Some Reflections

I have not written for a while.  Ten days in New York meeting my new grandchild and spending time with my daughter and son-in law were wonderful, but somehow it did not lend itself to any writing.  Getting any work done was a challenge, beyond what I needed to do for a few projects that were very time sensitive.  Writing did not seem to be possible.  I wrote a first version of my Yom Kippur article for Newsweek on my plane home, since I figured that it would be very similar to previous Yom Kippurs.  However, the first thing I had to do once I ate, on Wednesday night was to rewrite the article.

Being a grandfather for the first time is transformative, but frankly ifI am honest not nearly as transformative as having children for the first time.  I must say however when I looked at my grandchild Liam Zeev I could not help but wonder. what sort of world he would be living in. Will it be one filled with wonders and advances or one filled with disasters, natural and human.  I spoke at my daughter synagogue ( the one I grew up in ) Anshe Sholom on Sunday before I left.  I spoke  about our future here in Israel and reflected that I know    have to worry what will occur when its time for my grandchild  to go into the army.  . I hope to have a video of the speech on You Tube soon.

Today is a sad day.  This morning Moti Kirschenbaum died.  He was one of the most distinguished Israeli newscaster.  While I had watched him at times in the past, it has been in his last incarnation as the co-host of London and Kirschenbaum that I have watched religiously for many years.  In the United States I paid to receive Israeli news by satellite just for that purpose.  Yesterday I watch him host his show- this morning he was dead.

Motti Kirschenbaum
Motti Kirschenbaum

Meanwhile the news keeps coming-

Impressions of Moscow- Encounters with Two Charedi Young Men

I am writing this on the second leg of my flight from Tel Aviv to New York, via Moscow on Aeroflot .  This is the first time in 40 years that I have been to Moscow or flown Aeroflot . Boy have thing changed.  On my last Aeroflot flight the woman next to me pulled out an umbrellas before tale off, I looked at her strangely, and she said with her eyes you will see.  Sure enough as the plane accelerated for takeoff water started coming down from the ceiling.  Today Aeroflot flies a fleet of modern Boeing and Airbus aircraft .Their crew is friendly and helpful and the inflight entertainment good. Not so sure about the food, I ordered vegetarian as is my habit and received the exact same food for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, it was not bad but.. As an minor airplane buff, it is really nice to see they are doing what one of the U.S. Airlines proposed to do in the 70’s give the passengers a live feed from the nose of the plane during takeoff and landing.  The U.S. Airline concluded that it would scare the passengers, I guess Russians are made of stronger stuff.

I spent the night in Moscow with Russian friends.  Having been there in 1975 in the waning years of Communism, all I can say is how much it has changed.  One of my strongest memories of that visit was the lines that seemed to form in stores when something was available.  Today there are stores, many high end everywhere.  The people especially the women are all smartly dressed, and based on stickers on bags and in other places seem proud to be Russian.  Putin remains very popular.

In the Moscow Subway
In the Moscow Subway

Physically one can’t help by being struck by the how large the city is, and how every is built big.  In a matter of a couple of hours we traveled by train, subway cab and foot and covered vast areas of the city, which is full of old and new buildings, including a completely new downtown full of skyscrapers.  At 1 am in the morning as the evening came to an end, I found myself having a snack with my hosts and sharing a brandy, discussing the nature of man and life, somehow that seemed so very Russian.

On the first leg of the flight from Tel Aviv to Moscow the plane was full of charedim(ultra Orthodox Jews).  Most were on the way to Uma in Ukraine to celebrate Rosh Hashannah, at the grave of Rabbi Nachmun.  Sitting in next to me in the plane was a young boy he looked 12 but was actually 15, he seemed bright and engaging, so after helping navigate his receiving kosher food, I decided to engage him in a little conversation about his beliefs.  That discussion began with whether or not he could drink “unkosher” coffee.  While some of the discussion was expected, only the Jews have survived through the centuries, as well as his lack of knowledge even about his own community-he had no idea that the Haredi communities are only a few hundred years old, one thing he said was downright unsettling.  He said he was taught by his Rabbis that the holocaust was a miracle brought about by God to stop assimilation.  He said the holocaust had forced Jews to be Jews and thus it was a miracle.  When I asked him how could any miracle include the death of 1,000,000 children he was of course speechless.  He was surprised when I told him that the holocaust did not stop assimilation and told him what the inter marriage rates are in the U.S. Today.  When I told him that yes, he was right that the intermarriage rates were high in Germany before the war, but it was not high where most of the victims lived he asked me for the percentages.  It’s clear why the Haredi world fight so hard to keep knowledge out of the hands of their young, for what they are taught is so full of lies and inaccuracies that it is clear that a little real knowledge would seriously upset their society.  Somebody need to make it their mission to get that knowledge to these kids.

One final note on the last leg of the flight I  had a half an hour discussion with a Habadnik, who was going through the plane asking people if they were Jewish and then asking them to put on Tefillim.  As opposed to my normal discussion on the importance of the mitzvah of Tefillim vs other things, this discussion was center around the question of the appropriateness of asking the question are you Jewish on Aeroflot plane going from Moscow to New York as opposed to on the streets.  I tried to explain to the young man that going around on a plane asking if you are Jewish has a great deal of historic baggage, that interfering with the privacy of people on a plane was not an acceptable behavior. I was helped by an orthodox passenger who seemed to be a supporter of habad, but close to my age and had more wisdom then the young man.  We may have convinced him to instead of asking are you Jewish, to ask do you want to put on Tefillim? Stopping him seems to high a mountain to climb.

Some Days It’s Embarrassing Being an Israeli

I was going to write this yesterday, but yesterday I became a grandfather for the first time, so on that happy day, I could not get myself to write the downer that is to follow.

While I certainly have never been a great supporter of our Prime Minister yesterday I felt embarrassed to be an Israeli.  Opposition leader Herzog yesterday suggested Israel accept a number of the refugees from Syria, the idea seems a little problematic considering the bad job we have been doing with the African refugees that we already have. On the other hand its cleary the right thing to do, both morally if not just for the PR.  However our Prime Minister who is totally tone death (except maybe to the rhetoric his supporters like hearing) rejected the idea of accepting any refugees and instead told the Europeans that if the had followed our example of building high fences they would not have this problem. He said we are a small country with no strategic depth and thus could not take any refugees. Our defense minister not to be out done said no one should try to teach us morality, we helped enough.

When it comes to reality I thinks it would be ridiculous for us to try to take any of the refugees before we find a solution to the 50,000 Africans who are here.  Something I think we are morally obligated to do, and if our PM would say that at the moment we wish we could be we are working hard to absorb the African who came- Ok- but to once again to say we are a small country with no land depth who cannot- is really hard to hear.  I am sure the Swiss thought the same thing when they turned away Jews, at their gates. Last week I wrote an article about the lessons of the holocaust and how the left and right seem to have learned very different lessons, the events of this week only strengthen those differences.  How can we continue to blame the world for indifference for our plight when, when the tables have turned we are just as bad.

We cannot keep up this schizophrenic attitude towards the world, on one hand be proud of the fact that we have highest number of start ups, that Tel Aviv is considered by many as the best city in the world  for ex pats, that we are a member of the OECD, and then on the other play the poor embattled country who cannot help, cannot even abide by its responsibility under international law, law that we helped draft , to help refugees.

A final thought as we near the period of the Jewish High Holidays.  Where are the Rabbis? Once again, the Orthodox ones those who are in control of religious life in this country continue  to show how morally bankrupt they are.  They worry about whether people can rent bicycles on Shabbat, but are indifferent to the suffering of others in the world.  They are concerned how many Yeshiva students are studying Talmud every day, but are unconcerned for others in the world.   It is the Catholic pope who speaks out demanding that his flock care for the refugees.   A Palestinian who I follow on Twitter  Iuyad El-Baghadad retweeted the tweet of MJ Rosenberg – “Strange being a Jew right now. The Pope & the Germans are moral exemplars & Israel is the opposite. Times change.”

I hope that by the time my one  day old grandson grows up we once again have leader in this country  who he will be proud to call his leaders.


Obama Secures Votes, Picture of Palestinian Kid and Refugees in Europe

So today the inevitable occurred, President Obama received support from the 34th  Senator for the Iran agreement. There is now no way to override a Presidential veto, and the only open question is whether there will be enough votes to even pass the resolution of disapproval.   The result was predictable from the start and anyone who has been reading me these past months know that is what I predicted.  To this day I do not understand why either Netanyahu or much of the organized Jewish community walked into near certain defeat.  Leaving aside the details of the agreement which are mixed, you do not take on a sitting President in foreign affairs unless your survival is at stake, and despite what some critics argue that is truly not the case here.  Like everything else in the Jewish community no one either here, or in the US will take responsibility for the failure and resign.

It is now time to pick up the pieces and try to repair what is left of what use to be a bipartisan relationship.  That will be very hard to do.  Many bridges have been burned and in my opinion it will be hard to rebuild the consensus on Israel.  The  events of the last two months have like I predicted strengthened J Street and hurt AIPAC, something that many will be happy about, but it worries me.

A few other thoughts, first about the famous picture about of the Palestinian boy who was throwing rocks and a soldier tried to stop.  There have been a number of good pieces written on the event especially by Asher Pfeiffer and by Ben Caspit, but I want to add  a personal reflection.  It was 40 years ago in November, that I was sent as a basic trainee to guard Joseph Tomb outside Shechem or Nabulas.  Back then the territories were not considered as dangerous, since we had been in basic training a mere 2 weeks and were certainly not prepared.  But I can still remember 40 years ago Palestinian kids throwing rocks at us, we just ducked since there was little we could do, the really sad part, I was a young man then I certainly am no longer, those same kids are certainly grown men with kids and maybe grandkids, and yet the cycle continues.


One last thought and that is toward Europe and the refugees.  Europe is facing one of its greatest crisis.  On one hand after World War II strict laws are in place that effectively force Europe to accept the refugees, and there can be no question under international law that the current wave is indeed refugees.  On the other Europe is already feeling overwhelmed with its transplanted Muslim population, a population that has among other phenomena brought back anti-Semitism to Europe.  Its a no win and everyone is paying the price for allowing Syria and Iraq to come apart.  Below is my weekly radio show appearance mostly devoted to that topic.


African Refugees in Tel Aviv