Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

To You, With Love From A Fellow Human

To the invaluable human soul behind the screen reading my words,

I want to talk to you about this week. Sunday the semester starts, and that’s not enough time to recover from the emotional impact of this week’s events. It’s not fair. Yesterday, a crazy person killed a baby with a car. Today, both Jews and Arabs threw rocks at each other. We’re all upset. Nobody can focus. It’s a terrible, horrible situation.

I want you to know that no matter what you think, no matter who you are, I feel your pain. Because pain is not something which belongs on any side of the political spectrum. Pain is human. As are all of us. So why can’t we stand together, hold hands, comfort each other?

If you’ll stick with me for just a moment longer, I’d like to share with you some beautiful words I heard from a speaker about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict several weeks ago. His name is Ali abu Awwad. It begins with the definition of hope.

“Hope is a place where people create, not just expect,” he says.

Ali Abu Awwad preaches non-violent action. Take action, but not violent action. His first experience of this concept was participating in a 17-day hunger strike in prison, as a protest against the separation of families inside the prison. He wanted to be reunited with his mother. This kind of action, he says is something powerful – it’s fighting with your humanity, more than violence, more than your political rights. “Non violence is to be an artist for your humanity.”

What is the most powerful tool of non-violent action? “Non-violent action causes the other side to see their own actions.” It creates a mirror for your opponent, rather than fueling his violence. “By not giving legitimacy to their violence, you create a safe place for them to give up.”

At 31, Ali’s brother was violently killed by an IDF soldier. The pain of loss and mourning led Ali to realize that there is no revenge good enough. Taking the life of another person can not ease the pain and will not bring back his brother. What keeps a person who has lost something so huge from turning into a murderer? Ali says that even though he lost his brother, his dreams, his land, and his rights, one thing he didn’t lose – his mind. When his brother was killed, a group of bereaved Israelis asked to come and meet his mother. For the first time in his life, Ali witnessed an Israeli person cry.

Israelis can cry? He asked himself. He was shocked. Before this incident he couldn’t imagine that Israelis could cry.

And what about forgiveness? How can you forgive someone for killing your brother? But Ali says he learned about forgiveness from a Sount African mother who told him, “Forgiveness is not giving up your right to justice, but giving up your just right to revenge.

It couldn’t be more clear that Ali does not believe war is any kind of solution. “Palestinian freedom has to go through Israeli hearts, not bodies.” He impresses the interdependence of the two nations by saying, “If Israel is not secure, Palestineans will never have freedom – but if Palestine doesn’t have freedom, Israel will never have security.”

And since then, he’s been an activist for Palestinian rights. He marches and speaks in favor of non violent action. One incident he told of stood out to me. When speaking at an Israeli school in the West Bank, one of the students, a nineteen year old, called him “a babboon.” Ali flattened him with heart-piercing dialogue, appealing to his humanity and commanding his respect. The student fell silent and later approached him, apologizing for his words and admitting that he had never met a Palestinian before. “I never imagined Palestinians had feelings.”

Do you see the striking parallel in these two stories? Each is a tale of a human experience, a raw encounter with our more basic instincts and our ability to overcome them in order to be civilized. Each tells about a person who had never met someone so different from them, but then learned that the other is human just as they are.

Ok, time to wrap things up. I just want to say to my friends at school, my neighbors in the dormitories, my friends in the West Bank and my friends far away in the United States and everywhere, at the end of the day, we’re all human, we can all cry, and that’s okay….

I’m going to leave you with a final quote from Ali, about what he sees as the definition of peace:

“Peace is the courage to engage in each other’s rights.”

Much love and wishes for a quiet weekend,

Liora Sophie

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

Women Talk to a Wall – and Get Arrested

On the first day of every Jewish month, women all over the world hold their breath. Some of us cross our fingers; some of us pray or meditate. Some of us can’t be there to support them, so wherever we are we hold still and hope really hard that the Women of the Wall don’t go to jail this month. We know what they are doing is illegal. We know it upsets people. We know it’s looked down upon by authorities. But for some reason we get it into our head that maybe this time it won’t bother anyone.

The Women of the Wall struggle with a limitation of religious freedom in the state of Israel. Personally, it baffles me that this is a problem in a state which is one of the most socially progressive in the whole world in equality for women, where we have free health care, free day care, and such fierce laws protecting women’s rights. Moreover, it seems ironic that it would be a problem to practice a Jewish custom in what is supposed to be the Jewish state. (I’ll elaborate in the next few paragraphs.)

Women of the Wall

As it turned out this month not many people were bothered, and still ten women got arrested. The Women of the Wall gathered as usual and held an inspiring, exciting prayer on the women’s side of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. They danced and sang and wore prayer shawls. These actions are what have been deemed illegal by the Supreme Court of Israel.

1. Wearing a prayer shawl. For those unfamiliar with the different religious practices: in Orthodox Judaism it is traditional only for men to wear a shawl during prayer, and if a woman wants to wear one it is looked down upon, but it is one hundred percent allowed and backed up by some of the greatest Rabbis in our history.

2. Conducting a religious service. It seems odd to me that this sort of thing would be prohibited at a holy site. But the law is the law.

3. Singing and dancing. These actions are prohibited because in Orthodox Judaism it is considered immodest for a woman to sing or dance in the presence of a man (who is not her husband). As far as I understand, the idea behind this tradition is that a woman’s singing voice (or dancing) can cause a man to become sexually aroused. So to avoid adultery, we (women) avoid public singing and mixed dancing.

At this point, I would like to recommend this post I read on one of my favorite blogs, the Good Men Project. It talks about why saying ‘men are slaves to their sex drive’ is offensive to men. Please take a minute to look over it, it’s awesome.

With all this in mind, I would like to express my confusion about why the Women of the Wall get arrested. It seems to me that the ruling of the Supreme Court which prohibits these women’s prayer was made out of fear. If religious extremists complain that a group of women are ‘being provocative’ and ‘disrespecting the holy site’, and threaten to start a riot, obviously we should take action to make sure no one gets hurt. But last time I checked, threatening, black mail, and violence were illegal. So the Supreme Court appears to be telling us that we, the Jewish people living in the state of Israel, give in to fear instead of standing up for religious freedom. It seems like the Women of the Wall get arrested because someone out there might get angry and start acting violent. It sounds like we’re blaming the victim. It seems like we are holding women responsible for the actions of men. Here’s where the Good Men Project would say we’re wrong. Men are responsible for their own actions. They can control themselves and make their own decisions, and saying otherwise sets us back centuries. We should hold these extremists responsible for their own actions. People who use violence should be arrested, not people who just want to worship God in their own way.

In the Israeli national anthem, called ‘Hatikva’ which means ‘Our Hope’, we sing about our hope to one day be a truly free nation in our country. We hope to have full religious freedom. We hope to have liberty to make decisions based on our principles, not our fear. The Women of the Wall are the manifestation of this hope, just like the paratroopers who liberated the Wailing Wall in 1967.

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

Stand With Israel, Chances Are You Owe Us One

Being a university student means occasionally getting emails from the Dean’s office. But how often do they say something like this:

“Due to the security situation, students wishing to host relatives and friends from the South of Israel in their dormitories may file a request.”
Only in Israel would the Dean’s Office give permission to students to host their families in the dorms. How awesome is that!
 
The IDF has “recommended” to evacuate the south of Israel due to a bazillion rockets being fired in the vicinity. It’s recommended because a bazillion rockets can be quite a nuissance to civillians trying to study or meditate, etc. It’s not manditory because the Iron Dome takes care of most of them. We listen to the news and hear that rockets were fired and caused damage to a house, but fortunately the people were not home at that time and no one was hurt. Hundreds of rockets fall every day and hardly anyone gets hurt.
 
I deliberately avoid reading the news as much as possible. I started to hear about the unusual amount of rockets by facebook posts. Following the IDF’s suggestion, many of my friends have posted that there is spare room in their home for those who need to come and stay. The fact that Israel is a Jewish state means that all of the citizens are one big extended family. Rick Riordan says, “Families are messy, immortal families are eternally messy.”
 
Galgalatz, the IDF redio station is playing songs selected by individuals in the south. Wedding halls in central cities are clearing their schedules so that couples who were planning to get married in the south don’t have to postpone the celebration. That’s what we do here in Israel, when there’s an outside threat. We stick together and prove how awesome we are. I think the Iron Dome has already proven that by minimizing the victims of 500 rocket firings to 4 people. But we’ve tolerated these rockets for seven years, and at some point we just get tired of it. 
 
What I don’t understand is, why are we on our own out here? Didn’t we send huge aids to Haiti and Hurricane Sandy victims? Listen, world, Israel is there for you when you need us, and you know it. When the Carmel forest was on fire we had some help, so it’s obviously not anti-semitism that’s going on here. So come on, if you’re not going to help us fight, at least be on our side. Chances are you owe us one.
Posted in Living in Israel

Mom, Dad, Couldn’t You Have Used A Better Picture?

So, is he really home?

It seems so hard to believe. Only a few months ago we were watching so many protests which appeared to have no effect at all. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there’s a deal for his release. Before we know it, there are photos of him hugging his family. How did that happen?

Before Gilad was released there were rumors about what sort of bargain the government was going to make to get him home. Seven years ago, the Israeli government traded 400 terrorists for the bodies of three soldiers. I was thirteen at the time, and I remember feeling confused and afraid. Why would the government release so many terrorists just to get dead bodies? I felt scared thinking about all of those criminals running amok. It didn’t seem like a fair deal in my thirteen year old mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy he’s home, and it does seem like it was the right thing to do. It gives me hope to know that sometimes it does happen. But I’m not going to say I like the deal they made. I don’t like to think that one Israeli soldier is worth a thousand terrorists – as poetic as that may sound. I think it’s important to remember that although that was the deal, it does not mean that any one person is worth more than another. That sort of mindset will not help us evolve into a better race. Terrorists, as terrible as they may be, are still humans, and I don’t like the idea that their government is teaching them that they are not even worth one thousandth of an Israeli soldier. Or trying to make it look like the Israeli government thinks that, which I’m sure they will do, because why pass up an opportunity to blame the Jews? It doesn’t seem like a healthy mindset to me.

Gilad Shalit
Mom, Dad, couldn't you have used a better picture?

Back then I was not in favor of letting a bazillion terrorists out of prison to rescue Gilad. I was afraid that it would cost us more than one Israeli soldier. And who knows? Maybe it will.

But right now I feel differently. I don’t feel any more afraid with more terrorists on the loose; there will always be terrorists. But I do feel safer knowing what my country would be willing to do for me to get me home.

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.