New Year’s Special

Happy New Year!  Here in Israel people celebrate it, but not like they do elsewhere in the world.  Israelis like any opportunity to throw a party and have a good time, so December 31 – called Sylvester in Hebrew (after a pope, if you can believe it) – is a convenient time for that to happen.  Israel also has the influence of immigrants from the former Soviet Republics.  New Year in the Soviet Union looks like secular Christmas – decorated trees, Grandfather Frost who brings presents, and spending time with friends and family.  But Noviy God is Noviy God and if you ask a person from the former Soviet Union they will absolutely insist that it has nothing to do with Christmas.  Apparently this year, they went all out for Noviy God.


Not Christmas, Noviy God.

January 1 is not a day off.  If being at the office on Christmas and dating documents 25 December is weird, being at the office and writing 1 January seems almost criminal.  But there it is.  New Year in Israel was in September.  The first of January is just new page on the calendar.

Last night the weather was not cooperating.  Torrential rain would be an understatement.  The trees outside my house were nearly blowing sideways.  There are rumors that there might be snow in the next few days too.  And yet, I was able to hear all the revelers throughout the night.  Why they would want to be out in this weather is beyond me.  I quietly rang in the New Year with a toast for good health, much happiness, and great success in 2016!

Question of the week

What is the flaw in our society that ensures only outrageous campaigns get attention?

On Christmas Eve last week I went to a lecture about the influences Palestinian youth are subjected to that are likely inspiring them to attack Jews with knives.  The short answer is that Palestinian society under the direction of the Palestinian Authority honors “martyrs,” creates children’s programming broadcast on state television giving praise to 5-year-olds with aspirations to use knives to kill Jews, and hammers home the message that Jews are the descendants of pigs and apes.  There are literally thousands of other examples of this kind of messaging in Palestinian society.

Any person in their right mind would see these things and be horrified and call it what it is: emotional and psychological child abuse.  And yet it goes on and no one talks about it.  The speaker is well-informed, intellectual, and has sound, extensive documentation of every claim and the organization has the ear of members of the Israeli government and the US government, among others, and there is hardly a whisper of condemnation.

At the same time, a debate was raging in Israeli society about a “provocative” (their word) campaign done by a Zionist organization calling attention to the fact that certain NGOs in Israel are funded by foreign governments.  The video is disturbing, no doubt, and they name names calling certain members of these NGOs “moles” or “foreign agents.”

The debate spread like wildfire over every media outlet.  Every news program discussed the “provocative” campaign and then began to question the facts.  Everyone had to have an opinion about the proposed law (to require NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments to make it known and for their representatives who come to the Knesset to visibly identify themselves as members of these organizations).  There were even those who agreed that one targeted organization was in fact harming Israel’s image abroad and was disingenuous about its stated goals, but still were upset by the “provocative” campaign.

The targeted organization, by the way, was not suddenly the victim of a provocative campaign.  Another organization wrote a well-documented report showing that a large portion of the money this organization receives is from foreign governments, including a consortium managed in Ramallah of funds from foreign governments.  That report has been out for months and I believe there was even a press release.  But no one discussed it.  No one thought about it.  No one asked any questions.

I’m deliberately not naming organizations because the issues they raise are far bigger than a simple blog post could cover.  The point of this is to ask the question:  If the facts are out there, why do we need to have over-the-top, shock-and-awe campaigns to get any response from anyone?  Have we really slipped into a sex-sells, if-it-bleeds-it-leads global society?

On the other hand, if we want to get anything done and “go viral” do we have to bend with the fickle winds of the internet and make every issue bigger, stronger, faster, more outrageous, more outlandish, wilder, crazier, more shocking, and push the limits beyond their stretching point?  Is this what debate looks like today?

Here’s my (political) wish for 2016:  At least once in 2016, let’s move toward reasoned debate using facts and speaking with our inside voices while turning our backs on the circus that media has become.  Let’s lead by example. Each one of us can reward, at least once next year, calm, rational debate.

Happy New Year!  The best is yet to come!

Chanukah Special

A few fun facts about Chanukah

How do you spell it?  Chanukah, Hannukah, Hanuka, … Spell it however you want.  You just need to get the sounds right.


Jewish xmas



Is Chanukah the Jewish Christmas?  No.  It’s a holiday that happens to fall around the same time of year.  But also yes.  It was never a very big deal in terms of holiday rankings, but in recent decades it became a much bigger holiday due to the overabundance of Christmas celebrations.  Jewish kids needed something fun in December as well.



What is the miracle celebrated by Chanukah?  In 168 BCE the Selucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, forbade the Jews to practice their religion and desecrated the Temple.  After Judah the Maccabee succeeded in ousting the Selucids, the first order of business was to rededicate the Temple.  (Chanukah means dedication.)  They found only enough blessed oil to last one day.  But they lit it anyway and sent for more blessed oil, knowing that it would take 8 days.  And miraculously, the oil that should have lasted only one day lasted for 8 days.

What’s a dreidel? What’s a sevivon?  They are the same thing:  a four-sided top that has 4 Hebrew letters on it.  Dreidel is Yiddish.  Sevivon is Hebrew.  The four letters ardreidele different depending on where you are in the world.  Outside of Israel, the letters are נ, ג, ה ,ש  which stand for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” (A Great Miracle Happened There).  Inside of Israel the letters are נ, ג, ה, פ, which stand for “Nes Gadol Hayah Po” (A Great Miracle Happened Here).

The story is that children would learn the story of Chanukah with the dreidel, but those who forbade the Jews to practice their religion would see only a children’s game.

What are the rules?  All the players ante up by putting 2 whatevers in the pot (usually candies).  The first person spins the top and wherever it falls that’s the instruction for that players turn.  נ – nothing happens.  ג – you win the whole pot. ה – you win half the pot. ש/פ – put in two.

Here’s a true Chanukah story.  I went to a Chanukah party in Israel and they wanted to play dreidel.  Out of about 20 Israelis in the room and 5-6 English-speakers, I was the only one who knew the rules.  That’s right.  A secular girl who grew up in small-town America was the only person who knew all the rules.

I attribute this to family Chanukah gatherings at my aunt and uncle’s house.  I remember at least one Chanukah when all of us kids went upstairs and set up our game in the hidden corridor between the bedrooms and we secretly played dreidel.  Moral of the story:  Everyone should have secret places and everyone should know the rules of dreidel.

Foods.  In honor of the miracle of the oil, it’s all fried, baby!  Order French fries or onion rings for Chanukah!  Deep-fried mozzarella sticks?  It’s okay; it’s for Chanukah!  Fried chicken?  Absolutely! Deep-fried snickers bar?  Now it’s just getting weird.

The real traditional foods are potato pancakes (latkes [Yiddish] or levivot [Hebrew]) and fried donuts with fillings (sufganiot).  Here in Israel, most people eat sufganiot and these days they are what you might call “fancy-schmancy.”  The basic one is filled with strawberry jam (meh.  I prefer the dulce de leche version of the basic and most of the fancy-schmancy ones.)


For those of you who know about potato pancakes, you may know that one traditional way to eat them is with sour cream and applesauce.  Not so in Israel.  Whenever I have mentioned eating them this way, I get looks like I’m the crazy one.

When I was waiting at the bank this week, donuts were handed around.  It made the nearly endless wait a bit more bearable, even if it was a strawberry jam one.

What’s the real miracle of Chanukah today?  The story of Chanukah reminds us to fight for our beliefs and our way of life.  We can be proud of who we are, of our history, of our heritage, without imposing it on anyone else.

Chabad puts up a lot of public hanukiahs and lights them each night all around the world.  In Paris this week, they were discouraged from doing so.  But that isn’t the spirit of Chanukah.  They lit the hanukiah to remind us that it is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness and from that candle many more can be lit.  Together we can banish the darkness.


History and TV, what could be better?




Little known fact about Israel:  Sometimes it’s colder inside than outside.  Yesterday, it was just more pleasant to sit outside.

This week was horrible and violent.  I don’t want to rehash it all here.  Instead, we’ll dial down the intensity and cover a moment in history and look at Dig, a television series that was partially filmed in Jerusalem.

Remember, remember the 29th of November

This week Israel noted the 29th of November.  Quite a few Israelis don’t know why this is a date of note nor why streets are named after it.  It’s one of those dates that gets lost in all the important national and religious dates throughout the year.  What happened, you ask?  Good question.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations passed Resolution 181, which recommended that the land of British Mandatory Palestine be divided into two states.  It required that both the Jews and the Arabs agree.  The Jews agreed and the Arabs didn’t.

ScreenHunter_02 Dec. 04 19.50


Resolution 181 didn’t create the State of Israel, but it recognized the need for a Jewish homeland and it was sort-of an exit strategy for the British who planned to get out of Palestine in May 1948.  When May 1948 rolled around and the British left, instead of two states co-existing, five Arab states declared war on the provisional government of Israel.

The importance of the resolution today is to remind the world that Israel has a recognized right to exist.  Israel is not a colonial power or a foreign apartheid regime.  The world recognized that the people of Israel – the Jews – have a connection to this land.  It’s not that only that they need a shelter from potential Holocausts in the future, but that this specific land is the Jews’ ancestral homeland.


Picture this:  Every Jewish conspiracy theory, rumor, and apocalyptical end-of-days theory crammed into 10 episodes and it was filmed in Jerusalem.  I liked it.  I enjoyed watching it.  (However, in the interest of full disclosure, my Israel family hated it and said it was embarrassing.)

The Israeli creator of Homeland got together with the creator of Heroes and they made some incredible television fiction.  Then they cast one of the baddies from Harry Potter as the lead (Jason Isaacs, or Lucius Malfoy) and used a bunch of Israeli actors speaking Hebrew in the streets of Jerusalem and in other locations and took us on a wild ride.

ScreenHunter_01 Dec. 04 19.44


The story weaves together a radical Jewish group that wants to rebuild the Temple (obviously on the site of the Temple Mount), but they need a few things, along with some signs and wonders to ensure their success.  They are cooperating with some messianic Christians, who have their special role to play.  Meanwhile, FBI agent Peter Connelly, our underdog anti-hero who is spiritually broken (Jason Isaacs), tries to solve the murder of an American citizen.  He is helped by an Israeli policeman, Golan Cohen, who, just to make things complicated, is gay.  Throw in the Essenes (Dead Sea Scrolls) who have been hidden for the past 2,000 years and the lost treasures of the Second Temple. And then toss in a touch of Jerusalem Syndrome (a real affliction where spiritual pilgrims come to Jerusalem and suddenly believe that they are biblical figures for a while) and the blood moon.

The series was filmed in Jerusalem last summer and due to the little war we had, they finished filming in Croatia.  There is one scene where they say “Oh, that’s Mishkenot She’ananim” and show a building in Croatia.  I leaped up and shouted at the screen, “No it isn’t!”

There is also the cultural hilarity.  Anyone who has ever driven in the streets of Israel knows that people honk their horns all the time. It’s a kind of noisy communication among drivers expressing a variety of emotions.  So when Peter gets in the car with Golan, Golan is always smoking and honking his horn at everyone.  Peter doesn’t like the smoke (Golan doesn’t care) and his answer to why he honks the horn all the time is “It’s relaxing! You should try it!”

I enjoy a good murder mystery (fictional, of course) and I love a good conspiracy theory.  Of course the show was a little silly and over the top.  It’s not a documentary, for heaven’s sakes.  But I have to say, with all the problems on the Temple Mount these days, the various end of days theories going around, especially lately, and all the violence in the world, I certainly hope that fiction in this case is stranger than truth.

The Underdog and The Anti-Hero

The point of this Friday post is not to list one bad event after another, but if I were simply to write about what happened this week, that’s unfortunately what it would look like.  Even though a few good things happened this week too.  Instead, here is the beginning of a theory I’m working on.

ScreenHunter_04 Nov. 27 15.52

The Underdog and the Anti-Hero

This theory is a work in progress, so please comment or refute.  It might be enough to write a whole thesis on, but I’m trying to present it as concisely as possible.


Secretary of State John Kerry spoke last week about the attacks in Paris and said:

There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for.

I’m not trying to suggest government policy here, but rather ask a question about how people might see and understand the world.  Fiction, in all its forms – TV, movies, books, games, etc. – affects our daily lives.  Even the news we read is a “story” and has to be presented with a beginning, middle, and satisfying end.  As Kerry’s quote suggests, there is something we can understand about a focused attack on specific targets.

(It’s another full discussion to point out that Kerry seems to be saying that he can understand the rationale of focused attacks on cartoonists who insult Mohammed and the unmentioned Jews shopping on a Friday.  Using that kind of logic, we should also understand the rationale behind attacks like Timothy McVeigh’s in Oklahoma or angry teens perpetrating school shootings.  And is there actually a rationale for shooting people in cold blood?)

The Underdog 

Human beings often cheer for the underdog.  It’s the typical David vs. Goliath story.  We all cheer for David because if he wins then there is hope for all of us ordinary little guys. We too can overcome incredible odds and win against a seemingly invincible foe.

There is a theory called “underdogma” that suggests that people who believe in underdogma see anyone with less power as righteous and anyone with more power as wrong.  Thus the hero of any story is the one who overcomes incredible odds to defeat an overlord who is clearly corrupted by his or her absolute power.  And we cheer.

ScreenHunter_02 Nov. 27 13.14

The Anti-Hero

Some of the most popular TV and movie fiction brings us into the world of a somehow likable villain.  An early example is Tony Soprano.  He’s a mobster, a killer, a ruthless businessman, and he cheats on his wife.  But he loves his kids, he has anxiety issues, and he’s willing to face some of these things in therapy.  How about Dr. Gregory House?  He is a drug-addled misanthrope who likes to solve puzzles and hates people, but his actions find answers to medical mysteries and at the very, very end, he was a good friend to the only person who stood by him.  Dexter Morgan channeled his need to kill to vigilante executions of criminals who evade criminal justice.  He’s doing the world a service, right?  The list could go on and on.  I’m sure you probably have your own favorite anti-hero.  He or she does bad things for the “right” reasons and in the dark corners of our minds, we can relate to this anti-hero and admire the total disregard of standard behavior.  The anti-hero is also an underdog.

Of course, in real life, we wouldn’t want to be friends with any of these anti-heroes.  We wouldn’t admire them nor could we relate to them in any way.

Our fictional worlds are filled with stories of the weak winning against the strong and likable villains.  So when we see people who are giving everything they have to a single cause, willing to put their lives on the line for their version of justice, sending a message to a hegemonic power, we want to relate to them in some way.  And when the reporters write the story, they can bend the narrative.  No one wants to relate to a terrorist, but we are all freedom fighters.

Life is not a TV show

Real life is complicated and messy.  Events don’t have clear-cut beginnings, middles, or satisfying ends.  People are not clearly defined, relatable characters.  Leaving the vocabulary aside, in real life, if one human being shoots or stabs another human being, there is nothing to understand and there is no rationale.  If you try to rationalize the violence or relate to the perpetrator, then I suggest stepping out of the fictional world.

In my opinion, a universal human value should be to choose life.  If the underdog anti-hero says that he or she loves death, don’t try to understand it or rationalize it, believe it. This is not going to change in 40 minutes or 6 seasons and there won’t be a story arc showing character development and growth.  We are all human beings and it would be nice to relate to each other on that level.  But we don’t. Some choose life.  Some choose death.  At some point, changing the channel won’t be an option.

A little this. A little that.

In terms of violence, the past week was horrible.  So instead of leading with the horrible, let’s celebrate something positive and beautiful that came out of senseless tragedy: a gigantic, wonderful wedding and everyone is invited.

Last Friday, before Paris, two people were killed on the road south of Jerusalem.  The bride’s father and her brother were on their way to celebrate with the groom on the Shabbat before the wedding.  Instead of a wedding, there was double funeral and the bride’s mother and her siblings were in the hospital.  What did the bride and groom choose to do?  They chose life.  They moved their wedding date to November 26, rented out the international convention center in Jerusalem and invited everyone in Israel to join them in celebrating their wedding.  (*Cultural aside for those cynics out there: A wedding is a celebration for the whole community and a guest’s job is to make the bride and groom happy. So it’s not about the big wedding.  It’s about giving everyone a reason to rejoice.)

ScreenHunter_02 Nov. 21 15.52

Here’s their public message and invitation.

And then there was Paris

There are plenty of people much smarter and more eloquent than me that said many things about Paris.  (My favorite was John Oliver’s extensive use of the f-word, because that really is what we are all thinking – even though it might not be considered “eloquent”).

As I read the news in Israel, I noticed one line that probably everyone else thought was superfluous, but I thought was good evidence of choosing life.  In the stadium, France was competing against Germany in a friendly football match (soccer game) and even though they heard explosions, they finished the match.  France won 2–0.

ScreenHunter_01 Nov. 20 22.15

Football not terror.

Then I was really disappointed

A few days after Paris, social media started to pile up with accusations:

  • Why only Paris?  What about Beirut?  Any Lebanese flags on Facebook photos?  How about the airplane downed in Sinai?  What about all those Russians?  Why hasn’t the media reported on anything other than Paris?
  • Israel has terrorism and innocent civilians are getting stabbed, shot, and run over every day.  Yet Israel is the aggressor?  How would you like it if the attacks in Paris were reported as “8 Muslims killed in Paris”?

As to the first, I read two interesting articles that said that said all the other violence was reported, but that readers ignored it.  On top of that, coordinated terrorist violence in Paris is not the norm and because Paris is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, people can relate to it more than, let’s say, Beirut, Sinai, or, as of yesterday, Nigeria and Mali.
(Article 1 and Article 2)

As to the second, while having some truth to it, I find it cold, callous, and in short, stomping on the people of Paris.  There is a time and place for accusations of media bias, the few days after an attack is not one of them.  We don’t have all the facts, human beings are in shock and grieving, so let’s bring up media bias?  Way to set an example of showing humanity and choosing life.

Expanding the logic of the two articles in light of Thursday’s attacks in Israel where 5 people died including an 18-year-old American, it would be disheartening to think that the world finds violence in Israel normal and that they cannot relate to Tel Aviv as a city or Israelis as people.

I’m working on my own theory.  In two words: underdog and anti-hero.  I’ll expand on this in another post.

Jonathan Pollard

He was released from prison on Thursday after serving 30 years of a life sentence for espionage (read: spying for Israel).  To some people in Israel and the US this is a Very Big Deal. They’ve been campaigning for his release for a long time saying that the sentence was wildly excessive.  Now they want him to be allowed to come to Israel – he was granted Israeli citizenship 20 years ago – but his parole requires him to stay in the US for 5 years and wear an ankle monitor.  I think the real story and all the various details will never be fully known.  We’ll have to see what happens.

Pacman in Jerusalem

In good news of people who come to Israel even during these violent times: Manny Pacquiao, world boxing champion.  What’s his favorite city?  Jerusalem! (Of course!)

ScreenHunter_03 Nov. 21 16.03

Screen capture from Manny Pacquiao’s Facebook page.


Happy Thanksgiving!  Let’s all be grateful for our blessings and give thanks!


My trip to Talpiot

A natural reaction to a chilly, rainy morning.

A natural reaction to a chilly, rainy morning.

This week’s post is a “day in the life” story.  Join me on my trip to Talpiot – a neighborhood known for being the place where people shop for basics at no-frills stores at discount prices.

On Sunday morning I had an appointment in the neighborhood of Talpiot.  Just as I arrived at the bus stop, bus number 34 arrived.  It wasn’t crowded and I could have taken a seat if I wanted to.  I arrived half an hour early and had a chance to visit the newly remodeled mall in the neighborhood.

I never liked that mall in the past.  It was dark, dingy, and somehow seemed to retain noise and bounce it off the walls.  It felt old and oppressive.  I had to steel myself for a mission if there was any reason I had to go there.  But now, it was a different world!

Every mall has metal detectors and security guards.  They are more worried about what you might bring in, not what you might take out.  At the entrance, I handed over my bag and noted that the security guy was talking to a mall cleaner and based on his accent I guessed that the cleaner was Arab.

The mall was just starting to open, so there were not many people and most of the stores were in the middle of opening their doors.  The coffee shops were quite busy already, because it’s not possible to start the day in Israel without coffee.  At first everything seemed the same, so I strolled around.  Hey, there’s a proper food court!  Oh, look at all the new stores!  They’re having a sale!

Then I noticed an escalator where there hadn’t been one previously, so I went up. A second floor!  Here were the big name brand stores that were never seen before in Talpiot.  There was a seating area with a lovely view that I never knew existed from Talpiot.  Wow!  Jerusalem is beautiful from every angle, even from Talpiot!

As I was walking around the nearly empty second floor, I heard two young men speaking Arabic behind me.  I found myself wondering if it was possible that they would stab me in the middle of a mall.  Was I safe?  Well, maybe they were just ordinary thieves.  Should I hold my bag closer?  Then I was troubled by my own thoughts.  Why would I assume that just because they were young men speaking Arabic that they would either be terrorists or thieves?  As these thoughts crossed my mind, I noted the thoughts and kept my slow strolling pace and held my bag in the same way I had been holding it before.  Paranoid thoughts were not going to get the better of me.

They were walking faster than I was and passed me.  Walking close to each other as friends, they were talking happily about something, and went down the escalator ahead of me.  They didn’t give me a second look.

After my appointment, I took the bus home.  Again the bus was not too full, but Talpiot is early on the bus route.  My trip would be nine stops.  At the third stop, a soldier got on the bus.  He was in uniform with an automatic rifle slung across his chest with his hand on the pistol grip.  He walked the length of the bus and got off.  His partner was waiting outside at the stop.  At the fourth stop, the same thing happened.  At the sixth, seventh, and eighth, a soldier got on the bus leaving his partner outside, walked the length and got off.

It was a security check.  Back in the days of bus bombings, we had security on the buses all the time.  Even today, we have security on the light rail.  But this was the army doing a security check.  One could guess that they had a viable threat and they increased security on public transport to counteract it.


On Monday, two Palestinian pre-teens (12- and 13-years-old) stabbed a security officer on the light rail in Jerusalem.  Half an hour later a 37-year-old Palestinian attacked guards at the Damascus Gate in the Old City.

The Arabs I saw at the mall just want to do their work and get on with their lives.  But that doesn’t make the security threats any less real.  I don’t enjoy the fact that the army is doing security checks and that living in Jerusalem requires being in a state of alert.  On the other hand, if your city is struck by a crime wave that involves individuals using knives, cars, Molotov cocktails, and rocks to cause chaos, you do what you have to do.

How did I feel?  I’m glad the army is responding to threats.  I don’t feel particularly nervous when soldiers are obviously doing a security check on a bus with their weapons at the ready.  At the same time, I know that they are looking for potential threats and they are profiling.  They are profiling the same way I profiled in the mall just an hour before.  The only thing that gave me pause was that the security threat seemed to be heading toward my neighborhood.

Do I live in a police state?  No.  I live in a place where the nation’s sons and daughters proudly serve in the army.  The soldiers I saw on the bus are someone’s son, brother, husband, or father (some looked older than regular soldiers so they are likely reservists).  And they want to keep all of us safe.

History in the making

What I learned from my Facebook experiment last week is that I have to have a good first sentence hook and an interesting first picture.  Alternatively, I should start my post in the middle or the end.  That said, here’s the end: We have to keep telling our stories because our lives, even at this moment, are history in the making.

National Archives and a great quote from Shakespeare

National Archives and a great quote from Shakespeare

History in the making

This week marked the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.  Bill came.  Yes, Bill “Shalom, Haver” (goodbye/peace, friend) Clinton.  He spoke at a memorial rally in Rabin Square (renamed to honor Rabin after his assassination there).  The week was filled with what-ifs:  What if Rabin had lived? What if Oslo had really worked? What if, what if, what if.

I’m a little cynical about what ifs.  The truth is that no one knows what would have happened if events unfolded a different way.  As an idealist, I understand the desire to spin what-ifs and wouldn’t-it-have-been-great-ifs.  But as a historian, I believe it is more important to analyze the past and learn lessons from it.  Otherwise, you end up in a spiral of history, revisiting in different ways the events of the past, and repeating them over and over.

This is not to say that I’ve analyzed the past and have come up with a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I’m pretty sure that if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll continue to get the same results.  (A similar quote was attributed to Einstein, but apparently he didn’t say it.  “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”)

Viva la Revolution!

I’ve been thinking about history as a spiral because of the events in Romania this week.  Since I was there in September and I asked a lot of questions about the revolution in 1989, I was stunned to hear the news that the government stepped down this week after protests over a nightclub fire.  The fire was representative of the corruption of government agencies and the disregard the government has for its citizens.  I also spoke to a friend in Timisoara about it – not that I have a deep understanding about it now, but at least I feel a little more informed.

Here’s a video of the protest this week in the same square that the 1989 revolution took place in (and the square that I passed through every day I was in Timisoara).  My friend tells me that some of the chants and songs in the video were part of the revolution in 1989.  Here’s a LINK.

Telling the stories

I’m a historian by training, but the part of that word that is important to me is “story.”  Not just a collection of facts in a particular order, but an understanding of the events of the past that speak to us as human beings.

A few weeks ago, I saw a German film called “Labyrinth of Lies” about the guy who brought German citizens to trial in Germany for war crimes at Auschwitz.  This is not a Holocaust movie.  It is a story about having the strength, even when you barely have the will to go on, to tell the truth about the capacity of humans to be inhuman to each other. Here’s the trailer.

A documentary that caught my eye was “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”  Evgeny Afineevsky, the director, was in the middle of the uprising in Kiev and documented it.  When he spoke about it in the interview I saw, he said something that stayed with me: “The history is happening.”  Here’s a trailer.  And an interview with the director.

History is now

Film today is yesterday’s book.  History is remembered when it touches our souls.  And hopefully, we can learn from it and do things differently.

I remember the events of 1989.  I remember Rabin’s assassination.  These are events that took place in my lifetime that are now history.  We have to keep telling our stories because our lives, even at this moment, are history in the making.

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

Here are the mandalas from this week.  This is also an experiment to see which pictures Facebook will post as links to the blog post.

Mandalas of the week (and experiments for the Facebook post)

Mandalas of the week (and experiments for the Facebook post)



Here in Jerusalem it rained.  I went out with an umbrella a few times and it was just an average October for me.  After sunny and hot for months, I was pretty happy about the rain.

Rainy day and a pot of jasmine green tea

Rainy day and a pot of jasmine green tea

Down in the valley it was apparently apocalyptic.  Record setting rainfall.  Floods.  Power outages.  Some wanted to declare a state of emergency.  Keep in mind this is about 60 km (40 miles) away from Jerusalem, but 800 (2,600) meters difference in elevation.  For pictures and video.

Morgan Freeman in the House!

In awesome news this week, Morgan Freeman came to Jerusalem to film his documentary “The Story of God.”  But he didn’t just come to Jerusalem.  In these really tense times, he went to the Old City and filmed at the Western Wall and at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Of course he had body guards, but as a celebrity, he would have had guards anyway.  He didn’t make a statement about the situation, but his actions said that he wasn’t going to stop filming because of the tense situation.  That’s good enough for me.  (The documentary is due out in April 2016.)

Screen shot from the Times of Israel

Screen shot from the Times of Israel

A Word of Hebrew

The word “matsav” means situation.  It can be used as an informal greeting, “ma hamatsav?” (what’s going on?) – though it usually sounds like “ma matsav?”  It can also be literal as “ma hamatsav po?” (what is the situation here?) when you are asking for an evaluation of a situation.

Matsav is also a kind of euphemistic term Israelis use when referring to everything going on in Israel at any given time.  Even English speakers will throw it in an English sentence because it’s so heavy with additional nuance.  “The matsav is just terrible.”  “What is the government doing about the matsav?”

A Few Words about the Matsav

Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a press conference last Saturday and stated four main points:

  1.  Israel respects Jordan’s special role as custodian of the site (via the Waqf).
  2.  The historical status quo will be maintained, that is, Muslims pray there, non-Muslims visit.
  3.  Israel has no interest in dividing the site and rejects any attempts to do so.
  4.  Israel welcomes increased coordination between Israel and Jordan to ensure restraint and respect on the site.

The takeaway is that it is not Israel’s policy to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.  There are Israelis who are actively campaigning for the right to pray there, but that does not make it Israel’s policy.  In fact, there is disagreement among the Jewish community itself about praying on the Temple Mount – for religious reasons, not political ones.

The other takeaway from these points is that the Temple Mount is administered by Jordan via the Waqf.  The Palestinian Authority is not involved and never was, even before 1967.  Israel does not administer the site, but is in charge of the security.  It’s complicated and messy.  So when Jews try to pray near the Al Aqsa Mosque, they are arrested by Israeli police.

Netanyahu also said that he would welcome CCTV on the Temple Mount (Jordan’s idea) to be able to respond to incitement from either side and possibly prevent violence before it happens. Full article.

Who is against the idea of CCTV on the Temple Mount?  Palestinian leadership and the Jewish activists who want to pray on the Temple Mount.

Why does it matter?

Sheik Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the guy in charge of Al Aqsa, got on Israeli TV news this week and announced that there has never been any Jewish Temple on the site – not 3,000 years ago, not 30,000 years ago.  Al Aqsa Mosque has been on the site since the beginning of time.  It was apparently built by angels in the time of Adam.


Let’s say for a minute that he means it spiritually; Al Aqsa has been there spiritually since time immemorial.  But he rejects any evidence that there has ever been a Jewish presence there.  Biblical references.  Rejected.  Archeological evidence.  Rejected.  Historical documentary evidence.  Rejected. What he actually means is that the Jewish people were never here and have no connection to the land and thus, Israel has no right to exist in this space for any reason.

Is the current wave of stabbings because of Temple Mount?  Not really. (Palestinian leaders have said so.)  Is the Temple Mount important in the big picture?  Absolutely.

And that’s the matsav from here.

Let’s all have a Shabbat shalom and a great rainy weekend!

And for everyone who’s celebrating, Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from the Dark Knight!

Happy Halloween from the Dark Knight!

And now for something completely different

I don’t want to talk about the situation in Israel.  It’s not that I’m ignoring it or pretending that it’s not going on all around me, but I feel like constant attention to the news and repeatedly thinking about the events of the day is just causing a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The problem for Israel is that it is a collective PTSD causing itchy trigger fingers and shameful mob mania.

Instead, this is going to be about how I dealt with the stress this week.


I had seen mandala coloring pages and books in art stores for a while, but I wasn’t inspired enough to give it a try.  Then my friend M. invited me to a morning meditation with mandalas.  I have to admit I’m not a good meditator.  I’ve had good experiences once in a while, but I mostly suffer from what is commonly called “monkey brain.”  Thoughts pass into my mind, start making coffee and then go into an acrobatic routine.

A few minutes of research on the net and I found that adult coloring is a thing.  Mandalas are also a thing.  Coloring mandalas is a growing thing.  It’s not about staying in the lines or purposefully coloring outside the lines.  It’s not about how beautiful or artistic the mandala should be / could be / would be if you had more talent. It’s about focus, being in the moment, and just enjoying the now.

So now I have my own book and various coloring implements so that I have options.

IMG_20151023_123310     IMG_20151023_123324

IMG_20151023_123336     IMG_20151023_123344

Work in progress

Work in progress

Turning back the clock


The stuff on the left is what I actually bought. The stuff on the right is all the samples!

Three words:  Korean. Beauty. Products. My friend C. introduced me first to Korean dramas and now she’s brought me into the fascinating and ultimately pleasurable world of Korean beauty products.  Rather than write a treatise on the various essences, serums, toners, cleansers, and masks, suffice it to say, it seems that in the past month and a half of making a bigger effort, 5 years have disappeared from my face.

My first foray into the beauty products line was in Romania, so I’ve been using things I bought there.  This week, my first package from Korea arrived!  Yay!

Ladies night – out on the town

In honor of my birthday (a month ago), S. and C. took me out on the town last night.  (That’s right. In the middle of the knife intifada.)  We went to place called Gatsby.  It’s set up like a speak-easy, so upon entering, you are in a tiny room facing a wall-to-wall bookshelf.  With the right code words – something along the lines of “my friend is inside” or “I have a reservation” – the middle panel slides over and you get your first peek at the 1920s style bar.

Gatsby entrance

Gatsby entrance

They play the feel-good crooner oldies of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.  The handsome barman is dressed like he just jumped out of a 1940s movie and has enough flair to make drinks that involve fire.  The food menu is limited and the drink menu seems to be limited to whatever Gatsby might drink.  I had a mint julep served in an iced metal cup.  S. had something called Made in Israel (would Gatsby drink that?).  C. nearly fell off her chair when they wouldn’t serve her a Cosmo, but eventually settled for a whiskey sour.  The food was stylized and delicious.  I would have taken pictures but the place was too dark.

Gatsby doesn’t serve dessert.  Where is Daisy when you really need her?  So we crossed the street to Berta’s where we had something called a Hedgehog, a chocolate indulgence that makes you forget all your problems, and an apple pie that makes you feel all warm and snuggly.  I topped it all off with a chai latte.

Hedgehog and apple pie

Hedgehog and apple pie

And what’s a night out on the town without presents?  S. and C. know me so well.  A few things to add to my relaxation regimen.  Thanks, ladies!

Tea, shortbread, and collagen serum.

Tea, shortbread, and collagen serum.

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

If last week was bad, this week was worse.  Tuesday was a terrible day.  A glance at Facebook told me that two nearly simultaneous attacks took place in Jerusalem and two stabbings in Ra’anana (a suburb of Tel Aviv).  This is the age of instant images so there was almost immediate video and photos of the attacks.  Most of it was too graphic for me to watch.  Other days were not much better.

There is simply too much going on for me to process in any coherent way, but I would like to refer you to one article that analyzes the situation concisely and accurately.  Yesterday’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

For my part, I can share my thoughts as someone who lives in Jerusalem.  I’m cautious.  I don’t go out unnecessarily.  However, I am not walking around in a paranoid frenzy.  I see people out and about.  They’re smiling.  Traffic still backs up on a particular road in my neighborhood and people still get annoyed about it and honk their horns.  Life is going on, just a bit more cautiously.

The problem with these attacks is that they are random.  You never know who might attack or when something might happen.  The sales of pepper spray are off the charts.  Self-defense courses are springing open.  Videos of what to do in case of a knife attack are available on the internet.  I’ve taken a self-defense course (before I went to Thailand) and my study of Tai Chi, believe it or not, helps me to feel a little bit more secure.

An email I received giving me links to information that can help during this wave of terror

An email I received giving me links to information that can help during this wave of terror

At the same time we’re hearing news of terrible things going on, I’m also seeing news of friends getting married, getting engaged, having happy moments with their children, sharing good times with friends.  People go out on purpose to show they are not afraid.  Life is still precious and with glasses clinking, To Life!

The political stuff

Two political points – I won’t ramble on too much about this, but I think they are important.

If you see a headline that says “Man stabs several people in the street,” you might think that the guy probably had a psychotic break.  If you see that headline a few more times and come to “Wave of stabbings occurring day after day,” you might start to wonder where the police are and what the heck is going on.  It’s a crime wave and something needs to be done.

If the headline is then “Palestinian stabs Jew,” the first thought should not be “Oh, well, alright then, he’s probably enraged about the settlements/Temple Mount/occupation/etc.”  If the stabbings in the earlier headline are troubling, the new designations should not change the shock and horror of the violence.  (“Jew stabs Palestinian” is equally horrifying and also not excused by rage over the situation.)

The worst is “Israeli police kill man after attempted stabbing.”  That is a headline with an agenda.  It is a true headline, but fails to mention the part where a Palestinian was the one trying to stab the police officer.  If the majority of people read only headlines, then Israel does indeed look like a violent police state.  In the screen capture below, the reporter also said that the guy was unarmed, but in stills, it is very clear that he has a knife in his hand.

Point #1: Read the article.  The headline is probably misleading.

The reporter misrepresented the situation and was corrected on air. But that doesn't change the headline.

The reporter misrepresented the situation and was corrected on air. But that doesn’t change the headline.

You might have heard about the 13-year-old boy who was mentioned by Mahmoud Abbas as a child executed in cold blood by the Israelis while he was alive and well in an Israeli hospital.  Besides the politics of that situation (we’d be here all day for that), I wonder why no one seems to be asking why a 13-year-old boy is stabbing another 13-year-old boy.

Where is the outcry about using this kid as a child soldier?  Who put the knife in his hand?  Is a 13-year-old legitimately enraged about the settlements/Temple Mount/occupation?  And if he is brainwashed to hate Jews, isn’t that a form of emotional and psychological abuse?  Who advocates for him?  Where are his human rights?

This is one kid in one situation.  I hope he is not a model for the next generation.  Palestinian activists point their fingers at Israel, blame Israel for the situation and claim that Palestinian lives are miserable, but I wonder why these same activists don’t take a nuanced approach and start asking who puts knives into children’s hands, sends them out to shed blood and encourages them to risk being shot by Israeli police.

Point #2:  The situation is complicated and there are no easy answers.  Look at the big picture.  

Let’s all have a Shabbat Shalom!  We could really use it.