Monday, March 21, 2016

One Nation, One Heart

             I've been posting a lot of Jewish pride stuff lately. I've been trying to rally the troops and show my fellow Jews and Israel-supporters that all will be well, as long as we support one another. And while the feedback has been good, I know it's been a bit of a downer lately. So I am so excited to tell you about the weekend I just had. It was one of those weekends where happiness and Jewish pride and good weather and national unity oozed out of every minute! Two events in specific were so awesome and impactful, I wanted to shout them out.

             Friday was the Jerusalem Marathon (and half marathon, 10k and 5k.) To be fair, I was in Israel for last year's marathon as well, and fully slept through the whole thing- no shame. This year, I had a few friends running it and I felt invested since I worked on preparations for the SHALVA team; I decided to get my lazy tush up at 7 AM on a Friday (equivalent to a New York Sunday) and cheer the runners on. This is the part where I mention that, once upon a time, I ran a half marathon, and have no interest in revisiting that physically excruciating time just yet.
My half-marathon 2 years ago (7th time posting)

             Back to my athletically inclined friends! I had a few running the Half, so my friend Ahuva informed me that she would be passing Azza Street in about 20 minutes. Can we just say that considering the glacial pace I made it to Azza from my apartment, it was an excellent choice not to run myself. I get to the location, coffee in hand in a Starbucks mug (relevance of this fact to follow) and parked myself next to an Israeli lady, and American yeshiva boy and 4 disgruntled policemen (relevance of this fact to follow, as well.) I was situated at the bottom of one hill, close to another decline and not far from the end of the race. I felt it was my duty to get the runners to the end with a smile on their faces! As runners of all ages and types came down the hill, I "whooooo!"ed and "Go,go,go!"ed til I was hoarse. Some ignored me, some high- fived me, most smiled. A few asked where there was a nearby Starbucks and looked punched in the gut when I said there was none (cheerleader fail.) The disgruntled cops who basically had a few old Israeli ladies and an excitable American (me) to deal with set about turning our corner into a crime-scene- worthy area of tape and barriers. Seriously, guys, let me "Whoo" in peace. I saw Ahuva running down and LOST IT. Then, she tried to make me run with her and luckily noticed that I was wearing boots and a leather jacket- the perfect "I'm retired from running" ensemble. After she passed and it was clear I must have missed my other friend, Mandy, I decided to go to the finish line and congratulate the athletic citizens of Jerusalem.

           The finish line was awesome. There were tents for the different charities people were raising money for (because what is a race without attaching a mitzvah, right?) and free Zumba classes. There was food and drink and the finish line for those awesome (insane) full-marathoners. I even met the winner of the entire race, fresh outta Kenya!

           But what was the best part of the whole day? The feeling of pride and unity that was almost physically palpable as you walked around the streets. This wasn't a marathon where people ignored the runners or just came to cheer their friends and family. Because everyone cheered for all the runners- everyone was your friends and family! It was a feeling unlike any other I've experienced at any race and I truly hope to make this a yearly things (and maybe even run it at some point but NO PROMISES.)
How do you beat these views?
            To keep this vibe going, I decided to go to a shabbat potluck lunch the next day. It was an event called SHUKSHABBAT and it was so outside of my comfort zone, I was slightly petrified. In Jerusalem there is a strong spiritual/hippie-style community in an area called Nachlaot. This community is lovely, happy, friendly and...not where I generally hang. That said, I asked my friend Brian to join me and wingman me in this new territory. The details were hazy: come at this time to this place and bring stuff for a potluck. Cool- what stuff? What people? Will there be plates? What if everyone brings cups and ketchup? What if there are no cups? What if it rains? Should We bring enough for everyone? Cool- how many people are coming?

                 Now, if you're a hippie, you will realize that all of these questions out me immediately as a non-hippie. Everyone who "belonged" there probably thought "cool. I'm in. I'll bring my tehini and my harem pants." Meanwhile I packed cutlery, a blanket, cups, napkins, snacks, wine and cookies. I wanted to a) not starve b) be able to share c) not sit on bird poop and d) not eat with my hands. You can take the girl out of NYC....

               So we get there early (because hippies don't give a flip about time) and wait for the kiddush food...and wait....and wait...and then start drinking wine. Because if I'm gonna get on their level, I'm gonna need wine. But then something incredible happened. Everything is set up and we're all sitting on the floor, meeting new people from all over the world who have settled in Jerusalem for a week, a year, for life. A guy gets up to make kiddush, and let's just say- he should be the representative of this event. Resplendent totally in white- tallit, kippa and overalls, with flowing, waist-length dreadlocks, he gave a beautiful extended rendition of kiddush while we all listened (and some of us floated) before we sat down to eat. The meal was truly a "yours is mine is ours" mentality. Here, take my hummus and try my guacamole! Do you have any challa left? Can I have some strawberries? Let's make a l'chaim on my wine! (Until that ran out, too too soon.) It was the most peaceful, unified crowd I've yet seen in this city. Girls in flowing dresses or leggings, guys in jeans or black hats, dancing and singing together- sharing their own stories and stories from the Torah portion. Set up in the corner was a small Torah scroll, so we could all join in the mitzvah of hearing Parshat Zachor in case we missed it that morning.

                  I don't know what the total amount of attendees was, but it was in the hundreds. I don't know if it was the gorgeous weather, the friendship chocolate an older hippie lady gave me, or the copious wine and non-copious water I drank, but I have never felt so unified with my fellow Jews in my life. I thought, "Hey! Maybe this hippie life is for me!." Now, I don't actually think that's true, I think it doesn't really jibe with my type-A, NYC, tiny bit Jappy personality but I will say that I enjoyed every minute and would jump at the chance to experience that pure joy and peoplehood again. I realized that this event could never happen anywhere else in the world, not in the Jewiest town in the diaspora. There will never be another city where the train tracks don't run on Saturday, where hundreds of people show up with food and wine and songs- ready to share with strangers who will soon be friends- all in the name of Shabbat.

                     So blessed to be here, and hoping that you all join me for a weekend in Jerusalem soon!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

It is Better to be Feared Than Loved

          "...if you can't be both." Is Machiavelli correct here? Take yourself as an example- would you prefer to be feared by someone, if them loving you was off the table? Now substitute yourself with Israel and substitute "respected" for "feared." I've been thinking about this for a few months now (or maybe even years, if I'm being honest) and I wonder "Isn't it better for Israel to be respected for our strength if we know the world won't ever love us for our goodness?"
         Well, depends who you ask. The Left of Israel would answer "no." It is better to keep trying, keep giving, keep imploring and keep hope alive that "killing them with kindness" will finally bear fruit. Yes, boycott the "settlements"! Yes, re-open talks with Abbas! Yes, keep begging the US and Europe to intervene and stop our fascistic government from ruining our standing in their world's eyes. On the extreme Left, there was even a representative from Peace Now (emphasis on the absurdity of their nomenclature added) who blamed a victim of terrorism for daring to avoid more terrorism by killing his attacker! While this is an extreme case and most of the Israeli Left no doubt thinks this Peace Now loon is crazy too, there is definitely a vocal camp who would much rather Israel keep fighting for the world's love than seek the world's respect through strength. They truly believe that if the world only saw our humanitarian aid, our unparalleled commitment to democracy, our liberalism, our medical and technological contributions, the incredible lengths we would go to secure peace- we will surely earn the love. Can you guess where I stand?
          Correct! I see this charm offensive as great, but ultimately doomed to fail. As an analogy- a guy is in love with a girl who disdains but tolerates his existence. So he compliments her, writes her love notes, buys her presents- full-court charm offensive. Does she fall for him? Possibly. But more likely, she takes all that he gives her and still can't stand him. If perhaps she is neutral toward this Romeo, he has a shot. But I don't see the world as neutral toward Israel. I see a world where the Middle East abhors us, Europe can't stand us and North America is steadily becoming more hostile and less patient with "the cause of instability in the Middle East." (Who, me?) Call me a pessimist (go ahead, most people do) but I see myself as a realist and a true believer in the cyclical nature of history. To follow me on this thought process, we need to use "Israel" and "Jews" interchangeably. Some of you won't want to. You will hold fast to the delusion that we are 2 separate entities and if only Israel didn't exist we Jews would all be frolicking in the world's warm embrace. To this, I turn your attention to Sweden, France, Uruguay, etc, etc, etc where Jews are being targeted for wearing Yarmulkes, not Israeli flags. So if you can suspend your belief that it's just an Israel thing, we can continue.
           Throughout Jewish history, Jews have been hated. We are too rich and too poor. We hold ourselves separate and we assimilate. We are too smart and too ignorant. We control the media and the banks, we caused 9/11 (because no Jews were killed that day) and we started ISIS. We brought the Black Plague to Europe and we caused Germany's financial problems at the turn of the 20th century. We have become occupiers and we are the new Nazis. We have gone from the victims of a genocide to the progenitors of a new one. We are everything that is wrong in this world.
            This might have been really hard for you to read, it made me a bit ill to write it. But this is who have been seen as a nation, and anti-Semitism is an irrational hatred that has no cause, it just is and always has been. This kind of hatred will never result in the world's love. This type of hatred causes Jews killed in terrorism in Israel to be greeted with headlines like "3 Palestinians killed by IDF Forces." It causes hummus to come with stickers that say "This company participates in apartheid." It causes Jews to be disinvited from international sporting events, and rallies with cries of "Back to the ovens!" and countless swastikas to be scrawled on Jewish homes from Montreal to NYC to Antwerp. This is not a world that is ever going to love us, no matter what we do.
            So what can we work towards? Respect. Let's look to the times when Jews, (and by extension Israel) were most respected. It was after our victory in the 6- Day War, when we showed the world we could defend our country defensively from essentially the rest of the Middle East. It was when the Maccabis won a decisive victory of the small against the large and the weak against the strong. It was after the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the partisans in the forest. It was when the Jews of Persia defended themselves against certain annihilation in the story of Purim (which is coming up soon!) It is in all the stories of heroism, when Jews fight back against their aggressors (with selfie sticks, guitars, or the terrorist's own knife!) It is when Israel worries about the safety of it's citizens and Jews around the world, without worrying so much about the world's love. It's when we show our strength, our might and our fortitude- when we refuse to be victims.
           So me? I will continue to advocate for the world's respect- not through unprovoked violence or war, but through a brave army, a responsibly armed populace and whatever other measures are necessary to keep us all safe and strong. Because that love we all want from the rest of the world? In my opinion, it's not coming. And I'm okay with that. 
Am Yisrael Chai- The Nation of Israel Lives.
The streets wear our pride