed.  I guess it was because in the chaos I still had control of the car.  I didn’t question it and I won’t now.  As far as I’m concerned it’s just another miracle of the many that take place in Israel.

And if you decide to visit Israel, don’t worry about terrorism, just be sure to look both ways before crossing the street.

The Silent Treatment

When I read The Great Brain as a kid, I remember being surprised by the punishment that the parents gave to their kids.  This was late 1800s Utah and spanking was perfectly normal.  Not for these kids.  These parents gave “the silent treatment” for a specified length of time. The author described it as the worst of all possible punishments.  At least with a spanking, it was over and done with.  The silent treatment made the kids feel invisible.  Oftentimes, the kids would cry with relief when the silent treatment was over because they felt like they were returned to the land of the living.

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This week Israel’s newspapers were filled with the news of a woman who was stabbed to death in her home, in front of at least one of her six children (four were her natural children and two were adopted).  She was a nurse who was learning Arabic to better communicate with her colleagues and patients.  By all accounts she was an amazing person.

And then I saw a surprising headline that asked why Dafna Meir’s murder was not reported in the international media.  We all know that “if it bleeds, it leads.”  There was plenty of blood.  We saw the pictures.  Check.  The victim is sympathetic – a mother, a wife, a nurse. Check.  It was a pretty dramatic story.  She was stabbed in front of one of her children and the manhunt went on for quite a while.  Check.

I went to Google and typed in her name and went to the news tab.  Page after page of Israeli newspapers or Jewish newspapers around the world reported the story.  But no major international news organization was reporting it.  I found one small German paper that reported it in full, but I couldn’t determine if it was a Jewish paper or not.  But it was true.  The international media ignored her.

Dafna Meir lived in Otniel, which is a small town in Judea and Samaria (you could read that also as a “settlement in the West Bank”).  She was a religious Jew.  The 15-year-old Palestinian that stabbed her was on the run (meaning that no Palestinian was injured in this attack).  So if you believe that the simplest explanation is the most likely, then we are faced with an anti-Semitic media ignoring any news that doesn’t fit into their narrative and agenda.  (Here is a very good article about this.)

The next day – while Dafna’s murderer was still at large and her funeral was taking place – a pregnant woman was stabbed by a Palestinian in her store in Tekoa (another small town in Judea and Samaria / another settlement in the West Bank).  She was not killed and the Palestinian was arrested.  Now the international media paid attention.  The attack in Tekoa and that other thing that happened the day before “represent a shift in the recent surge of violence.

The Meir family has publicly stated that they harbor no hatred against Palestinians. A Palestinian friend, who is apparently a relative of the murderer, paid a condolence call and was welcomed by the family.  Unfortunately, this bit of the story does not play into the “cycle of violence” narrative that the New York Times has put together to explain why murder in the settlements is understandable.

Conspiracy of Silence

While the simplest answer may often be the right one, some things still bother me.  How does every single editor of every major news outlet in the world decide that this story – a mother murdered in her home in front of her child – get ignored?  Can it really be that every single major international news organization blindly accepts that a woman murdered in her home is just the price she paid for living in that neighborhood and moreover that she should be ignored because she doesn’t fit the narrative that has been dictated by a certain political agenda embraced by the paper?  Did every single international journalist really shelve their humanity to serve a political agenda?

Many journalists claim to try to bring justice to underprivileged and underrepresented people.  They claim to want to shed light on the truth.  They are presented as “brave” and “unrelenting” in their pursuit of the story.  Today, I am reminded of the bitter and all too accurate pun:

If vegetarians eat vegetables, then what do humanitarians eat?

The international media’s deafening conspiracy of silence is the worst kind of punishment they can deliver.  With their silence, they ensure that Dafna Meir doesn’t exist and that their fixed narrative is unshaken.

I hope that all of us together can demand more from journalists.  Or perhaps call out the lazy and hypocritical ones.  We may even eventually find the invisible hand directing the narrative, the one that ensures that no one thinks for themselves or asks questions.

But for now, as a start, I will not be silent.


Sticks and Stones … But Words …

Sticks and Stones Will Break Your Bones, But Words Will Frame Your World

After a month of holiday posts, the elephant in the room should probably be tended to.  Violence.  Yes, it is still going on.  In Israel, but everywhere else as well.

Last week, after I posted my entry to the blog, news came out of a shooting in Tel Aviv.  It was unclear at the time if it was regular violence, Islamic State-inspired terrorism, or a mentally unbalanced individual who went off the rails.  As of this writing, the perpetrator is still at large and there are still not many concrete details to be had because of a gag order on these events. (*Update: as of this posting the perpetrator was killed in a shootout with police.)

This week in Israel there is also a debate about whether torture was used during questioning of the suspects of the Duma arson attack that killed members of a Palestinian family, including an infant.  A few days ago a 21-year-old Jewish settler was indicted for murder in the case.

Then there is the odd story of the militia men in Oregon who have taken over a federal building.  I just read a news story that called them “Millennium Marlboro Men.”  Somewhere between the lyrical, romanticized descriptions of these guys, I gather the problem has something to do with land rights and freeing two guys who are in prison.

In the midst of it all, a Facebook meme and a proper opinion piece come up with the narrative that Star Wars is the story of how Luke Skywalker became a radicalized terrorist.  It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there is some reasonable logic behind it, if you look at the story in a certain way.


(*Disclaimer: I don’t buy into this at all because I know that Star Wars is a Hero’s Journey story.  Hero myths are present in all cultures in the world and a “hero” is not usually a conformist.)

It’s the words that make all the difference in each story.

If the events are described as “terrorism” then it’s easy to condemn the perpetrator.  Throw in possible mental illness, well, then it’s a tragedy for all concerned and the finger of blame points at the perpetrator, but also the society that failed him (especially true in the US).  Toss around the term “Jewish terrorism” and, in Israel, the shock and shame are palpable.  iPhone-toting Marlboro Men with guns dressed in camo is straight out of the movies.  They are taking over a federal (read: Evil Empire) building for freedom.  And then our hero Luke.  He uses the Force to fire a rocket that blows up the Death Star and kills hundreds of thousands of people.  Is he in the Rebellion or is he a radicalized terrorist?

So who shapes our world?  Are we swallowing what’s given to us or are we critically thinking?  After all, the phrase “justifiable homicide” feels different than “cold-blooded murder.”  “Terror” is a lot heavier than “random shooting.”  It’s above and beyond the idea of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”  In the global society that we live in today, if someone decides that a person is a terrorist, then that can be proclaimed from the global rooftop.  Someone else can decide that same person is a freedom fighter and shouts that from the global rooftop.  Then it becomes a matter of who gets more social media followers, facts be damned.

Here’s the last news item for this week.  Shurat HaDin (an Israeli NGO) did a Facebook experiment.  They opened two pages:  one incited against Israelis and one incited against Palestinians and they uploaded a bunch of content to both.  Then they reported both.  The one that got shut down was the one inciting against Palestinians.  The one against Israelis didn’t (until the experiment was publicized).

In the end, it also matters who runs the global rooftop that you are shouting from.