Center of the Universe

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

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

Fremont

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fluff!

There’s too much to process from the news about Jerusalem and Israel, so please enjoy another fluff piece!

Solstice

I like marking solstices and equinoxes.  It reminds me that our little blue planet continues to revolve around the sun and the problems in our day to day lives are minuscule when seen through the lens of the galaxy or the universe.  I like the winter solstice because starting now, the days are getting longer.  We’ve passed the darkest day and it will only get better from here.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like … oh, wait, no it isn’t

I enjoy seeing the Christmas tree in front of the YMCA.  I’ve even seen a picture of Santa riding through the Old City on a camel.  But Israel doesn’t do the commercial version of Christmas.  Black Friday is just a shopping day that has no relation to Christmas.  In fact, December 25 and January 1 are regular workdays.

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Santa

Issa Kassissieh, wearing a Santa Claus costume, rides a camel during the annual Christmas tree distribution by the Jerusalem municipality in Jerusalem’s Old City December 21, 2017. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) SOURCE

Wishing you all a

Happy Holiday Season!!

December in Jerusalem

I took a walk this week and took in the sights of Jerusalem in December. It happened that it was 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 C) and while that was a little warm for Jerusalem in December, it’s a nice feeling to get out into the sunshine on a pleasant day.

I’ve been passing this new statue on the street.  Part of me wishes it really was a talented street musician.  Maybe they can pipe some music in…

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There is an interesting photo exhibit on the walls of the Old City.  It seems to be reflective of the faces you see in the city.

And in the cool evenings, we are celebrating Chanukah by lighting candles, eating donuts and illuminating our best selves. We choose not to curse the darkness in the darkest days of the year (not to mention these “days of rage” lately, but that’s another story).

Oh, Jerusalem!

I’m not a good chess player. I know how all the pieces move, I understand some opening gambits, and I might be able to see one or two moves ahead. What I lack is any sense of strategy. This week feels a little like my chess-playing.

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Of course it’s great news that the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel! Yay! (Though let me just note that we don’t need anyone to tell us where our capital is, but it’s good that it is recognized on the international stage.) Even with the recognition, moving the US embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, which has been in process for 20+ years, was still deferred.

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(I like to use alternative pictures of Jerusalem. How many times can you see the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. Seriously, Jerusalem is so much more.)

Everyone knows that if you keep doing something exactly the same way, you will not get a different result. Trump is not a “business as usual” president and the Middle East might just need a shake-up to get things moving.

Alright, let’s assume this is a covert, L-shaped knight move. We don’t know where it came from or where it’s going.

What’s the next move?

Condemnation by leaders around the world, veiled or unveiled threats from Arab leaders, Palestinians protesting.

Ok. That’s probably a rook making a strong appearance in the center of the board.

And then what?

The middle of the board will be messy, so we’ll have to sacrifice a few pieces to clear the way.

Bishops will certainly be involved. Pawns will be strewn everywhere.

Real life is not a game of chess (thankfully!). If it was, it would look more like this.

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But I’m still left with questions. Why recognize Jerusalem as the capital now? Israel gains on the international stage to some extent, but there will likely be a price to pay. So what does the US gain?

I’m not a good enough chess player or political strategist to have an answer for that.

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(Yes, I went a little crazy with the Pixabay chess pictures.
What does this one mean? I don’t know.)

Free to be you and me in Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the cusp of a slippery slope

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

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

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

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

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

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Screen capture

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

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

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Screen capture from the conservation report

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

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

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This is what is considered the “status quo.”

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

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

Links for more information

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

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

Hebron/Al Khalil Old Town listed in Palestine.

 

Jerusalem Light Festival

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

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

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

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

Damascus Gate as a platform for other gates.

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

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

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