Roots trip to Germany: Days 1 and 2

Day 1

Our flight to Germany was uneventful (besides my almost getting lost in Frankfurt airport, but getting lost is nothing unusual for me…) and we were met at the airport by a pre-arranged taxi which took us to our hotel in Michelstadt.

First impressions:

From the air Germany is a beautiful country, green fields neatly laid out, glittering rivers and straight roads, even the forests seem orderly in the way the trees grow! As I admired the country from the air I felt guilty for even allowing a positive thought to enter my head about this country with the terrible history. And then I considered that so many other countries have a blood-soaked history with the Jews, and if it’s OK to entertain the thought of visiting Holland, France, Belgium, not to mention the former Soviet Union or the Baltic states, then why should Germany be any different, especially considering the efforts of the German government as well as so many German individuals to atone for the sins of their fathers.

I did warn you that I was ambivalent about this trip…  This cognitive dissonance has accompanied me all day and I reckon won’t leave me throughout. But that has not stopped me enjoying the experience.

As we were taxiing towards the arrivals building in Frankfurt airport, our El Al plane was accompanied by a German police hummer travelling alongside the whole time. The thought struck me that a mere 70 years ago the sight of one of these vehicles would have struck terror into any Jewish heart. Today it merely comforted me and made me thankful that we were being provided by excellent security from the German authorities. How the wheel of history turns!

German police van accompanied us to the airport building in Frankfurt

We were highly amused by the wording on the taxi that met us at the airport, “mietwagen” sounding suspiciously like “meat wagon”. :-)  (we do have a rather juvenile sense of humour).

The “meat wagon” taxi

At our beautiful hotel in Michelstadt we finally met our hosts, Otto and Heidi Haag and their friend Klaus Schimmel, face to face for the first time and we had a warm and emotional welcome.  The Haags have been working for decades to research the history of the Jewish community of Michelstadt and bring it to the attention of the city fathers. They are amazing and courageous people, and very resourceful in their methods of research and in their initiative to get the town to commemorate their lost Jewish community, sometimes against some objections from the locals.

Otto and Heidi Haag and their friend Klaus Schimmel

We spent a very enjoyable evening getting to know the Haags and their friend, discussing our family histories, their work, and generally chatting.

Day 2

We started the day with a visit to the medieval library in the town center. It turned out to be far more interesting than I ever imagined. Our guide explained that the library was built in the 14th century by Nicolaus Matz, a priest, teacher and university professor who travelled from Michelstadt to Vienna to Speyer and beyond, but who eventually bequeathed his extensive library to his hometown.

The library contains hundreds of books, both manuscripts and early examples of printed books, of theology, philosophy and scientific subjects.

The Nicolaus Matz medieval library in Michelstadt

What was even more fascinating was the way that the ancient bookbinders would recycle ruined books to use as bindings. Thus a whole new science has developed, the study of book bindings! When the bindings are carefully pried loose one can see pages from other books, and it becomes a puzzle and a memory game to find matching pages used as bindings in other books.

Hand written illustrated manuscript from the 14th-15th century

We were also shown an ancient Hebrew Bible with a short precis in German down the sides of the text explaining what was in the text.

Hebrew Bible from the 18th century in the Michelstadt library

From the library we walked to the Haags’ house, and on the way, Otto Haag pointed out another project that they had initiated: the laying of “stumbling blocks” outside the houses of each Jewish citizen who had been murdered in the Shoah. These stumbling blocks are in fact small plaques inscribed with the names of the murdered citizens, and they are inlaid into the pavement right outside their houses. Even these small memorials have proven unpopular with certain elements and have occasionally been plastered over with antisemitic or anti-Israel stickers. It is gratifying to note that the local police take these incidents very seriously.  The “stumbling blocks” project started elsewhere in Germany and has been spreading throughout the country, a very blessed initiative.

The 3 “stumbling blocks” memorializing my mother’s 3 brothers David, Herbert and Uri who were killed in the Holocaust, outside their house in Michelstadt

It was a very strange, surreal and moving moment to stand there and contemplate that these 3 little stones were all that are left to commemorate that these three boys ever lived in Michelstadt.

After lunch we all proceeded to the local synagogue where services are only held now once a month, and even then there is not usually a minyan. We were guided by the visiting chazan (cantor), Roman Melamed, who showed us the interior of the shul where our grandfather used to pray. Again, the enormous sense of history combined with the surreality of finding myself in the very spot where my grandfather once stood combined  in my mind with a swirl of emotion which I and my brother are still trying to work through.

From the shul we moved on to the old Jewish cemetery in Michelstadt where the Baal Shem of Michelstadt, Rabbi Yitzchak Aryeh (Seckl Lob) Wormser is buried. The Baal Shem was regarded as a miracle worker and healer not only by the Jewish community but by all the locals as well and his grave has become a site of pilgrimage for prayers. We all stood there and prayed for the health and well-being of various family members and friends, and recited some Psalms.

These very intense moments were followed by a meeting with another friend and contact of David’s, Briggite Diersch, who has been of enormous help in our family research. She took us on a very pleasant tour of her hometown of Erbach, a couple of kilometers away from Michelstadt and explained how she herself had become involved in researching and commemorating the Jewish history of the area.

I have many more photos (and most likely quite a bit of editing) but this will be continued (hopefully) tomorrow or maybe even later. (Internet connection very slow, thoughts churning, hour very late).

Posted in Family, History | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Roots trip to Germany

Above: My mother’s 3 brothers who were killed in the Shoah: David, Elchanan and Uri HY”D Below: The 3 brothers with my mother Judith תבדל”א

Tomorrow morning (Sunday) I am setting out, together with my husband, brother and sister-in-law, on a “roots” trip to Germany.  I am feeling rather ambivalent about the whole trip as I always swore to myself that I would never set foot in Germany after what happened to my family and of course to the Jewish people as a whole.

However, the good people of Michelstadt, my mother’s home town, issued a memorial book last year, and since we couldn’t manage a visit at the time, have kindly invited us to come out and visit. Despite my ambivalence I feel it is important to accept their efforts to “make good” towards the Jewish community and they have been extremely gracious towards us.  They will be hosting us at a local hotel, including a reception and dinner with the local townspeople and dignitaries, and we shall be touring both the local sites and, more importantly, places of significance to our family.

We will also be taken to Frankfurt to see the site of the old synagogue, the cemeteries, and the site of our parents’ homes.

On our last day there we plan to travel to the city of Fuerth where our father comes from, to visit the cemetery, the synagogue and his old home and school.

We are flying home on Friday, landing not long before Shabbat.

I am hoping to post photos and blog about our trip as we go along, either daily or every day or two, as much as time, energy and internet connections allow. I don’t plan to blog about the news, Israel, the Middle East or any of the other subjects that interest me during this coming week, but I hope you find this upcoming family trip interesting.

When I have all the photos and daily diaries organized, I’ll move them all up to my family history pages in the top menu.


שבוע טוב ולהתראות

Posted in Family, History | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Good News Friday

After yet another contentious and tense week, thank goodness it’s Friday and time to post another Good News Friday installment.

Dionne Warwick coming to perform in Israel

Dionne Warwick coming to perform in Israel

We’ll start with some entertainment news. Despite US singer Lauryn Hill cancelling her scheduled concert in Israel due to pressure from the BDS bigots, the equally (or more) popular Dionne Warwick has no such qualms and stated that she has no intention of giving in to BDS pressure:

After entertainer Lauryn Hill cancelled her show in Israel for political reasons, American diva Dionne Warwick said Wednesday that she has no plans to cancel her upcoming Tel Aviv performance, saying that “art has no boundaries.”

A statement released to the press read that Ms. Warwick “would never fall victim to the hard pressures of Roger Waters, from Pink Floyd, or other political people who have their views on politics in Israel.”

Outspoken Israel critic Roger Waters and Pink Floyd frontman has called on entertainers to nix their Israel performances in line with the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“Waters’ political views are of no concern to Ms. Warwick, as she holds her own unique views on world matters. Art has no boundaries. Ms. Warwick will always honor her contracts,” the statement read.

“If Ms. Warwick had an objection to performing in Israel, no offer would have been entertained and no contract would have been signed,” the statement concluded.

Arutz Sheva adds some background:

Warwick, who will appear May 19 at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena (formerly the Nokia Arena) in Tel Aviv, is one of the most accomplished American singers and entertainers in any genre. She is one of the top 40 hitmakers of the modern era, and has had 69 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 during the span of her career, second only to Aretha Franklin as the most-charted female singer of all time. Many of her songs were written – many specifically for her – by the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, considered two of the most important songwriters in American history. “Dionne Warwick is a class act, in all meanings of the term,” said one music industry observer in Israel. “Lauryn Hill couldn’t shine her shoes.”

We don’t need to denigrate Lauryn Hill (who knows what pressure she was put under?) in order to agree that indeed, Dionne Warwick is a class act. Kol hakavod!

Robbie Williams plays to a crowd of 40,000 in Tel Aviv

In a similar show of loyalty with his Israeli fans, last week pop star Robbie Williams rocked a crowd of 40,000 at Tel Aviv:

Some 40,000 people packed Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park Saturday night to watch, cheer and sing along with British songster Robbie Williams.

The rock has-been Roger Waters applied the same BDS pressure to Williams as he has done to every single cultural icon who comes to Israel, with the same lack of interest from Williams as from Dionne Warwick:

Williams also shared some his personal story, discussing his drug addiction and rehabilitation, and how he overcame his troubles through music.

Lat week, former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, a vocal critic of Israel, attacked Williams for performing in Tel Aviv, claiming his decision “gives succor to Netanyahu and his regime, and endorses their deadly racist policies.”

Williams did not respond directly to Rogers’ piece during his concert, but did make sure to properly praise Israel and the adoring fans.

“I’ve been here for two days and when I go back home and they ask me how Israel was,” he told the gathered masses, “I’ll tell them it was f***ing amazing.”

You are amazing too Robbie Williams!

Kol hakavod to all of those musical and cultural stars who ignore the BDS pressure to visit Israel. It is no easy thing to go against the anti-Israel bulldozer and I applaud them.

Israel’s economy is booming

With all the noise that BDS make in the media, it is very important for us to remember that Israel is in fact a flourishing country – so flourishing in fact that our economy defies common sense!  Yoram Ettinger explains this anomaly:

Irrespective of a cynical and gullible “elite” media, independent of diplomatic pressure, political correctness and conventional wisdom, in defiance of the global economic slowdown, in the face of war and terrorism, and despite ill-advised threats of boycott, divestment and sanctions—but, due to principle-driven tenacity, inherent optimism, human capital/brain power, creativity, cutting edge ingenuity and breakthrough, game-changing innovations—Israel’s economy is expanding beyond expectations, reacting constructively to pressures/challenges, and developing unique commercial and security niches in response to local and global needs.

According to the April 20, 2015 issue of the London Economist Intelligence Unit: “Israel’s high tech sector is in the midst of a boom stronger than anything seen since the late 1990s. [300] Startups raised a record $3.4bn in 2014….[…] Some 82 Israeli startups were sold last year [for $7bn], […] . It is also significant in boosting Israel’s relations with emerging economic powers hungry for innovation, such as India and China….”

Long-term confidence in Israel’s economy was demonstrated by Microsoft, which inaugurated its second R & D center in Israel, which is the site of Microsoft’s first R & D center outside the USA.

The long-term viability of Israel and its economy is also reflected by its economic indicators, which refute conventional “wisdom.” For instance, Israel’s growth rate (3%) is similar to the USA and above the OECD average, Canada, Britain and Germany, and Israel’s unemployment is below the OECD average. Israel’s declining debt-to-GDP ratio (67%) is lower than the USA, the Euro Bloc, Japan, France, Canada, Britain and Germany.

Judging by Israel’s stellar economic performance, one would hardly guess that Israel experienced a six week war, against Hamas terrorists, in July-August, 2014.

It’s hard to say whether Israel’s economy is a function of its character or simply a miracle – one of many that occur in this miraculous little country. :-)

One of the major contributors to Israel’s economic growth is our population growth, spurred in part by a rise in immigration. In the first 3 months of this year Israel has already seen a rise of 40% in aliya:

A total of 6,499 Jews arrived in Israel between January and March of this year, according to an interim report by the Jewish Agency for Israel. The vast majority of immigrants came from Europe, specifically eastern Europe. 1,971 immigrants came from Ukraine to the Jewish state, the most of any country listed, marking a 215 percent rise from the same period last year. The number of Russian immigrants rose to 1,515, an almost 50 percent increase.

French immigration to Israel rose by 11 percent to 1,413 while immigration from Britain saw a 43 percent rise to 166. Immigration from North America decreased by 7 percent with only 478 new arrivals between January and March.

It will be interesting to see if this trend continues, and if we can encourage more aliya for purely Zionist reasons rather than economic or persecution.

Amblyz glasses for lazy-eye condition

Having mentioned Israel’s burgeoning hi-tech sector, here is yet another example of Israeli ingenuity: Glasses to fix “lazy-eye” in children, to save them having to wear an eye patch:

Amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” is a neural disorder affecting three to five percent of all children. Until now, the only way to strengthen the weak eye has been to put an eye patch over the stronger eye or blur its vision with eye drops. Needless to say, neither option is a hit with kids or their parents.

Israeli family physician Omry Ben-Ezra wanted to find a better solution. The revolutionary result of his efforts, Amblyz Glasses, was introduced to the market in 2012 by multinational company XPAND 3D and has won a product innovation award from the International 3D Society.

Kids like Amblyz much better than eye patches, and it is more effective in treating the condition.

The battery-operated eyeglasses, specially fashioned for children age three to ten, have an electronic shutter to make one lens intermittently transparent or opaque. This helps the weaker eye to function and develop its muscles and neural connections.

“The need for the product came from observing children walking around with eye patches, which seemed medieval,” says Ben-Ezra. “There had been several attempts at active training, but they necessitate sitting in front of a computer or book. So my idea was to incorporate an electronic patch in the glasses, and then the child is training while living everyday life.”

Trials held at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba showed that by eliminating the discomfort of drops and the social awkwardness of wearing an eye patch, Amblyz achieved better compliance.

The shutter approach is superior from a therapeutic point of view as well. “In amblyopia, children develop monocular vision, and when you patch you are still only allowing one eye to work. With our glasses, the eyes are training to work together,” says Ben-Ezra.

“There is great interest in the product,” says Ben-Ezra. “In Turkey, for instance, a chain of optics stores was the first to place an order of 7,000 units.”

Ben-Ezra started working on his project in 2003, and built a very preliminary prototype for the clinical trials, which were reported in the Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

“Then I started to search for a way to build the glasses in an affordable and attractive way, robust enough for children to use,” he says. The Office of the Chief Scientist funded a small startup, OphthoCare, which later received additional support from an Israeli optical chain.

Having suffered from lazy-eye myself as a kid, and absolutely hating the eye patch I was forced to wear, and then seeing my son, and more recently my grandchildren going through the same thing, with no change in methodology in over 50 years as Dr. Ben-Ezra pointed out, this development is simply brilliant. I really hope this ingenious device takes off and becomes a great success. Kol hakavod to Omry Ben-Ezra, Ami Dror and the Israeli officials who are helping to develop these glasses.

Yama-Sharma (left) and Kobliner meet at IDF field hospital in Nepal.

With the Israeli aid delegation to Nepal heading back home this week, it is fitting to conclude this week’s installment with a heart-warming piece (h/t Dad) about an IDF nurse meeting her grandmother’s Nepalese carer at the Israeli field hospital, because the carer wanted to volunteer with the Israelis whom she loved:

A touching reunion occurred at the IDF’s field hospital in Nepal this week between a reserves Lieutenant and a woman who is serving as a translator at the makeshift hospital.

Lieutenant (res.) Dganit Kobliner reunited with Neno Yama-Sharma, who worked as a caregiver for Kobliner’s grandmother in Israel. Yama-Sharma had taken care of Kobliner’s grandma until her passing in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in northern Israel.

Now back in Nepal, Yama-Sharma has been working as a translator to help facilitate the doctors and patients communicate.

“She walked around here for a couple of hours and looked for me,” said Kobliner, who is in Nepal as part of reserves duty and working as a nurse in the emergency room. “From what she told me, her Nepalese friends who are still at the kibbutz knew I was here and told her to look for me.”

“From then, we have been sharing memories of her time in Israel. I knew her in Israel but not as personally, and all of a sudden here (in Nepal) we started becoming close,” said Kobliner. “She has been helping us from the first minute as a translator because she has excellent Hebrew.”

Yama-Sharma spent seven years working at a care giving home at Kibbutz Yad Eliyahu, where she took care of elderly patients. During her last two years in Israel she solely took care of Kobliner’s grandmother and after she passed away she decided to return to Nepal.

After the earthquake struck Nepal, Yama-Sharma decided to volunteer at the IDF hospital, not only to give thanks to Israel but also because, according to her, she felt at home among the Israelis.

“I’m still in touch with my friends in Israel, we talk on the phone a couple of times a day,” said Yama-Sharma. “I really miss Israel, and when I heard they were building a hospital I immediately understood that I could help. I really love to help and really love Israel.”

When coming home from a long days work at the hospital, Yama-Sharma says that her neighbors speak of the small country from the Middle East that came to help the Nepalese nation.

“Everyone is talking about Israel and it warms my heart, it really makes me happy. I can’t find the words to express my excitement about how people thank me and the country,” says Yama-Sharma.

I’ve got to admit that I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes became teary as I read this beautiful heart-warming story. Once again, kol hakavod to all the Israeli volunteers who assisted in the rescue effort in Nepal. And kol hakavod too to all the Nepalese locals who volunteered together with the Israelis, and who didn’t forget their old friends from “back home” in Israel.

מזל טוב! עד מאה ועשרים Happy birthday! Until 120!

One final note before I close: yesterday we celebrated our mother’s 80th birthday with a family party at a local restaurant. We had a fantastic time, with funny poems and speeches, and plenty of good food.  I hope that I am as energetic and able to enjoy life as Mum when I get to that age!

I’m sure you all join me in wishing Mum a hearty Mazal Tov and happy birthday,  and many happy returns in good health, joy together with Dad, and with nachat from all the next generations עד מאה ועשרים – until 120!

With this beautiful news I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!

Posted in Boycotts and BDS, Culture, Arts & Sports, Family, Israel news, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We have a government (for as long as it lasts)

Last night, or early this morning, Binyamin Netanyahu finally cobbled together a governing coalition with the slimmest of majorities – 1 seat. The haggling and horse trading went down to the wire and no one was sure we wouldn’t wake up facing either a Labour government or new elections. The new coalition is more or less centre-right, with the exception of Shas which defies description besides being a haredi party out to get as much money as it can for its constituents and damn the consequences.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett shake hands on finalising the coalition agreement

Just like in the last elections, and breaking his promise to invite Bayit Yehudi first into the government, Netanyahu’s and Likud’s most natural partner, Bayit Yehudi let by Naftali Bennett, was pushed off, humiliated, scolded and made to stand in a virtual corner until the very last (and I mean VERY last) minute – midnight last night – when the deal was signed to give Bennett the Education portfolio and Ayelet Shaked the Justice Ministry. More haggling ensued when Netanyahu tried to empty the Justice portfolio of any meaningful content by removing Shaked’s ability to appoint judges, but that was one maneuver too many for Bennett and he threatened to withdraw from the coalition. At that point Netanyahu capitulated.

Along the road Yisrael Beitenu walked out of the coalition and joined the opposition, while on the other hand Netanyahu is reportedly keeping the Foreign Ministry in his pocket to tempt Zionist Union to join the coalition.

The only party that was treated fairly and in parity with its electoral success was Moshe Kachlon’s new Kulanu party, with Kachlon being appointed Finance Minister as promised.

Haviv Rettig Gur explains how Netanyahu’s election victory became a political rout:

The last coalition deal signed Wednesday with Jewish Home saw Netanyahu handing an eight-seat faction two top ministries — education and justice — together with the Agriculture Ministry, the Diaspora Ministry, the West Bank settlement planning and budgeting body, the chairmanship of the Knesset Law Committee and the state committee that appoints judges, and the post of deputy defense minister, along with countless financial and legislative promises that have yet to be fully hammered out.

But even earlier in the process, when Netanyahu was less desperate for time, his deals with parties such as Kulanu and United Torah Judaism were generous to a fault. Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon won not only the finance and housing ministries, but the state agencies responsible for zoning and land planning, along with additional promises and positions yet to be finalized. In effect, Kahlon won control of much of the land-reform pipeline he needs to enact the significant housing reforms he promised in the election. It’s a sensible package, but one that leaves Netanyahu and the ruling Likud with little control over and no credit for any successes Kahlon may achieve.

Shas, with just seven seats, won the Economy Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Religious Affairs Ministry, de facto control over the state rabbinate and its appointments process — and on and on.

And all that doesn’t account for the literally billions promised away to ultra-Orthodox and national-religious institutions and to funding various reforms demanded by each party as a “win” for its constituency.

And when all that had been auctioned off, what did Netanyahu have to show for his generosity? A coalition of 61 seats set against an opposition of 59.

Worse, it’s a coalition that already clarified in the negotiations that it would not be beholden to Netanyahu — that is, would not act as a coalition — on no small number of issues.

But even without Zionist Union, why didn’t Netanyahu simply stare Jewish Home down, refuse the continually rising set of demands and call their bluff?

The answer: perhaps Netanyahu didn’t fear Herzog, but rather the Israeli voter. Jewish Home believed that Netanyahu had managed to attract a last-minute Election Day rush toward Likud of voters who were more naturally inclined to vote Jewish Home. In other words, another election just weeks after the last would shrink Netanyahu’s faction and grow Bennett’s.

And so the 30-seat Likud finally handed the eight-seat Jewish Home the powerful Justice Ministry in the last two hours of the last day in the 42-day coalition-building period allowed by law.

Netanyahu has vowed to pass electoral reform in the new Knesset that would help a future prime minister avoid the struggles he has faced. But it’s not clear how raising the electoral threshold a bit higher or enlarging the Knesset – among the suggestions floated over the years – would solve the essential problem, which is that the electorate is too fractured to allow for a decisive majority to form in Israel’s Knesset.

With one-quarter of the electorate voting left, one-quarter right, and roughly half voting not on issues but on social and religious identities, the math never seems to add up to a coalition without the ruling party having to barter away large swaths of the political system and the economy.

There’s just one problem. While such a reform might reasonably win the support of Likud, Labor and Yisrael Beytenu – either because they would benefit from it directly or because they have espoused similar reforms for years – those parties might manage to deliver between 55 and 60 votes at best, just shy of the majority needed to actually pass such a law. The 20th Knesset, Netanyahu is beginning to realize, may be too fractured to even fix itself.

You might have guessed from the tone of my virtual voice above that I am not happy with the coalition and you would be right.

Of course I’m glad that Bennett and Shaked have received such important portfolios and I believe they will be a positive influence on Israeli society. I think that Bayit Yehudi’s ethos, a continuation of the old National Religious Party which held the Education portfolio for decades, will uphold and improve our educational system and will cultivate in the students a love of Israel, broaden interest in Jewish history and hopefully will continue to strive for excellence in the sciences and humanities. As for the Justice Ministry, that has been in the hands of the left for too long, and the Israeli system of judges appointing their own successors has led to a distortion of the judicial system which must be reformed. Similarly, the Supreme Court’s insistence on “finding everything justiciable” makes a mockery of the powers of the Knesset to create new legislation. At the moment we are in a situation where any law created stands to be struck down before it is ever enacted by an unelected, self-appointed, ultra-leftist Supreme Court answerable to no one. If Ayelet Shaked can improve or change this situation she will be a hero to vast swathes of Israeli society.

But Netanyahu’s rush to invite the haredim to the coalition is infuriating, and his caving in to all their demands simply outrageous. With the flick of a pen all the religious and educational reforms achieved over the last few years are in danger of being rolled back to the bad old days, and this is before we mention the hugely generous financial “persuasions” offered to Shas and UTJ.

My frustration, even anger, at Netanyahu’s needless politicking when he could have secured a solid right-wing government immediately after the elections which he won by a landslide, is expressed more eloquently than I could manage in this column (h/t JudyPT) by Gil Troy in the Jerusalem Post: “Say it ain’t so Bibi – a Zionist critique of the coalition cave-in“. (emphases are mine):

… Say it ain’t so Bibi, say it ain’t so. Can you imagine just how opportunistic you must seem when Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman emerges as the man of principle? Are you really so desperate to stay in power that you needed to auction off Israel’s future? What kind of a nationalist are you? What kind of a Zionist? Clearly, I am not as smart as our prime minister.

I do not understand how someone who calls himself a Zionist can promise hundreds of millions of shekels for ultra-Orthodox education which is proudly, flamboyantly, often crudely anti-Zionist. I do not understand how someone who calls himself a nationalist can abandon the progress his last government made in demanding all Israeli schoolchildren learn core curriculum subjects such as modern Hebrew, English, math and science – where in the Torah is knowledge banned? I do not understand how someone who calls himself a security hawk can mortgage Israel’s future just to stay in office, producing more draft-dodgers and job-shirkers, inducing some Israelis to take from the state not contribute to it. …

Jabotinsky believed in sticking to principle not succumbing to blackmail. At what point does holding onto power for its own sake become pointless? Doesn’t Benjamin Netanyahu hope to leave a legacy beyond mere longevity? And why won’t he stand by the important reforms he implemented in 2003? Back then, Israel was overtaxing and under-incentivizing too many citizens, bribing them to procreate, discouraging them from working. Netanyahu’s cutbacks helped trigger Israel’s economic miracle then, what will his cave-ins accomplish now? I am not angry at the United Torah Judaism negotiators.

…  They did what Israel’s malfunctioning coalition system and what the current prime minister masquerading as Chicago ward heeler encourage them to do. As New York’s corrupt nineteenth-century Tammany Hall pol George Washington Plunkitt boasted: “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.”

Netanyahu’s appeasement puts added pressure on Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett if he becomes education minister. The haredi sellout constrains everyone else financially and contradicts Bayit Yehudi’s founding principles, too. His party’s vision statement endorses nurturing a “Jewish-Zionist identity” among “all the state’s children,” teaching about “Herzl and the founders of Zionism, David Ben-Gurion and the leaders of the nation.”

The pressure is on Moshe Kahlon too. Kahlon vowed that his party, Kulanu, would keep Netanyahu centered and protect the average taxpayer.

The base of “Kulanu” – all of us – is tired of being mugged. … Turning the budgeting process into a political auction is exactly the kind of bad-government practice Kahlon’s good-government promises pledged to end. Kahlon and his party members should beware. If they start weak, they will become another impotent minor party.

Our politicians should address the Ethiopian crisis as a Zionist crisis too. Let’s redirect the haredim’s billion-shekel ransom toward these hard-working, taxpaying, army-serving patriots. The Ethiopian rescue is one of the great Zionist adventures of recent times – we should make their successful adjustment one of the great Israeli success stories of all time.

And watching the IDF’s heroics in Nepal, one wonders, how can one security establishment – the army – be so good and a second security establishment – the police – so jinxed? Did any coalition partners demand a thorough police reform, weeding out sexual harassers and removing racists? Will the new government effectively target organized crime and disorganized but rampant home burglaries, two of Israel’s biggest policing challenges today? If the search for Cabinet-issued Volvos trumped those issues in Bibi’s bazaar, shame on all our leaders.

Despite this deep criticism of Netanyahu and Israel’s chaotic political process, Troy finishes on a note with which I identify completely:

My current anger will not sour me on our state or our mission. Just as I can support Netanyahu regarding Iran – and other matters – while criticizing him when necessary, I can distinguish between my current, immediate, completely justified anger at this coalition sellout and my ongoing, deep commitment to Israel and the Zionist enterprise. I don’t see any Americans, Left or Right, abandoning the America of Baltimore and Ferguson, no matter how angry they might be. We should not abandon Israel – while reminding our country and ourselves about the core Zionist mission to create the model Jewish Democratic state at least some of the coalition partners, and most of Israel’s citizens, desire. Let’s build it together, in hope not despair, in optimism not cynicism.

All we need do now is wait for Zionist Union to decide to join the coalition and sit back and watch the histrionics begin all over again.

Posted in Israel news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ethiopian Jews hold up a mirror to Israeli society – not a pretty picture

Ethiopian Israelis march in an anti-police brutality demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Sunday, May 3, 2015. (photo credit: Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel staff)

In case you hadn’t heard, a huge rally of Ethiopian Israeli Jews took place in Tel Aviv on Sunday which quickly devolved into violence, leaving dozens of injured on both sides: the police and the demonstrators. The initial spark for the demonstration was a video, which rapidly went viral over the internet, of Israeli police brutally beating an Ethiopian IDF soldier. The Ethiopian community, generally the loveliest, quietest, gentlest people, finally had enough and went out to protest.

Here is the story.

What began as a peaceful protest turned into bedlam in the heart of Tel Aviv Sunday, as demonstrators gathered to protest police brutality and alleged institutional racism against Israel’s Ethiopian population.

A video released last week showed a policeman and a police volunteer assaulting an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier in Holon. That footage sparked a demonstration in Jerusalem Thursday, and again in Tel Aviv Sunday night.

At Sunday’s demonstration, protesters threw rocks and glass bottles at police, who responded with stun grenades and fired water cannons at protesters.

As of midnight Sunday, almost 50 people were injured. According to Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, 23 of them were police officers.

An Ethiopian Israeli man receives medical treatment after being injured at an anti-police brutality demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Sunday, May 3, 2015


By the end of the night, 26 protesters were arrested, he said.

Sunday’s protest began mildly. A few dozen Ethiopian-Israelis and sympathizers gathered at the intersection of Menachem Begin and Eliezer Kaplan streets. The group blocked traffic on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway and other roadways, but the protest was non-violent.

Tenat, a nurse at Petach Tikva’s Schneider Children’s Hospital, sat down in the middle of the intersection. She had just worked a double shift at the hospital and was tired, but felt it was important to come to the demonstration. So she did what she could: block the intersection.

“This is my country, too,” she said. “Tomorrow it could be my brothers or my cousins [who are subject to police brutality].”

But as more people arrived at the normally busy intersection, the intensity grew. Police formed a human chain, locking arms to prevent protesters from crossing Menachem Begin eastward to Givat Hatachmoshet Street. Restless demonstrators took that as a challenge.

The two sides pushed up against each other for dominance. Protesters shouted at Israel Police, and then at the Border Police officers who arrived as reinforcements. A female protester broke the tension at 5:45 p.m. when she grabbed a policewoman’s hair and pulled. She was swarmed by other officers, handcuffed and escorted away.

After more aimless struggling with police on Givat Hatachmoshet, the protesters eventually made their way west down Kaplan toward Rabin Square, where the rally was planned to continue.

With no leadership or organizing committee, the protest lacked focus as the demonstrators arrived at the square in central Tel Aviv.

People chanted in Hebrew, “Violent police officers should be locked up!” and “For blacks and for whites, racism is the devil.”

Sometimes it was simpler. “Police state” and “no to racism,” some shouted.

But while many protesters came with good intentions, there were no speeches planned, no fixed goal. And so with nothing to do, protesters pushed their way onto the platform overlooking the square. Police quickly and forcefully pushed them back.

In response, protesters threw plastic water bottles at them. Eventually that unrest yielded small scuffles in the parking lot beneath the platform. The mounted police unit arrived on the scene shortly after 8:00 p.m., causing a stir amongst the demonstrators.

Police regrouped on the platform above the square, forming another human chain of officers in full riot gear. Protesters pushed and shoved, someone brought a hose from a nearby building and sprayed the police.

At a little after 9:00 p.m. the first stun grenades were thrown by police. That set off the first of many rounds of escalation, followed by full-blown conflict.

Over and over, police and protesters clashed on the east side of Rabin Square. The two sides would push and shove until someone — from either side — would push too hard. Police would respond by throwing stun grenades. Protesters would respond by throwing bottles and rocks.

According to Rosenfeld, “Police did not use force until… protesters threw stones at officers and there was no option but to make arrests.”

I think the police were badly organized and also insensitive. Stun grenades? At a civilian demonstration? What were they thinking? Why didn’t’ they bring in the water cannons first?

At 10:55 p.m. police brought water cannon trucks into the square, dousing protesters with a sudsy blue spray. Several protesters were knocked down by the water cannon. Medics from Magen David Adom, who treated demonstrators and police alike, had to themselves brave the water cannons to get to and treat injured protesters.

But there were glimmers of hope in the chaos. A middle-aged Ethiopian man, Gidon, gathered a group of younger people around him. “Violence,” he told the group, “we’ve gotten it. The hardest hits, we’ve experienced them.” That’s why now, he told the surrounding protesters, don’t pick up a rock. “Say no to that violence.”

Black and white Israelis struck up dialogue on the outskirts of the square. The Ethiopians tried to explain what they’ve been through, the white Israelis asked if this — the violence — was really the best way to solve the problem.

There were also low points. A volunteer medic — not a member of Magen David Adom — was helping a wounded protester, whose head and arm were bleeding. As the medic and others gathered to clean the man’s wounds and apply bandages, a stun grenade landed in the middle of the group. The volunteer medic fell to the ground.

What needs to be noted is that Israelis have always discriminated against the “newest” set of Olim. The early Ashkenazim looked down on the Moroccans who looked down on the Yemenites. We all looked down at the Russians until they overtook us. And then came the Ethiopians. The problem for this community was that they had to deal not only with the usual travails of immigration itself with which all immigrants have to cope, but also with a profound culture shock: moving out of a pre-industrialized agrarian society into a modern 20th and 21st century society.  And yes, of course there is racism, not insitutionalized maybe but there is no denying that it exists – yes, there are racists in Israel just as there are in every other country – and thus we find that the Ethiopians’ absorption problems are magnified tremendously.

The main question that we Israelis must ask ourselves is “are we really that racist or is this a distortion of the facts?”. Sadly, from various reports that I have read from ordinary Ethiopians, we are not such tzadikim.

Here is a Facebook post that describes just one man’s situation:

A couple of Saturdays ago we ate Shabbat dinner with another couple, as is customary in the community.
Full Disclosure: He is of Ethiopian descent, she is of Ashkenazi descent.

The conversation was about a lot of topics, but part of it was about his lack of success in finding a job in the profession for which which he studied and invested in for many years; years where he could not be with his family as he worked in shifts in guarding the community, including weekends holidays etc.

His name Yosef Shay. At first glance at his resume you can see he has a BA as a biotechnology engineer, and his name is completely Israeli, but when they reach the visual part he doesn’t get the job!

So yes, you can hide behind a “not suitable” and all kinds of other slogans.
Unfortunately I’m pretty sure if he was not Ethiopian he would have been accepted much more easily!

Share this and draw attention to decent employers and offer relevant employemnt so that the Ethiopian community’s strggle against discriminaton will be unneccessary.

Seth Franzman, a journalist whom I deeply respect and who always has something interesting to write, shocks us with his own personal story: “Are you really stunned that ethiopian anger has reached Tel Aviv?”:

“I was in the army four years ago, and when I was released, my wife and I went to rent an apartment — and we were told they don’t want Ethiopians,” said one young protestor to a newscast on Sunday night. He was standing in a crowd of mostly Ethiopian Jewish protesters in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, the site of many protests over the years.

Was this Tel Aviv? The high-tech metropolis where everything is relaxed and people sit on the beach for hours on end? How, some wondered, could such violence reach all the way into this bubble?

But the real question is: How could it not?

What happened on Sunday night was the culmination of a week of anger over a video that surfaced showing two policemen assaulting an Ethiopian IDF soldier named Damas Pakada in Holon. This followed a year of incidents that had Ethiopian Jews feeling they had become targets of police brutality. On March 1, 2014, Yosef Salamseh was approached by police in a park in Binyamina. According to reports, police accused him of breaking into a house, tasered him, beat and handcuffed him and then took him to a station where family members found him left unconscious in a parking lot. Never charged with a crime, he filed a complaint about the assault, but instead of it being addressed his family was harassed and he was found dead in July, allegedly a suicide.

Racism against Ethiopians pervades Israeli society in more subtle ways, too. My wife, who is Ethiopian, was asked last week if she wants a job cleaning, when she has an MA and works as a senior civil servant. Israeli historian Anita Shapira claimed in her recent book that Ethiopians had to “transition…to an industrialized achievement-oriented society.” Such hidden prejudices — the assumption that Ethiopians don’t understand “achievement” — lead to long-term marginalization.

During Thursday and Sunday’s mass protests, many other minorities, including Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, national-religious Jews and Mizrachi Jews expressed sympathy. “They did it to us Moroccans too,” said an elderly bearded man named Avraham on French Hill Thursday.

Ethiopians join a long list of groups seen as an “other” in Israeli society. These are the people who have for years presented their “integration” as a success story. The protesters time and again stressed that they are “the most Israeli.” But the press and politicians still call them “immigrants,” even though most are born in Israel.

The problem, of course, is that the protesters don’t want to be a permanent underclass, or remain in a situation where so many are being incarcerated. The community feels totally abandoned by a state to which they have given everything. When the state drafts a person from a poor Ethiopian community for three years and pays them $100 a month, and then that person cannot find a job, cannot rent an apartment, cannot afford a car or go to university, they want answers. Their immigrant parents’ generation accepted the poverty they found in Israel. But this generation has said enough.

A first step towards the Ethiopians was made by Binyamin Netanyahu who met with the soldier who had been beaten by the police and pledged to work to eliminate racism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Damas Pakada, the Israeli Ethiopian soldier who was assaulted by police officers last week


One major problem that still exists works on the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” principle: Israel has so many programs to integrate Ethiopians, but they end up doing more harm than good, as this article describes in “Separate but not equal“.

Let us hope the new government – if and when it is formed, and if it it holds up long enough to pass any worthwhile legislation (a lot of ifs, I know) – has the sense and the sensitivity to deal honestly and efficiently with the Ethiopian community in order to help them advance and integrate successfully into Israeli society. Let us hope too that the authorities, social activists and NGOs will manage to educate Israeli society against racism of all kinds.

Our lives, our future and those of our children depend upon this.

Posted in Israel news | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Zionism is not a dirty word. Let us reclaim the narrative

Anti-Zionism is antisemitism, plain and simple

Anyone who swims in the murky waters of the internet and the lower reaches of social media will have come across anti-Israel “activists” – antisemites by any other name – who take great delight in calling anyone who defends Israel a “Zionist”, as if that were a dirty word.  They also cannot fathom that not only rightists are Zionists. To them, only extreme right-wing crazies could be Zionists.  They also use the word “hasbara” as if it is some dastardly Jewish, oops, I mean Zionist plot to fool the world, instead of its simple meaning of “explanation”; its common usage meaning “public diplomacy” representing Israel to the world.

It is therefore both enlightening and morale-boosting to come across  the following articles which explain what being a Zionist means; what Israelis thinks of those who hate Israel and who wilfully impute the worst possible motives to anything Israel does, even when it sends aid to disaster zones; and the lastly demonstrates the utter stupidity of the anti-Israel activists.

Firstly, a little late for Independence Day but forever relevant, here is Yair Lapid, whom no one could accuse of being a rightist, telling the world “I am a Zionist“. I’m only going to quote a couple of excerpts but read it all:

I am a Zionist.

I believe in our right for this land. The people who were persecuted for no reason throughout history have a right to a state of their own plus a free F-16 from the manufacturer. Every display of anti-Semitism from London to Mumbai hurts me, yet deep inside I’m thinking that Jews who choose to live abroad fail to understand something very basic about this world. The State of Israel was not established so that the anti-Semites will disappear, but rather, so we can tell them to get lost.

I am a Zionist.

I was fired at in Lebanon, a Katyusha rockets missed me by a few feet in Kiryat Shmona, missiles landed near my home during the first Gulf War, I was in Sderot when the Color Red anti-rocket alert system was activated, terrorists blew themselves up not too far from my parents’ house, and my children stayed in a bomb shelter before they even knew how to pronounce their own name, clinging to a grandmother who arrived here from Poland to escape death. Yet nonetheless, I always felt fortunate to be living here, and I don’t really feel good anywhere else.

I am a Zionist.

I sometimes look around me and become filled with pride, because I live better than a billion Indians, 1.3 billion Chinese, the entire African continent, more than 250 million Indonesians, and also better than the Thais, the Filipinos, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the entire Muslim world, with the exception of the Sultan of Brunei. I live in a country under siege that has no natural resources, yet nonetheless the traffic lights always work and we have high-speed connection to the Internet.

I am a Zionist.

I do not only hold on to the rights of our forefathers, but also to the duty of the sons. The people who established this state lived and worked under much worse conditions than I have to face, yet nonetheless they did not make do with mere survival. They also attempted to establish a better, wiser, more humane, and more moral state here. They were willing to die for this cause, and I try to live for its sake.

The one point that Lapid does not make, or not clearly enough, is that Zionism is the political expression of the Jewish desire to return to its natural homeland. It was not born in ghettos or mellahs or in persecution, but it is ingrained within our religious essence. However this does not detract from the beauty of Lapid’s words.

Next we have Haviv Rettig Gur, a leading journalist with the Times of Israel and previously with the Jerusalem Post, who confronts the antisemitic goons who cannot abide the fact that Israel is capable of doing anything good. Some of them have been accusing Israel of going to Nepal to harvest organs, to distract from its “war crimes” or to rescue only Israelis, and other libels.  In a short, refreshing blog post, Gur tells them: “Israel doesn’t care what you think”:

Here’s the thing: Israel is an entire country, with all the complicated impulses and competing agendas of any human society. It is perfectly capable of being involved in two completely different things at once, of being angelic in one arena and terrible in another, just like every other country. The IDF doesn’t go to Nepal to avoid the Palestinian issue. It goes because Israelis have honed emergency medicine into an art form, and because the IDF has never quite shed its founding culture of adventurousness, and, above all, because there are people out there who desperately need help.

Those who see in every good news from Israel “hasbara” (propaganda) are missing the single most important fact you can know about Israel — that it isn’t a political campaign begging for your vote. It is a nation. With two million schoolchildren, dozens of cities, its own cinema scene and a language spoken nowhere else in the world. It doesn’t go away if it loses some imaginary popularity contest. And as with any human society, it offers an endless stream of failures and successes that will let you “prove” any narrative you want.

So go ahead and hate Israel. Or love it. It doesn’t really matter. The reality of Israel isn’t affected by whatever story might be playing out in your imagination.

Like so many of my fellow Israelis, I’m desperately proud of our countrymen who are saving lives today in Nepal. And also like them, I don’t give a damn what the global chattering classes think about it.

What I like about Rettig Gur’s piece is that it puts all the anti-Israel hate into perspective. Really, what difference does it make in practical terms that people hate us or impute such evil motives to us? Let them hate us! Let them be eaten up by their own hate. We will carry on doing what is right, and correcting whatever is wrong in our own society without any help from the outside.

And lastly, here (in the Australian Financial Review) is a very funny but perspicacious look at the anti-Israel industry, as seen by Rowan Dean an Australian journalist visiting the region: Don’t worry Israel, our MPs are mates with the Palestinians too:

Monday: Arrived at Lod Airport, after circling around to avoid being blasted out of the sky by IS, Hamas, Hezbollah, and a bunch of other peace-loving friends of the Palestinian People’s Struggle to Wipe The Perfidious Jew Off The Face Off The Earth Praise Be To Allah. Grabbed some duty-frees and headed into downtown Tel Aviv. Looks just like Surfers Paradise meets Surry Hills. Cool hipsters and hot chicks everywhere. Grabbed a quick beer and a burger, bought some fab new apps and software and …

Oops! Time to go to Palestine. Drove into downtown Ramallah. Looks like Mogadishu meets the Mudgee tip. Litter everywhere. Armed guards and machine gun-wielding Mafiosi types wandering around everywhere, too. Try to grab a quick beer, but, er …

 Oops! Gotta get back to Israel. Meet some scientists who invented the smartphone industry, or all the cool stuff like Viber and Waze. Plus they invented all this bionic stuff that helps paraplegics and things that stop crib deaths and things that cure …

Yikes! Gotta get back to Palestine. Meet a bunch of dudes who invented the grievance industry. They explain how Israel has been oppressing them for decades. I ask them in what way exactly and they explain, “by existing”.

Next. Head up to the Palestinian bit that sits on top of the Temple Mount, only you’re not allowed to call it that up here, you have to call it the al-Aqsa Mosque. Lucky I’m not Jewish, coz Jews aren’t allowed in. (Er, isn’t that racist?)

OK, OK, I’m coming! Back on the bus and a quick trip to Sderot, this little town in the desert. Crazy architecture! Every house has a huge concrete bomb shelter in the front garden, every bus-stop doubles as a bomb shelter, even the kiddies playground doubles as a bomb shelter. Cool! I ask people how come they stay here when they’re only ever 15 seconds from being annihilated and they say that it’s their home and they love it. Fair enough.

Off to Gaza! Wow. Crazy architecture. Every hospital doubles as a rocket-launching pad, every kiddies playground doubles as a missile silo! Far out! I ask people how come they stay here and they explain that Hamas will shoot them if they try to leave. Fair point.

Quick smart! Back to Israel. Go to the funky Knesset Parliament building. Time to discuss politics! Oh boy! None of them agree on anything! They all argue like crazy about the best way to achieve peace (that’s democracy, I guess) and how to make the two-state solution work. Everyone agrees a Palestinian state is fine, as long as they stop trying to kill Jews. Fair point.

Back to Ramallah. Weirdly, in the middle of all the rubbish and filth there are these incredibly opulent buildings that look like massive McMansions on steroids! Turns out they all belong to the Palestinian Authority dudes and were built with all that United Nations billions! How cool is that! We go to this marble-clad ballroom in this building that looks like a Gold Coast hotel. Time to discuss politics! Oh boy. The dude explains that the only way there can be peace is if there are two states: one called Palestine, which has no Jews in it, and the other called Whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it, as long as there are “only a handful” of Jews in it. Huh? Sounds, um, a tad unreasonable.

I found myself nodding in agreement, laughing out loud and groaning with recognition at the crazy picture that Dean paints of our country and our neighbours.

And that is the reality of life in Israel and being a Zionist – if you don’t laugh, you cry. Or sometimes you do both at the same time.

Posted in Antisemitism, Lawfare and Delegitimization, Media and journalism, Mideast news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments