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Israel: Like this, as if

'Like this, as if' is a literal translation of Hebrew slang, 'kahzeh ke'ilu.' This Hebrew expression is a literal translation of 'so, like,' as in 'It was so, like, cool.' A weblog translating Israeli life into English. Notice: Please read Ami and Joe: tw

Last Build Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2017 11:59:04 +0000



Wed, 22 Oct 2014 22:56:00 +0000

Both contributors to this web log passed away in June 2011.Below is the eulogy we wrote back then.__________________________________________________Ami and Joe: two great men have left us14.07. 2011 We mourn the passing of Joe Hochstein, who died this June 26, and of Ami Isseroff, who died only a few days later, on June 29.Joe and Ami at Ami's place in 2009Ami was the guy who set up MidEast Web in 2000 and Zionism and Israel Information Center in 2005, and their associated Yahoo news and discussion groups, and Joe has been a co-moderator for most of this time. The goal of MidEast Web was to bring Jews and Arabs together and to work on mutual understanding; the goal of Zionism and Israel Info Center was to defend the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism.Both men were born in the United States and made aliyah, Ami in the 1960s and Joe in the 1980s. Both were firm believers in Israel and in the quest for peace in the Middle East, and came to pursue their dreams and to help make the country a better place. Ami started out working on a kibbutz in the late 1960s to bring his socialist ideas into practice, but after a while became frustrated with the lack of intellectual challenge; after a day's hard work in the fields, his fellow kibbutzniks were not inclined to engage in discussions on socialist and Zionist ideals and the state of the world. So Ami went on to study psychology and achieved a doctorate, met his wife and started a family. He eventually got a job at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot as a very skilled computer programmer, and a nighttime career as an internet activist and a very illuminating thinker and productive writer on the web, inspiring many with his views on the Arab-Israeli conflict.Joe already had a career behind him as an established journalist and publisher of the award-winning Washington-based newspaper The Jewish Week, when, as a widower with three children, he came to Israel in 1983, realizing a long-held dream. Then Joe's son Marcus, who had made aliyah before him, was killed in an ambush by Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1985. Despite this, in a memorial ceremony in 1986 Joe expressed his and others' commitment to Israel: "Jewish history is being made today, here in Israel. Our loved ones played their role in it; we can give it further meaning."Joe himself survived an Islamic Jihad suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in 1996.In the 1990s, during the Oslo peace process, Ami became involved in Jewish-Arab dialog and peace activities. In 1998 he started the PEACE group together with Jordanian Ameen Hannoun, and soon they recruited dozens of participants.Next to dialogue meetings, they started several projects on the rapidly expanding worldwide web, like the Peace Dialogue site and the PeaceWatch column; the latter was hosted on fellow peace activist Robert Rosenberg's Ariga website and was maintained by Ami until 2007.In August 2000, initiator Yehoshua Zamir, Hope Flowers school founder Hussein Issa, Ami and many others launched MidEast Web for Coexistence, "an NGO for advancing education for coexistence and dialogue in the Middle East". Ami as webmaster filled the website almost singlehandedly with an impressive number of background articles, documents and insightful analyses about the Israeli-Arab conflict. His remarkable intellect, productivity and passion are evident throughout these pages.In December 2000 they started the MEW Dialog Yahoo group, followed in January 2001 by the MEW News group and in October 2002 by the MEW Background group. In December 2002 they added the Middle East Web Log on MidEast Web. By then, Joseph Hochstein had joined the website and e-mail groups, bringing his knowledge, thoughtfulness and many years of experience as a publisher and editor to MidEast Web, mostly providing quiet advice in the background, pointing out important facts and viewpoints and setting straight historical errors.Joseph Hochstein in 2008When the hope for a solution to the conflict dwindled during the second intifada, many lost their faith in the MidEast W[...]

Lehitraot, from Joseph M. Hochstein

Thu, 22 Jul 2010 08:32:00 +0000

 It's time to take my leave from this blog. You could say that it's long past time, since I have been inactive here for more than two years.

My last post here was a comparison of New York with Israel, dated June 11, 2008. I am responsible for posts signed with my name through that date. Posts that appeared at this blog between then and this note of farewell should not be charged to my account.

When we started "Israel: Like This, As If," the aim was to put together a group of bloggers who would write in English about life in Israel from various perspectives. Ami Isseroff provided the title, the concept and some writing for "Israel: Like This, As If." He signed his work as "News Service." I did most of the other writing. For a time I was ill and stopped contributing.

The larger group of bloggers never materialized, although a number of guest writers have contributed individual pieces.

"Lehitraot," the title of this little note, is a forward-looking term, an Israeli counterpart of the French "au revoir" or the casual American "see you." I hope we may meet again somewhere on the web.

In case we don't meet again, let me thank you now for your interest and attention.

All the best,
Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Censorship of Kiddies

Fri, 26 Jun 2009 12:40:00 +0000

In a blogicle called "Not realizing which team he is on," Treppenwitz explains that he censored his five year old son's "inappropriate" TV watching activities, and his son did not understand that he is on the opposite "team" and was supposed to object. Cops and robbers.    As Halfowitz, I have a different point of view. In the first place, I don't see quite how to apply this idea to rasing kids in Israel. Let's say you're an Israeli kid. So one minute you are watching a parentally approved non-violent 100% kosher TV program and the announcer comes on and says "This is an emergency. Israel is undergoing a missile attack. Please stay calm and enter your sealed rooms." Another time, the broadcast is interrupted to announce that Yigal Amir murdered the Prime Minister. Another time, you turn on the TV and Zaka people are busy collecting body parts after a suicide attack, or you learn that the President is accused of being a rapist. So what are you going to think if Mommy and Daddy tell you not to watch "The Shield" because it has explicit sex and violence? "Like, where are they living?"   Ultraorthodox Jews created a kosher search engine to keep the world out of the Internet. It's called Koogle. From what I can see, it works fine. Any English language search term I entered returned "Page not found." World guaranteed to be shut out, totally.   Does reality have an effect? Is it harmful to your mental health? Is TV the same as reality? Can we shut out the world and is it worth it? I am not too sure that watching explicit TV programing in childhood is the explanation for the existence of ultra orthodox pedophiles for example. I don't have scientific data to support my ideas, admittedly, just my own experiences.   Our kids always watched whatever they liked. The oldest son watched Oedipus Rex  at age three on the public broadcasting channel when we were in US. He explained to Ruth what it was about pretty well, and added that it was not nice at all. I think it was the only channel we got at the time. All three kids watched lots of "good stuff" of all kinds including people "doing it," people killing each other in very creative ways, and everything from nonsense and kiddie shows to an explicit homosexual series that was too much for me. They watched, at different periods and in the same periods, the Smurfs, the Muppets, Michal Yannai's kiddie show, Incredible Hulk, action flicks and series, Stephen Segal, Mel Gibson, Texas Ranger, Pamela Anderson, lots of cleavage stuff and people getting blown to bits. Generally they were only interested in junk suitable to they own age, with aberrant tendencies to watch works of art. They endlessly played Dungeons and Dragons too. which is supposed to be a good stimulant to evil behavior. .   I would like to report that our offspring are all homicidal, thieving, devil worshiping, drug addicted sex maniacs locked away in Ma'asiyahu prison with former Treasury Minister Hirschson and MK Benizri and President Katsav and others like them, just to prove the theories of the censorship advocates. Unfortunately, the three evil malefactors are not in jail yet I think, and our kids didn't turn out that way. The "boys" are grad students in chemistry and engineering and the "girl" is finishing the army. Maybe their futures in politics are ruined. Maybe Katsav and Benizri didn't get to watch enough junk on TV when they were kids. That is what comes of a deprived childhood.   As for me, when I was a kid in U.S.A. they didn't have "inappropriate" shows on TV or if they did, I was too dumb to know about it or to understand what was going on. If I wanted sexually explicit content and senseless violence I had to read the Bible I guess. The closest we could get on TV was Sheena Queen of the Jungle. I remember reading with shock t[...]

Henglish, or Why Gilad Schalit is not free

Sun, 23 Nov 2008 17:43:00 +0000

Henglish is the language you get when you directly translate Hebrew into English. For example, the title of this Web log "Like this, As If" is translated from the Hebrew "Kazeh, Ke'ilu." That in turn is translated from the English slang, "so, like" as in "Jill Hennessy is so, like, foxy." (Well she is, isn't she?) So Kazeh Ke'ilu is Engbrew, the complement of Henglish. Henglish has many comic constructions, such as "The situation is on the face." It is a direct translation of the Hebrew, "Hamatzav al hapanim," which it generally is. Usually, educated people who speak Henglish do it for laughs. The Jerusalem Post however, is not necessarily to be counted among the educated. As I noted in Why Gilad Shalit is not free, here's how they quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak's remarks about Gilad Shalit: "We have a moral responsibility and to do everything fitting and possible to bring Gilad Schalit home. Not at any price and not only in negotiations."The best minds in Israel, as well as the defense establishment, "are currently sitting on the matter," ... "The matter is crucial, and it is not simple..." The best minds are sitting on the matter. In Hebrew "Hamo'hot hachi tovim yoshvim al hainyan." But in English, it conjures up Mr. Barak, with his ample sitting department, sitting on a big file marked "Gilad Schalit." And maybe some other ample "minds" are also sitting on it. No wonder Schalit is not freed yet, the Israeli government doesn't know the difference between its mind and its sitting department! Or maybe that's just the Jerusalem Post. Too bad they don't have Jill Hennessy or Bar Raphaeli sitting on the problem - they have such lovely minds for sitting. [...]

New York and Israel: Same same, as we say in Tel Aviv and other parts of Asia

Wed, 11 Jun 2008 17:19:00 +0000

A travel article in Smithsonian magazine contains some perceptive points about what life in Israel is like. The article isn't about Israel, though. It discusses the behavior of New Yorkers.The New York City described in this article is strikingly similar to Israel. In the following passage, wherever you see "New Yorkers," imagine that the author has written "Israelis."[snip]It is said that New Yorkers are rude, but I think what people mean by that is that New Yorkers are more familiar. The man who waits on you in the delicatessen is likely to call you sweetheart. (Feminists have gotten used to this.) People on the bus will say, "I have the same handbag as you. How much did you pay?" If they don't like the way you are treating your children, they will tell you. And should you try to cut in front of somebody in the grocery store checkout line, you will be swiftly corrected. My mother, who lives in California, doesn't like to be kept waiting, so when she goes into the bank, she says to the people in the line, "Oh, I have just one little thing to ask the teller. Do you mind?" Then she scoots to the front of the line, takes the next teller and transacts her business, which is typically no briefer than anyone else's. People let her do this because she is an old lady. In New York, she wouldn't get away with it for a second.While New Yorkers don't mind correcting you, they also want to help you. In the subway or on the sidewalk, when someone asks a passerby for directions, other people, overhearing, may hover nearby, disappointed that they were not the ones asked, and waiting to see if maybe they can get a word in. New Yorkers like to be experts. Actually, all people like to be experts, but most of them satisfy this need with friends and children and employees. New Yorkers, once again, tend to behave with strangers the way they do with people they know.[snip]Everything described above is something I have witnessed in Tel Aviv. A comment about "sweetheart." In Israel, you may hear people calling one another "motek." This is a unisex term of familiarity, meaning "sweet one" in Hebrew. If you say "motek" to someone of the same or opposite sex, it doesn't necessarily convey flirtation or sexist overtones. You can hear "sweetheart" used the same way in New York.Where do the similar behaviors in Israel and New York come from? Is it a Jewish thing? New York is sometimes seen, erroneously, as a city of Jews. It does have more Jewish residents than Tel Aviv. People who don't like Jews have long used the label "New York" as a pejorative synonym for things Jewish. The city has become a magnet for Israeli expatriates and Hebrew-speaking tourists. Sayed Kashua, a Haaretz columnist, was in Manhattan a few weeks ago and wrote, "I heard more Hebrew on the Upper West Side than I do in Jerusalem."The Smithsonian piece does not even hint that there are Jews in New York. Its writer, Joan Acocella, a gifted essayist and critic, cites various factors to explain why New Yorkers behave as they do. She suggests that two reasons may be the difficulties of everyday life in the city, and the awareness of a shared plight. She writes, "When New Yorkers see a stranger, they don't think, 'I don't know you.' They think, 'I know you. I know your problems---they're the same as mine---and furthermore we have the same handbag.' So that's how they treat you." That observation could apply equally to Israelis.Acocella points out: "The majority of people who live in New York City were not born here. Indeed, more than a third were not born in the United States." Thus, New Yorkers "are people who left another place and came here, looking for something, which suggests that the population is preselected for higher energy and ambition."These New York data also bear a similarity to Tel Aviv, and to Israel in general. More than 30 percent of the Jews in Israel and also in the Tel Aviv area were born abroad. Tel Aviv, l[...]

How some Israelis view the United States

Sun, 18 May 2008 07:25:00 +0000

[Here is some old material that remains pertinent. Three years ago my college alumni magazine produced a roundup of articles on how Americans are viewed in eight countries around the world. They asked me to write about Israel. -- J.M.H.]“Don’t look at me like that,” a man’s voice rings out in American English. It resonates over the Hebrew buzz of a Tel Aviv shopping mall. “I’m not going to steal anything from you,” the American snaps at the manager of a newsstand that sells foreign magazines.The newsstand manager replies in Israeli-accented English. “What’s the problem? Why must you talk this way? I didn’t say anything to you. We are brothers.” Brothers they may not be, but they are about the same age, in their late 20s or early 30s.As people do in Israel, I butt in. I ask the American if he has been here long. He says he arrived only recently. He is on military duty. We talk for awhile. The American is black. I tell him he will find that people here don’t view skin color the way Americans do. He returns his attention to the magazine racks for a few minutes and then vanishes into the crowd.“He thought you were staring at him,” I tell the shopkeeper, explaining that a white man staring at a black man in the United States might provoke some discomfort.“In America, they’d think I’m white?” asks the magazine seller, whose olive skin marks him in Israel as of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern background — historically, a group that has suffered discrimination by fellow Jews of European origin. He tells me that he spent a couple of years in the States — in Seattle and California — and was not aware of racism. He was living there illegally and thought it best not to divulge his nationality. He told everyone he was Italian — which went over well with women, he adds. He loves America and would move there in a minute, he says, if he could get the immigration papers.Elsewhere in Tel Aviv, friends and neighbors express various views of the United States and its people. Moshe, who owns a stationery store, says Americans are “freiers” — an evocative Israeli term of disapproval that is variously rendered as “suckers” or “pushovers” or “gullible victims.” Moshe explains: “They go to places where they don’t belong — Iraq, Afghanistan. They try to be the police force of the whole world. They should stay home and attend to their own problems.”Hannah, a school administrator, finds fault with U.S. family life. Adult children move away and see their parents only once or twice a year, she says, and even college students leave home to study. Accustomed to a society where the generations are reunited every Sabbath, she sees the way Americans live as cold and fragmented.Mazal, a beauty-shop operator and mother of a combat pilot, is impressed with the U.S. work ethic. Even the richest Americans insist that their children find jobs, she believes.Some years ago an Israeli journalist wrote about U.S. supermarkets. What struck him was the impersonal way in which store clerks told him to have a nice day. Later, a book by a pair of cross-cultural consultants found that Israelis often see Americans as insincere, naive, superficial, too formal, lacking spontaneity, insistent on going by the book rather than improvising, and easily taken advantage of.Mordechai, a jewelry designer who has visited 11 U.S. states, thinks differently. The first word that comes to mind when he is asked about Americans is “kind.” He adds that the Americans who visit his shop in Tel Aviv are not stingy the way French tourists are.I tell Mordechai he is generalizing. “I know that,” he says, smiling.--Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv(Cross-posted at ZioNation: Progressive Zionism and Israel Web Log)[...]

Arabic voices, and the faces of Ma'alot

Wed, 07 May 2008 15:53:00 +0000

It is memorial day, and we are waiting for the start of a ceremony for the war dead in Ma'alot, a small Israeli city near the Lebanon border. We already know more or less what the speakers will say. They talk every year about the heartrending loss of young soldiers' lives as the price of protecting the country.

While we wait, people sitting behind me are chatting in Arabic. Three of the four local people killed in the Second Lebanon War were young Arab civilians. They were Shanati Shanati, 18, Amir Naeem, 18, and Muhammed Fa'ur, 17. A direct hit by a Hezbollah katyusha rocket killed them Aug. 3, 2006. They had been riding together in a jeep and got out to take cover.

The fourth local victim was Sgt. Maj. Moti Abutbul, 28, a member of Flotilla 13, an elite unit that is sometimes likened to the U.S. Navy SEALS. A katyusha killed Abutbul and 11 other Israeli soldiers Aug. 7, 2006, near Kfar Giladi.

We saw the faces of the local dead last night. On every memorial eve Ma'alot shows the faces of its dozens of fallen soldiers and terror victims, displaying them one by one on a big outdoor projection screen. Brief narration accompanies each photograph, telling when and how the person died. As each face appears, a family representative mounts the stage and lights a memorial candle.

Arab family members showed up last night to light candles for the recent victims. They chose again today to take part in a program in memory of the Israel war dead. A Jewish high school put together the program today.

Whatever meaning you may read into this, it is something to set alongside current media reports which suggest that Arabs have nothing on their minds except the notion of the Nakba, the disaster which some say resulted from the birth of the state of Israel. In Ma'alot, life is much more complicated than that, and coexistence is a daily event.

---Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

That's better. A 60th birthday logo that doesn't tear Israel apart

Mon, 05 May 2008 06:05:00 +0000

Without fanfare, a cleaned-up version of Israel's official 60th anniversary logo has started turning up.

The revised logo appeared in a government advertisement in the Haaretz newspaper's May 2 Hebrew weekend magazine. What's new about it is that the country's name --- ישראל --- no longer is torn apart. It now appears as one unbroken word.

The original logo, which won a prize from a committee that picked it, ripped Israel into two unequal pieces, leaving "el" floating by itself, separated from the rest of the country's name. This typographic atrocity appeared in both the English and the Hebrew versions. There was no apparent reason for it, unless perhaps the committee that chose this logo thought it looked more original than competing designs which spelled the country's name the same old way that everyone else spells it.

The revised logo already decorates the website of the official 60th Anniversary Administration. The old design continues to appear in many other places. At this writing, these include the websites of the Prime Minister's office and a public relations firm which is promoting the birthday events.

Thousands of visitors to this blog have seen our September 2007 article finding fault with the old logo. We kvetched, "At first glance, the winning logo seems to express the confusion that afflicts Israel in many ways today. Even the country's name is typographically ripped apart."

It would be nice to think that our criticism helped bring about the change, but we could not have been alone in complaining. You don't have to be a design genius to see that the old logo didn't look good. The new logo is a big improvement.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

Myth, legend and fact in the 1947 Exodus episode

Sun, 04 May 2008 08:48:00 +0000

The word "mythological" is taking hold of the Hebrew media. Listen to a broadcast or read a newspaper and you will encounter this fad. People who should know better are lavishing the term "mythological" on various actual entities---an outstanding athlete, a sports team, a rock group, a local landmark, a record album that sold well. It's not only newspeople who are representing our realities as myth. The distinguished author David Grossman referred in a British newspaper to David Ben-Gurion as "Israel's mythological first prime minister." A big-name business promoter recently described our military command center as "one of Israel's most mythological institutions."This is misuse. "Legendary" is probably what they meant. Real-life subjects are not "mythological," a term that belongs to dragons, unicorns and the Tooth Fairy. Are we having a problem distinguishing between reality and fantasy? Hold the question. Last week some 300 people including President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak gathered in Tel Aviv's London Park for a tribute to the late Yossi Harel, who commanded the refugee ship "Exodus 1947." Harel died April 26 at age 90. The ceremony took place at the monument to Aliyah Bet in the little seaside park. Speaker after speaker took the trouble to say thanks to the departed Harel. This was a pointed reminder that the State of Israel never got around to awarding the Israel Prize to Harel in recognition of his contributions to the country. Last week a Hebrew newspaper columnist found irony in Harel's words of acceptance when the Italian government conferred on him its Exodus prize in 2007. This prize, awarded for promoting peace and humanitarianism, is named for a refugee ship that Harel commanded. The Israeli hero thanked his Italian hosts "for teaching your children our history." A headline on an Israeli obituary referred to Harel as "the real Ari Ben Canaan." This was a reference to the fictional refugee ship commander and hero of Leon Uris's 1957 novel "Exodus." Harel was widely said to be the inspiration if not the model for the dashing Ari, portrayed by Paul Newman in Otto Preminger's 1960 movie adaptation. It is not surprising that the word "mythological" appeared in what was written about Harel after his death. In real life, Harel commanded four Haganah vessels that transported 24,000 refugees from Europe in the clandestine maritime operations which Zionists called Aliyah Bet and which Britain called "illegal immigration." One of these vessels was the Exodus 1947, a dilapidated former excursion liner crewed by North American volunteers and captained by Isaac "Ike" Aronowitz, a 23-year-old Israeli who had served in the British merchant marines. Aronowitz, who regarded Harel as a political commissar and disputed some of his command decisions, has also been called the original Ari Ben Canaan. Uris put a disclaimer on the first page of his book: "There may be persons alive who took part in events similar to those described in this book. It is possible, therefore, that some of them may be mistaken for characters in this book. Let me emphasize that all characters in Exodus are the complete creation of the author, and entirely fictional."The story of the real-life Exodus is largely forgotten today. It includes fascinating behind-the-scenes elements which resulted in a public drama after a Royal Navy convoy captured the crowded Exodus at sea July 18, 1947. Built to carry only 400 passengers and a crew of 58, the ship had escaped from a French port on July 11 with more than 4,500 Jewish refugees aboard. In the July 18 battle, three Jews were killed and 28 others hospitalized. Harel, Captain Ike and other underground members evaded capture by a standard Haganah ruse. They went to hiding places aboard ship. After the Exodus docked at Haifa, a work detail of Jews came aboard at Haifa to clean[...]

Racism and Israel

Sat, 26 Apr 2008 21:37:00 +0000

A Jewish woman in the United States has sent a question to the Zionism and Israel Information Center. She is planning a visit to Israel and asks: "How would I be treated if I decided to make Israel my home?" She describes herself as an African-American convert to Judaism, active in her local synagogue.She expressed concern about discrimination and asked what the Israel government is doing to combat racism. Here is a response.Dear ____:How would you be treated as an immigrant to Israel? No one can answer with certainty, but I'll tell you two things I have learned in 25 years of life here.1) Israel is not the United States. The two societies are very different from each other. U.S. terms and concepts often do not apply to Israel. If you want to use them, you need to append lots of footnotes and clarifications to explain why they don't really mean the same thing.Discrimination exists in Israel, but it is not what Barack Obama was talking about in his celebrated speech about race in the United States. He spoke of "the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through -- a part of our union that we have yet to perfect."The concept that people belong to different races is foreign to Israel. The Israel government doesn't issue forms asking us to identify ourselves by race according to six official racial classifications, as is done in the states. Israel has no background of segregation based on race, nor of laws forbidding miscegenation, nor, above all, of chattel slavery.2) Israel's population comprises scores of different ethnic and national groups jostling one another to attain their place in a society that still hasn't developed a unitary Israeli culture.Prejudice and discrimination in Israel express themselves in Israeli terms. These reflect the society. The biases are mainly ethnic, cultural, religious, economic and political. Ethnic humor is acceptable, and ethnic slurs often go unpunished. To the extent that a person's skin color matters in Israel, its only significance is that it may point to their ethnic or cultural affiliation. It does not signify that anyone is racially inferior or superior.My guess, from what you have related about yourself, is that people in Israel will not readily know how to apply the standard Israeli categories to you, and this could give you a good shot at defining yourself.Israelis often don't know what to make of Americans. Popular stereotypes see Americans as naive, unduly square or easily manipulated. Quite a few Israelis can quote "ask not what your country can do for you" from John F. Kennedy's inaugural address but seem never to have heard the part where JFK said "civility is not a sign of weakness." Our media know about U.S. identity politics but insist on using the discarded term "Afro-American."What is the government doing about racism? As noted, Israel has many internal problems but they don't involve race. The solutions to social welfare problems generally depend on which political parties are in power.Unfortunately, anti-Israel racism is a problem, and the government does have to deal with it internationally.[...]

Sounds of music in a city more crowded than Gaza

Tue, 22 Apr 2008 09:12:00 +0000

Some people will tell you that Gaza is the most crowded place on earth. Actually, Tel Aviv (aerial view at right) is much more densely populated than Gaza. The first modern Hebrew city, not quite 100 years old, has already managed to cram almost 400,000 residents into its 51.8 square kilometers. This makes Tel Aviv more densely populated than Hong Kong or Singapore, which in turn are much more crowded than Gaza. (A note on comparative crowding appears below, at the end of this post.) The other night at the seder, we sang loudly and made other noise. Some 20 of us, representing three generations, sat around a ping-pong table covered with white tablecloths in a central Tel Aviv backyard and sang Passover songs. No neighbors complained about the noise. From time to time, we could hear singing from other buildings.A guest at the table remarked that nowhere but Israel would you hear voices from house after house, all singing the same traditional songs. Whether or not this is the case, it is true that sounds from apartments can be heard around the neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, especially in the mild months when windows are open. In a one-block stroll, you may hear my neighbors playing piano, various woodwinds, drums or electric guitar.A trumpet player in the neighborhood used to walk down to the Mediterranean at night to find an empty place on the beach where he could play without an audience. One afternoon he was playing at home, fooling around with some improvised passages, and another trumpet answered from elsewhere in the neighborhood. The windows were open, and a fellow trumpeter had overheard his experimentation. He never found out who the other, unseen musician was. The beach no longer offers much solitude at night. Tourists and local people in growing numbers visit the beachfront after dark. A cafe on a northern stretch of beach now stays open around the clock. Even the rooftops of Tel Aviv don't provide much privacy. One recent day, a musician stood alone on a roof in the next block, playing jazz on a saxophone. Attracted by the sound, I listened from the rooftop where I live, 75 meters away.It was a special event. I have heard this saxophonist perform with groups in concert halls, festivals, night spots and other venues. In years of living in the neighborhood, I had never seen him up on the roof before. If he had gone up there in search of privacy, he picked the wrong place. A telephone rang and I went inside to answer it. When I got back outside moments later, the music had stopped and the other roof was empty. I don't know if the saxophonist had noticed that he had an audience, or whether he simply had finished what he wanted to play. I wonder if others in our crowded city got to enjoy his rooftop solo, too. --Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv===A note on crowded placesThe canard that Gaza is the most crowded place on earth continues to circulate.The UK politician George Galloway wrote in The Glasgow Record last month that the Gaza Strip is "the most densely populated piece of earth on the planet." Galloway wrote that 1.5 million Palestinians live there. Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist currently teaching at Princeton, wrote March 26 that Gaza is "one of the most densely populated places on earth, with 3,823 people per square kilometre." Kuttab's figure is in line with recent Gaza population estimates of 1.4 million.If Galloway's estimate of 1.5 million Gaza population is correct, this is almost 4,200 people per square kilometer. The Central Intelligence Agency projects that the Gaza population will reach 1,537,269 in July. This would bring the density to 4,270 people per square kilometer.Both Singapore and Hong Kong have more than 6,000 people per square kilometer. Tel Aviv has more than 7,000 people per square kilometer. If you count the suburbs[...]

The Proofreader's Guide to Israel

Thu, 10 Apr 2008 19:32:00 +0000

The sign in the photo, captured at the Central Bus Station in Afula some time ago, offers you a hamburger in two languages---in Hebrew, and in mangled English as a "humborger." Israel is rich in misspelled foreign words. A bakery sign in Tel Aviv advertised a "corazon" (a heart in Spanish). This is a blue-and-white improvised spelling of "croissant." It roughly approximates how the French word sounds when pronounced with a Hebrew accent. The country's nonchalance about misusing foreign languages goes beyond spelling. The other day I was talking with someone in a Tel Aviv cafe. A cheerful server heard us speaking English, so she offered to bring us an English menu. We told her the Hebrew menu was fine. We addressed her in Hebrew, which both of us spoke better than she could speak English. Nonetheless, she persisted in speaking English to us, and she replaced the Hebrew specials-of-the-day card with an English card. If you are a tourist, this treatment might be both helpful and charming. If you are a long-term speaker of Hebrew, it is something else. A widely accepted explanation for this behavior is that Israelis like to practice their English. Darker factors may also be at work. A neighbor in Tel Aviv used to shout to me in English on the sidewalk. At times when she did address me in Hebrew, she would speak loudly and slowly, mouthing each word separately as if to suggest that I would not otherwise understand. Her attempts at linguistic one-upmanship stopped only when she moved away. Last year this former neighbor and her family showed up in the Sinai at the same beach where I was staying. For the rest of her stay, this woman spoke to me loudly in clumsy English, even when I replied to her in Hebrew and even when she could see I was reading a Hebrew novel. Her lack of English skills never seemed to deter her.A local blogger has complained about this phenomenon in treatment of new immigrants: "Scenario #2: An oleh chadash is hanging out with a bunch of Israelis. He is speaking in his best Hebrew and keeping up with the crew. Yet, despite this, the Israelis insist on speaking in stupid, broken English."Back to misspellings. Last weekend, a newspaper printed a story about a couple of misspellings of French that appeared in a leaflet which the city government distributed in tourist hotels. Our officials misspelled "ce soir" as "se soir," and "Jeudi" as "Jedi." The weekly Tel Aviv Time quoted Deputy Mayor Per Visner, head of the local Greens party, as brushing off the official display of ignorance with a couple of jokes and a non-apologetic comment. According to the newspaper, he commented that the errors weren't intentional, that mistakes always happen, and that they didn't cause great embarrassment. A separate statement from City Hall disavowed responsibility for the spelling gaffes. It stressed that an advertising agency prepared and distributed the leaflets, that the misspellings were the fault of a French-speaking volunteer, and that the bottom-line result was that most of the hotel guests complied with the leaflet's request that they turn off their lights for one hour in observance of Earth Hour on March 27.Many Israelis would second City Hall's suggestion that results count and spelling doesn't. In this country, which has accomplished so much in only 60 years, it is a national article of faith that results speak louder than words.--Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv[...]

Spring & Flowers in Israel

Sat, 29 Mar 2008 10:19:00 +0000

It is that time of the year again.
But these flowers are not in the wilds of the Galilee. These are on our window ledge.

Decline and fall of the almighty Dollar

Sun, 23 Mar 2008 13:49:00 +0000

A long time ago, on another planet, there was an almost hypothetical country called Israel. Israel was a Jewish country. Naturarlly, people there made their living from the air business, or as the Yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem called it, Luftgescheft.    Each year, the economic wizards of the world predicted that this state would inevitably be bankrupt in a year. The finance ministers of this country juggled numbers and books and currency. There was one dollar for buying imported goods, and another one for selling them, and a third, black market one, for spending abroad and buying things you were not supposed to buy. Israeli Milo Minderbinders made money by buying detergent in Germany for 4 cents, shipping it to Israel, and then selling it back to Germany for 2 cents, making a 2 cent profit with the government export subsidy. The exchange rate of the black market dollar, along with the going rate for sex services, was published in the newspapers.   The main financial instrument of this state was the printing press, and the major economic policy was devaluation. My great uncle, who lived in this hypothetical state, went to sleep a millionaire and woke up a pauper. He was not alone. It happened more than once.   Every few months, the finance minister would make some nonsensical pronouncement, approximately like this, "We have been anxiously watching the unrest in South America and Africa,  the decline of the Japanese Yen and the fluctuations of the price of hay in China, which require realignment of national economic policy. Therefore, and in accordance with the above, the government has decided to devalue Israeli currency by 10%." The announcement was always made just before the Sabbath, when the banks had closed.   Eventually, the slide in the value of Israeli currency was so precipitious that announcements like the above became superfluous. Who can keep track of all the changes? The Lira became the Shekel. The Shekel became the New Israeli Shekel, and then it became the Newer Israeli Shekel. Each time, zeros were lopped off the exchange rate to ensure that calculators, computers and supermarket stickers would not be overloaded. At one point, salaries were devalued by twenty percent from the time they were paid until the time you could collect them. Confronted with a price in Shkalim, or Lira or New Israeli Shekels, tourists and new immigrants inevitably asked, "How much is that in real money?"   Inflation was a fact of life. The second summer I lived in Jerusalem, I waited in vain for the price of bananas to go down to 75 agorot again, as they had the year before when bananas were in season. That's how much I knew. Bananas were IL 1.50 in the second summer, and that was as cheap as they would ever get. This 100% rise in prices of just about everything was somehow translated into a 5 percent annual rise in the cost of living index.   To maintain some semblance of economic sanity, every price was tied to the dollar. Salaries, rents, prices of automobiles, prices of apartments and land, all were expressed in dollars. The idea of adopting the dollar as currency was considered seriously. It was called "Dollarizatsia."   Times changed. Today everyone thinks that "Luftgescheft" has to do either with the Luftgescheft Royal Bank software program (there is such a thing) or with the Israel Aircraft Industry, which acquired the name unofficially long ago. Every day we watch the little red arrows on the television screen next to the exchange rates of the US Dollar and the Euro with increasing am[...]

Threatening to leave the country

Sun, 23 Mar 2008 11:14:00 +0000

Complaining about Israel and threatening to leave the country are favorite local pastimes. People threaten to leave Israel for reasons ranging from wars or election results all the way down to real or imagined insults from shopkeepers or government clerks. Some actually leave, but mainly they stay here and complain. For example:At the corner of Gordon and Ben-Yehuda streets, a man asks me how to get to Tel Aviv. "We are in Tel Aviv," I tell him. "Where do you need to go?"The Central Bus Station, he says. I point to the #4 bus stop and tell him he could also take a sherut, a 10-seat taxi which costs less and stops anywhere you want along the #4 line. He thanks me and heads across the street. A moment later, he is back, apologizing for his confusion. "I spend all my time in Tel Aviv, but always only passing through," he says.He has been in Israel since 1951, he says, and would leave in a minute, if he could. His Hebrew bears an accent which I don't recognize. I had taken him for a tourist or recent immigrant."Give me a passport that doesn't say 'Israel,' doesn't say 'Jew,' and I'll be gone," he says. "Okay, it could say 'Jew,' but not 'Israel.' But how could I ever get such a passport? It will not happen. But if it could happen, I would leave today." "I could move to Australia," he continues. "They have interesting animals."I tell him he can find desert animals here in Israel, too. And many grains of sand."Only scorpions and ants," he replies. "And crime and corruption and bribery."I ask what work he does. He says he is a technician for textile machinery, but it turns out that this is not exactly the case. Israel's textile industry has been in decline for years, and the factory where he worked no longer exists. He now works as a security guard.We introduce ourselves. Abraham (not his real name) tells me he is 63 years old and has just been to a job interview. In his line of work, employers force him to change jobs every 10 months or so, before he can acquire employment security and rights to benefits. He is making 19.90 shekels an hour (less than $6 at the current exchange of the falling U.S. dollar).Abraham came to Israel at age 5. He fought in three wars and has three adult children. His mother, age 80, receives 1,120 shekels a month (about $325) in national insurance, Israel's counterpart of Social Security. When she still owned her apartment, she was ineligible for this aid. She sold the apartment, and her geriatric-care expenses ate up the proceeds. Abraham's father died at 87. Abraham had a grandfather who lived to be almost 100 here. He smoked, drank alcohol, ate spicy foods and met his end when an Israeli driver struck him down.Abraham's family is from Shiraz, in Iran. After coming to Israel, they lived in an immigrant camp. Later the authorities sent them to become farmers. "We had no agricultural experience since the grandfather of my grandfather," Abraham says. In Iran, they owned a textile factory.Abraham says his dream is to return to Shiraz. He still has family there."Look at it on the internet," he says. "You'll see beautiful gardens."We do not discuss the recent student demonstrations in Shiraz, nor the arrests of Jews there in recent years, nor the blood-libel pogrom of 1910. Life is good for Jews in Iran, Abraham says. To get along in Iran, he says, a Jew needs to observe three rules. He enumerates:1) "Your shirt," he says. "You could not go on the street in something like this." I am wearing a short-sleeved black t-shirt imprinted with a big, flamboyant cartoon of a rapper. It was a birthday present from my family. Short sleeves and immodest dress aren't acceptable in Iran, Abraham says. 2) No talking about Zionism in Iran.3) N[...]

An only-in-Israel bus ride past Jerusalem yeshiva

Wed, 12 Mar 2008 12:53:00 +0000

A friend forwarded the following item by Sharon Millendorf of Jerusalem. She writes about an only-in-Israel bus ride. --- J.M.H.

Every morning I take the 35 bus line to work. It's a quick ride and usually takes no more than 12 minutes. The third stop after I get on by the shuk is directly in front of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav. This morning I found myself a bit anxious, unsure of what I was going to see as we passed by. As I looked around, I saw death notices pasted all over the street and flowers that had been brought lined the entrance to the Yeshiva.

When the bus pulled up to the stop, the driver shut off the engine and stood. With tears in his eyes he told everyone sitting on the bus that one of the boys killed on Thursday night was his nephew. He asked if everyone on the bus would mind if he spoke for a few minutes in memory of his nephew and the other boys that were killed. After seeing head nods all over the bus he began to speak. With a clear and proud voice, he spoke beautifully about his nephew and said that he was a person who was constantly on the lookout for how to help out anyone in need. He was always searching for a way to make things better. He loved learning, and had a passion for working out the intricacies of the Gemara. He was excited to join the army in a few years, and wanted to eventually work in informal education.

As he continued to speak, I noticed that the elderly woman sitting next to me was crying. I looked into my bag, reached for a tissue and passed it to her. She looked at me and told me that she too had lost someone she knew in the attack. Her neighbor's child was another one of the boys killed. As she held my hand tightly, she stood up and asked if she too could say a few words in memory of her neighbor. She spoke of a young man filled with a zest for life. Every friday he would visit her with a few flowers for shabbat and a short dvar torah that he had learned that week in Yeshiva. This past shabbat, she had no flowers.

When I got to work, one of my colleagues who lives in Efrat told me that her son was friends with two of the boys who had been killed. One of those boys was the stepson of a man who used to teach in Brovenders and comes to my shul in Riverdale every Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to be a chazan for one of the minyanim.

We are all affected by what goes on in Israel . Whether you know someone who was killed or know someone who knows someone or even if you don't know anyone at all, you are affected. The eight boys who were killed will continue to impact us all individually and as a nation. Each one of us has the ability to make a profound impact on our world. This coming Wednesday morning, I will be at Ben Gurion airport at 7 am with Nefesh B'Nefesh welcoming 40 new olim to Israel . We will not deter. We can not give up. We will continue to live our lives and hope and work for change, understanding and peace.

Sharon Millendorf

Haim Yavin: 40 years of television news

Mon, 11 Feb 2008 18:02:00 +0000

The woman in the cartoon above is exclaiming, "Nostradamus was right! The end of the world is drawing near." She is watching Haim Yavin announce his departure after having delivered the evening news for the past four decades. The cartoon is by Amos Biderman, from the Feb. 6 Hebrew newspaper Haaretz.***Haim Yavin, the face on the television screen, is an Israeli institution, an iconic figure who has had a remarkable career presenting television news for 40 years. On Feb. 5 he said good night for the final time as news anchor of the government-run television channel.Because Yavin anchored the news ever since television began in Israel, people are telling each other that we have come to the end of an era. That is not exactly the case.Older Israelis know Yavin as the newscaster who brought the world into their homes when the government started the country's first television channel in 1968. Prime Minister Olmert told a farewell event for the veteran news anchor: "We went through all the experiences of our lives ... with one person," news presenter Yavin.Younger Israelis, on the other hand, may be strangers to the government channel. Some know Yavin mainly as an object of jokes on satire programs of the commercial channels, which have long since surpassed the government channel in ratings. Yavin has been called a dinosaur, and even some of his admirers say he stayed too long.Yavin is often likened to the U.S. newscaster Walter Cronkite, who was once voted the most trustworthy man in America. Cronkite's stint as CBS anchor lasted 19 years, which is not even one-half the length of Yavin's career at the anchor desk in Israel. Cronkite worked for a company with a mandatory retirement age of 65. Such restrictions do not apply to Yavin.Now 75, Yavin is not leaving television work. Although he no longer will anchor the nightly news, he plans to continue making television documentaries. In 2005, his five-part series, "Land of the Settlers," shown on the commercial Channel 2, presented an unfavorable view of the Jewish presence in Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza. The series, Yavin has said, "annoyed them a lot, in just showing reality as it is." The Yesha Council tried to get the government channel to fire him.Yavin shot much of that series himself with a camcorder over a two-year period. He has said he decided to make a documentary about the impact of settlements and occupation in the territories "so that I and those like me can’t say we didn’t see it, we didn’t hear it, we didn’t know.”Now Yavin is working on "The Sector," a documentary series on Israeli Arabs to be broadcast later this year, also on commercial television. It, too, deals with material that is not ordinarily covered. Yavin told an interviewer last year that unequal treatment of Arabs in Israel "causes bitterness, second-class citizenship and creates talk of apartheid.""Zionism needs redefining," Yavin said. "I'm not saying to give up on the Zionist state, but to find a fairer compromise for allocation of this land and its resources. And if not, things like the October 2000 riots will reemerge, but far worse."Yavin's farewell to the "Mabat" news program was a media event. His final newscast attracted 9.6 percent of the Israel public, the highest rating which Channel 1 news has received in the past half-year. As Yavin signed off for the last time, the government channel segued into a live, 75-minute show in which he received tributes from colleagues, competitors, family and various public figures including the Prime Minister. This show drew the fourth highest rating of the evening, 14.6 percent, a rarity for the government channel. A gam[...]

Snow in Jerusalem - IDF's latest recruit

Thu, 31 Jan 2008 12:45:00 +0000

Snow in Jerusalem is always a memorable occasion. Below is a portrait of the IDFs newest recruit, at an army base in Jerusalem. The uniform is not regulation, and his enlistment will probably be very brief.

Tales of the Tel Aviv construction trade

Fri, 11 Jan 2008 14:42:00 +0000

Two workers, a Jew and a young Arab, have come to repair the weatherbeaten walls of my front balcony. The sea is nearby, and the salt-laden wind that accompanies the winter rain creates pockmarks in these walls. Every few years they need repairing. I offer the workers something to drink, and we talk. The Jew, who is in his 40s, says he learned construction work from the Arab's father. This Jew belongs to a Yemenite family that has lived in the country for seven generations. They arrived many years before the State of Israel existed. He says he served in a crack combat unit and later sought his fortune for a while in the United States. He says that he and the Arab are good friends. If fate had decreed differently, he says, they could have wound up trying to kill each other. He says this several times, and they both laugh each time.Before the Jew leaves, he takes me aside and tells me not to let the Arab out of my sight. The Arab is a good worker, he says, but I shouldn't give him free run of my apartment because, who knows, he might feel tempted to steal something. After the Jew departs, the Arab worker continues repairing the walls. Cleanshaven, with short-cropped hair, wearing modish clothing, he looks like your typical Tel Aviv secular Jew. He reminds me of one of my teenaged grandsons. He says he is 22, the fourth of 15 children, and his father has no life beyond toiling day and night to support the family. The young man adds that he will not let his own life wind up like this. He took engineering courses for a while and hopes to return to studies and qualify as a landscaper.Over the next few weeks, the Arab is in the building almost every day as part of a crew that is renovating an apartment on the floor below. Although he clearly is competent at plastering and painting, he is the junior member of the crew, the one who gets the laborer tasks such as carrying bags of cement and buckets of sand up three flights of stairs.One morning he returns to do more work at my place. I have to go out, so I ask him to pull the door shut behind him when he leaves. That afternoon, I am in a meeting across town when a neighbor telephones to say that the Arab worker has been waiting for me outside the building for a couple of hours. The worker wants to know what to do with a key which I had forgotten inside the door. He brings me the key the next day and politely refuses when I say I'll pay for the time he spent waiting. After a lecture from me about why he is entitled to reimbursement, he accepts the money.In subsequent conversations, he tells more about his personal situation. One day he says that when the separation barrier is completed, it will be more difficult for him to get to work from his home on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Another time, he says he has an older brother who lives in the United States. He also had a girlfriend who moved to the states, but he doesn't know exactly where. One day as we are drinking coffee he tells me we never will have peace here. Another time, he rolls down a sock to show a scar. A bullet hit him in the leg as he was watching a confrontation between Arabs and Jewish soldiers, he says. He wasn't part of it, he says, but the bullet hit him anyway. All of this is said with a smile.This week as we were passing each other on the stairs, he took off his work glove and shook my hand. He smiled and said he has acquired the papers he needs to go to the United States. He rattled off a list of various sums he had to pay for airfare and various documents. Soon he will join his brother, he said.-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv[...]

Israeli law and the media

Sat, 29 Dec 2007 10:33:00 +0000

A Knesset committee passed a law that is meant to protect the right of suspects against the inquisitorial functions of the media. According to this law, it is forbidden to publish the name of arrested suspects, or persons who are under investigation until they are brought to trial. This would supposedly spare the innocent from harmful leaks prior to their trial. The law was no doubt inspired by the spate of abortive investigations of public figures that ended in no conviction.   The most interesting and appalling of these was the investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over supposed favors that he had done to a friendly bank in its bid to buy the controlling share of a bank that was owned by the government. Police made dramatic raids. It was announced that the decision as to whether or not to prosecute Olmert would be published on the day he was leaving for the Annapolis conference. With some difficulty, authorities were persuaded that that was an inappropriate and inauspicious time. As it turns out, that was worse than not releasing the decision. Olmert went to Annapolis with the sword of investigation hanging over his neck.  As it turned out, the government never had any legal basis at all, because the friendly bank that Olmert had supposedly helped did not participate in the government bidding, and never wanted to buy a part of the Israeli bank! There could not have been any crime. It was apparently all a malicious invention.   This law has other aspects however, that have not been considered by the Israeli press. Israeli immigrants from the only workers and peasants state, the now defunct workers' paradise, surely understand the consequences of forbidding the release of arrest information. The same enlightened legal regimen prevailed in Argentina for a while. One day you see Carlos or Ivan, one day you do not. One day he might be standing at the podium of the Supreme Soviet, extolling the virtues of the revolution, and then he is gone. Nobody, not even his wife or children, may learn his fate for years. Ordinary citizens might learn of his arrest when they received in the mail replacement pages for the Soviet Encyclopedia, which replace the article about Ivan Ivanovich, formerly a Hero of the Soviet People and substitute for it a lengthy description of the Ivanovitch Kolkhoz in Western Siberia.       If the Israel government is going to limit media freedom, perhaps they should investigate a different field. During the recent Lebanon war, the media played its part, not in raising public morale, but in spreading panic and demoralization. The same picture of a hysterical lady, crying as she entered a taxi with her baby to flee the north, was shown over and over. Nothing at all had happened to this lady or to her baby. They were both alive and well and unharmed.  The fact that the footage was shown repeatedly indicates that the media did not have sufficient material to promote hysteria -- the hysteria didn't exist.   In a democracy, we cannot and should not force the media to show everyone as paragons of calm and national solidarity. However, media should have the common sense not to act as enemy agents and deliberately spread panic and despair where there are none.    On his weekly radio program, Yosef (Tomi) Lapid gave further examples of[...]

The Jews of Demopolis Alabama

Wed, 28 Nov 2007 16:47:00 +0000

I had always heard that there were Jews throughout he deep south. It was only when I encountered it personally that I could really come to understand it. The kids and I were walking through Demopolis Alabama when we stumbled upon the Ben Jushran Synagogue. Turns that there was a thriving community for a long time there. Jews arrived with the French in the early 1800's and established a synagogue there. The original building was razed in 1954 to build the current one. It has since been named an Alabama Historic Site The old one was in the ancient "mosque" style. The new one is a simple brick building, rather plain and unadorned. It is no longer in use. In fact the care of the building has been turned over to the Episcopal Church, which is just across the street.Curiosity overcoming my religious beliefs and aversions, we entered the church to inquire about the temple. The church was quite beautiful and we spent a few minutes admiring it and discussing the symbols. After a while the Reverend appeared. Rev. Dick was a very pleasant and jovial fellow. Well traveled, educated, and friendly he told us about his history, his church, and the temple. Seems that the local Jewish community had pretty much petered out and had given the Church the building for its use. In fact the next day, Wednesday, was the day that they distributed food to the local needy. I asked about the program, and told him I would like to participate in whatever little way I could. He said that they would be there at 8:00 am, and that I should find 'Rebecca'.Eight o'clock Wednesday morning found me on my bicycle riding up to the old synagogue. There was a long line of people around the building and inside it as well. I took my backpack full of canned goods that Judy had dug out of the boat in to the people in the back to give away. I was stunned and amazed. There was food piled up in great mounds and a platoon of people packing bags, counting and carrying. I gave them my little bag of cans and rolled up my sleeves. We moved the donated food for about an hour to finish packing the over 200 bags of food that they give away weekly, then made room for the next 2 tons of food that was to be delivered later that week.I told my story about why I was there and heard the tales of the locals. One of the volunteers told me he was good friends with Bert and Mary Louise Rosenbush, the last Jews living in Demopolis, and that he would like to hear from me. He gave me their number and address. I managed to make contact by telephone the next evening. Unfortunately, since we were scheduled to leave on Saturday we could not meet up due to our conflicting schedules. We did, however, have a long and interesting telephone conversation. The Rosenbush family were local merchants for 3 generations. Bert's granddad had started the furniture store in 1895. His daddy had run it for many years, and Bert had only closed it about 3 years previous. He also donated the building it had been in to the Demopolis Historical Society. They had been a long time and prominent members of Ben Jushran . As the congregation dwindled they took down the old building and built the one that stood now. Somehow as the remaining few members were unsure of what to do with the temple it was given to the Episcopal Church. Bert felt that it had been wrested unfairly from the hands of the rightful owners. "Railroaded" was the expression he used. I am sure there is a story there. The people never had a rabbi as the leader of the temple, nor did any itinerant rabbis visit. The ser[...]

Holocaust and Identity

Mon, 19 Nov 2007 01:28:00 +0000

Guy Carmi made an assertion that is possibly true. If it is, it is very disturbing: The Holocaust is an integral part of our Jewish and Israeli identity. Think of it: "Holocaust R Us." Maybe he didn't mean it quite that way. He was arguing against a law that would limit freedom of expression by curtailing references to the Holocaust. But it seems that a lot of people really feel that the Holocaust is part of their identity. An annual survey in the United States found consistently that "the Holocaust" ranked first among the things that people said define Jewish identity. This embarrassing result was apparenty avoided in subsequent surveys by dropping that response possibility. Many people will be sore at me for saying this, but the Holocaust is not part of my identity. It is not what makes me a Jew, a Zionist, an Israeli, an intellectual, a man, a nudnik - me. I don't have a number tatoo. I don't have nightmares about the Holocaust. I think about it. Family members I did not know personally died in the Holocaust. But it is not part of my identity or my Judaism. I don't define Jew as "a person who was a victim of the Holocaust or had relatives who were victims of the Holocaust." Judaism existed before the Holocaust, and I existed only after it. The Holocaust is part of the history of the Jewish people. As I am a Jew, it is part of my collective history. The Holocaust was part of Hitler's identity, not mine. He did it, and he thought it was a good idea, and his name will forever be associated with it. Hitler and Eichmann and the whole gang. I am a lot of things as far as identity goes: Jew, Zionist, American, socialist, lover of women, of science and literature and of furry animals of all kinds, person with insatiable intellectual curiosity, son of the Middle East, Palestinian.... Yes I am a Palestinian and the son of American-Palestinians and the grandson of Palestinians and great-grandson of Palestinians, from before there was a place called Palestine. Our people were called Palestinians before 1948, not the Arabs. That is part of me. Humus and Barad (ices) and my grandfather's Turkish army uniform and the grusch with a hole and a house with walls a meter thick in Beit Yisrael are all things I know something about, along with a 1935 Ford automobile on blocks and hula hoops and "all the way with L.B.J." Likewise, the calm voice of the radio announcer saying, "This is an emergency. Israel is undergoing a missile attack. Please stay calm and enter your sealed rooms." These are all some part of me. But I am not a Holocaustist. I am not a Holocaustist, because I don't see any value in dwelling on it and it is not a positive value. The Jews must not become the Holocaust people. Holocaust for Jews is like a disease or an affliction. A person or a people can do great things despite a disease or tragedy, but never because of it. There is no great spiritually uplifting message to be garnered from the Holocaust. It was a terrible event that must not be allowed to occur again. People really can do such things, and no god intervenes to stop them. There are special reasons why Jews are more vulnerable than others to such events, but in principle, human cruelty can apparently be unlimited. Those are the only messages. To say that the Holocaust is part of Jewish identity or Israeli identity is declaring that we are a people who will have a persecution complex forever and ever. It is to say to everyone and ourselves, "This is who we are and this is what we have to offer:[...]

Please don't bring the children

Fri, 16 Nov 2007 12:39:00 +0000

Some time ago, a person with whom I had once worked invited a group of news professionals to his home in Tel Aviv. He wanted to tell us about his research for a book he was writing. He told us he was not seeking publicity. Rather, he explained, his aim in telling a bunch of colleagues about his book-in-progress was to put himself under pressure to finish it. With other people knowing about the book, he said, he would be embarrassed to leave it unfinished.Not long after that, he was found dead.Nothing suggested foul play. It was a natural death, people said. I found the sequence of events spooky in any case and continue to think about it. If there is such a thing as a curse on writers who blab about work which they haven't completed, this could be one form which the visitation would take.That is prologue to the following confession: For years, I have failed to finish writing a children's story titled, "Please Don't Bring the Children." The idea for this story came to me after someone I know in Israel received an invitation to a wedding in the United States, accompanied by a telephoned clarification: "Please don't bring the children." This was an understandable request, according to a coworker. He and his young family had recently come back to Israel after a few years in the states, where he discovered much different attitudes toward children. Israelis in the United States tended to show up at social events with little children in tow, he said, while the local folk practiced segregation between children and grownups. It was only natural that someone inviting Israelis to an event might fear that the whole family would arrive, little kids and all.What brings this to mind is an experience last night in a small Tel Aviv restaurant. Three of us entered and sat at a table for six. A server came over immediately and asked us to move to a table for four. I told her we were waiting for someone to join us, and there might be more than one person. Her response was less than gracious. Instead of the-customer-is-always-right, she argued that if we took the smaller table we could still pull up an extra chair if needed.Just then our fourth grownup arrived with her year-old baby in a stroller. It didn't take long before the restaurant staff were coming around to admire the baby. In a few minutes the baby was standing on the tabletop, smiling and doing a little dance. Our server, no longer grumpy, invited us to move to a bigger table. The baby continued to attract attention from the staff during the meal. If you want to see an Israeli melt, bring a baby or small child along. It's acceptable here to show unabashed affection for little kids. Children sense that they are welcome to be seen and heard. The others at our table last night could testify to this Israeli trait. They had just arrived from New York after a sleepover in London, two cities where restaurants don't exactly welcome customers who let their babies dance on tabletops.This reminder of the contrasting attitudes toward children encourages me to take another crack at rewriting "Please Don't Bring the Children." The first draft didn't work. A second version took a different direction, also unsatisfactory. Some day I'll probably try again to finish it. Meanwhile I hope that this post does not bring a curse down on anyone's head.--Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv[...]

Violent death---updating the U.S.-Israel comparison

Sat, 10 Nov 2007 00:14:00 +0000

People continue to ask if it's safe to visit Israel. Here is an update comparing deadly violence in Israel and the United States. In 2006, Israel's ratio of death from all acts of violence---including murder, suicide bombings and the Second Lebanon War---was lower than the U.S. murder rate. This is in line with earlier years. Despite being depicted in television shows and U.S. government travel warnings as a dangerous place, Israel customarily experiences a lower rate of deadly violence than the United States.Here are the rates of violent death for both countries in 2006, the most recent year for which 12-month U.S. data are available:Israel 2006:5.4 deaths from crime, terror and war per 100,000 inhabitantsUnited States 2006:5.7 deaths from murder and non-negligent manslaughter per 100,000 inhabitantsVarious U.S. metropolitan areas report above-average deadly violence. Here are a few examples from among many. The numbers represent murders per 100,000 residents:New York City, 7.3Miami metro area, 7.6Los Angeles metro area, 8.4 Houston metro area, 9.6Atlantic City metro area, 11.1Los Angeles, inside city limits, 12.4Miami, inside city limits, 19.6Atlanta, inside city limits, 22.6Detroit-Dearborn metro area, 23.0Philadelphia (AKA the City of Brotherly Love), 27.7Washington, D.C., inside city limits, 29.1Cincinnati, inside city limits, 29.9New Orleans, inside city limits, 37.6Baltimore, inside city limits, 43.3The numbers come from data announced by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in its Uniform Crime Reporting Program. This program compiles data from local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.The FBI reported that 17,034 acts of murder and non-negligent manslaughter took place in the United States in 2006. This was at a rate of 5.7 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. By contrast, Israel's 188 conventional homicide victims plus 30 people killed by suicide bombings and other acts classified as terrorism represented a rate below 3.1 violent deaths per 100,000 residents. The Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 took the lives of 119 Israeli soldiers and 44 civilians. This added 2.3 points to Israel's violent-death rate, raising it to about 5.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. As a percentage of population, the deaths of 119 Israeli soldiers in a six-week war were more than six times as great as the entire U.S. military death toll in Iraq for all of 2006. Despite this, Israel's rate of deadly violence including the Lebanon war deaths was not only below the 2006 U.S. murder rate but was less than the lowest yearly homicide rate ever recorded in the United States (5.5 per 100,000 inhabitants).Ami Isseroff has written about the phenomenon of U.S. residents saying it is dangerous to live in Israel yet telling their own stories of danger in the United States. I recall a briefing for editors arriving for a two-week seminar at Columbia University. The briefer told us to look out the windows at Morningside Park. We were pretty sure he was preparing to say that the place was unsafe at night. What he told us was that we should never enter the park during the day. That was quite a few years ago, and it's reported to be better now.The FBI has taken to urging us not to rank or compare localities' crime rates without more information."Until data users examine all the variables that affect crime in a town, city, county, state, region, or college or university, they can make no meaningful comparisons," the FB[...]

Rabin took responsibility for a failed mission

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 21:12:00 +0000

Israel's media are busy reminiscing about Yitzhak Rabin. Today (Oct. 24) on our Hebrew lunar calendar is 12 Heshvan, the 12th anniversary of the assassinated Prime Minister's death. (On the Gregorian calendar, the assassination took place Nov. 4.)

One Rabin memory which stays with me is hearing the rumble of his deep voice in a television broadcast that echoed from open windows along the silent streets of Tel Aviv on Sabbath Eve, October 14, 1994.

Rabin had gone on the air to announce the failure of a rescue mission. A Sayeret Matcal commando force acting on precise intelligence had raided a house north of Jerusalem in an effort to free Nahshon Wachsman, a young Israeli soldier who was being held hostage by Hamas. The hostage died in the rescue attempt, which also took the life of the Israeli mission commander, Capt. Nir Poraz, 23.

Today in a radio interview one of his aides recalled that Rabin insisted that night on publicly taking responsibility for the failure of the mission. Ehud Barak, who was then the military chief of staff, was ready to go on the air with the announcement, the aide said, but Rabin emphasized, "I was responsible."

Rabin later said that approving this rescue operation was one of the most difficult decisions of his life.

Taking responsibility is a quality for which people remember Rabin. How many other heads of government can you recall going on national television to take responsibility for a mission that failed?

-- Joseph M. Hochstein