Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Swastikas at my Synagogue - With an Image of the Offender

Brazen and full of hate, they acted like what they were doing was the most normal thing in the world.

On Saturday morning, December 18, an individual of adult height and slightly heavy build, wearing a black and white motorcycle jacket, dark pants, a helmet with a full face guard and riding a red sport motorcycle calmly pulled up and parked at the SW corner of our property.  

Have you Seen this Hate Crime Offender?  

Please Call the West Orange Police:  (973) 325-4000

Probably a Kawasaki Ninja with an SC tailpipe
Or a Suzuki GSX
(taken approximately 9 a.m., 
Saturday, December 18, 2021 
in front of Bnai Shalom)

They put on their hazards and walked deliberately to the sidewalk.  They then spent about 30 seconds scrawling a swastika on the wet sidewalk, mounted the motorcycle and drove up to the corner.  Turning, they parked again, put on their hazards and walked directly back about 15 feet to the NW corner of our property and scrawled again on the sidewalk.  Finally, they rode the motorcycle up the side street, again to the NE corner of our property, and once again put a swastika in chalk on the pathway.  The individual did not hesitate or look around.  They did not drive by, stop at the sign, look at the building or do anything else indicating any in-the-moment planning.  They knew exactly where they were, deliberately marking the corners of our property one after the other. It was plan-fully executed in broad daylight.

The police were called about 4 hours later, after joggers had noticed the symbols and scuffed 2 of the 3 of them.  The police responded perfectly, searched our property and other synagogues in town, and called the Department of Public works to efface the offending Nazi symbol.  Over the next day, Mayor Parisi, the town council, our Human Relations Commission, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, and Assemblyman John McKeon all reached out and made clear statements of condemnation of the hateful act and support of our community.  Rabbis asserted that this is a wonderful place to live, and my community had to get our heads around being targeted by a hate crime.  Today we were in the Star Ledger, NJ.com and 1010 wins radio.

Online several people - perhaps being hopeful and optimistic, perhaps being naive - suggested that this is probably "just kids" or in some way not what it obviously is to all reasonable people.  One seriously called into question the idea that this could involve white supremacy.  To jump to the conclusion that a swastika is NOT a symbol of white supremacy without any other information is truly misguided, and serves only to protect the hater.  With a swastika it is guilty until proven innocent, because it means something.

Let's take a different example.  If someone were to hang a noose from a tree branch in front of an historically Black church, would anyone in their right mind say "It's just a rope.  How do you know what it means?  It could just be kids fooling around."  No, a noose in front of a Black church evokes racism, lynching, and - yes - white supremacy.  

Here is the truth about swastikas:

The swastika is uniquely a symbol of Nazi ideology, which in turn has its core foundational hatred of Jews.  In that symbol and ideology they mass murdered 6,000,000 of my people, and waged a war of expansion that cost the lives of tens of millions more.  Our country waged a war against that symbol and no amount of spin will every take away the fact that it is an enemy ideology to anyone who truly believes in democracy, equality and diversity.  In this country the swastika is uniquely embraced by white supremacy as a rallying cry.  Yes, they also hate blacks, immigrants, and others.  But they especially hate Jews.  Others who have joined the growing bandwagon of antisemitism, often conflating criticism of Israel with Jew hatred, do not rally in numbers to Nazi symbols in this country.  They may use antizionism, social antisemitism, economic antisemitism, theological antisemitism or other forms of bias, but even they do not embrace the swastika.

The swastika is a symbol with only one meaning.

But the debate is over anyways.  I am pleased to say that we have seen the video footage.  Placing a swastika so deliberately at the 3 public corners of a synagogue's property is not an accident.  It is not the foolish act of a confused teenager.  When that symbol is placed in that way on that property it is hate.  It is an attack on Jews and Judaism, with the symbol of our mass murder and the hope for our extermination.  It is at the very least a statement of these ideas, and at worst a threat of further action.

Many have expressed the idea that we shouldn't make a big deal about this, claiming it will hurt our image as a town and frighten Jewish people away from living here. Respectfully, nothing is farther than the truth.  The affirmation of our WOPD, mayor, town council, local state and national representatives is nothing short of unanimous.  Our neighbors have spoken loudly in our defense, and even more loudly against the individual's actions.  Should we cower, hoping it is nothing, and quietly move on?  Appeasement has never turned out well for our people, especially against this particular hatred.

What could make the town more attractive to potential Jewish families than knowing that Hate has No Place Here?  It is tremendously encouraging to know that we are known, valued, loved and defended by our neighbors and our township.  The shared society is our greatest strength, and embracing it when it is our turn to be defended in the name of justice should be seen as a gift.  

No - I do not accept the stigma or the call for quiet.  If you can't stand up in public and clearly say the Nazi Swastika is a big deal, then you are on the wrong side of history and you are not doing everything you can to fight the clear and documented rise of antisemitism in this country.

We have a picture of the perpetrator.  It will be posted very publicly.  Somebody knows this yahoo.  They will be caught.

And then we will have to move on to the second step:  insisting on prosecution as a hate crime and bias intimidation.

If found, he/she will be arrested and charged.  The District Attorney will need to decide to bring charges.  Stay tuned.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Civil Rights? Israel is your Answer.

Whenever we get into debates with people who have not learned the history of the Middle East, at some point we say "It's complex."  Actually, what those newcomers need to know only takes a moment.  Read any one of the following questions.  It only takes 5 seconds to understand the basis for our hope in and our alliance with Israel as a nation of profound and shared values with all Americans.



If you wish to vote in open and free elections, would you rather live under the governance of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Hamas/Gaza, the Palestinian Authority or Israel?

If you wish to write or read a free press, where profound conflicting ideologies and ideas regularly meet in public to debate and criticize all levels of power without persecution of oppression, would you rather live under the governance of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Hamas/Gaza, the Palestinian Authority or Israel?

If you or anyone you love is exploring or asserting their LGBTQ+ identities, would you best keep them safe and valued under the governance of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Hamas/Gaza, the Palestinian Authority or Israel?

If you seek full equality of women in the workplace, do you think you/they have a better chance in the economies of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Hamas/Gaza, the West Bank Palestinian Authority or Israel?

If you support the free choice between quality public education and private education, do you think you would find it more accessible in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Hamas/Gaza, the West Bank Palestinian Authority or Israel?

If you demand freedom of religion, to attend and observe the religion of your choice without persecution or government oppression, would you rather live in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Hamas/Gaza, the West Bank Palestinian Authority or Israel?

If you wish to pursue your financial dreams in a free and developed economy, with freedom to achieve at the level of your talents, dreams and effort in an open capitalist system, would you have better chances in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Hamas/Gaza, the West Bank Palestinian Authority or Israel?

If you believe that health care is a civil right and that the nation owes it to all of its citizens to be provided ongoing health care and a dignified retirement, would you rather depend on Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Hamas/Gaza, the West Bank Palestinian Authority or Israel for your care and safety?

If you believe in peace with secure borders and diplomatic relations to resolve differences and build a shared future, do you believe that is the current policy of Lebanon, Syria, Hamas in Gaza, or Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel who have signed and implemented peace treaties and/or agreements between them?

If you believe that Palestinians deserve all of these rights under Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, demand that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority: 
  1. hold open and free elections;
  2. support and empower a free press;
  3. protect sexual orientation and gender identity in all their forms;
  4. create equality for women in the workplace;
  5. allow for open educational choices and create an robust system of secular public education;
  6. protect freedom of religion for Sunni, Shia, Druze, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and humanist faith systems under their control, and all of their sacred places of worship; 
  7. insist and prove that all foreign aid is used only for peaceful purposes;
  8. build and maintain a health system with international administration and control until it is fully developed;
  9. proclaim and protect the civil rights of all people;
  10. proclaim that their own aspirations for a state are not at the denial of Israel's right to a state.

Every Israeli government shares your hopes for the Palestinian People and your values about humanity and government.  Some things are simple, and crystal clear:

If you believe in Civil Rights, Israel is your best hope and ally in the Middle East.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Religious Right to Wear a Kippah or a Hijab in School

The Religious Right 

to Wear a Kippah or a Hijab in School

The Incident:

Over the past few days there has been a viral attack on social media against a South Orange teacher who tried to lower a muslim girl's hoodie. It appears that hoodies break the school's dress code.  There is accusation and denial regarding the teacher's intent.  The teacher asserts it to be accidental: that she was unaware that the girl did not have her customary hijab on underneath, and she stopped when she realized that.  The worst attacks against the teacher paint her as deliberately denigrating the value of the hijab.  The incident is experienced by the parents and their religious community to be a gross and intentional example of bias and a form of assault.  For the teacher, it is a tremendous misunderstanding followed by terrible and false accusations. 

As a Jewish community, we have experience, advice and support to offer for all who are involved.

To the parents and the child:

Many of us identify first and foremost with you in this incident.  As Jews, we value and understand covering our heads for so many of the same reasons.  Many of us wear head coverings to remind ourselves of the need for humility and the ever-loving presence of God in all places and times.  Many women in traditional Judaism cover their hair as a protection of their personal modesty, reserved in marriage only for their spouses and closest family to know and experience.  Many of our people cover their heads in sacred moments to indicate their intentional participation in a ritual act or prayer - binding them to our people's long and meaningful history.

When our head coverings are removed against our will by others, we are hurt, embarrassed and feel disrespected or demeaned.  Many Antisemitic attacks in recent months have taken the form of random assaults knocking off traditional head garb from visibly identifiable Jews in the streets.  We identify with your experience.  We stand in solidarity with your right to wear your religious clothing and symbols freely and proudly without fear of stigma or oppression, and we will work in all spheres to support those rights for you and for us.

To the teacher:

Many of us identify immediately with you, as teachers and educators.  We value you and your love of teaching. We admire your years of service and know that your skills and heart have been devoted to this child and all children for many years.  We hear you and see you for who you are, and identify with the pain and fear that comes from exaggerated accusations, twitter flames and the threats against you that have arisen as a result of this incident.  We hear you when you say you had no intent of removing religious clothing, and we believe you.  We live in a world where teachers can not touch students, and believe that this incident has dramatically and negatively reenforced that message.  

We also identify with you now as a victim of hostility, anger and baseless hatred that has been proliferated on the internet against you.  We share that victimization far too often, and we stand in solidarity with your right to live and work in peace and to be protected from those who wish you harm.  We will work in every way we can to make sure that you are safe and that community law enforcement understands the credible nature of those threats against you.

To the school:

Cultural competence is the responsibility of the administration.  Every teacher, counselor, coach and employee must be trained in modern understandings of diversity, whether it is racial, cultural, ethnic, gender identity or religious.  This circumstance was predictable and will certainly happen again.  Both the teacher's actions, and the parents' interpretations, demonstrate that school policy is not sufficiently competent and not sufficiently understood in every level of the community.  When distrust is the first reaction, not enough relationship building has occurred.  It is time to circle back in community forums, parents circles, teacher training and more.  Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose, so you have work to do.

To all of us:

Stop the instagram, twitter, facebook, Quora, Reddit, or whatever reactionary flaming and accusing you are a part of.  The parents, the child, the teacher and the school are all good people.  They have overlapping shared values.  It is not so hard to find the way forward.  Give them the space they need to confront, converse, heal and rebuild.  Be a human - be a mensch.

For More information on Head Coverings and Religious Clothing in Public Schools:

Please read the EXCELLENT legal summary and conclusions from the Intercultural Development Research Association Here.

For a Jewish statement on the values, please see the AntiDefamation League's 2018 statement on dress codes, here.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Afghanistan - Pick a President to Blame

 As we watch the final departure of US force from Afghanistan, joining the narrative of the British and the Soviet Union before us, we remember actor Wallace Shawn's pithy delivery of line in The Princess Bride (1987), 

You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is 'never get involved in a land war in Asia'..."

So as the self-congratulatory Monday morning quarterbacks all start to say "I told you so" even when they didn't, it is fair to say the following.

1) The Neo-con attempt at installing democracies during the Arab Spring has finally lost its last straw man as the President of Afghanistan has fled for Tajikistan.  Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Afghanistan... none of them have emerged as a peaceful democratic system of government.

2) The US invasion of Afghanistan achieved a 20 year pause in Taliban governance,  which will now be relegated to history. 

3) The US post-9/ll military strategy did significantly break down the central organization of Al Qaeda, and implemented broad intelligence and military capabilities throughout the region in the form of cyber war, imaging, surveillance and drone warfare - all of which are ongoing.

4) Liberal attempts to build social democracies based in civil rights, political freedom and gender equality have not been successful or enduring in the region.

So who do you blame?

Bush II, who started it all?  His strategy was to find Osama, defeat the Taliban on the battlefield, and establish a pro-Western government in Kabul with US military support

Obama, who increased our presence there?  His strategy was counter-insurgency, rooting out Taliban cells, protecting civilian targets nation wide, building social institutions like schools and medical facilities and trying to re-integrate former Taliban supporters into the new society?  

Trump, who largely left the war to the generals while periodically pushing a strategy of "why the hell are we still there?" His strategy was to pursue negotiations with the Taliban to protect the US forces from attack with the promise of departure, while increasing materials and funding to the Afghani army, police and government.

Biden, who continued the Trump policy of withdrawal, and continued to underestimation of the Taliban's eagerness to take the country back.  His policy was to get out and to support the Afghani government financially and materially.

All four presidents have reason to blame.  Perhaps Trump was the most realistic of the four.  In hindsight, the place where mission creep shifted to a long term disastrous failure was under Obama.  

In retrospect it seems clear that the deeper military investment, the "surges" to drive back insurgents and create living spaces for civilians - all with an eye towards nation building or even building of a liberal society - were the ideas that got us stuck for another decade.  These were the ideas of the Obama white house.  

On the other hand, Obama did in fact pull out of Iraq and was later lambasted for creation a power vacuum for ISIS in the region.  Had he also pulled out of Afghanistan, one might argue that would have been even worse across a larger swath of the map.  And he hadn't found Osama in Pakistan yet at the beginning. Surely we had to stay to have the ground game to support that search.  Perhaps.  But once Osama was gone, and the war on ISIS was underway in Iraq and Syria, it seems hard to see what the goal in Afghanistan was any more.

Let's be clear:  the government and society that Obama hoped for in Afghanistan would have been a wonderful thing.  That is exactly the kind of country we form close allies with, and I believe make the world a better place for humanity.  The question is, how do countries become that?  Somehow our experience in Germany and Japan continues to tell us that we can be successful conquerors of other nations in this manner, despite the absolute differences in historical, cultural and political context.  We need to admit:  we can not change another country by military force.  This was the siren's call that led Obama astray.  If only we can carve out peaceful areas to allow our values to grow, they will be so desired by people anywhere that they won't be able to avoid becoming open democracies.  This is fool's gold.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Ben & Jerry's: Boycotts, BDS and me.

The Ice Cream Kerfuffle

Should I eat Ben & Jerry's, or not?

This week Unilever's ice cream brand, Ben & Jerry's, announced that it will not renew its current franchise license in Israel because the local franchisee will not stop selling their ice cream across the "Green Line," in what the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement calls Occupied Palestine. 

Ben & Jerry's also clearly stated that they will remain committed to Israel, where they have a production factory and a strong market share, with a new franchise owner who will play by their rules.  

In response, the Prime Minister of Israel, a slew of other top Israeli officials and pro-Israel people in Israel and America began publicly declaring a counter boycott of Ben & Jerry's ice cream everywhere.  Viral videos showed people of all ages throwing out their Ben & Jerry's, with accusations of anti-Semitism and bias.

As a fact based and reasonable person who loves ice cream and Israel, I need to look at this closely and make a fact based and reasonable approach to my next diet-breaking choice of which chocolate chunk fudge brand I am going to eat.

Question #1:  Do I believe in consumer boycotts?  

In a word, 'no.'

They really don't work, and they are annoying.  I believe in engagement and influence rather than boycotts.  Sure, multinational corporations don't like bad press, so you can definitely hurt them and get in the papers. And that makes protesters feel good.  And then you can go after colleges and investors to remove those corporations from their portfolios with the same outcome.  But the facts on the ground are not changed when people are denied Nestle, Coca-Cola or Ben & Jerry's. They are a distraction, not a solution.  I believe this to be true whether I am asked to boycott Ben & Jerry's for selling in the West Bank, or to boycott Ben & Jerry's for not selling in the West Bank. There is no impact either way and the boycott calls only serve to amplify the extreme voices around the topic.  Can you hurt companies and their stock values?  Absolutely.  But that doesn't bring better health care, civil rights or prosperity to the people of the region.

Question #2:  Where is Ben & Jerry's refusing to sell?   

"Across the Green Line" is everything Israel conquered in 1967, and includes most of the Old City of Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, and the entire "West Bank."  All of that includes Jewish neighborhoods, towns and cities very roughly totaling nearly 1,000,000 Israelis and about 3,000,000 Palestinians.  The complex network of roads, public transport, and checkpoints has been a sticking point for decades.  This area is comprised by autonomous areas under the Palestinian Authority, areas under Israeli military control, Israeli towns and cities, and open areas of undeveloped land.  The final status of this region remains in dispute and is the subject of internal debate on every level:  in the Israeli population; between Israelis and Palestinians; and internationally.  Israel has formally annexed some parts, such as East Jerusalem and some of the surrounding Israeli towns.  

Question #3:  Is anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism?  

In a word, 'yes.' 

This is subtle, so hang on for a moment.  Denying the Jewish people their right to national statehood as a people is a form of bias and prejudice.  However, rejecting particular political or military policies of a government is not.  One must not confuse any contempt for political or military actions of Israel with denial of the legitimacy of Israel to exist.  Atrocities against slaves, indigenous peoples, or in Vietnam did not mean that America was illegitimate.  It meant America was doing atrocious things which demanded change.  Those involved in calls for Justice need to be aware that much of the Palestinian political voice is not calling for justice, but naming Israel itself as an injustice.  That is a form of Anti-Semitism.  Let's focus on political policy, civil rights, conflict resolution, economic equity and military de-escalation.  If those topics are not sufficient to create peace, then we really are talking about the obliteration of an enemy - prejudice and bias.

Question #4:  Is opposing settlements across the Green Line the same as opposing Israel itself?  

In a word, 'no.' 

There is a strong and persistent internal voice in Israeli politics that has been opposed to the expanded Israeli settlement of territory in the West Bank.  The Likud party has been a strong advocate for settlements since the days of Menachem Begin in the 1970's and beyond.  PM Netanyahu, a Likud leader, continued and accelerated that policy under his historically long tenure as Prime Minister.  But parties like Labor, Meretz and others strongly disagree and would offer back huge portions, and perhaps even all of the "occupied territories" for genuine peace, if a realistic agreement could be forged.  Oslo demonstrated that willingness, but has fallen off the table since.  The dispassionate fact is that there is a legitimate pro-Israel voice in Israeli politics that does not equate the West Bank or even East Jerusalem with the rest of the country.  Only the supporters of the vast expansion in the last few decades equate the two, and would want us to believe that they are one and the same.  They are not, as a simple matter of facts on the ground.  Therefore, it is legitimate to divide the issue.

Question #5:  Is Ben & Jerry's "Anti-Israel?"  

In a word, 'no.'  

I am opposed to the Ben & Jerry's boycott.  I believe it reflects a simplistic look at the map of the West Bank - an "all or nothing, win/lose" view of the post-1967 territories and their history occupation and settlement.  Those who say that all Israeli settlements are the same as "Israel" are projecting their own political point of view on the rest of the Israeli population.  They are just as wrong as those who say that all of Israel is "Occupied Palestine."  I believe that consumer boycotts are ultimately ineffective, unnecessarily divisive and a lot of noise with little substance.  But they have asserted their presence in Israel, and their commitment to being a participant on the ground in the Israeli economy.  They have the right, as a business, to stay out of a conflict if they chose to try.  They have probably learned that there is no "win" here, so it would have been better to let people eat their product everywhere.  But opposing the Israeli presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is not anti-Semitism.  It is politics.  

The most important question:  Am I going to continue to eat Ben & Jerry's?  

In a word, 'yes.' 

I will eat Ben & Jerry's because it is delicious, and more importantly they have great parve flavors to serve with my meat meals.  Show me a better product and I will buy it.  In the meantime, this too will fade back as more important topics demand our attention.  So enjoy the kerfuffle if you like.  In the meantime, I'm going to have that chocolate chunk fudge I was telling you about.  

Oh yeah, and then there is all of that less newsworthy real work to be done to defend Israel's right to exist in a relationship of peace and equity internally and externally with her Palestinian neighbors.  But hey, let's talk more about ice cream, right?

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Final Day - Always wanting more

Today is Day 3 of our whirlwind.  Today we travel to Lod and Abu Gosh, both "mixed" cities in Israel with Jewish and Arab communities in large numbers.  This was was the day I was looking forward to from the beginning.  Let me explain why.

As you may know, the scariest thing for most Israelis about the 11 days of open warfare between Israel and Hamas was the rioting that happened inside the mixed cities of Israel proper, like Acco, Lod, Yafo, Haifa and more.  The internal breakdown of civility marked a new event for Israelis of any religious or cultural background, and this new rift is the one that will ultimately determine if Israel is or is not the democracy that we believe it to be. We know how to deal with Hamas' rockets, no matter how traumatic and terrible that entire event was.  The ongoing conflict about what's beyond the 1967 borders is also known.   But the riots - Arab/Jewish or Jewish/Arab - looked like something that could linger, or (God forbid) grow.

Yet, in the 2 weeks since the cease fire, the unheard of finally happened: an Arab party openly joined a coalition to form a government and receive leadership roles.  Mansour Abbas' Islamicist Ra'am party decided that waiting for the West Bank or Gazan Palestinian leaders under the PA or Hamas to produce tangible benefits was no longer worth it.  Ra'am saw that they could topple Netanyahu, gain legitimate political authority and power, and secure massive financial allocations to the Arab population within Israel, so they made the leap.  A desperate Netanyahu had asked Ra'am to join him in a coalition to stay in power just before the war, so all Israel now knew that it was a "legitimate" choice for any other Israeli parties to make the same offer. They did, and the move blew up in Bibi's face. Ra'am joined the opposition in forming the "Government of Change."  This government will be formally sworn in this Sunday.

So this was the day I was waiting for.  I needed to understand why, not how, the riots happened within Israel.  And will it happen again?  Or is an Arab party in the government a ray of hope for Israeli Arabs - perhaps for Israeli democracy as a whole?  And will Arab and Jewish citizens ever be socially, financially and practically equal in Israeli society?


I draw your attention to a chart of Israel's demography.  Note that Jews are the majority in most places, and that Israel is an almost equally split society with Muslims and Christians in the North.  In the West Bank, of course, the story is the reverse.  And Gaza is not a part of the picture because it is outside of Israel or Israeli control completely.  

So, with stunning questions, real fears, and a strange amount of hope, I boarded the bus for Lod.

Lod is in-between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the town was meant to be an Arab enclave of the final two-state proposal in 1947, surrounded on 3 sides by the Jewish state. Like Ashkelon, which we visited on day one, it fell behind the Armistice line of 1949.  Palestinians who speak of the “1967 lines” have effectively accepted these areas as being a permanent part if Israel.  

So, Lod does have its history of injustice and inequality.  During the War of Independence, Jews fled from Palestinian/Jordanian sovereignty.  Lod remained largely mixed before during and after the war.  And while most Palestinian refugees fled from the war, in the hope that the Arab states would quickly win,  many Palestinians were also forcibly removed from their homes and villages.  This was true in Lod, as clearly documented by Ari Shavit's My Promised Land, which is necessary reading for all.  I believe that there can never be full peace until the full stories of 1948 and 1967 are told, and they are coming out more and more.  Only truth can lead to reconciliation.  And we aren't there yet.  

Yet since 1949, Lod has always been a mixed town with at least three communities, each socioeconomically different from the other.  There is a very large marginalized Arab community.  Education is poor. Employment is scarce. Drugs are rampant. And crime is terrible in that part of the community.  Those neighborhoods are not "mixed." There is also a small, economically self-sufficient Arab community that lives in the other areas - the nicer areas - of town.  And there is the Jewish community of seculars and modern Orthodox who live typical Israeli lives.   Their pre-riot belief was that the last two communities equally believed that a peaceful shared society exists already.  This is the presumption that we came to look at.

We met with a Jewish family who moved to Lod for the multicultural society.  They felt that their prior Jewish neighborhood was stifling and homogeneous.  They wanted to be part of the more complex and interesting Israel.  They moved to Lod, in part, for the Arabs.


We met with a young Arab muslim, wearing western style clothing, who teaches in a Jewish school.  She moved out of the "bad" neighborhood to the "better" neighborhood for safety and for a better life for her and her kids.  She drives her children 45 minutes away from Lod every day to attend a school that teaches them in Arabic, but with a curriculum and quality of teaching that she knows is superior to what is available to them in the Arabic schools in Lod.


The two women, one Jewish and one Muslim, had very different experiences.  The Jewish couple had an aura of shock, even betrayal at what happened on their very street and in their neighborhood.  They showed us pictures of the "triangle of peace" where a church, mosque and synagogue had lived side by side for generations.  The synagogue was gutted by arson in the riot.  The church and mosque were not harmed.  What started with the Sheikh Jarah protests,  escalated with the temple mount conflicts, moved on to the Hamas rockets  and then came to this.  She asked herself if she was naive? Maybe, yet sincere as well, was my impression.

The Jewish couple spoke of  a time when a neighbor asked if they had come to turn the city Jewish.  They were shocked.  They had left the pure Jewish world to live differently.  But from viewpoint of the Arab in Lod, the reaction was an obvious one: outside Jews moving in are seen as a threat.  This is the backdrop for Sheikh Jarrah resonates with.

So it is not surprising that the Arab woman told us how it began with everyone gathering in peaceful solidarity for Sheikh Jarah in the last days of Ramadan.  The story of a Jewish group driving out a Palestinian family from an East Jerusalem neighborhood is powerful for Palestinians and resonates with them no matter where they live.  Even in Lod, where Israelis many believe the shared society is working, they have memories of other families who were driven away from Lod in 1948.  They also have a history of "collaborators" that were settled in Lod, unwelcome in other Palestinian areas.  They have the larger narrative of disadvantage and marginalization within Israeli society.  The woman spoke of trying to buy an apartment in the nice side of town, but being discriminated against by people not wanting to sell to an Arab.  She changed her name and her appearance to "pass" for Jewish, but when they met her husband - more visibly Arab than she - the meetings were cancelled and the deals were off.  Finally she met someone willing to sell and they bought.  "Isn't that illegal?" a member of the American group asked. "Yes." she said simply, with nervous and derisive laughter.

So we came to see the mixed society living peacefully, betrayed by violence and riots.  Both women joined a protest together against the violence.  Both women want the shared society.  But the starting points are very different.  There is, quite simply, gross inequity between them.

I was left wanting more.... but of course it would be ridiculous to expect that I would leave feeling satisfied.  No sane person should be satisfied today.  Not with Israeli Jews.  Not with Israeli Arabs.  Not with the Palestinians.  We are all in conflict inside ourselves, among our peers, and with those who oppose our dreams.  The conflict is real,  and ongoing, so we are all unsatisfied.

Talking with these two women, and trying for a moment to see the world through their eyes, it felt like looking at the universe through a keyhole.  I am not seeing enough. Yet what I do see is true.  And I realize, that is the basis of the misunderstandings about Israel here and in America.  People simply don't know enough, but are talking, yelling, protesting as if they did.

From Lod we went to Abu Gosh, another mixed town. We visited Hinam, an organization bringing together people of different backgrounds to live as groups in each other's communities for lengthy periods of time.  The idea is that you need to know someone, their family, town, food, background and everything in their system and environment before you can ever really know them.  At best it leads to the shared equitable society we all work and pray for.  At worst, if you have conflicts, at least you won't hate each other.  You will have a relationship.  Out of this idea, they have study sessions, community programs and more.... a beautiful idea.  Sadly, as we were there, large forest fires in the area were set by arsonists... and who knows yet why.  How fitting to be sitting in the wake of a war, talking about our hard work and hopes, while smoke and ash was in the air.


Another startling thing happened in the new government coalition.  The Labor party, down to only a handful of seats, has a Reform Rabbi seated in the Kenesset in the new government.  We don't know what portfolio MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv will yet have, but it should be something to do with diaspora affairs and/or Jewish identity.  What a welcome change from the Haredi parties of the last several coalitions who put extreme Orthodox voices in charge of those areas even as the relationship between American Jews and the State of Israel declined on identity topics.  We met with MK Rabbi Kariv in our hotel.

And then... well... dinner and off to the airport.  Home we go, with our minds and our hearts still reeling.  I will speak more about the lessons I learned and my hope for Israel this Shabbat morning, parshat Korach, in synagogue.  I hope you will join me.

Goodbye Jerusalem - back to New Jersey.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Day 2 - Ashkelon, Kibbutz Erez and Tel Aviv.


Today was an early rise at the hotel, with Israeli breakfast... mmmm..... Israeli breakfast.


Jerusalem is relatively quiet these days, with no tourists to speak of.  I went out to buy a paper at 6:30 a.m. and the streets were empty - and the paper wasn't out in the stores yet.  Go figure!

After breakfast, we were off to Ashkelon.  


Ashkelon is one of the fastest growing cities in Israel.  Once a sleepy beachside town, it is soon to cross the 200,000 residents mark.  

 trains and cranes being built everywhere.

This is all the more remarkable, as it is the so very close to Gaza and was the recipient of hundreds of missile warnings a day as Hamas continued to rain terror indiscriminately at the civilian population in the last three weeks.  There is no military base or airfield in or near Ashkelon: just Israelis living in their homes ever since the 1949 armistice lines.  

We visited with Duvid, a pioneer settler of Jewish Ashkelon and a veteran of 5 wars.   He was born in 1936 in Tel Aviv, and moved to Ashkelon as bus driver after the war for independence in 1949.  His 80 year old neighbor's home across the street, and 4 other homes in his neighborhood, were all directly hit by Hamas missiles in the recent fighting.



His life was saved only because he had built in his home a "safe room" or bomb shelter to hide in when they heard the air-raid warning sirens.  He had 30 seconds to get to the room.  Imagine if you had children, or elderly or bed-ridden family.  What choice would you have to make in those 30 seconds?  The whole neighborhood was in the crosshairs of people with missile launchers as the homes played a deadly game of Russian roulette.

Down the street we met with a woman whose home took a direct hit with her son in it.  Shocked and with ear damage from the concussion, he miraculously survived.  Imagine running to your front door and trying to open it, only to have it blocked by debris and rubble of what used to be everything you owned.


Removing the rubble of her home.

I recognize and empathize with the people of Gaza who suffered from Israel's retaliations and strikes against Hamas' ability to make war.  War is terrible and civilian lives lost are terrible.  But it all started when Hamas launched rockets, and it all ended when Hamas stopped firing rockets.

So how do Israelis live, so near the border with Gaza?  The truth is, they bond resiliently. And they are cared for and supported by all of us.  

There is of course also the Iron Dome.

Scattered about, these anti-missile missiles proved to be 90% effective in stopping the over 4000 missiles shot by Hamas at Israeli towns during the past 3 weeks.  Sadly that means 400+ missiles could not be stopped.  Imagine Toronto doing that to Buffalo, or Tijuana doing that to San Diego.  This is no different.

But the second secret lies not only in Ashkelon, but even closer to Gaza in a Kibbutz called Erez, and many others like it.  


The top of the picture in the distance is Gaza.  The trees and homes on the bottom are in the Kibbutz.  Here they have just 8 seconds' warning to get to a bomb shelter.  What would you do with your kids in 8 seconds?

Yet dozens of new families have signed up to live here, in what is a truly close and idyllic setting.  They have agriculture, gardens, schools and nature all around them.  And if there isn't a war, it is a paradise.  Why do you live here, I asked one mom.  She answered, "to show them that we can live here peacefully."

And of course, their hospitality was delicious.

Kibbutz Erez, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv.  

These are not places that are in dispute, unless you think that the entire State of Israel should not exist. 

 When Hamas grabbed the Sheikh Jarah and Temple Mount conflicts out of the hands of the East Jerusalem protesters by shooting missiles, they moved from "protesting occupation and annexation" to "military attacks on all of Israel."  

Every voice for Palestinian independence and social justice in their name must make a choice:  Are you seeking to destroy Israel, or are you seeking a peaceful Palestinian state next to Israel?  You really do have to understand that difference, or you understand nothing of the conflict, its potential solution, and the concept of human rights in the region. Hamas is not your brother/sister in your pursuit of justice.

  Gaza, right behind me.

So let's be clear, as we continue to identify the four very different Palestinian groups in and around Israel:

  1. There are many Israeli Arab Palestinians living within the pre-1967 borders of Israel.  They are full citizens, equal to any Jewish citizen.  Ashkelon is in this category.  Anyone who has a problem with Ashkelon being a part of Israel is simply historically wrong as a point of justice.  They support the violent and murderous attacks against the 8 million Israelis - both Arab and Jewish - who live peaceful daily lives in the State of Israel.  
  2. There are many Arab Palestinians living in "East Jerusalem" or "Greater Jerusalem."  Israel has formally annexed those areas, and most Palestinians refute the legality of that action.  While the vast majority of Israelis disagree, that is a legitimate political dispute, and must be accounted for in any final peace agreement.  But with annexation Israel has offered, and most Palestinians have refused Israeli citizenship. Most chose "permanent resident status" instead, which allows them all rights and services of the government, except the right to vote in Israel's elections.  As a result, they live without equal rights.  The "Sheikh Jarah" neighborhood falls into this category.  This is a primary point of conflict, which has continued to mystify would-be peacemakers for decades.  But there are no barriers or roadblocks in East Jerusalem.  Residents move freely in and out of the rest of Israel and can pursue a living openly.  
  3. Most Palestinians live in the West Bank - the land administered by Jordan from 1948 to 1967, meant to be turned over to the Palestinian Authority as areas "A, B, or C" in the Oslo accords by Israel.  There they have self-autonomy for internal governance, but limits on travel, building, or military development. Israel has not annexed this area, but has significant towns and cities (like Ma'alei Adumim and Gush Etzion) developed around much of the West Bank, separate from and generally not interacting with the Palestinian towns, villages and cities such Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho and Hebron).  The Palestinian Authority rules these areas without elections.  Peace offers for "land swaps" often try to add up the land in these settlements, and add that much land back to the proposed Palestinian state to avoid "population transfers" like what happened in Pakistan/India and elsewhere.  These offers have been historically supported by the US and rejected by the Palestinians.  "Settlements" are in this area, not "Israel proper."
  4. Then there are the Palestinians in Gaza.  This population has increased 5x+ since 1949, and the territory does not support the population of almost 2,000,000 people economically.  The majority of this population are descendants of Palestinian refugees from 1949.  Due to security concerns, Israel and Egypt keep the border crossing closed except for humanitarian needs.  Hamas rules this area without elections.

.... Once we finished at Kibbutz Erez, it was back to Tel Aviv.  Our meeting with a Kenesset member was cancelled because of a crisis (when isn't there a crisis here?), so we took a tour of the completely re-done Museum "Anu" - formerly known as Beit HaTefutzot, or "The Diaspora Museum."  This museum, very tech savy and interactive, tells the story of Jewish history outside the Land of Israel.  Since that is several thousand years, it is understandably shallow, but generally well-done.  Highly recommended.

And finally... back to Jerusalem after a late dinner (sorry, no pictures) and off to bed.  Why or why didn't I bring my swimsuit this time?

Monday, June 7, 2021

Emergency Israel Mission Day 1, June 7, 2021

 What a journey home to Israel after 4 long years.  Israel has knocked down COVID and has only about 200 cases in the entire country.  They are open everywhere, kids are in school, and the mask mandate is almost gone!  Here's what we needed to do:

1) Get permission to enter Israel - fill out a form

2) Get Permission to enter quarantine in Israel - fill out a form

3)  Be fully vaccinated - upload your proof, sign a form online

4) Get a PCR test within 72 hours of getting on the plane.  Bring the test result.

5) Make an appointment for a PCR  test at Ben Gurion, and pay $25 after filling out the form.

6) Bring copies of all forms, COVID card, tests, passport and proof of where you will stay during quarantine (not allowed out of your room there).

7) Land in Israel. Take a PCR test.  Take a serology blood draw.

8) Wait in quarantine until receiving a negative PCR result and a positive serology result.

That's it.  Then you are in!  Whew!  The good news is that I now know that I am vaccinated, not covid positive, and have the antibodies.  Anything to keep Israel safe!

Now on to the itinerary!

We landed at 9:35 p.m., and for once I was able to sleep on the plane!  Our first stop was Ben Gurion airport, where we had to pass customs control and take a very thorough PCR test (both cheeks, both nostrils!).

Have you ever seen the entry hall so empty?? Average Israeli's were gawking at us as we made our way out of the airport and onto our tourbus.... as if to say, "look!  the tourists are back!  the tourists are back!"  Well, it is a working trip, but they aren't wrong.  Ironically a young Haredi couple stopped and took our picture.  

Next stop, Serology Testing.

So, if you know Israel it is based on family systems.  People know eachother, or know someone who knows you, and so on.  Through a federation connection to the husband of a person, we wound up welcomed at a private home turned into flebotomy clinique!  25 blood draws later, our specimins were being scootered directly to the hospital lab and processed while we headed to the "quarantine" in a private dining room!  Again, Israel every step was thrilled to see us and also had no other travellers to dote over.  It was a nice combination.

Is this your last experience of a blood draw at Quest Diagnostics??

Welcome to Mevasseret Tzion, a beautiful little town just outside of Jersualem.


Thankfully, all 25 travelers passed the antibodies test, and we were released from quarantine officially.  Next stop, a meeting with Kenesset Member (Likkud) Avi Ditrich.


This was a tough one for me, as MK Ditrich is an old school Likkudnik to be sure.  He is a former everything and anything in the Israeli security system, from Gaza to the Shin Beit.  He has 50 years service to the country, and has no hint of illusions or hope for anything but the security that Israel can achieve on its own by force of will and talent.  That is to say, there was nothing in the presentation except a completely accurate description of what happened in the past month, and - regarding Hamas - the past 30 years.  I am still a 2 state solution person, as are a majority of Israelis - but the question remains who will represent Israel and the Palestinians in that process.  The status quo is powerful, and serves the needs of Hamas, the PA and the outgoing Israeli government.  That is why it is entrenched.  

What will the new government bring?  Probably nothing big.  Peace process people know that Bennet will not give land for peace.  Settlers on the right know that Lapid and the others on the left will not allow further annexation or building.  Raam, the Arab party in the government, will focus on Arab citizens of Israel - after all, why should they suffer just because the PA and Hamas continue to perpetuate the system?

We heard a very credible, very knowledgeable person today - with whom I have little or nothing in common.  But that's what Israel and democracy are - people who share a love of the same land, and disagree about how to best guarantee its future.

So, on the way out, I took another picture:


Next Stop:  The national police training academy in Beit Shemesh, to been with the #2 police officer of the country and to learn about the history of policing in Israel.  


20% of Israel is Arab, and 6% of the Israeli police force is Arab.  The recent war resulted in unheard of civil-conflict in the streets of mixed cities.  Attempted lynchings, shootings, arson, destruction, violence, between Arab and Jewish citizens.  This was a game changer, with people on both sides being arrested and pursued by the police to restore order.  We will be in the mixed towns of Lod and Abu Gosh on Wednesday, and I need to hear from the people who live there.  How can we, within Israel, pursue a mixed society.

  1. This is what so many in America today do not understand.  There are 4 separate theaters to this current situation, and they are very different.
  2. There is the "Palestinian Conflict" with its elements of "occupation" in the West Bank.  Their government is the Palestinian Authority.  They are not citizens of Israel.  They are controlled externally by the Israeli military.
  3. There is East Jerusalem, which is a series of neighborhoods that are a part Israel, since being annexed by the government of Israel many years ago.  There, Palestinians have the right to accept Israeli citizenship, or just legal residency if they wish.  They have no travel restrictions, work restrictions, etc.  Israel is open to them.  Sheikh Jarah, for example, is one of those neighborhoods.  Here is a map from the British in 1947, showing Sheikh Jarah neighborhood, with police patrol lines showing how Jewish and Arab homes lived side-by-side.  After 1948, the Jordanians made it an Arab only neighborhood.    There are Israeli Arabs, mostly moslem, who live elsewhere within the State of Israel proper.  They are full citizens etc., who live without restrictions.  However, never having been a part of a coalition government before, they were often left underfunded or to themselves for political and economic control or investment.  Now that Raam has joined the government, a first, there is a $16 billion allocation to Arab Israeli towns, infrastructure, schools and more.  This is the face of peace - until the violence last month.  Can Raam bring Arab Israelis into full equality?  I believe the answer is yes, and I believe we must welcome this.  Peace must be rewarded.
  4. Finally, there is Gaza.  Israel has nothing to do with Gaza, except that Israel controls the border into Israel.  Egypt doesn't want Gaza and the Palestinian Authority doesn't want Hamas - who rules in Gaza.  Personally I would declare Gaza a micro-state and free it from everyone, opening up international investment.  But that's just me.  As long as Hamas  wants to use Gaza as a launching pad for attacks on Israeli civilians, it will remain a terrible human disaster.  Note:  the week before Hamas launched rockets, there were no Palestinian deaths by Israel in Gaza.  The same is true the week after they stopped.  Be honest - really.  And in the Palestinian Authority during that time?  In the West Bank? Nothing but quiet.  Israel is NOT set out to bomb and kill Palestinians.  If there is no war, perhaps peace can find a way.
Leaving Beit Shemesh, we returned to Jerusalem, passing along the Sheikh Jarah and other East Jerusalem neighborhoods on the way to dinner and the western wall.


Dinner included a briefing from Gil Hoffman - check out my RabbiRobert Tobin Facebook page for a picture and reflections and a LIVE recording I made at the western wall.

Dinner at Touro:


Leaving the restaurant:

And of course, we finished at the Western Wall, were prayer are heard most clearly.

Tomorrow:  Ashkelon, Sederot, and more.