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Some reflections on Israel

 
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From the Golan to Samaria/Shomrom to Revava to Ramallah

Cousins’ lives and life situations can be very similar — and very different. This is true within families as it is within the Jewish and Palestinian nations.

Immediately after my son Eytan and I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, a couple of days before starting our participation in this year’s Israel Bonds rabbinic cabinet mission, we drove up to Moshav Avnei Eitan in the southern Golan Heights. We were visiting cousins Tova and Yossi and their nine daughters.

Our Golan relatives are among the 20 families who were evicted from Gush Katif in 2005. They moved from the extreme south to Israel’s northernmost reaches. Tova and Yossi left Kfar Darom, its Gazan neighbors, and its southern Negev winds to experience the heights of Israel, along with views of their new Syrian neighbors. In our small rental car, we felt the ferocity of the Golan’s harsh northern winds.

There was a stark contrast between the outside elements and the home we entered. Once inside, we were greeted by warmth and unmatched Israeli hospitality. The family was finally in its new home, after eight years in temporary quarters. Their previous house was a four-bedroom prefab trailer provided by the government. Most of the family’s possessions were packed for them by the army before their eviction from Kfar Darom, because they didn’t want to be “complicit” with their own evacuation. Years’ worth of possessions were stored in a shipping container in their backyard.

The family joyously showed off their new, modern, spacious, custom-built ranch house. Despite being home to children from 2 to 18 years old, the house was neat, roomy, serene, cheerful, bright, and filled with much love and geniality.

Early the next morning, we drove to Samaria/Shomron for another family reunion. After descending the heights of the Golan, we traveled south along the Jordan River until we came to Derech Allon, the road that winds its way westward through Samaria/Shomron and the Judean mountains. This road was supposed to be the first step in implementing the Allon plan, which would occupy a narrow corridor of land along the west of the Jordan River up to the eastern slopes of the Samarian mountains in order to assure some strategic depth and security while relinquishing the rest of the West Bank to Arab-Jordanian control. The plan never was implemented. None of the sides agreed. In the meantime, military reality changed. The area still is disputed between Israelis and Palestinians. Jordan long ago bowed out of any active offer to participate in a solution and open its borders to more of its Palestinian cousins.

Allon Road meanders across biblical landscapes that haven’t changed for hundreds of years. Sheep, goats, and shepherds outnumber cars and trucks. Red warning signs in Hebrew, Arabic, and English warn drivers not to proceed into “Area A,” which is under Palestinian Authority control. “The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and is against Israeli law.” The hilly, windy road passes large, empty, arid mountainous vistas that transfer you back to the time of the prophets, almost three millennia ago.

After driving through the past, we enter the present reality of Israel’s settlements in Samaria/Shomron, the West Bank community of Revava. Before you enter Revava’s security gate, you can look west and see the Jordanian Valley and Israel’s ancient past. Entering Revava, a short half-hour from Petach Tikva and Tel Aviv and near the new Israeli city of Ariel, it is difficult to believe that this beautifully placid, well-manicured suburban community was established as recently as 1991.

Though not as densely populated as its name suggested — “revava” means “ten thousands” and comes from the blessing to Rebekah found in Genesis — the new town is home to a few hundred Orthodox Jewish families, plus students studying in both girls and boys yeshivot. There are new houses and a new synagogue, and the local nursery school is expanding. In front is a large sign in red letters: “Don’t give in to Kerry,” reflecting the community’s political views and commitment to remaining where they are. We visit our relatives’ lovely home, enjoy the beautiful garden filled with fruit trees, grape vines, citrus and blossoming almond trees, and marvel at the serenity.

Just a few miles west of “Area A,” and its warnings, Jews are living in a modern, placid community of lovely, suburban homes. The politics of settlement remains a day-to-day conversation and a source of concern, while the joy of home, religion, culture, family and friendship remains constant. We get back into our car so that we can be in Tel Aviv before 1: p.m. We drive quickly along Israel’s Route 5, a modern expressway, and arrive in Tel Aviv in half an hour, a few thousand years removed from Samaria and its reminders of Israel’s biblical origins.

Israel Bonds takes us to meet with the political, intellectual, cultural, and scientific movers and shakers who are changing Israel’s present and reshaping its future. In Tel Aviv, we visit the bright leaders of Check Point, Israel’s major internet firewall security firm, who have helped propel Israel into the forefront of 21st century innovation. Its modest building stands in the shadow of Google’s massive modern skyscraper just around the corner.

A few miles south of Tel Aviv, we visit Israel’s sewage waste water treatment complex, which takes 85 per cent of the waste water of Israel’s residential and commercial centers on the Mediterranean coast and transfers the purified water to the Negev in the south to irrigate the desert producing bumper crops each year. No country comes close to Israel’s rate of reusing scant natural resources. Spain, coming in second, re-uses 18 per cent of its wastewater. The sewage treatment center is not only feeding the desert — it also has become a teaching workshop training representatives from countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America to make the best use of ever-diminishing water resources.

The contrasts between the past and the present are stark. It isn’t until the two of us visit the modern Palestinian city of Ramallah on our own, following the Israel Bonds Mission, that we also experience a modern Palestinian metropolis. Banks from throughout the Middle East have set up headquarters in this bustling city. Technology centers are growing. Office and apartment rentals are attracting premium prices. Ramallah is growing daily.

An honor guard stands in front of Yasser Arafat’s Mausoleum and beside his tomb, but we are the only ones to visit the empty space. Police and soldiers stand guard on the well-traveled streets as PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his entourage drive by. No one seems to be paying too much attention.

It was easy for me to forget that I was in an unfriendly, potentially dangerous Palestinian territory until Eytan reminded me not to speak Hebrew. We were keeping a purposely low profile. For Israelis, this was “Area A,” potentially dangerous and illegal to visit.

As we prepare to leave Israel, questions arise: Will Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama succeed in helping the parties reach an agreement, despite those on both sides who are against any compromise? Will Israel and the Palestinian Authority come to a mutual understanding and create a nation that Palestinians can call their own? Will Palestinians acknowledge that Israel was created to be a Jewish state? Will Israelis and Palestinians recognize that the status quo is neither viable nor neutral, and that it is the long-term best interests of both nations to come to a two-state solution? Will these two nations be able to stand side by side with true peace solemnizing their partnership? Will the shadows of past territorial give backs and agreements, and the violence which has subsequently exploded from Gaza, and the terror which is currently emanating from the Sinai, be averted in any future land swaps and peace compromises?

Despite the oceans, lifestyle and sometimes political proclivities which divide us, familial cousins enjoy seeing one another and reuniting. Can Israeli and Palestinian cousins, the children of Abraham and the children of Ishmael, cross the seas which divide and separate them? Can they each have their own houses, welcome each other into their homes, and be good neighbors and become like family?

These are some of the questions which stay with us as we leave Israel and family and return to the United States to digest what we have seen and to dream about tomorrow.

 

Rabbi Richard Hammerman
Richard Hammerman of Caldwell is rabbi emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Toms River, a former senior vice president of the World Council of Conservative/ Masorti Synagogues/Masorti Olami, and a member of the rabbinic cabinets at JStreet and Israel Blonds.
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‘Live long and prosper’

The death of Leonard Nimoy on Friday, February 27, at 83, marked the passing of an American icon — indeed, a star of global renown, and a Jewish hero as well.

Nimoy’s accomplishments were many. He was an author, poet, musician, photographer, philanthropist, educator, and director, and of course an actor who played many roles on stage and screen. But he is best known for his role as Mr. Spock on Star Trek, the television series that first aired in 1966. It is a role he reprised in the various sequels, spinoffs, and remakes that appeared after the original series went off the air in 1969.

Nimoy was a Boston native, fluent in Yiddish, whose parents were Orthodox Jews who escaped from the Soviet Union. As he related in various interviews, his background informed his portrayal of the sole alien being on the Starship Enterprise. Spock hailed from the planet Vulcan but was also half-human, making him an alien on Vulcan as well. His status reflects that of immigrants and their children, first-generation Americans who, like Nimoy, grow up in a household, community, and culture that still has one foot in the old world.

 

 

Je suis Charlie?

It says much about the age that we live in that so many of us first learned of the terrorist attacks in Paris on January 7th through Twitter, and that the slogan that came to represent much of the international response to the massacre originated as an image tweeted by French artist and music journalist Joachim Roncin, and soon morphed into a hashtag that rose to the top of the day’s trending topics, and has become one of the most popular hashtags in the history of that social network.

I am referring, of course, to Je suis Charlie, or in hashtag form, #jesuischarlie, and its English version, #iamcharlie.

Some followed up on this formula with the variations Je suis Ahmed or Je suis Ahmed Rabet, to acknowledge the Muslim police officer who was so brutally murdered in the attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and as a subtle reminder that the terrorists are not representative of Muslims in general. Others added Je suis Juif, meaning I am Jewish, to recall the fact that four hostages were murdered in a kosher supermarket, in addition to the 12 killed at the offices of the Parisian periodical. (Several of them also were Jewish.) Members of the Jewish community in France and abroad were encouraged by the appearance of Je suis Juif signs and hashtags, especially as the slogan was displayed by some French Muslims, although there has also been some criticism that it was not shared widely enough.

 

 

To end terrorism, start with moral clarity

The most often asked question I hear today is “How do we stop radical Islamic terrorism?”

Of course there are no quick, easy solutions but any attempt must start with an absolute commitment to speaking and acting with moral clarity.

How can it be that there are leaders today, including the president of the United States, who simply refuse to use the words “Islamic terrorism” or “Islamic jihad”? I am not an expert on Islam, and I have no true sense whether Islam is or is not a religion of peace.

 

 

RECENTLYADDED

Israel, not Netanyahu, is the ultimate target

There is no world leader more hated by well-meaning liberals in America and Europe than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Whereas once the bile was directed at former U.S. president George W. Bush — for invading Iraq and Afghanistan, for identifying radical Islam in both its Shiite and Sunni variations as an existential threat, and for backing Israel — it’s now largely focused on Netanyahu, an alleged “racist” and “war criminal” who just happens to have won a resounding vote of confidence from the Israeli electorate on March 17.

Two New York Times editorials speak to my point rather elegantly. The first, published on March 13, asked whether Turkey could still be considered a reliable NATO ally — concluding, based on the Ankara government’s stance toward international crises from the Islamic State insurgency to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that it can’t. But while the substance of the editorial was basically correct, the lack of any ad hominem attack on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was notable. “Increasingly authoritarian” was the best the New York Times could manage when it came to describing this boorish thug, who rejoices in conspiracy theories, baits his country’s declining Jewish population even as he assures them that they are safe, and imprisons journalists with the devil-may-care attitude only a dictator can enjoy.

 

 

Dirty dancing

Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, please come to your senses

Benjamin Netanyahu is the winner of the most recent election in Israel.

The odds are that he will be asked to build a coalition and continue his premiership. I wish him well. But many are still gargling to get the yucky taste out of their mouth.

Every match-up will have a winner and a loser, whether pitcher versus batter or presidential hopefuls. But if a win is achieved through sneaky tactics or cheap moves, it salts the wound of the loser and mitigates the validity of the winner. That is what happened when the incumbent prime minister made some political statements on the eve of last week’s election.

 

 

Universities punish bigotry — but not anti-Jewish bigotry

A few weeks ago, the University of Oklahoma appropriately responded swiftly and strongly when members of a fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, sang anti-black chants that included the “n” word and references to lynching.

The university expelled two students and shut down the entire fraternity chapter, even though not all its members were involved in the incident. Similarly, colleges and universities are cracking down on hostile actions against women. For example, after members of Delta Kappa Epsilon chanted “No means yes” on campus, Yale University banned the fraternity for five years.

Yes, these responses were tough, but they sent an important message not only to the wrongdoers and the university community, but also to society at large: that bigotry against African-Americans and women is repugnant and intolerable, and there will be harsh consequences for those who engage in it.

 

 
 
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