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


Be A Good Bystander. You’re Not Exempt From Fighting Violence.

Domestic violence affects everyone.

Whether you are the victim, the perpetrator, the victim or perpetrator’s child, relative, friend, coworker, neighbor…you’re affected. This is not somebody else’s problem. It’s not something which isn’t your business. And don’t think that just because it’s a huge probelm that somehow means one person can’t make a difference.

Check out this person. Jackson Katz: Violence against women – it’s  a men’s issue
And this person. Ellen Snortland: We all need to be safe before we can thrive.

I was taking a break from my homework (I already handed in the assignment which is due tomorrow! It’s OK) and came across this article in the daily Israeli Newspaper “Israel Hayom” (=Israel Today):

IMG289Even though I don’t have a lot of respect for this Government-funded newspaper and do not recognize it as a reliable source of information, I feel I have to say something about this atrocious article which was published today. The article is in honor of Novembre 25th being the International Day for Prevention of Violence against Women. It gives a vague number of domestic violence cases reported to the Israeli police per day (72) and an approximate number of women in society who suffer from it (7,000). The article is a series of questions asked by citizens suffering from some type of domestic violence, and answers given by “professionals.” (That’s what they called themselves.)

It’s not really visible in the photo, but in the bottom left corner is a tiny little article which states that ONLY 15% OF JEWISH CITIZENS interviewed said they would report a case of violence to the authorities.

So assuming 15% of cases are reported, the statistics in our beloved country actually look more like 480 cases per day and 47,000 women who suffer from domestic violence. (For a more accurate calculation please do the math yourself. Seriously, I’m terrible at arithmetic. I’m a mathematician. It’s a known fact.)

Of the many things which bothered me in this article, here are the highlights:

1. All questions involving violence began with a phrase such as “My husband beats me…” which on the surface rules out cases of verbal and emotional violence. The askers all seemed to be fully aware that they were involved in a violent relationship, and they all seemed to be experiencing physical violence. There are other types of violence and they are usually harder to recognize than physical abuse, because they don’t leave visible scars on the victim. We need to talk about these types of violence as well.

2. Black and white answers are not always what people need to hear. It’s easy to tell someone suffering from violence “Just leave him!” but it’s not that simple. For example, one of the questions was from a woman whose son-in-law was abusive to her and her spouse. The answer given was “That counts as domestic violence and you can make a claim with the police and get a restraining order.”
First of all, restraining orders don’t actually work.
Second of all, the “professional” giving the answer completely disregarded the fact that this person is the woman’s daughter’s husband. It’s not as simple as just getting a restraining order against your son-in-law. There are people in your life who may be violent to you but whom you still want to have some kind of relationship with. How does getting a restraining order against her son-in-law affect her relationship with her daughter? There are more things which need to be said, because more often than not “Just leave him” is an answer that will go in a victim’s ear and out the other.

3. What seriuosly? 100% of the people interviewed were Jewish?

4. Who is the perpetrator? Who is an abuser? if 47,000 women suffer from domestic violence that means there are 47,000 men (or women) acting in violent ways towards people they love. How does that happen? How do you stop being violent? How do you solve conflicts in non-violent ways if your entire life that’s what you’ve been taught? Is it possible to change? What other ways are there of solving problems?
What the heck are we spending all our public education budget on if not these things? I know some schools have the decency to bring in a social worker once in a while to give a 45 minute lecture to kids about violence but let’s face it, that doesn’t actually help. Schools have no idea how to prevent bullying. The police have no idea how to prevent domestic violence. Something needs to be done. Something has got to change, and fast.

I’m sorry if I come off as kind of angry and aggressive. I’ve had so many conversations with friends and people I respect who just don’t know what to do, don’t know if they should say something, and don’t have any idea how common this problem is.

All this can be overwhelming because the scope of it is so huge and there are many dangers involved. But we can’t just sit around and hope we won’t encounter it in our lives. We already have. Because, as Dr. Seuss said,

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

So here’s what I urge you to do:

Identify your role. Who are you? Are you a victim, perpetrator?
Chances are you are a bystander. Watch Jackson Katz’s amazing TED talk about the Bystander Approach and learn how average people can make a difference.
Speak out. Challenge your friends on using abusive language and making jokes about rape.
Educate yourself. Learn how to defend yourself against violence and encourage people in your life to do so as well.
Take a stand. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, SAY SOMETHING to them. Yes, it is your business. Stick your nose in (be careful though, violence is violence!) and you could change somebody’s life.

You’re not exempt from fighting violence.

Three Tiny Moments

You know those grumpy old men who order you around like they own the world? I encountered one of them today, followed by two gentlemen who totally made up for his royal grumpiness. All within the space of half an hour, I went from being on the verge of tears to truly believing that peace in the middle east is possible.

I got on bus no. 7 at the university, heading toward my boyfriend’s house. The driver was driving like a complete maniac, speeding a stopping without slowing down. My stomach turned over. I put on my sea band but I was still nauseated. I finally got up and sat in the seat right behind the driver, which was a small improvement. About ten minutes later, a man got on the bus and tried to sit next to me. The problem was, the bench wasn’t big enough for two people. I told him this, and he said, “So move!” .When I didn’t, he sat down practically on top of me. I asked him if he was comfortable, and he replied:

“No, you should stand up. I’m handicapped, see? I have an electronic device here! You’ll never get to be my age, I curse you that you’ll never get to be my age, and you’ll remember that!”

Needless to say, I was a lot less motivated to stand up for him then. I told him I was feeling sick and was afraid that if I got up I’d throw up. People behind us started shouting that I should get up. (It’s important to know that there were other seats available on the bus.) But I didn’t get up, because I didn’t want to throw up. I got off the bus two stops later to switch to the number 8, and I said to him, “I hope you have a great day, may you be blessed with grandchildren and great grandchildren and everything good.” Why? Mostly because I wanted to make him feel bad about himself.

I did feel a bit bad afterwards. Maybe I should have gotten up for him. If there had been nowhere else to sit I would have in a heartbeat. But because I felt so sick, and there were other seats available, and he had cursed me to die young, I decided it was OK that I just didn’t feel like getting up.

When I got off the bus to wait for the next one, another old man sat down next to me at the stop. I recognized him as the security guard from my high school. I remembered his name, and asked him how he was doing. He smiled so broadly and seemed so happy to see me, even though I was sure he’d have no idea who I was. He knew I was from the high school where he used to work. We had a friendly discussion about his job and my degree. He told me he was very happy to see me. I was shocked. I used to greet him every day when I walked into school, but I doubt he ever knew my name.

The number 8 driver was just as bad as the previous one, and this time there was no room to sit. I held on to two of the yellow columns so I wouldn’t fly out the windshield. On one particularly quick stop I groaned and a man sitting in front of me said, “Are you okay?”

I told him I was fine, just a little nauseated, and he told me he also got nauseated so times from the bus. He insisted I take his seat. I refused but he got up anyway, so I sat down next to his wife and thanked him graciously. They were Muslims, not that that matters. It made me realize that there are people who are capable of seeing past the invisible lines drawn by our societies and our governments. It made me believe that peace in the Middle East is really possible.

These three people managed to impress upon me the power of kind words and small acts of kindness. You never know what saying “Good morning” might mean to a person, or what giving up your seat on the bus for them might make them believe.

The Jewish Woman’s Cloak of Invisibility

Do you ever find yourself walking down the street on an ordinary day, and experience a stranger purposely avert their eyes from you as you walk by them?

* A little background for those unfamiliar with the phenomenon: In ultra-religious Judaism there are strict rules about separation of men and women. There are many reasons behind these rules, some of which are perfectly sensible, and some which are not as clear. One of the implications of these rules is that often, an ultra-religious man will avert his eyes when a woman is in sight, whether or not he knows her, regardless of other people present. My understanding of this action is to avoid sexual temptation.

I don’t dress provocatively. I usually wear loosely fitted jeans, a baggy sweatshirt and clashing colors. And yet when I experience a person purposely averting their gaze from me in a situation such as crossing the street, I feel dehumanized. I am made into a sex object. Because what they say with their eyes, at least what I receive is, it doesn’t matter if you dress modestly, or act modestly, the fact that you are a woman means you are automatically a sexual tempation.

Well, most of the time that is not how I view myself. I try to keep a positive self image. I’m a musician, a writer, an artist. I’m a mathematics student. I’m not such a bad cook. I’m a sister and daughter and friend. Of course, I’m not one to give power to a stranger by letting them reduce me to a sex object. I’m just saying, they’re obviously wrong if they think that’s all there is to me. And I think I can say in the name of most women that that is true for them as well.

Objectification of women goes beyond strangers on the street. In some extreme cases – and do note these are extreme cases – children and babies are sexualized in a similar way. Young girls above the age of three are criticized for dressing immodestly if their skirts do not fall below the knee and their sleeves are not elbow length. Male siblings avoid changing baby girls’ diapers. In my opinion there is a message in these actions which is wrong, and that is the message that all things female are sexual temptations. Babies are not sexual. Girls are not sexual. People who sexualize girls and babies are called pedophiles.

Once, while I was working at the hospital for National Service, a man came up to me and, staring at the floor, asked if he could get by. I was standing next to the food cart preparing meals for a patient. There were a clear two meters behind me, and yet this man wanted me to put down the food I was balancing and step back so he could pass in front of me. I did not understand why that was necessary since I was not blocking the hallway. Luckily the head nurse saved the day by explaining to me that this man held by a tradition which prohibited walking between two women. I glanced across the hall and noticed a woman standing there, talking to someone else. The hall was wide enough so he wouldn’t have any contact with either of us as he walked by, and yet I had to put down the tray I was organizing and step back from the food cart to let him pass.  The whole time the man refused to look up at me and stared at the floor. I was wearing a standard hospital scrub three sizes too big for me (provocative?). It made no sense to me. I felt humiliated and belittled.Why did he feel he couldn’t walk between me and the other woman, seven feet away? And regardless, why did he feel he couldn’t look me in the eye when asking me a favor? Where was his respect for an eighteen year old serving her country? I’ll never know. All he saw in me that day was a sex object. And I was probably feeding his father.

In conclusion, let me just say what I think is the core of the Jewish religion. Love and respect for the other overrides the little everyday rules we’re supposed to follow. When someone offers you their hand to shake, a person should use their judgement and decide whether it’s more important not to touch a woman or not to cause her shame, a much worse offense people tend to forget about sometimes. It seems that some streams in Judaism have forgotten that loving our neighbors like ourselves is our highest law. Unsure about that? I learned a song in kindergarten about how Rabbi Akiva says, “Love your neighbor like youself, that is the entire Torah.”

Let’s Talk About This: Keeping Kosher vs. Internet Bullying

First, two quick facts about me:

  1. I’m Jewish
  2. I keep Kosher

These facts are important players in this story, which is partly about a Facebook post, but mostly about the horrendous politics of the Kashrut industry. (Kashrut = the state of being Kosher.)

The following picture was posted on Facebook, along with a plea to share it. Several of my friends had shared it, so I read it, and was ENRAGED.


Public Announcement to avoid certain Restaurants because of Kashrut dispute


This hereby is to announce to the public who observe kashrut in Jerusalem that we, the Rabbinate of Jerusalem are not responsible for what occurs in the following restaurants:

(List of 5 restaurants and their addresses)

AND that these restaurants sell non-kosher meat and vegetables which have not been supervised and contain abominable insects.

AND that the Certificates of Kashrut displayed in these places are provided by criminal institutions of Kashrut which are purposely deceiving the public.

The Department of Kashrut

Jerusalem Rabbinate

OK, wow. Fisrt of all, a little background: A restaurant can be considered Kosher by following certain guidelines, and if they do they receive a certificate of Kashrut which they are required to display to the public. The certificate can be revoked if they violate the Kashrut guidelines. However, the Kashrut industry also happens to be extremely corrupt, meaning, you can lose your certificate for other reasons, such as failing to pay rent, or insulting someone’s brother-in-law, which have nothing to do with Kashrut. It’s all about who you know.

Now let’s take a look at this announcement before we talk about the implications it has on society.

“Abominable insects” – Fair enough, I wouldn’t want to eat insects either. But come on, there’s no way the department of health would let them get away with not washing their lettuce.

“Purposely deceiving the public” – wow, that’s a nasty accusation. Why are we discussing this on Facebook instead of in court?

“The Certificates of Kashrut” – wait, what? They hold certificates of Kashrut? Oh, but they’re not applicable since they were provided by a different organization. Got it. (Am I the only one who thinks this sounds shady?)

There is a very important principle in Judaism which is giving the benefit of the doubt. Actually, in the case of Kashrut, we are supposed to assume that a person is not trying to cheat us or trick us into eating non-kosher food. (For more on this topic, see my post “Can You Eat in the Home of a Non-Observant Jew?“)

So, after sorting through these messy and dangerous thoughts, I wrote a comment on the post on one of my friends’ walls. I wrote,

“But how do we know it’s not just a matter of politics?”

And she responded,

“It could be. Why don’t you go eat in these places and then we’ll meet in the world to come and you can tell us if the food was not kosher, or if it was just about politics.” *(The world to come refers to the redemption, messiah, etc.)

All right, I was asking for it. Still, I was stunned by her response. The level of certainty with which she is able to say that every word of that post is %100 true, and back it up with the opinion of God in the world to come, well, that baffled me. I stewed over it all night, and decided that if she was going to play that card, why couldn’t I?

I went back to the post and wrote, “Deal!”

My response was erased within an hour, but as far as I’m concerned, we made a deal.

Here’s what I think. I don’t think it’s right to sabotage someone’s business because of a Facebook post (I have this strange habit of not believing everything I read on the internet.) This post provides me with no information with which to make an educated choice. What I see in this post is someone trying to destroy someone else’s business based on something I don’t know. Since I don’t know the story, I can’t really choose a side. But I think it’s important to support local businesses, and since they do have Kashrut certificates, who am I to decide they don’t apply? Who am I to agree with the statement that they are “purposely deceiving the public”? Who am I to help destroy someone’s source of income based on a story I’ve never even heard?

So I’m keeping the deal. My friends and I are going to go to these restaurants and eat their food and show our support. We’ll have a great time and make someone happy. We’ll make the important statement that we don’t buy into internet bullying.

So I was just trying to start a conversation. We can talk about this now if you like, but if you’d rather wait till “the world to come,” that’s fine with me.