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

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 Living in Israel

How To Deal With Terrorism in Israel

  1. Spend time with friends and family. Remember that you are not alone.
  2. Do not be afraid to leave the house. Live your life normally and remind others to do the same.
  3. Eat well. Treat yourself to chocolate and wine to help stay happy and relaxed.
  4. Spend time looking at cute cat videos and stand-up comedy.
  5. Bake cakes for IDF soldiers on guard duty. When you drive through a checkpoint, hand it to them through the window.
  6. Meditate or pray.
  7. Make disturbing, hilarious jokes about war.
  8. Smile at everyone, because why not?
  9. Leave tips at restaurants which have security guards. Always greet the security guard with a smile and thank them for keeping everyone safe even though their job is boring as hell.
  10. Carry a cellphone. If you hear about something that happened, let people know you’re okay.
  11. Give lots of hugs and ask for them frequently.
  12. Know what to do in case of emergency. Being well informed about safety precautions helps increase your sense of security.
  13. Have faith in the security system and remember that the Israeli Army is exceptionally strong.
  14. Randomly burst into song.
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 Book Reviews, Living in Israel

Plain Truth…?

Last night at dinner with some friends of my grandmother’s, I found myself casually throwing out the statement, “Everyone hates the Jews.” I said it without thinking, but instead of getting the expected chuckle, it started a conversation.

“Is that how you really feel? That the world hates the Jews?” I was asked a question I had never had reason to answer. Usually I would simply say yes, that is how I feel. But tonight I began to wonder if perhaps my statement could use some rephrasing, or further investigation.

Do I really feel that the world hates the Jews? No. I firmly believe that generalizations can never be made, so already my assumption is inaccurate. Of course not everyone hates the Jews, but some certainly give me that feeling. Misconceptions about life in Israel upset me the most.

When people think of Israel, do the terms “full human rights” and “complete religious freedom” come to mind? They do for me, but I know a lot of people think the opposite about Israel. I am in no way qualified to say who is right. All I know is that for me, Israel is day to day life, so obviously I would see it differently than someone whose only exposure is through the eyes of the media.

Last year a bomb went off at the central bus station in Jerusalem. I was very upset by this, particularly because the bus in question, bus no. 74, was a route I take almost daily. I was horrified when an online blogging friend of mine posted an article about the attack along with a painfully judgmental comment about Israel provoking Palestinians into setting off bombs. For him this reflected a failure on behalf of the US government to resolve an age-old conflict in the Middle East. He had no way of knowing that for me it was bus number 74, the bus I took to work. It hurt me to hear what I thought was an accusation against my own government, when truly it was just a different view of reality.

Cover of Plain Truth by Jodi PicoultIn her book, “Plain Truth,” (which I finished reading yesterday) Jodi Picoult tells the breathtaking story of an Amish woman who goes to trial for killing a baby. Although each of the characters came from a different background, every one of them faced the challenge of having to thrive in unfamiliar territory at some point during the book. Katie, Jacob, and Samuel had to adjust to the ways of the “English” world, while the prosecutor, the judge and Ellie, Katie’s attorney all had to get used to the Amish traditions. They all struggled to bridge two worlds which rarely met. They were forced to confront the one thing they had in common – humanity, which is not always good, and not always what you expect it to be. (For my full review on Goodreads, click here.)

When people come from completely different backgrounds, it’s no easy task to try to understand the way the other person thinks, especially when their actions seem offensive to you. I try my hardest to understand human nature, but some worlds are so far away from me that I’m baffled by their logic. Sometimes it is unreasonable to expect to understand someone so different. I think it all comes down to the message written in this wonderful book by Jodi Picoult. When it comes down to reality, even aliens can find a way to communicate.

The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.

– Wade Davis

The world in which you were born is just one model of reality...

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.