Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jerusalem Elections

Well we didn't vote. Our first election and we didn't vote; I'm ashamed of myself - Naomi's not nearly as concerned. We were supposed to get something in the mail and we didn't, but even as the date came close I still didn't make the call to the hotline that I should have.

I can make excuses like: I left for the Golan that morning or that we haven't lived here long enough to actually know anything, etc. But neither is really true. I did go to the Golan that day, but the polls opened an hour and a half before we left. We've been in Israel for a year and a half now and that's long enough to know some of the issues.

Besides, I'm a strong believer that if you don't vote you forfeit your ability to complain. I like the Australian system of fining and then imprisoning people that don't vote. It's a different society there - in Israel and the US, voting is seen as a privilege - we get to vote, how lucky. In Australia, voting is a civic duty. That makes sense to me.

I guess you could say that the guy we both would have voted for won - Nir Barkat - but we voted absentee in Maryland for Obama even though we knew he'd win and that our absentee ballots would never be counted. It's a civic duty.

Jerusalem is a city that needs help. Rated the worst place to live in Israel (among the largest 15 cities); a public entertainment budget of 10 million shekels (compared to Tel Aviv's 80 million) and that's after last years 5 million raise!; for a country/city that proclaims it's love it's rather dirty. And I haven't even started talking about education or jobs here.

The current mayor, Uri Lipoliansky, has done a pretty good job; and he probably would have been re-elected had he run, but the new Haredi candidated is a hack and I can't stand him. He's so atrocious that he made a cariacture of himself to be noticed!

So, I'm happy that Nir Barkat won - I hope he can pull Jerusalem out of the gutter by it's bootstraps and make it the place it should be.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sukkot Fun (lots of Pictures)

Well Sukkot is over and we had a great time. We finally had the rest and relaxation that we needed, as well as the excitement that we had been missing as well. Currently we've restarted the semester - with the Yeshiva up and running and Naomi gearing up for her first University classes just over a week from now.

Anyway, unlike last year where we had to build our own Sukkah (which was a lot of fun); this year the Yeshiva provided a Sukkah right outside our front door. Though I had to build it twice (with help from the students) it was not the same. We had guests (also recent olim) for lunch but dinner was very special since we were able to have it to ourselves. Oh the joy of the quiet.

Thursday was probably the highlight of the festival, we went to the Kotel (Western Wall) for the annual Bircat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing). Here in Israel we have a Bircat Kohanim every day during services in the morning - whereas in the US it's only done on the festivals - but nonetheless the Bircat Kohanim done here during the festivals is quite speical; especially the one during Sukkot.

As you can see from the pictures below, the place was packed. I've never seen so many people at the Kotel. Every spare inch of the nearby rooftops was used by spectators to take part in the ceremony.
The Kohanim are the guys in the white Taleisim above.

While at the Kotel for this amazing experience, I took some pictures of Lulav and Etrog sets that I saw. Normally most look the same - the same 4 species Lulav, Etrog, Hadas, Aravah (Palm, Citron, Myrtle, Willow) - but sometimes people have different ideas of how they all fit together.

Here's a picture of what they normally look like:
Now for a couple that I found interesting:
That's our friend Elie with a Yeminite Etrog.
I don't really know what's going on with this one, but it's quite cool. This guy is not the guy who owned it, but one of the guys who was able to shake it (as was I). Here's another one of that same Lulav with the owner:

I wish I could have taken a better photo of this one, but alas I could not. Thursday night we went to Beit Shemesh which is a city about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem for a music festival. It's free and a good time, especially since a friend of mine was playing. It started at 6pm and there were tons of families there then and little by little as the bands came and went it turned over to a more teenager friendly place. We spent Shabbat back at Hamivtar (my Yeshiva from last year) visiting the friends that we made there. It was so refreshing to go back there. We spent our time talking to our friends and and instead of 48 18 year-olds we spent our time with their children.

Since Sukkot, we've been back at work. Naomi's started her Masters at Hebrew U and I've finally begun teaching and continuing my learning. With the Obama win, the Phillies World Series, and a stellar Steelers team it's looking to be a great fall all around.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Why I voted for Obama

(A post of all of our Sukkot activites is forthcoming in the next few days).

Many people, especially among Orthodox Jews, here in Israel have asked my why I am voting (proudly for the most part) for Obama. My answer is this: I believe that a strong America is better for Israel's security than an America that will give a blanket statement of support to Israel. I believe that Obama will provide a better complete package for the future than McCain can.

This belief of mine has just been echoed by Edgar Bronfman. I do not agree with all of his points about Israel but the main point is perfect.

This was published today in the Huffington Post.

I am supporting Obama for president for two reasons: one is my disdain for the McCain-Palin ticket, and the other my respect and admiration for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Among Jewish voters, some feel the basic question is which candidate will act in the best interest of Israel. The answer is Barack Obama. As an American Jew who loves Israel, I cannot support John McCain. He cannot provide what Israel needs most--a respected, credible, morally strong America. To have the United States and Israel both regarded by the rest of the world as unreliable and in isolation is no way to solve the problems that plague both countries. This has been the effect of the Bush policies, and these are the policies that John McCain has promised to continue. Barack Obama is the candidate who can restore America's moral authority in the world and position our government to help negotiate peace.

The most vexing problem Israel faces is its relations with its neighbors. From the inception of the state until today, Israelis have felt besieged, surrounded by enemies who want to make them disappear. The constant security threat has made it very difficult for Israel to address the long list of problems that for the most part have been swept under the rug while awaiting peace. These include a disastrous educational system, a widening gap between rich and poor, and bitter division between secular and religious Jews. Israel desperately needs peace if it is to come anywhere close to being the "light unto nations" of Jewish dreams.

I quarrel with the oft-heard assumption that "George W. Bush is good for Israel." He gleaned many Jewish votes on that slogan, but I take a contrarian's position. Israel is further from peace than it was at the end of the Clinton administration. The smoldering hatred between Iraq's Sunni and Shi'a has burst into flames as a result of the American occupation. An emboldened Iran, with its Shi'a majority, has strengthened and armed Israel's enemies Hamas and Hezbollah. But Israel's most immediate danger comes from a nuclear Iran. Under the Bush administration, conversations with the Iranians began only at the end of May 2007 and have been badly mishandled. The result of the Bush doctrine in the Middle East has been an America and an Israel that are regarded with hatred and fear.

The region requires an honest broker that will push both sides towards a workable solution and a two state outcome. I remember the scene at the White House when President Clinton helped Prime Minister Rabin to shake Arafat's hand. Whether an American president is prepared to preside over another handshake--one that could build lasting peace--should not be measured by his professed love for one side or the other, but by his judgment.

John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as running mate is the towering example of his poor judgment. Palin's ignorance of public affairs is monumental. Especially disturbing to the Jewish voter should be her willing acceptance of the campaign assignment of demagogy, which has stirred up racism and hate. The prospect of our having a 72-year-old president in poor health raises the real possibility that Palin could be our president, a thoroughly frightening thought. (I am well aware, in my eightieth year, of the flagging energy of any 72-year-old.) McCain's choice of Palin was a bid to the extremists in the Republican party, not the considered choice of a man who puts his country first.

Barack Obama is the leader who can begin to undo some of the damage done by Bush's policies. His background as an American who has lived among diverse cultures makes him sensitive to the cultural and religious motives that shape conflicts. He is cerebral, measured, calm, and pragmatic. By his character, he will engage these issues with more than stonewalling and weapons. He is brilliant in his choices of advisors. He is a tough idealist who has the courage to imagine an America that may inspire hope, not fear, in the Middle East and around the world.

Voters who care about Israel's welfare should ask which candidate will help sustain the ties between Israel and American Jews. Those of us who were alive at the creation of Israel have a love for Israel that is tied to the Holocaust, to the displaced persons camps and to the early struggles for a Jewish homeland. We were all as generous as we could be in support of Israel, as donors and as advocates. Now there is a generation growing up that is more distant from Israel than I should like. Young Jews do not automatically support Israel, and many are rightly troubled by what they learn about the ill treatment of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. No longer motivated by fear of anti-Semitism, they seek to understand what Israel stands for, not to say "my Israel, right or wrong." Without strong support among the younger generation of American Jews, Israel may lose its vital relationship with the US government.

Obama can inspire much-needed support for Israel among this next generation of American Jews. He reflects their idealism and speaks in the language of hope they understand. His approach to international affairs shows a commitment to restoring America's reputation and to working with our allies to combat war, poverty, disease, and environmental destruction. He has articulated a vision for American society that does not ask us to ignore our differences--religious, racial, or economic--but to set aside divisive rhetoric and acknowledge that we all have a stake in building a more ethical society. Under his leadership a renewed America can help to foster a renewed Israel. Barack Obama is an inspiring American, willing and able to lead this nation and the world to new heights in very perilous times. I will vote for him with enthusiasm.

Edgar M. Bronfman is the former president of the World Jewish Congress. He is the author, with Beth Zasloff, of Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance (St. Martin's Press, 2008).