Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Too close to home

As I mentioned in my last post, the more someone mentioned in the news is "just like you," the more emotionally immediate the news will seem.

And now here we have a 32-year-old (I'm 32, at least according to the Hebrew calendar) American immigrant (I'm an American immigrant) who arrived in Israel a year ago (I arrived two years ago) and has been studying at Ulpan Etzion (where I went) . . . setting himself on fire to protest the disengagement from Gaza (um, something I would not do).

The main reason it freaks me out is that when the article says

Ben Menachem, who came to the ulpan's entrance carrying a prayer book and wearing tefilin on his forehead and arm, doused himself in a flammable liquid and set himself aflame

I can exactly imagine what happened, because I passed through that entrance twice a day, five days a week, for five months.

There is no doubt about what students in the dorms will be talking about tonight, and what the teachers will be talking about tomorrow.

I'm not going to question the logic of his actions, because I tend to think it's not about logic. I suspect there are other emotional/cognitive problems going on, and the disengagement is simply the catalyst for bringing those problems to the surface.

I know a lot of people who are distraught over the disengagement to various extents, and I know a lot of people who wear orange to express their feelings about it, and I know people who were willing to break certain laws to express their feelings. All those things make sense and are healthy. I've also heard of people who were willing to hurt others over the disengagement (and were talked out of it, or in the case of the terrorism against Arabs and the caustic soda poured on security forces, were not talked out of it) --which, while evil, at least has a certain twisted logic behind it.

But hurting yourself? Is there a precedent for this in other political movements? I mean, in any country, not just in Israel. Has it ever worked to effect any kind of change?

Oh, yeah, now I remember. Refusing to eat has worked. It's one of the things that drew attention to the women's suffrage movement in the United States, for example, and resulted in women getting the vote. But at least there it was the women themselves who fasted. I suspect that to the average Israeli, an American immigrant in Ba'aka torching himself just sounds silly, and confirms the stereotype of American immigrants as right-wing religious zealots.

Speaking of which, I'd be interested in knowing what Baruch Ben Menachem's educational background is, and with whom he's been hanging out since he made aliyah.
Mind-Boggling Flood Images, and some Deep Thoughts

Nothing new to report in terms of my own goings-on, but I'm so awestruck by the NY Times coverage of the damage in the Gulf Coast, I just had to put some reaction on my blog. Especially the pictures from New Orleans, after the 2 levees were breached. Homes and businesses almost or even completely submerged . . . . those aerial photos showing the city looking eerily like a bowl of cereal into which someone poured just a little too much milk . . . it's just horrible and awe-inspiring . . . the woman whose husband died because he has lung cancer and he ran out of oxygen . . . the idea of the 10,000 people who sought refuge in the superdome having to evacuate. Where will all these people go?

For those who missed it, my friend Shoshana left the following comment on my blog yesterday. Although I definitely feel sorry for everyone in New Orleans and around the Gulf Coast, any problem feels more immediate when it's brought home that it's affecting people who are just like you (in my case, affiliated Jews) even beyond basic humanity:

A few personal thoughts for those who might still be viewing this from a distance:

New Orleans has supported a strong Jewish community since at least the early 1800's. My family arrived in the city around 1840, and there was already a Jewish infrastructure there. Despite or perhaps because New Orleans is ethnically and religiously different from most of the rest of the South (and not remotely Puritan in any sense of the word), Jews did very well there. The Orthodox community is currently small. Together with the Conservative and Reform, though, they've kept several synagogues, a kosher butcher and three kosher restaurants (including one in the French Quarter) running for years now. Tulane University has had a strong and active Hillel since the 1960's (started in part by my grandfather).

To give this a bit more reality for you...That kosher butcher and many of the Jewish families who support it are located near Lake Pontchatrain - which the news reports say has broken through the levees. Thank G-d, my uncle and aunt evacuated successfully - but they did not have time to remove the family photos, the heirlooms, the pieces of furniture and other items that have been in our family for generations. Their home is now under water. We pray there will be something left to salvage. We don't have our hopes up.

Another point: For those who do not know, New Orleans is below sea level. Because the city regularly experiences low levels of flooding, the cemeteries are built up. Rather than digging down into the ground, people build mounds and then bury within the mound. This prevents the graves from being disturbed by the flooding. That's for flooding of a few inches. The city is currently under several FEET of water. As I said earlier, the Jewish community there goes back at least to the early 1800's. Five generations of my family are buried there. Please daven that the kevarot will still be there when the waters recede, and daven that disease will not ravage the area in the aftermath.

And one more comment on the topic of divine punishment...Throughout the city's history, hurricanes have threatened to destroy New Orleans. Somehow, though, they always veer slightly away at the last minute. For years I have wondered in whose merit my beloved city is regularly spared. This time I wondered if that merit had run out. This morning, listening to the news, I learned that G-d still shows mercy on New Orleans. Yesterday morning, the hurricane was a category 5, with the eye aiming for New Orleans dead on. If it veered maybe 10 km to the east, it would hit Lake Pontchatrain and the winds would empty the lake onto the city. We were looking at complete distruction. COMPLETE. But once again, at the last minute, the storm lessened slightly in strength, and veered 30 km to the east - thereby avoiding a direct hit on both New Orleans AND Lake Pontchatrain. So - regardless of one's thoughts about this hurricane being punishment for the U.S.'s Middle East policies, one must remain in awe of the merit that continues to shield the city of New Orleans from the worst of G-d's wrath. And one's heart must continue to break for Mississippi and Alabama.

Please keep us in your prayers.
Pontchatrain but also along several streets leading from the lake into city neighborhoods? (And for those who are wondering, I had to look up "levee" in the dictionary myself. A levee is "an embankment built alongside a river to prevent high water from flooding bordering land.")

b) The American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee has a natural-disaster relief program, but according to their website, they offer humanitarian aid only to non-Jews who live outside of America. Are their any American Jewish organizations that provide internal, American, disaster relief?

c) Speaking of Jewish aid, I'm concerned about the idea that, with food shortages imminent in New Orleans, there may be people stuck there who would prefer kosher food but won't have access to any. Of course, if it's a choice between eating non-kosher food or starving, Jewish law dictates that one eat. But I wish I knew whether there was anyone in that category, and if so is there is a way to a) offer them housing outside the city with another kosher-observant family or at least b) get kosher food to them wherever they are.

d) Someone has been getting to my site by googling various versions of "what happened to prison inmates in New Orleans?" Well now, that is indeed a good question. When, where, and how were prison inmates evacuated? Were they? Or were they left to drown?

That's all for now. Please share answers and/or ways to help in the comments section. May Hashem protect all the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Eye of the Hurricane

I posted this last night . . . and then this morning I took it off the blog, nervous that people would think I'm being callous about the hurricane. I try really hard not to be a jerk. Please know that when I say "poor New Orleans" I really mean it. Thank you. Now, read on.

I'm sure this is making national news in America, but over here I wouldn't have known about Hurricane Katrina had I not just read this article in the New York Times. Seems that the entire city of New Orleans, Louisiana is being evacuated, due to fears that the level-5 hurricane will cause scary-massive flooding in this already-very-wet city.

In the time it took me to read the article, I had all of the following responses:

1) God! This is really scary! Poor New Orleans!

2) I've always wanted to go to New Orleans, ever since I read The Ghost Belongs to Me in elementary school, and, a little later, Interview with a Vampire. I hope the city recovers! I want to go there!

3) The image of every single person in a city trying to get out . . . kinda reminds me of Stephen King's The Stand. Gosh, that was a scary book. And this is a scary storm. Poor New Orleans!

4) Wow, look at how many people have been killed in other level-5 hurricanes . . . a lot more than in most terrorist attacks. Acts of nature are scary in such different ways though, because we can't really avoid them, just deal with them better. Terrorism, though, is a choice.

5) Hey! People in New Orleans! Come to Israel, where it's safe! (wry laugh)

6) I'm not a nice person for thinking number 5. I should just be scared and sad for New Orleans and not enjoy the bitter irony of people who think I live in a dangerous place, and therefore don't come, and therefore keep Israel's tourism industry at a standstill, having to evacuate their whole city! Really not nice.

7) Hm. "Evacuating a whole city." Where have I recently heard that? Hm. Do you think that Hurricane Katrina could be some sort of cosmic ripple caused by the evacuation of Gaza? Sarah, don't be a fundamentalist psycho. Stop it with the armageddon theory. But it could be true! No, it's not, get a life. Could be. Not. Could be. Not.

Anyhow, I will keep the people of the Gulf Coast in my prayers. I hope that by the time Katrina hits land, it's nothing more than a summer shower. And if it turns out to be as scary as it sounds, I hope that everyone will remain safe and that minimal material damage will be wrought. If anyone from the Gulf Coast is reading this . . . know that someone in Jerusalem is thinking of you! (And I'm usually a nice, normal person.)


Wrath of God?


How do you know?

Just shut up, will you?

You ever hear of Noah?

I said, shut up!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

There's no explaining some women's choices . . .

Remember when Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, got married in prison? (I'll post links later, maybe. Please send me some if you know of good ones off the top of your head.) And everyone was like "what the heck is she thinking?"? And then the courts ruled that whether he's married or not, the prisons don't have to allow him to have "conjugal visits" with her? And still, the question plaguing me was "what the heck is she thinking?"?

Well, now that they can't have conjugal visits, the assassin and his psychobride are applying for the right to IVF treatments, so she can bear his child, sex or no sex.

What the heck is she thinking????

And now, look, the New York Times is wondering the same thing about American women who seek eligible men, not in bars, but behind bars:

Whatever the reasons behind Mrs. Hyatte's perplexing behavior [of shooting prison guards to try to free her husband --CS] -- a rescue fantasy, a need to nurture, the sexual excitement of being with a violent person (also known as hybristophilia), a wish for attention, a sense of low self-esteem, a grandiose us-against-them scheme -- she is far from alone in her seemingly lunatic infatuation with a man behind bars. Indeed, she is part of what has been recognized as a growing phenomemon, one common enough to have spawned Web sites like and as well as psychological studies with titles like ''Women Who Love Men Who Kill.'' This is the phenomenon of women who are attracted to the scent of demonic males -- fatally dangerous guys like Erik and Lyle Menendez, Robert Chambers and Scott Peterson. (Both Menendez brothers married in prison; Chambers was reportedly so besieged by transfixed females vying to smuggle him contraband that he had to be transferred to another jail; and Peterson has received at least two marriage proposals). The indubitably handsome and unlamented Ted Bundy was perhaps the archetypal demonic male, one who successfully posed as the dreamboat next door time and again, with the charm and verbal facility to knock the socks off any young woman unlucky enough to meet up with him when he was out cruising for prey. But while it would make for a simpler hypothesis if we could attribute the allure of inmates to their brute physical appeal, the truth is that even a one-eyed serial killer like Henry Lee Lucas had women panting after him, while John Wayne Gacy -- no one's idea of attractive and gay to boot (he killed 33 young men during homosexual encounters) -- became involved with a woman in prison.

I suppose we who believe in an unconscious life should understand by now that if it's difficult to figure out the rationale for your friends' marriages and love affairs, it's well nigh impossible to figure out why some women fall for miscreants. The apparent emotional illogic of killer cachet may make for a sweet lyric in a Waylon Jennings song -- ''Ladies love outlaws like babies love stray dogs'' -- but it has left cultural observers scrambling for answers. These range from assigning blame to Western culture as a whole for adulating male violence to blaming a particular family background for creating the sort of vulnerable female who is looking to have some power in a world that has granted her none by hooking up with a man who is both dependent on her and has exhibited his dominance over others.

The first-person article doesn't really offer any concrete answers. But anyhow, the whole thing leaves me feeling that I'd rather be stuck at a 4-day singles' Shabbaton at the Dead Sea in August than be a Scott Peterson groupie. That is just sick.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Ze blogroll . . . she is updated!


(scroll down)

Some additions, some subtractions, some re-organization, some updating of links. Let me know if any of the links don't work.

If your blog is not included, it does not mean I do not like it. It just means that I try to include only those blogs that I actually read on a regular basis, and I simply don't have time to read every blog in the blogosphere! Take nothing personally, my friends. There is a reason that God created both chocolate and vanilla.

Please advise me, dear readers, whether I should leave the "recent posts" and "archives" sections where they are, or move them to the bottom of the sidebar. Do people really use those sections? Feedback, please!

Oops! Almost forgot this delectable blog, devoted to one of the world's almost-perfect foods: the CUPCAKE!!!
I say "almost-perfect" because in my mind, the only purpose for cake in this universe is to hold up the frosting.
But, man oh man, do those cupcakes look delicious . . . I will add this site to my blogroll straight away!

By the way, here's another reason to get married: It's an excuse to serve a cupcake tower. Who wants something boring like a traditional wedding cake, when every guest could be picking their own personal cupcake? And before you say how weird that is, think about it: How can anyone be having a bad time if they are eating a cupcake??? Very few are so hard-hearted as that. No, no! Cupcakes = smiles.
What a waste

What do you get when you mix . . .

lack of advance planning


a prime minister who doesn't explain himself until the eleventh hour


government agencies who skimp on compensations to settlers and don't take into account the reality of their lives


ideology-driven settlers who refuse to confront reality until the reality punches them in the nose?

Well, for starters, you get this and this.

Meanwhile, I know of a few hungry Israeli kids in overcrowded classrooms getting sub-par educations who really could have used that hotel money . . . .

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Small Country

Those of you who live in New York or Los Angeles probably won't appreciate this . . . or maybe you'll appreciate it more . . . but anyway here it is . . .

Today I was in Cafe Hillel on Emek Refaim Street, eating lunch with my friend C., when who should walk in but . . .

Me: C, turn around. Is that . . . ?

C: Why, oh, yes, yes it is.

It was Natan Sharansky. In his signature cap and everything.

He sat down two tables away from us.

I love living in a small country.

The freelance reporter in me wanted to go over to him, introduce myself, and ask for an interview.

But the jaded New Yorker in me decided that approaching a famous person who is trying to enjoy his espresso is not cool.

Anyhow he stayed for about 10 minutes, talking softly over coffee with some other guy who, for all I know, is also a big name, but I didn't recognize him. He (the other guy) had that look though, of an Israeli who believes he is important, whether he actually is or not. (Which, pretty much, is every Israeli who has any money or has ever been mentioned in a newspaper for any reason.)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Pride and Trepidation

Happily, House of Joy has "come out of hiding" (enabled her comments), though her formerly pink blog is still black. Interesting post here, where Beth addresses Lisoosh's comment to one of my own posts, about the Dati Leumi (national religious) Israelis. (I hope to address the comment myself one day, but the topic is so huge, I need to compose my thoughts first.)

Although we are good friends, I don't always agree with Beth about every little thing. But as usual she offers some important thoughts to chew on:

The Torah explains . . . . that the Land cannot tolerate certain things and that if we as a nation do not behave in the correct way, the land will spit us out. The Land of Israel, according to the Bible is not just dirt and rocks and water, it is in some way a living breathing entity – and it is sensitive.

From a secular perspective, I understand why one might support disengagement as a first step to the creation of a Palestinian State (see the comments section in Chayyei Sarah for a very well presented argument by my friend With Love– who incidentally is not secular). I hear the arguments. Intellectuals the world over hear the arguments. We are the oppressors. The Palestinans are the oppressed. As a moral nation, we need to fix that. We need to protect ourselves the best way that we can but we need to fix it.

From a religious perspective, these arguments are not relevant. The Palestinian problem is not a problem of politics. It is a problem of G-d and the Jewish people. And the way to fix it is not through a New State – it is through working on ourselves as a Nation.

Personally, I see the Gaza expulsion not as a failure of “Zionism” but as a failure of religion and a failure of the Jewish people as a whole. People are turning inward and trying to figure out where to turn lest G-d (chaz v’shalom a million times) decides we are not worthy of being in this land at all and things continue to get worse.

I go to a class on the Torah Portion of the Week on Shabbat. This Shabbat, it was impossible not to say something about what happened in Gush Katif. Rebbetzin Botchko, who gave this week’s class, said that what she has come out of the Gaza expulsion learning is that the Religious Zionists have failed in loving their brethren enough. And perhaps what we need to do is really go out and try to create unity and love among the Jewish people. I’m not sure that is the answer but it wouldn’t hurt.

In light of that post, especially the last few lines, I was struck and moved by this news snippet, from Reuters via Yahoo's news service:

Israel completes evacuation of Gaza settler bloc

Reuters - 1 hour, 22 minutes ago

KATIF, Gaza Strip - Israel completed the evacuation of its main settlement bloc in occupied Gaza on Sunday as settlers set aside confrontation in favor of prayer with troops sent to remove them. Synagogues, bastions of resistance in settlements emptied last week, became gathering points for the peaceful departure of dozens of families from territory Israel captured 38 years ago and which Palestinians want for a state. Israeli troops cleared out the settlements of Atzmona, Katif and Slav on Sunday, the last remaining inhabited settlements in a sprawling cluster in southern Gaza known as Gush Katif.

It both warms and frightens me, the idea of Jewish towns being evacuated, and doing so not just peacefully but by engaging in prayer with the troops. Somehow this 6-line news item encapsulates for me everything that is beautiful and sad about the Gaza pullout. It gives me hope that we'll move forward with love and peace and creativity and our hearts in the right places -- with God and with each other. But it also makes me, for reasons I cannot explain, think of these lines from the prayer services of Yom Kippur, said individually by the cantor (translation by Artscroll):

Here I am, impoverished of deeds, trembling and frightened from the dread of Him Who is enthroned upon the praises of Israel. I have come to stand and supplicate before You for Your people Israel, who have sent me, although I am unworthy and unqualified to do so. Therefore I plead of You, O God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, Hashem, Hashem, God, Compassionate and Gracious, God of Israel, Frightening and Awesome One, grant success to the way upon which I go, standing to plead for mercy upon myself and upon those who sent me . . .

May it be Your will, Hashem, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the great, mighty, and awesome God, [Who calls Himself] "I will be what I will be," that all the angels who bring up my prayers may present my prayer before Your Throne of Glory; may they spread it out before You for the sake of all the righteous, devout, wholesome, and upright people, and for the sake of the glory of Your great and awesome Name. For You hear the prayer of Your people Israel with compassion. Blessed are You, Who hears prayer.

May Hashem answer our prayers for a strong, secure, peaceful State of Israel, and may we become a "light unto the nations" in every way.

Star Wars under the Stars

Last night, Yael took me to an outdoor concert-plus-showing-of-Episode III at the old train station in Jerusalem's Baka neighborhood. For 25 NIS (about $5.50), we got free popcorn, 4 or 5 songs by a pretty terrible "techno pop" group dressed (skimpily) in a combination of mid-80's Madonna and aluminum foil, and a chance to watch the Galactic Empire squash the Jedi like fruit flies.

[Yael, after the movie: WHAT?!? You'd already seen the movie TWICE? I thought you'd seen it ONCE.

Sarah: What, you thought I'd see a Star Wars movie only one time in the theater? Who do you think you are talking to?

Yael: Sarah, you are crazy.

Sarah: Well, I wasn't in the mood to see it a third time, to tell you the truth, but I'm glad we went. It was cool watching Star Wars under the stars. It almost felt like we were there.

What I didn't mention is that when Yael asked if I wanted to go, I said yes partly to make sure that she saw the film. It's part of my strategy for world domination I call "Star Wars kiruv."]

That techno-pop group, by the way, confirmed my theory that with the notable exception of Christina Aguilera (whose voice is truly an exceptional gift, if she'd only use it for good), the more flesh a singer shows the more likely it is that he or she needs to distract the audience from his or her singing abilities, or lack thereof. It also confirmed that I love love love techno/ pop rythms, and I'm not ashamed to admit it!

Oh, also, I got home late and proceeded to tool around on my computer for hours, until I realized at 3:55 that if I take a taxi, I can meet Sara for another 4 am trip to the Western Wall. So I did. Of course, that meant that I got home at 6:30 am, having not slept all night, and sadly slept away the day today, which means I won't sleep tonight . . . . I hate it when that happens!

Please say prayers for Elroi (pronounced El-roe-ee) Rafael ben Galya Glynnis, the 22-year-old Israeli army lieutenant who was seriously injured last week in a friendly-fire incident.
Good News from Israel!

This according to a small snippet on page 12 of Friday's Yediot Acharonot, which I will do my best to translate here:

Windsurfer Gal Friedman, 29, winner of an Olympic gold medal, got married last night to his girlfriend of nine years, Michal Peleg, 25, a student at the Academy of Education and [some word Sarah doesn't understand] in Haifa, and a member of Kibbutz Sedot-Yam. The ceremony took place on the fields of "On the Sea" in Sedot-Yam, and at the conclusion of the Huppah they lit [something Sarah doesn't understand; maybe fireworks?] over the sea. "Eli, Eli, shelo yigamer li-olam," read the Rabbi under the Huppah, as goes the song written by Hannah Senesh, who was a member of the kibbutz . . .

For those who don't know it, the song by Hannah Senesh goes "My Lord, my Lord, I pray that these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters…. the prayers of Man." Very fitting for the sea-side wedding ceremony of a windsurfer and his lovely bride. And of course, there is the well-known coincidence that his name, Gal, means "wave" in Hebrew.

Mazal tov, Gal and Michal! May you enjoy many years of happiness together!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Random Disengagement Thoughts II

1. In an article written for the New York Times today from Gadid, Steven Erlanger and Greg Myre quoted a Gadid resident as saying somethig that I think explains why there is all the hysterical protest against leaving Gaza, and why so many "mainstream" Israelis do not understand it:

Laser Amitai was a policeman here. But he left the force when he decided to remain in Kfar Darom against the wishes of his government. Mr. Amitai lost his wife, Miriam, in a school-bus bombing in November 2000, early in the latest Palestinian intifada, and he is widely respected here.

On Thursday, his brother, Levi, an officer in the Border Police, came to persuade Laser to leave. The two men and their sister sat in the living room, talking quietly, hugging and crying. Laser Amitai said: "This is not about our house. We are here today fighting the battle for Zionism."

What a lot of people do not understand is that the settlers are not weeping and wailing over their houses. If it was just the house, they would probably accept the situation with the same stoicism with which they have dealt with all the other challenges of being settlers in the Gaza Strip.

The issue here, for them, is that by pulling out from Gaza, Israel is making a statement that it is willing to give up geographic power. To religious settlers, it is the twilight of a Messianic dream. To them, having control over more land is the same as having more strength as a nation, and having more national strength is the same as knowing that God is smiling on us. It is the same as being able to tell oneself that we are doing something right, and that the day is imminent when Israel will be secure in an unquestionable way, a way that brings glory not just to Jews but to the name of God. It is the same as being able to tell oneself that pretty soon we Jews won't have to worry any more about anti-Semitism, or terrorism, or Holocausts, or pogroms, that all those things will become distant memories as we move into a peaceful, secure, wondrous future.

That is what they are weeping and wailing over. To them, leaving a piece of Israel in the hands of others is the same as turning their backs on God, or realizing that God has turned His back on us, or both -- or those are the same. It is the beginning of believing that the State of Israel is not necessarily the start of a smooth path to Messianic redemption, but a very human enterprise with very human flaws, which sometimes has to make sacrifices to other very flawed human beings.

When you consider that to the people crying on TV the Gaza settlements were synonymous with Jewish pride and Jewish destiny, it's no wonder they are wailing and clawing and having to be dragged away. If something I equated with Jewish destiny were being ripped out of my hands, I would do exactly the same thing, because that is what Jews who care do. Most of us who live here would. That's why we stay here, sending our kids to the army and knowingly risking being killed or injured in terrorist attacks. Because for most of us, at some point, Israel ceases to be about our homes and begins to be about something much bigger than any of us.


2) It's been an emotional week for everyone here, whether one was pro-disengagment or not. This week, a friend of mine sent a mass email to his friends, at the end of which he compared a certain aspect of the disengagment to the Holocaust. I was enraged and sent him an email telling him so. He very kindly sent out another email to his list, apologizing to anyone he offended.

Well, then the "reply all" messages started coming back, telling him not to allow himself to be silenced, that the disengagement is like the Holocaust, etc etc.

At first, I responded on- and off-list to some of those messages. Until I realized that the Holocaust isn't what this is all about. What was really happening is that we are all very, very upset, and it's easier to argue over whether and how much the disengagement is like the Holocaust than it is to simply address how angry/confused/sad we all are.

(Still, the Holocaust analogies are ridiculous. Don't even get me started!)


3) The House of Joy has gone dark. Literally. It used to be pink. Looks like I'm not the only one who reached the end of my emotional rope yesterday. Please go there and spare a thought for her, even though she has disabled her comments.

The part of her last two posts that hit me the most was the reminder that those young girls who parked themselves in one of the synagogues in Neve Dekalim are not crazy, out-of-control weirdos. They are sweet, sincere, idealistic girls. They are good kids. They are the kids who are usually the most obedient, the most respectful and sweet. They are the girls who, out of everyone around, probably have the most passionate love for the state and people of Israel. So where do they go from here? It all comes back to my questions yesterday about the future of the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) movement.

I hope that out of the pieces of what is left of their dreams for a Greater Israel, they build something that will lead to a truly Greater, albeit geographically smaller, Israel.


4) In contrast to House of Joy, my local grocery store owners, who to me represent the "Israeli on the street," are ecstatic at how smoothly the disengagement has been going. This from people who were staunchly anti-pullout.

Them: We're so happy. It's almost over, and there has hardly been any violence. The army has been phenomenal. We truly are part of a great country. It's all gone so well. Such a kiddush Hashem. [sanctification of God's name]

Me: Um, have we been watching the same news reports? Because 44 security people were hurt, and a bunch of protesters too. They are pouring strange chemicals onto police officers. It's horrible. What are you talking about?

Them: Oh, that's nothing. Nothing serious. We were afraid there would be really serious injuries or that someone would get killed. But look, nothing has happend that has led to an escalation of violence. It's under control! Oh, what a glorious people we are!

I don't know. When did I enter a Twilight Zone in which my anti-disengagement grocery owners are relieved at how it's going, and I, the conflicted one, am still so . . . conflicted?


5) I saw something on Dov Bear that I thought was very wise. Yes, Dov Bear. Wise. I know, hard to believe!

Dov Bear on making an area off-limit to Jews:

though Jews certainly have rights, to Gaza for instance, they also have brains. And sometimes, it's simply not smart to exericse your rights. This is one of those times.

That's part of my attitude toward the wisdom of getting out of Gaza. If you have the right of way and start crossing the street in front of a speeding car, the car will hit you. You'll be right, but you'll be dead.

Sometimes, it's better to be smart than to be right.


6) Is it just me, or has the mourning period known as the Three Weeks, which officially ended last week, been kind of extended this year? I feel like this whole week has been under a post-Tisha B'Av cloud.

Still, Shabbat is coming. Shabbat Nachamu. "Nachamu, nachamu ami," says the prophet. "Be comforted, be comforted, my people." There is so much to think about. So much to feel. But the nechama, the comfort, is there, somewhere.

Shabbat shalom. Shalom. Truly.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Random disengagement thoughts

Last night I couldn't sleep because of the whirl of emotions and conflicting thoughts in my head. So here I am to get some of them off my chest; maybe when they are on the blog, they won't have to live in my heart anymore.

1) Some time today I reached the end of my emotional rope. I didn't go to watch the disengagement on TV tonight, because I can't absorb anymore. It's too painful. I care too much. Instead of checking Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and the New York Times every 15 minutes, I started checking them every hour or two.

2) Then I felt guilty, because if I can't take it anymore, how do the settlers feel? The security forces? Here I feel most specially for the young soldiers, who I'm sure would very much like to go home right now, get a hug from their mothers, and sleep for a week. And I'm also thinking about the people who were evacuated in the last few days and are now living with their kids in a hotel in Ashkelon. They must wake up and look around and feel so sad.

3) On the whole I feel a lot of respect for the people who stayed in their homes to be forcibly removed. That takes guts and real resolve. That is the real deal. I may not share the values/ decisions that led them to make that decision in this particular instance, and in certain cases I saw on TV I have some picky criticisms about the presence/ use of children, but on the main I really respect the strength of their convictions. I can think of a few things important enough to me that, if threatened, would inspire me to do the same thing. For their unshakable resolve combined with lack of violence, I say: Kol hakavod [literally: "all the honor."]

4) I'm so proud of the security forces. Their restraint and sympathy, combined with determination, has been extraordinary. Those are our kids! That's our army! I'm so pained for them, but so proud about how they've been handling it all.

5) If I hear one more analogy between the disengagement and the Holocaust, I'll be ill. The Holocaust has been irrevocably belittled, because this time it was us Jews who did the belittling. I'm so angry about this I hardly know what to do with myself.

6) Lots of thoughts about the future of the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist/Nationalist) movement. It's been a one-issue movement (the settlements) for too long. The question is, now that they've pretty much lost a huge chunk of what they wanted on that one issue, where will they go? Will they (we) (finally) become a movement with relevant things to say on other issues, such as the economy, social welfare, the environment, immigration, etc? Or will it morph into something else, something a little more Dati and a little less Leumi?

And what of all those kids, hundreds (thousands?) of them who have spent the last few days urging soldiers to disobey orders? Within the next few years most of those kids -- the boys, at least, and many of the girls -- will become soldiers themselves. What does this mean for them? For the army?

7) Been doing some thinking about my own opinions on Greater Israel, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. Lots to say. Not tonight.

8) A few days ago I started reading this fascinating blog by a religious (I'm assuming from her picture, perhaps unfairly), female, highly intelligent journalist living in Gaza with her (adorable) little boy. My first thought: She's the flip side of me! She's smart, sassy, doesn't take crap from anyone, has a wry sense of humor, and is fiercely proud of, and loyal to, her people. When her people are wronged, she's really impassioned about it. She really cares, she's religiously affiliated, and she's educated. If she'd been born Jewish, she'd be living in Katamon and praying at Shir Chadash. She is what I would have been if I were Arab, and I am what she would have been if she were Jewish. Spoooooky.

My second thought: I wish she'd write more about how sucky this situation (ie, the conflict with the Palestinians, terrorism, etc) is for Israelis, but then again, how much do Israeli bloggers write about how sucky it is to be a Palestinian right now? Not much.

My third thought: Well, no, really, I wish she'd just throw some kind of bone to the Israelis, you know? Like, when it comes up, I do, actually, in fact, acknowledge that being a Palestinian must really suck right now. It may not be what I focus on, but I do, in fact, care. I wish there was more of that on her blog about us. The closest I've seen is an admission that she is not calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. Gee, thanks. Thanks a lot.

So now I think of her not so much as someone who could be me, if she'd been born Jewish, but rather certain otherwise wonderful acquaintances of mine with whom I never talk politics because as soon as you mention anything at all sympathetic about Joe Palestinian, the automatic response is: Why should I care! They are terrorists! Don't you remember Tali Hatuel? Don't you remember the Dolphinarium? They are animals! I don't care! They can all go to hell! And I'm like "Um, OK . . . how 'bout them Cubs?" In other words, I find her blog exceedingly irritating, but I'm not writing her off. She'll stay on my list of regular reads. Sometimes, it is important to allow oneself to be irritated.

Anyway, the connection to the disengagement: This Gazan blogger is angry because the media is focusing on the Jews who are being driven out of their homes, instead of the actual story, which is, in her opinion, all the Palestinians who have been driven out of their homes over the years. To which I say: yes, they are a story. But they are not "the" story this week. This week, it's the Jewish settlers who are the story. Don't worry, the world will get back to you. Give us our day in the hot, hellish media lights. Right or wrong, it will be your turn again soon enough. Right now the world is transfixed by the sight of a Jewish army acting against Jews. In a couple of weeks they'll have moved on to other things, I can guarantee.

9) I wonder where R. is right now and what kind of orders he's had to give in the last few days.

10) Today I saw a poster which said "Yehudi mekarev Yehudi" (a Jew helps another Jew become closer to God/Torah observance), a play on the ubiquitous "Yehudi lo migaresh Yehudi" (A Jew does not expel a Jew) signs which have been everywhere for the last few months. There was a photo of two men, with their backs to the camer and their arms around each other's shoulders, one wearing a black suit and black velvet yarmulka, and the other wearing no yarmulka, a t-shirt, and jeans. Under the photo was a bunch of verses from the Bible and quotes from famous rabbis about the importance of inspiring one's fellow Jew to keep the commandments; I didn't spend too much time reading the whole thing, but was rather touched by the idea in general. In case you haven't noticed, I'm much, much happier when we're talking about Jewish unity than I am when we're talking about any sort of conflict, with anyone. Of course, I'm sure there are secular Jews who would look at the same poster and say "great, now they are going to try to make us all born-again." But, as a religious person who has lots of non-religious friends whom I accept exactly the way they are, I thought the poster was nice.

That's enough for now. It's 10:18 and my friend Judy just called to wish me a happy birthday. This means she has not been reading my blog. She will kill me for mentioning this. Anyway, she's waiting patiently for me to finish this post. Gotta go.
Happy non-Birthday to Me

Today is my non-birthday! I am not 33 today! I will not officially be 33 for another month! So, I'm only 32 and still single, not 33 and still single! Nothing to talk about! No news, here! Move along, move along!

[sound of me whistling and looking emphatically at the sky]

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Worth looking at if you understand Spanish . . .

. . . which I do not, but enough words are the same in English/Hebrew that even I can see this is a pro-Israel blog. (The blogroll is also a dead giveaway).

Thanks for linking to me, Jose, whoever you are!
The Disengagement and Dim Sum . . .

. . . do not mix!

Since I don't have television service, my neighbor, Nechama, gave me the key to her apartment so I could watch disengagement news on her TV while she's out this evening. Then, Yael called and asked if I want to get together. We decided we'd watch the news at Nechama's place and order in dinner.

So tonight I had the surreal experience of noshing on wonton soup and garlic noodles while watching families being forcibly removed from their homes. Between the MSG and the miserable video, Yael and I are both feeling kinda sick right now.

The most surreal part, though, was when the Israeli news showed clips from Arab, American, and European news stations, showing how they were covering the disengagement. There I am, listening to Palestinian reporters say the same things in Arabic that the Israeli reporters had just said in Hebrew, while trying to negotiate the noodles with my chopsticks.

It's a strange world.
What in the name of God . . . ????

What the hell is going on???

Do I condemn this? You betcha! I don't even have words for how angry this makes me.

What. the. hell ?!?

One of the gratifying things about blogging is discovering that sometimes, people enjoy my posts so much or find something in them so interesting that they post links to my blog posts on their blogs. Then people comment at their blog, or come to mine to comment, and a dialogue ensues, and that is what makes this great big adventure we call the blogosphere so interesting and often fun (or, at the very least, engaging).

Not to name names, but another blog, a group site, recently lifted this post of mine whole hog and re-posted it as their own, photo, caption, and all, verbatim, with no link to Chayyei Sarah. Not even an attribution. Not even something along the lines of "we got this from some other blog, we're not telling you which one, but just know we didn't make this up ourselves." Nothing.

I hate that.

I posted what I think is a polite comment thanking them for the flattering imitation, but could they please post a link or at least attribution? A full day later no change has been made to the post; perhaps they are relying on their readers to read my comment and say "oh, look at that, Chayyei Sarah posted the same exact post several hours before these people did. Thanks, Chayyei!"

Or maybe the bloggers just don't care.

Either way, I acknowledge that if all my problems are like this in the future, I will have a very good life.
How a lot of us feel right now

In Neve Dekalim today.

Photo by Ruth Fremson downloaded from

Monday, August 15, 2005

This picture, which I downloaded from Reuters via, will stay in my mind for a long time. It is a photo of a resident of Nissanit and two Israeli soldiers weeping as the community's synagogue is dismantled. May Hashem cause our strength as a nation to grow in proportion to the pain we feel at this moment. Posted by Picasa
My Upcoming Not-Birthday

As most of you know, I was born on August 18, 1972. In that year, this date corresponded to the 8th day of Elul, which is the date written on my Israeli identity card as my birthday. That last bit irks me, since I was born at night, so technically it was no longer the 8th day of Elul, but the 9th. For most of my life, 9 Elul has been little more than a blip in my consciousness, but when I moved to Israel I considered, like many religious people, celebrating my date of birth in Elul rather than in August. The question of whether to celebrate one's Hebrew or English birthday (or both) is one of many small decisions that people like me weigh upon moving here, and I know that a lot of my friends are often ambivalent about it, sometimes using both birthdays as excuses to go out to dinner.

But I opted, when I made aliyah, to continue celebrating my birthday on August 18 every year. The religious Jew in me understands that the date may not be my "real" birthday; on the Jewish calenar, August 18 is meaningless. But I grew up in America, and I'm used to the English calendar, and I'm accustomed to celebrating the day of my birth on August 18, and so that is what I will continue doing. I am generally no more inclined to change the celebration of my birthday than I was to change my name. I offer no apologies for having grown up in a non-Jewish society and being used to various non-Jewish influences. This is simply who I am.

This year, however, my English birthday will fall not only very far from 9 Elul (we are still in the month of Av, for crying out loud), it will also fall in the middle of the disengagement from Gaza. Normally I post a birthday wish-list on the blog and remind everyone that my birthday is coming, because we all know how much I love gifts, and I am shameless. But this year, it would just be . . . gauche . . . to celebrate my birthday in the middle of the disengagement, when we all can do it just as easily in a month, when my Hebrew birthday will come 'round, and hopefully we'll have settled a bit into our post-disengagement reality, whatever that reality will be.

So, I'm asking my friends, family, and readers to please not offer me birthday greetings (or presents) on August 18 this year, but rather on 9 Elul, which happens to be on September 13. I'm hoping that by then, we'll be in our "new normal," and things like birthdays can go on as always.

(and yes, keep a lookout for my wishlist . . . I wouldn't dream of not posting one . . . . ) :-)

Friday, August 12, 2005

In God's Hands

One thing that has been hard for me in the last few weeks, regarding my thoughts and emotions about the disengagement, has been my feeling of powerlessness. Rarely have I been so keenly aware of how few people see the world the way I do, and how relatively few, feeble means are available to me to effect change in the world.

My trip to the Kotel this morning was, in retrospect, an act of surrender to the powerlessness. In many ways that is what prayer always is, anywhere in the world, an acknowledgement that a Higher Power influences or controls the forces around us . . . but I'm not so good about praying on a regular basis, and find that my concentration and motivation is much stronger at the Western Wall than it ever is at home.

Since moving to Israel I have befriended an incredibly warm, spiritual, intelligent, and inspiring woman named Sara Brownstein, who will probably kill me for publicly lauding her. She and her husband Rich made aliyah around the same time I did, from Los Angeles. I came to know them because I wrote an article for an Israeli paper about Rich's comprehensive (and slightly insane) collection of Portland Trailblazer's memorabilia. After a while they started inviting me for Shabbat meals. (Please note that I became friendly with them after I wrote the article, did not know when writing it that they would invite me, and would be hard pressed to write about them now that we are friends, except under certain extremely specific circumstances.)

Sara Brownstein leaves her house every morning by 4:10 am, Sunday through Friday, to pray at the Kotel, summer, fall, winter, and spring. This morning, what I hope will be the first of many miracles occured, and I got up on time to join her. We drove in the dark to the Old City, and by 4:30 had pulled up chairs by the Wall.

Here is what the Kotel is like at 4:30 am: The sky is dark, but the Wall plaza is lit up by stadium lighting. Approximately 20 women are already there, whispering prayers from their siddurim. The mosque on the Temple Mount is blasting a solemn call for prayer, music that sounds at least 600 years old, and while I know how much many Jews resent the presence of the mosque, I find that the music sets a very appropriate atmosphere for concentration and prayer. Two men in staff t-shirts are on the women's side, sweeping the floor. When they are done, they bring a hose and jet-spray the plaza clean. A few prayer-filled notes which have fluttered down from the wall trail away in the water and are swept up with a few empty water bottles and a soda can. The women shift their chairs in order to avoid getting wet.

At around 4:40, a few women cluster together and say the Morning Blessings out loud, each in turn, so that the others can say "Amen" to each woman's blessings. Most of them are wearing wigs or snoods, and conservative outfits with long sleeves. The sleeves are necessary; it's chilly at the Kotel at 4:40 am.

By 5 o'clock, there are 30 or 40 women at the Wall, and it is harder to get a seat right next to it. The noise level has risen, as the growing crowd of men and women say psalms or the preliminary blessings of the morning service. The number of men is growing rapidly with chassidim, yeshiva students, modern orthodox sets of fathers and sons, American tourists . . . . and the beggars arrive as well. I dig into my wallet a few times and press coins into the hands of elderly women, who wish me a Shabbat Shalom and that all my prayers should be answered. Soon thereafter, another woman in her 50's comes around, but not to beg: she has brought twigs of rosemary and mint leaves, and offers each woman a chance to smell them and say the blessings of "boray aztai bisamim" (He who creates aromatic trees) and "boray asvei bisamim" (He who creates aromatic bushes). She is not seeking payment, only a chance to proliferate blessings of God at 5:20 in the morning. The deep intake of rosemary and mint provides a refreshing pick-me-up.

At 5:30, the sky is turning a slightly lighter blue, and morning prayers formally begin. Most of the women seem able to follow easily, though the acoustics are poor, leading me to believe that many of them attend the 5:30 services often. There is yet more noise, and the women's section is half-full. But at around 5:50, when the Amidah begins, there is not a sound save for the chirping of the birds in the growing morning light and the weeping of one or two women who are shedding tears into the wall . . .

I prayed that whatever happens next week should be for the best, and that if the disengagement happens, it should happen peacefully and in a way that sanctifies Hashem's name.

There is nothing more I feel I, personally, can do. I have shared many opinions on my blog. I have emphasized, here, my wish for national unity and for everyone, Orange and Blue, to live in brotherhood on the Day After. The rest is out of my hands. It's in the hands of the army, the police, the settlers, the protesters . . . but not mine.

In a way, that is a relief.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

First-hand account of last night's prayer vigil at the Western Wall, by my intelligent and holy friend, Simcha (husband of Beth of House of Joy. Get it? House of Joy? Beth . . . Simcha . . . yeah, it took me a long time to catch on to that myself. In the end, Beth had to spell it out for me, and I was like "D'uh!").

The last few days I've been feeling a lot of anxiety and sadness. There's nothing in my own personal life that warrants those feelings; I'm doing my writing thing, working in cafes, enjoying the nice weather, etc. But it's a tough time to be a person who loves Israel, right now. And it's even tougher if you live here. And living in Jerusalem is always intense, especially now. And for me there is the added quandary of, as someone so eloquently put it on the phone last night: "things would be a lot simpler for you if you were unreservedly anti-disengagement."

Ah, yes, the woes of having a nuanced, multi-faceted world outlook.

I feel I owe an explanation of something to my readers. Six months ago, I published this post about my views about disengaging. I thought it was clear, from that post, that I am not "unreservedly" anything. That, indeed, I have lots and lots of reservations, about a great many things.

Then last week, I made the mistake of busting out like Rambo, criticizing the Orange movement for the prominent participation of children (a criticism by which I still stand, though I hear and respect some of the arguments against me). I did not take into account that most people's lives don't revolve around my blog, :-) , and that therefore the post from six months ago just might, maybe, have been forgotten.

So I think some of you assumed, from my posts of last week, that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool member of the Shinui party, or a secret participant in Shalom Achshav, or simply that I don't have any sympathy at all for my fellow Jews. Nothing could be further from the truth. (No offense to Shinui or Shalom Achshav. I'm just saying I haven't made any decisions whatsoever about joining any sort of political party or movement).

The truth -- the whole truth -- is that I have a large, messy jumble of thoughts and feelings about the disengagement. My criticisms about children happened to be the thought at the forefront of my mind when I happened to feel like blogging a few days ago. In other words, it was the most easily elucidated and accessible concept for me as a writer in that moment. I could just as easily have chosen to start with another of my messy, jumbled thoughts -- such as, for example, how bothered I am by the attitudes and actions of the Israeli police; or why I don't think a referendum would necessarily have been a good idea; or how I think that each of the settlers should indeed be given a huge compensation package and, yes, whatever nice beachfront property they want; or how hypocriticial I think it is when anti-disengagement people complain now about Israel "not being a real democracy," when other groups, such as Israeli Arabs, have been complaining about the same stuff for years and the right wing/ dati-leumi community never seemed to care until they/we were the victims -- etc etc etc.

I could have just as easily written about those topics, except that a topic is not "easy" for me until I have some combination of both facts and an internal fire for the idea. Choosing one aspect of the disengagement to write about is, for me, like waiting for a flock of birds to suddenly decide together, inexplicably, that now they are picking up and flying away. I can't explain exactly why I favor some topics over others on a particular day.

The point of all this is: Just because I'm not writing about something, does not mean I am not thinking about it. I've been meaning, for example, to write a post denouncing the murder, by a Jewish Israeli, of four innocent Druzes in Shfaram . . . . but unfortunately have not been able to make the time. It's hard to get to everything. I often feel very bad about all the things I feel I should be writing about, but am not.

I think most of you knew that. But it beares emphasizing that my opinion about one aspect of the disengagement implies absolutely nothing -- nothing -- about my opinion on any other aspect. I would appreciate it if certain commenters would refrain from knee-jerk reactions and read my posts as commentary on stand-alone topics. The temptation to use my comments section as a bulletin board for advertising one's opinions about irrelevant ideas is very understandable . . . but I would appreciate it if people would try to resist it (as most of you do).

When I write that I am "thinly pro-disengagement," I mean that if I were in a position to make decisions about what happens in this country, I think, all things considered, that I'd probably weigh in on the side of disengaging. But . . . . I'm not in a position to make decisions, except insofar as I'll be able to vote in the next election. And therefore, I am free to feel and express all the doubts and misgivings that any thinking, intelligent person would feel about something of controversy and vital importance. This blog is where I do that. If you are looking for black-and-white thinking, I suggest you go elsewhere. If you are open to nuance, stick around. I might have something for you over the next few days. (Or, maybe not. Maybe the flock of birds will decide to blog about something else, like the article in the New York Times announcing that someone invented a mango slicer! I need one of those!)

Alright, I'm off to run errands and then go to the Kotel. Ciao, my readers. This blog would be nothing without you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

How much time is enough time?

I was looking over my original post about the disengagement (see yesterday for the link), and am reminded to blog something I've been wondering about for a while. I'm interested in hearing (respectful) input from others about this.

How much "lead" time is enough for warning Gaza settlers they have to move? How much time is enough time to plan a smooth operation for everyone involved? (Those are two separate questions; the answer to the second, obviously, is "more than Israel allowed for.")

The Israeli Cabinet approved the disengagement less than six months ago. In terms of telling people they have to move, I'm of two minds as to whether this is enough time. On one hand, it took me more than six months just to plan an RV trip for NCSY! Here you have large families, with jobs and school and lives, having to figure out where they will go next - and, in many cases, how they will reconfigure their careers. That's a lot to put on a person with less than six months notice.

On the other hand, it's doable in six months, for most people. When under intense pressure, most people can whip up a new situation for themselves in six months -- it's just that, well, that's a lot of pressure. And, for people whose livelihoods were based in Gaza, there's almost no way to effectively create a new life in that time.

What do you think?

In terms of my second question, I'm of two minds on this also. It's glaringly obvious that there was no way a disengagement would go smoothly with only 6 months notice. There are so many minute decisions to be made, both within Israel and between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that there was just no way. Security questions. Trade questions. Border questions. Compensation to the settlers questions. Where they'll move to questions. Psychological/ social work questions.

No way.

On the other hand, the way things move in this neck of the woods, I can't much blame Israel for deciding to move swiftly, once they decided to move. The more lead time they gave, the more time there would have been for the opposition to grow and grow and become more and more organized, creating even more obstacles and more problems to deal with for them.

I've often compared the disengagement to a traumatic amputation, along the lines of "cutting off the leg to save the heart." In effect, in moving so fast, Israel was saying "Just do it. Do it quickly, before we change our minds."

But no matter how you slice it or try to justify it, the people suffering the most are the families packing up their bags and getting ready to leave their homes in a few days, knowing that shortly thereafter those homes will be razed to the ground. It's a terrible image (it actually kept me up last night, crying), no matter what your politics are.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Somehow, mysteriously, haloscan just decided to let me see the comments on my blog again.

I am agape (though not completely surprised) at the level of animosity in the comments to my last few posts, and disappointed at the number of people who called each other's opinions "crap" and such. That is so sad. I hate it when that happens on my own blog.

And let's not even get started with the fact that one of the first and most heatedly argumentative commenters is my own sister (I love you, Rivka, kissy-kissy from your sissy!)

Still, better a heated written argument on a blog than bullets on the field, that's what I always say (actually, I never said it until just now, but it has quite a nice ring to it, doesn't it?)

To the person who wondered, after a post of mine about a week ago, why I don't give my reasons for being "thinly pro-disengagement," this is it! Because if I got this kind of flack for writing about something as seemingly "something we might agree on" as children's participation in the anti-disengagement movement, imagine how much I'd have to monitor the comments if I actually forayed into talking about why I think disengaging makes sense!

Yeah, I know, if I had more guts I'd just go for broke. But I don't have time to monitor the comments like that, OK? My blog, my decision. On the blog, I'll do what I feel like, when I feel like it. Maybe that will be today, maybe tomorrow, maybe never. I'm busy. I have a Kotel to go to and a country I love very much to worry about. If I ever run for political office I'll be more conscientous about making my opinions more transparent. Meanwhile, I'm just a blogger.

Meanwhile, here's one thing I do have to say against Sharon's decision: Is it just my imagination, or did he (Sharon, that is) never give a strong, public statement about why he thinks disengaging makes sense? I mean, those of us who happen to think it's not a bad idea might have our own opinions about why, but maybe my idea about why is not Sharon's idea about why. It would have been considerate of him to let us know why, and why now, don't you think? Doesn't do much good for national unity if even those of us who are "thinly" behind him don't really know what he's thinking. It makes it much harder to make a case for what he's doing in the face of something tangible like entire communities of our own people being emptied and turned into rubble.

I've been hearing a lot of criticism to the effect that "even those who are pro-disengagement are against how the disengagement is being carried out" and in many ways I agree. Not all ways, but many ways. The Israeli government hasn't been good about hasbara (PR/ "explaining our side") when it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians (or, as some commenters might prefer, "the Arabs living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza" - whatever you want to call them, there they are), and now it's not doing a good job of hasbara when it comes to uprooting beautiful communities full of fellow Jews.

At least with the Palestinian conflict, there is the obvious reasoning that we have terrorists to worry about and deal with. But with the disengagement, much more hasbara is called for, because the big question is why now? If we do not understand why now, then we cannot understand why.

Thanks to Renegade Rebbetzin for remembering and finding my original post about the disengagment (now with update!) Interesting to see which parts of that post still resonate for me, almost 6 months later, and which do not (most of it still does). I never would have bothered to find the URL without her. Thanks, Ren Reb.
Going to the Kotel

I'm planning to go to the Kotel (Western Wall) sometime this week, since it is

a) the Nine Days of mourning and

b) a very worrisome time in the history of the State of Israel.

Not that I need an excuse to go to the Kotel, but you know what I'm saying.

I'm going to pray for the physical and inner peace of the residents of Gaza (and to those of you who would accuse me of being hypocritical in this . . . excuse me, but I'm still a human being, with a heart, no matter how much my political opinions might differ from yours!), and of all the soldiers and policepeople who are embarking on a very traumatic mission. I'll pray that whatever happens, it happens peacefully, and that the people involved emerge from it as psychologically whole as possible, and that we will find ways to stay united as a country.

I'll pray that whatever happens next week is in the best long-term interest of Israel, even if we do not immediately understand how that could be.

I'll also be making personal prayers for myself and others; if you have anything specific you'd like me to pray for on your behalf at the Wall, feel free to send me a private email at chayyeisarah at yahoo dot com.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Why I haven't responded to comments

The last couple of days, I've been able to post blog posts, but Haloscan comments haven't been showing on my computer. Whenever I try to go to the Haloscan site, it tells me "The document contains no data."

I figured it must be a general Haloscan problem, since when I went to other sites that use Haloscan, I couldn't see their comments, either. I thought "Darn, I wrote two posts about a subtansive issue, and no one can leave comments! Stupid, stupid haloscan!"

But now I'm visiting friends and using their computer . . . and lo and behold, there are 20 comments to my first post about children involved in anti-pullout activities.

So, first of all, sorry that I haven't been responding to comments. I wasn't ignoring you all. I simply couldn't see what you'd written.

Second, no, I do not think that having a 5-year-old attend a rally and having a 5-year-old dress up in a suicide bomber costume is the same thing at all. Nor do I think that 15-year-olds who attempt to enter a closed military zone to make a point are the same as 15-year-olds who attempt to infiltrate borders in order to blow up other people.

What I'm saying is that as things heat up, and we've got teenagers burning fires on highways and threatening to kill themselves in a mass suicide attempt, the differences between "their" exploitation of children and "our" exploitation of children is getting smaller and smaller.

Again, I am not saying that there are no differences. I'm saying that having children get involved is very, very problematic and we should be looking hard at ourselves.

Why do you think it is, those of you who are disagreeing with me, that the Yesha Council specifically asked youth to attempt to infiltrate Gaza?

If not because youthful passions are easily manipulated, or because images of the army dragging around 14-year-olds wouldn't create more sympathy for the protesters, then why? Why not encourage adults to do it?

Please notice that nowhere in these particular posts am I making any cases for or against the disengagement itself. Even if we were talking about "the side" I'm on (and really, ultimately, I'm on the side of the Jewish People and the State of Israel; perhaps my opinions about what is best for us differ from yours, but my ultimate loves are the people, the land, the State, and the Torah of the Jews) I'd still have very deep problems with the idea of getting children involved in a heated situation.

Anyhow, Shabbat Shalom to one and all. Thank you for respectfully disagreeing with me, if you do.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

"Using children to do the dirty work . . . "*

Pursuant to my post of yesterday (did I just use the word "pursuant" correctly?), Ha'aretz had an interesting series of reports about last night's march from Ofakim to Gaza, and its aftermath.

Money quote (did I just use that correctly?):

A senior Israel Defense Forces officer told Israel Radio on Thursday morning that the young pullout opponents attempting to enter Gaza illegally were endangering their lives.

An infiltration warning near Nisanit overnight put all IDF forces in the area on high alert. Troops were called to the scene and, just before they opened fire, it became clear the infiltrators were pullout opponents and not Palestinian gunmen.

Colonel Yossi Morali, commander of the IDF's northern Gaza brigade, told the radio he fears a disaster. He noted this was not the first incident of its kind. Morali said some of the infiltrators arrested in Nisanit overnight were 10- and 11-year-old children who did not understand what was going on. One of the children collapsed during the events.

I rest my case.

* I lifted that phrase from Allison.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Blessed be the children: Tough questions for tough times

For many years, the world-wide Jewish community has been using the youth of suicide bombers and other Palestinian "militants" to make a negative point about Palestinian culture.

"What kind of sickness is rotting them," we ask, "if instead of teaching their children to become productive members of society, they teach their kids that if they don't attain their political aims, that if they must grow up without their own state, that it is better not to grow up at all?"

Since the start of the anti-disengagement movement, I've been uneasy about the preponderance of young people -- teenagers and even children -- who have been involved in anti-pullout activities, including the peaceful ones.

First there were the teenagers who helped to block roads. My friends (many of whom have very small children) and I wondered out loud: If we had a child of 15, 16, 17 years, would we allow them to go and block roads as part of a civil disobedience movement?

On one hand, isn't it important for teens to be aware of their political environment? Is it not important to teach children to get involved in their world, to stand up for their convictions?

On the other hand, how many of these kids truly understand all the issues? How many do what they do because they really get it, and how many get involved to be with their friends or because they have picked up a fiery, though not-well-substantiated, passion from their parents and teachers? How many might become more left-leaning later in life (as I did myself) when they come to have a more nuanced view of their geopolitical environment? Does any of that matter, if they are doing now what they believe to be correct, for whatever reason?

What is more important, to teach our kids to get involved, or to teach them not to break laws, not to try to get arrested? (During that time I spent Shabbat with a family who had teens, and the kids were talking about their friends' efforts to get arrested.)

Then came the day, during the road blocking era, that I saw a group of kids and what seemed to be their teacher or one of their parents, burning a tire and other trash just over the curb at a busy intersection -- that is, they were burning it on the street, just inches away from where cars were stopping for red lights.

This was really dangerous and marked a turning point for me. It was the first time I thought "the Israeli adults are using the kids." It's one thing for 13-year-olds to stand by the side of a highway handing out orange ribbons and a smile. It's another thing to mix cars and lapping flames.

Then started the waves of people moving into Gaza, before Gaza became a restricted military zone. It was unclear what would happen to those people or how violent their situation might become. (In hindsight, it's been non-violent so far, but there was no way to know that then . . . and we're not done yet, either.) A friend told me that her neighbors, whom I have met on many occassions, had moved with their small children to Gush Katif and were living there in a tent.

I asked my friend what she thinks about the idea of bringing small children into a potentially traumatic situation, and she sighed and said "I don't know. I don't know."

There were the pictures that made international news, of Israeli soldiers packing West Bank settlers, who had entered Gaza, onto buses to send them home, and the kerchief-clad mother with an adorable red-headed child, sadly looking out of a bus window as she was forced to leave.

Excellent PR for the protesters, I thought. The world is seeing that the IDF is pushing around mothers and babies. Jewish mothers and babies.

But what kind of mother brings her baby into a situation that will, by definition, almost certainly involve soldiers?

Lehavdil (that is, I'm not making a direct comparison), when a Palestinian child is shot by the IDF, we blame the terrorists. We say "it's not our fault. That is what happens when terrorists hide behind children. The children get shot sometimes."

If that is the case . . . if bringing children into a potentially violent or otherwise traumatic situation indicates negligence of the children . . . then why are there so many children involved in the anti-disengagement movement? The movement so far has been relatively peaceful (for which I sincerely applaud its leaders), but everyone knows it takes only a few crazy people and some guns to turn a peaceful rally into a riot.

If, God forbid, any children get hurt in Ofakim tonight, or at any time during the Gaza pullout, whose fault will it be? That of the IDF? or of the parents who didn't tell their under-age children to stay home and do their homework? Any Israeli who says the former while blaming Palestinians for the deaths of their own kids is being a hypocrite.

Today I read this, for me the last straw. Teenage residents of Gaza threatening to drown themselves if they are evacuated.

What disease is rotting our culture if teens are allowed to believe that if they can't live in the part of Israel of their choice, that if they will be forced to grow up in some other area of Israel, that it is better not to grow up at all?

If we want to continue seeing ourselves as "better" than our Palestinian neighbors, this blatant using of, and in some cases psychological negligence or abuse of, our young people must stop. I would like to believe that if my kid were threatening to kill himself -- possibly because he sees that I, too, am extremely depressed -- that I would pull myself together fast and remove my family from the situation before it was too late. The question of leaving Gaza is extremely important, and the Jews who live there are undergoing a traumatic and crucial period of their lives. But is Gaza more important than the lives of our children?

If so, can we then blame the Palestinians for believing that a state of their own is more important than their children, or our children?

In a democratic society, the adults should be free to express themselves and fight non-violently for their convictions. But before getting kids involved, we adults should ask ourselves: What messages are the kids really getting? What are we really teaching them?

[Update: for those of you who have arrived at this post by following a link from another blog . . . welcome! And, please note that the next two posts on my blog are also on the topic of children and the disengagement. Please read those next two posts before commenting, especially if you were about to write a comment to the effect that I'm a horrible, self-hating, uber-liberal terrorist-lover. Thanks!]
Ofakim on my mind

I'm fascinated by the drama that will play out tonight.

Last night, between 25,000 and 50,000 (depending on whom you ask) people rallied in Sderot against the disengagement. If you look on a map, Sderot is sort of just to the north-east of Gaza.

Many of those people then travelled to Ofakim, more directly to the east of Gaza, and camped there last night. A friend who went to the rally with her family, and whose husband plans to return to Ofakim tonight, told me that a lot of people are sort of coming in and out of the Ofakim group, balancing their protest activities with other responsibilities like work and family, while maintaining a steady stream of activity.

Tonight, the plan is for thousands of people to rally in Ofakim at 6:30 pm and then march to Gaza in an attempt to infiltrate the closed military zone. Their goal is to flood the Jewish settlements there with so many people that evacuating them in less than 2 weeks will become impossible.

The police and army, of course, have vowed not to allow anyone to infiltrate.

But after the protest 2 weeks ago at Kfar Maimon, the IDF admitted that it cannot "hermetically seal" the Gaza Strip.

So the big question for tonight is: Will the protesters get in? How many? Will there be fighting?

Thought for the day: If the Israeli security forces fail tonight in controlling the law-defying efforts of relatively mainstream, self-avowedly non-violent right-wing protesters . . . then how much weight will our complaints carry, when we blame the PA for not controlling the terrorists?

I am not equating right-wing protesters to terrorists, God forbid! I'm saying that if Israel can't even uphold its own laws against the forces of civil disobedience, then it won't mean much when we hold the PA responsible for not controlling terrorists, who presumably are much more driven to carry out their plans. Terrorists, for example, don't hold meetings with the police to work out agreements ahead of time about how many people will be involved in their schemes or the routes of their travels, as the organizers of this week's anti-disengagement protests did.

On the other hand . . . . maybe this goes to show why civil disobedience works better than terrorism. A normal goverment can and should be much harder pressed to take violent action against peaceful, though law-breaking, protesters. One could reasonably expect the PA to wield a much stronger hand against murderers than the Israeli government is against people attempting to sneak into Gush Katif and pitch tents in solidarity with their countrymen.

On the other hand . . . they are breaking the law, in a stated attempt to thwart a government action for which the entire world is waiting.

Things that make you go hm.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005