Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

There Exists vs. For All – Math and Racism

I make generalizations by accident sometimes. I think everyone does. It’s just a habit we have of not being accurate when talking about other people.

One of the most basic principles of mathematics – logic, specifically – is the difference between “there exists” and “for all/every.” For example,

1. There exists a solution to the equation x+2=5

2. Every natural number is either even or odd.

The first statement tells us that something exists – but we only know of one number with that property. It would be silly to say that every number solves the equation. The second statement tells us something about all the natural numbers in the world – that even if we go on to infinity, we will never find a number which is neither even nor odd, or both at the same time.

I understand that logic theory is not a perfect analogy for our world since there is little room for grey areas. However, it still has a lot to teach us about our environment and society. The idea of political correctness is all about defining our statements in a more exact way. Often in everyday life we confuse “there exists” with “every,” and I want to argue that this miscalculation leads us to racism.

Here are some examples:

1. All Israelis are racist
2. All Arabs are terrorists
3. All Americans are rich (we have a big problem with that one here)
4. All Ethiopians are illiterate

All of These statements are wrong.

The four statements above are sentences which people have said to me. As sad as it is, I’m not making these up out of my own head. Let’s take a moment and look at some other ways to write the above statements

1. “There exist Israelis which are not racist.” (logical inverse) This is already a much more accurate statement, because we know there are Israelis which are not racist. Instead of saying “all” we should have said “there exist.” On the other hand, saying “There exist Israelis which are racist” gives the most accurate, much more intelligent sounding and much less judgmental statement, and it says the same thing as the original one: There’s racism in Israel, and I think it’s not cool.

2. “There exist Arabs which are not terrorists.” This one should be modified even further to the statement “There exist terrorists which are Arabs.” It’s deeper than “Not all Arabs are terrorists” – being a terrorist has nothing to do with being Arab! There are also terrorists which are Japanese and American. It’s terrible but it doesn’t mean that if you are American you have an increased chance of becoming a terrorist.

3. “There exist Americans that are not rich.” Sadly, most of the way Israelis are exposed to American culture is through television (similar to how Americans mostly see Israeli society through CNN). They watch shows like How I Met Your Mother, Glee and (God forbid) the Disney channel, and let’s face it – there’s not a lot of poverty on TV. It’s easy to look around and see that some people walked here from Ethiopia with the shirt on their back while Americans mostly take a 12 hour flight with two suitcases each. Regardless, the statement should still be “There exist Americans that are rich.” Because we know nothing about how many will be rich once we get infinity of them.

4.

“There exist Ethiopians that can read.” I sincerely thought we were done discriminating based on skin color, but it turns out the problem is still deep within us. Lots of people immigrate to Israel from Ethiopia, and just as with any group of new immigrants, the people who already live here find them strange, different, and “uneducated,” which just means they are culturally different. The statement is false because there are enough Ethiopians who are literate that if you meet one, it is wrong to assume they aren’t. Some have grown up here, served in the IDF and attended universities. Frankly, making a generalization based on skin color makes you look like the one who’s illiterate.

Everywhere we go there are people who are afraid of someone who’s different. But even that statement only implies the existence of two of these people. It is crucial to be exact when we speak of others, not to confuse “alls” with “exists” because we don’t have the ability to know what goes on when there is an infinite amount of people. Only then will it be perfectly okay to say “All.”

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

The Right To Bear Arms and The Right To Be Protected Against Them

I get off the bus at the university, and three things happen: I’m asked for ID, my bag is searched and I walk through a metal detector. Every single day. When I go to the mall, the same routine. When I eat out, a security guard sits outside the restaurant. When I was in elementary school three teachers had guns with them all the time. Because we’re not allowed to bring guns into public spaces. Here in Israel, we know people want to kill us. For that reason we take extreme security measures to prevent them from doing so.

When I was ten years old visiting my grandmother in the States, I went to see a movie with a friend of mine. When we got to the door of the mall I did a double-take. “What did you expect? Metal detectors?” he asked. I did.

My family moved to Israel in 1998 leaving all of our extended family behind. I remember once asking my uncle why they didn’t come visit us, and his response being that it was not safe in Israel. This struck me as odd, because I feel much safer in Israel than I ever do in the United States. Sometimes I think this might just be because I feel at home in Israel, but maybe there’s something to it. Maybe I feel safe in Israel because I’m surrounded by soldiers and security guards all the time.

In Jodi Picoult’s book Ninteen Minutes, one of the characters recalls going to pick up her daughter in school and noticing that nobody asked who she was or what she was doing there. It makes you wonder, what if someone had?

I wonder about the man who fired shots at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. What if someone had asked him for ID, or checked his bag, or made him walk through a metal detector? If he were not allowed to bring a gun into the school, he would have had to plan much longer, increasing his chances of being stopped. Imagine if the school had an armed security guard. You might argue that someone who has made up his mind to commit this kind of act can not be stopped by any amount of security. We may not be able to stop someone from acquiring a gun. We may not be able to stop him from shooting. But we might be able to stop him from killing 20 children.

You can talk all you want about the right to bear arms, but we can’t ignore that fact there are dangers that come with it. We might be able to save more lives if we stop being naïve about the fact that that people use guns to kill.

Posted in Living in Israel

Do You Speak My Language?

Have you ever been in a room where the majority of people are speaking a language you don’t understand? Most of us have encountered situations where we can’t follow the conversation, whether it is being held in a foreign language or because the topic is unfamiliar to us. Either way, I think you’ll agree that it’s not much fun.

Isn’t it a relief, then, when someone comes up to you and makes an effort to include you or speak your mother tongue?

I recently had a (very civilized) argument with a coworker on the subject of how much material we offer translated into English. She felt that having the class schedule available in two languages was overdoing it. Why should we go out of our way to speak English, she asks? “People who live in Israel should learn to speak Hebrew.”

The last sentence of the above paragraph is definitely in the top three phrases which piss me off the most. To me, instead of saying “We’ll help you integrate into society!” that sentence says, “Go back where you came from.”

My coworker certainly has a point, but her statement fails to acknowledge that a) learning another language is not easy for everyone, b) the most spoken language in Israel is Arabic, and c) having English material available is very little effort for us, while reading Hebrew may demand a humungous effort from the client and may actually discourage them from taking our services. In my humble opinion it is more important to make the client feel at home than to force them to stumble over foreign characters just because they live here.

And speaking of Arabic, two days ago I learned a lesson about human communication – it doesn’t always happen through words. I was playing the cello in Liberty Bell Park and accompanying my boyfriend who was practicing some Contact Juggling. A little while in, a group of Israeli Arab children gathered around to watch us. My Arabic vocabulary is limited to about 5 words (not including curses or food products), but we were able to communicate through art and body language. They were an excellent audience – enthusiastic, paying close attention, retrieving fallen juggling balls, clapping for an encore. I wondered how often these children get to see a free juggling/cello show. Probably not very often. It was so gratifying, walking back to the car feeling like we did something good, like we broke a cultural barrier even without talking. It’s not necessarily the fact of sharing a language that makes connection possible, it’s the act of wanting to connect that makes people feel you care enough to make it happen.

Posted in Living in Israel

Where I Was On 9/11

On September 11th, 2001, I got up and went to school, said “Good morning!” to a friend, and she snapped, “No. Bad morning.” I was ten years old and had just started fifth grade at Orot Etzion in Efrat. I loathed my new homeroom teacher.

We didn’t have a TV. If my parents had heard anything, they didn’t let on, so it wasn’t until much later when class started that I found out what had happened in New York, and it wasn’t until two years later that I watched it on video in science class, where our teacher showed us that the bombing of the twin towers was visible from outer space.

In Israel, the second Intifada was going on where I lived. Hearing about people dying in terrorist attacks was a part of my daily routine, along with eating a healthy breakfast and learning Judo after school and pretending to do my homework. Not that it was any less upsetting. I spent many sleepless nights wondering why I was living in Israel, wishing I could go back to America, where it was safe, where I didn’t have to hear about my neighbors being shot in their car on the way to Jerusalem.

I don’t really remember how I reacted when I first heard the news. But I do remember that for me, 9/11 was the day the option of going back to America became officially closed. I realized at the ripe age of ten that no place on Earth is safer than another, that evil, like humans, lurks everywhere.

In Israel, kids grow up quickly. From a very young age we are faced with the brutal reality that life is not to be taken for granted. I remember thinking that the best way for me to feel safe was to trust in God, because security can not be guaranteed. You’re safe where you feel safe. It’s not a matter of geography or politics.