Israelâ€™s Here & Now: 60 Years Young issue five
Is Ten Days Enough?
our generation claims its birthright
zionism a to z
israpedia for the z-word
not just a holy land israel
why the deification of israel hurts us
who would jesus save?
christian zionists strengthen the holy land PresenTense $5.00
editor and publisher Ariel Beery managing editor Deborah Fishman senior editor Esther D. Kustanowitz society editor Chloe Safier israel editor Flo Low arts & culture editor Allison Sheren ideas & innovation editor Matthew Ackerman web editor Bonnie Goodman assistant editors here & now Eric Ackland, Rena Katz, Rebecca Leicht, Natasha Rosenstock society Chanel Dubofsky, Ariella Saperstein features Rachel Berger, Ben Brofman, Samuel Grilli arts & culture Josh Gottesman, Matthew Tzuker copy editors Miriam Bader, Erica Schachne, Lonnie Schwartz art director Lina Tuv assistant art director Hillel Smith photography editor Brian Goldfarb photographers Ron Almog, Oded Balilty, Judy Lash Balint, Erin Beser, Hannah Ferber, Vladimir Gitin, Brian Goldfarb, Raz Govosky, Lane Greene, Julien Harneis, Eitan Hochster, Miriam Intrator, Asaf Kliger Rob Levy, Eyal Levkovich, Sari Lisch, Daniel Model, Shelley Shafran, Jared Zimmerman advertising and circulation director Simi Hinden This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivs 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. CC
zionism a to z
israpedia for the z-word Tal Perry and PT Staff
is ten days enough?
our generation claims its birthright Jordan Chandler Hirsch
who would jesus save?
christian zionists strengthen the holy land Jo Ann Panzella
next year in jerusalem israelis in america, temporarily Roi Ben-Yehuda
not just a holy land
why the deification of israel hurts us Simi Hinden
creative commons: we think the creative commons approach to content is smart because it gives creators flexibility in their licensing choices and it allows for seamless sharing of content. at presentense, our exclusive rights to content expire after no more than 120 days. at that time, we encourage our authors and photographers to adopt a cc license for their work. www.presentense.org PresenTense is a grassroots effort to invigorate Jewish Life and Hebrew Culture made possible by a network of volunteers around the world. Special thanks for help on this issue goes to: Benita Lebow, Itzhak Beery and Bleecker & Sullivan Advertising, Charlie Buckholtz and the Max D. Raskin Sixth Street Community Synagogue, the Hindens, Rebecca Stone and Annie Lewis, the American Zionist Movement and the Salzberg-Horwitz. PresenTense has been especially aided in the distribution of this issue by the ICC Israel Action Grant Project, supported by the Avi Chai Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Morris B. Squire. PresenTense is an all volunteer effort with 501(c)3 nonprofit status thanks to the fiscal sponsorship of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, and supports itself by selling advertising and group subscriptions. If you would like to reach a young Jewish audience through our pages, subscribe to our publication, or purchase a bulk order for your organization or event, please contact Simi Hinden at email@example.com.
photo by Shelley Shafran cover photo by Brian Goldfarb
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israel @ 60
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not just a holy land
03 letters 04 contributors 09 editorial 8 watch them
08 Woman to Watch inbal freund Perel Skier
09 man with a plan avi liberman Esther D. Kustanowitz
around the world
portland is good for the jews Elizabeth Kellogg
12 columbus explores new lands
thinking outside the shabbat-in-a-box Heather E.A. Mitchell
13 no jdate here
making jewish matches in india Erin Beser
here & now
16 6 on 60
25 in the foodsteps
why the deification of israel hurts us Simi Hinden
walking abraham’s path Michael Green
of the father
rules of engagement
young jews + Israel how vital is israel to diaspora jewish identity Josh Whisler
26 real housing for real people building green in the negev Noa Levanon
28 making desert bloom israel’s environmental past and zionist future Meira Levinson
30 healing in the himalayas jews build community in nepal Micha Odenheimer
32 i like the size of your gun finding your promised man in the promised land Rachel Lieff Axelbank
36 boogie down
with flying colors
EMERGING FROM THE DEEP
israeli jellyfish come to american shores Marianna Evenstein
the things they carry
trauma and triumph in the fight for israel Yael Twito
filmed in israel
five movies you may not know PT Staff
lost, but not in translation
what happens when the band visits Esther Breger
abroad but at home
israelis in san francisco await their return Joey Gelpe
59 theater the changing face of tel aviv theater in the non-stop city Eythan-David Volcot-Freeman
6 ideas shaping tomorrow’s israel Abigail Rozenberg
movement and music in the middle of jerusalem Adam Soclof
19 israel @ 60
38 more than a pretty face
how does she compare? Chloe Safier
israel’s pr makeover Anna Melman
oded carmeli and the tel aviv literary landscape Sara Meirowitz
20 would you like some
chumus with that poke?
21 airfield of dreams
calling for less pro-israel activism Benjamin Greene
facebook invades the holy land Benji Lovitt americans’ first steps in their new home Simi Hinden
22 miami to my country tv reporter finds life and career in the holy land Leah Stern
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44 the case against israel advocacy
45 israeli cars, unplugged the electric revolution starts here Tamar Weiss
47 going down
the art of israeli yeridah Yoav Fisher israel @ 60
what poetry makes happen
all shuk up
returning to the marketplace Yaffa Yonah
a home 6,000 years in the making Chari Pere
letters to the editor
chalutzim; they’re reviving urban centers in Israel to create positive, purposeful Jewish communities, just as the original kibbutznikim built (more literally) their communities.
Growing Third Generation Consciousness In her article “Inhereting the Holocaust” (Issue 4, Spring 2008), Chloe Safier explores a growing phenomenon: grandchildren of Holocaust survivors coming together around a shared identity. Safier, who herself identifies as “third generation,” articulates well the diversity of locations, activities and motivations of this new global community organizing. The article touched many people, me included.
I’ve kept up with PresenTense and have started reading more of it and I think you guys are doing a great job. It definitely fills a void. Daniel Brooks New York, NY letters PresenTensemagazine.org
Impact AliyaH Thanks very much for Flo Low’s “Putting the Social Back Into Socialism” (Issue 3, Spring 2008). Being a part of the immigrant community in Israel, I’ve noticed the desire among immigrants to build communities with the purpose of creating change. I see it everywhere—both formally and informally—and indeed, groups of sabras and olim are creating new outlets for social change, environmentally friendly communities, artist colonies, and the like. The shachaf communities that Flo Low referenced in this article are an example of, among other things, communities being built in an effort to achieve urban renewal. These community members, in some ways, are like the new
Many olim come to Israel with a strong sense of Zionism and a sincere desire to contribute something great to the land and its people, but many end up feeling disappointed and struggle to come to terms with the fact that sometimes, simply living their lives in Israel is their major contribution. I think that Flo Low’s article could be a great read with a feasible suggestion for olim that want to create social change and also find a welcoming community. I hope that PresenTense continues to bridge the gap between Israel and the Diaspora by giving its readers creative and meaningful ways to have an impact on the Jewish State. Cori Chascione Jerusalem, Israel http://cori-c.blogspot.com
The Revolution, Redux
I read the piece “Putting the Social back in Socialism” (Issue 4, Spring 2008). It is truly important that this present revolution is getting coverage by Jewish and nonJewish media. As a member of a Hashomer Hatzair (Socialist-Zionist Movement) collective in North America, I have been inspired in recent years by the resurgence of a Socialist tide in Israel, and in Jewish communities all over the world. Hashomer Hatzair North America already has israel @ 60
kvutzot (collectives), based on those in Israel, in Toronto and New York City. Kibbutz Migvan has been a true inspiration for us and we have so much more to learn from them and others in Israel and around the world. As your magazine explained, there is so much to gain from collective life and Socialist-Zionism is as relevant as ever for the Jews and the world at large. Daniel Roth Hashomer Hatzair New York, NY
Translating Ideas into Action I am a graduating senior at Yeshiva University and am currently taking a public speaking class. After reading Chloe Safier’s article “Slaves in the Holy Land: The Problem of Sex Slavery in Israel” (Issue 3, Fall 2007), I decided that it was essential for me to speak about this cause in a public forum, namely to my classmates. I was shocked to find that many of my peers did not even know this was an issue in Israel. Thank you to Presentense and to Chloe Safier for igniting my passion around this topic and enabling me to share this story with others. Victoria Stone New York, NY
PresenTense reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity. To make your voice heard, send us a letter, email us at email@example.com, or comment on an article at www.presentensemagazine.org. issue five 2008
Ben Brofman Lonnie Schwartz Rachel Berger
Jo Ann Panzella Sam Grilli Matthew Ackerman Avital Aronowitz
Lina Tuv Allison Sheren
Josh Whisler Brian Goldfarb
Heather Mitchell Eric Ackland
Rachel Lieff Axelbank
Miriam Bader Josh Gottesman
Chloe Safier Roi Ben-Yehuda
Hillel Smith Yael Twito
Want to add your picture to this map? Become part of our international, grassroots network of young Jews spread across four continents. Send us a letter or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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israel @ 60
Shelley Shafran Abigail Rozenberg
Leah Stern Benji Lovitt
Anna Melman Yaffah Yonah Simi Hinden Noa Levanon
Mosheh Vineberg Tal Perry Flo Low
Marianna Evenstein Michael Green
Peter Orosz Tamar Weiss Erin Beser
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ow does our generation experience Israel at 60? For many Jews older than us, Israel at the ripe old age of 60 reminds them of stunning victories in the face of almost certain destruction, of new hope for a Jewish People emerging from the furnaces of the Holocaust, of a desert that was irrigated and made to bloom. But for many of us, Israel at 60 is different. Our generation cannot authentically share in the memories of existential crises diverted, or of the miracle of rebirth. We are the generation born after the great victories, and during a time of much more complexity and confusion. For us, this birthday presents an opportunity to explore what Israel means to us in the here and now—and what our role can be in shaping, advancing and improving Israel as we look towards the future. In this special Israel@60 edition of PresenTense, contributors as diverse as Israel herself seek to process the country’s complex facets and effects in order to understand how we relate to Israel—and how Israel relates to us. Whether you are an environmental advocate (see “REAL Housing for Real People,” p. 26 and “Making the Desert Bloom,” p. 28), a technological innovator (see “Israeli Cars, Unplugged,” p. 45), or a social activist (see “Healing in the Himalayas,” p. 30), Israel’s contributions on a global level may move you to agree with the Ministry of Tourism’s slogan, “Israel: Who Knew?” (see “More than a Pretty Face,” p. 38). Our relationships with Israel can be complicated as well. We disagree with each other about how Israel should be represented (see “The Case Against Israel Advocacy,” p.44 and “Not Just a Holy Land,” p.48). Even as Israel may have been integral to our personal journeys and formulation of identities (see “From Miami to My Country,” p. 22), we have ambivalent feelings about the role Israel should play in our own lives. We must navigate difficult personal choices about whether to live in Israel or the Diaspora (See “Next Year in Jerusalem,” p. 46, “Going Down,” p. 47, “Abroad But At Home,” p. 58, and “Airfield of Dreams,” p. 21). As we publish these viewpoints, we would like to note that, even as we wrestle with what Israel means to our generation, Israel is just at the beginning of her own journey of self-discovery. After 2,000 years of living without a sovereign state, it will take the Jewish People time to fully understand the implications of self-governance. As such, Israel’s existence is not a climactic conclusion, but rather merely the launching point into a realm of uncharted possibilities. Even after translating an age-old yearning into a vibrant reality, Israel, with all of its challenges and imperfections, continues to be a work in progress. By engaging with Israel as a platform for creativity and innovation, our generation can take ownership of our young State in a way that not only changes Israel for the better—but also adds value to our own lives. Perhaps, then, the question should not be how our generation experiences Israel at sixty, but rather how our experience of Israel will affect the State in the years to come. As the identity of our generation of young Jews emerges and develops, we, in turn, will help shape the dream of what Israel aspires to be, as well as the reality of its existence. So, happy birthday, Israel. We hope to check back in another 60 years to see what we have become together. Or, as they say in Hebrew, ‘ad 120!
israel @ 60
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woman to watch inbal freund
photo by Raz Govosky
nbal Freund, executive director of Mavoi Satum (Hebrew for “Dead End”), doesn’t blame Judaism for shackling abandoned, abused or helpless wives to the husbands who will not grant them a get—the permission the Jewish tradition mandates that a woman receive from her husband so that she may remarry. “It’s not the religion that hurts them,” she says, “but the institution.” The distinction between institution and religion might seem hard to make, given the intricate weave of law and soul which comprises Orthodox Judaism. Yet, Freund argues, it’s critical not only in the area of agunot—women whose husbands will not free them with a get, and mesuravot get—women whose husbands are unable or unwilling to grant them a divorce—but in all facets of modern life. Freund has studied the emerging Jewish generation from every angle, and has the portfolio of involvements to match. Through her a fellowship at the Jewish People Policy Institute, her founding role in Chaverim (a Torah-study program for Israeli college students), serving as co-chair of a Kol Dor International conference, steering member of the PresenTense Institute, and organizational consultant at Shatil, among others, she says that she perceives a “holy beauty” in the timeless flow of values from parents to children. But she worries that a growing rift between today’s Facebook’d youth and the bearded rabbis threatens to interrupt Jewish tradition’s lifecycle. “I see it as a cultural language barrier,” she explains. “The institutions hold the experience, funds, ability, but they don’t understand the language.” Freund seeks to bridge this gap by refashioning the public’s understanding of the interaction between religion, politics, and today’s world—and to utilize her newfound tools to champion the cause of agunot and mesuravot get, who fall between these cracks in the system. “There has to be a lot of thought and discourse,” she says firmly, “on how [not to] just close our eyes and say, ‘This is how the world used to be; this is how it is.’ There are halakhic [Jewish legal] solutions that can be implemented. The way the political system in Israel treats abused women is not Torah to Moshe from Sinai.”
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So while Jerusalem-based Mavoi Satum furnishes its women with an armory of lawyers, rabbinic leaders, social workers and even private detectives, Freund hopes the organization will simultaneously provide Israeli and Jewish society with something even more vital: a primer on how women could and should be treated in a modern religious world. “We need to create change from the top down,” she asserts. “Men are used to having the bias toward him in a religious court; when [he] perceives there’s a full organization standing against him, he gets scared—and that changes the situation for the woman. It empowers her.” In that sense, Freund believes, each single victory is a win for every woman, everywhere. By giving one woman the keys to her own fate, Freund believes, she’ll free the woman chained behind her. “Once a woman is freed, it becomes a norm—that it is possible to be unchained—with the various players in this game: the rabbinical judges, the future husbands and their lawyers, etc. So by getting gets for women—one by one—we do create change.” Freund continually references her commitment to the pairing of power and responsibility. A citizen of the world, resilient and bearing self-efficacy, she feels she has a “responsibility toward people who are weaker than you are.” And creating individuals keenly aware of that strength and responsibility is Freund’s way of ensuring the safe passage of the soul of the Jewish people into the future. “Generations which came before us are embedded in us,” reads a line from one of her poems, titled “Masoret” (Tradition). As Freund observes: “What I’m carrying with me wherever I go, on my back, in my heart, is what my forefathers were, the world for my children. I’m trying to be aware all the time of what the future holds and how the past obligates us to behave.” “Empowerment in general is a chain reaction: if you build someone’s world, they will be able to help build other worlds.” Perel Skier is a freelance writer currently residing in Manhattan and a staff assistant at Hadassah Magazine.
inbal freund Age
jerusalem, israel Profession
ennobler and enabler of women in bad marriages watch her because
she’s helping agunot reclaim the keys to their lives PresenTensemagazine.org watch them
man with a plan
Esther D. Kustanowitz
ow does a Jewish, half-Israeli comedian get to Afghanistan? Like the old joke goes, “Practice, practice, practice.” Born in Nahariya to American parents, Avi Liberman has been doing stand-up comedy in Los Angeles for more than a decade. He has regular spots at all the hottest clubs there, as well as in NYC and in Las Vegas, where he does special shows several times a year. But what distinguishes Liberman from the pack of embittered, possibly alcoholic misfits who manifest their discomfort through stand-up is his Jew-friendly routine. For example: “I live in Los Angeles, which has enough of a Jewish community that we have a yeshiva day school basketball league…which I don’t think is right because it instills kids with a false sense of athletic ability.” But beyond Chabad and Federation shows, Liberman has taken on an additional project that unites his Israeli identity with his commitment to comedy. Since 2003 he has created, planned, and managed a special initiative that brings American comedians to Israel to perform for English-speaking audiences—they perform at about five shows in different cities, and ticket sales support Jerusalem’s non-profit Crossroads Center, the only intervention center for English-speaking teenagers. The funds raised from last summer’s shows—which featured comedians Dwight Slade, Gary Gulman, and Craig Robinson and was hosted by Liberman—helped run the center for a full month. “The first two years, we did it to brighten people’s spirits during the Second Intifada,” Liberman recalls. During those early years, sometimes the trip just broke even, but as Liberman says, “We never did it for the money in the first place.” He tells of one of the very first shows he performed in Ra’anana, right in middle of the Second Intifada, when a girl approached him. “‘I haven’t had anything to laugh about in over a year,’ she said, very matter-of-factly. Then she just walked away. But then it occurred to me that maybe this is more important than I thought.”
avi liberman Age
photo from www.aviliberman.net
This year’s tour, scheduled for mid-June, will take the comedians Dan Naturman, Lowell Sanders, and Harland Williams to Jerusalem, Raanana, Hashmonaim, Beit Shemesh, Tel Aviv, and Efrat. “The most important thing for me is that the comics all leave as major fans of Israel,” says Liberman, who incorporates touring into every Holy Land stay. “It turns them into mini-Zionists.” But first, Liberman is doing a second tour of comedy duty for America’s troops. Last November, it was Thanksgiving weekend in Afghanistan. This year, it’s springtime in Iraq. The comedian’s account of what happened in Afghanistan is predictably colorful and punchy—he talks about having been “smuggled out of Afghanistan to Germany like a bag of heroin,” and quips that he “never thought he’d be so glad to be in Germany.” But at his comedy’s core is a deep sense of gratitude to the armed forces that Avi’s glad to be repaying in laughter. “My dad served in the Israeli army, but I never did,” Liberman explains. “This was always a hole in my life, that I never served in either armed forces.” When his comedy tour received a standing ovation of thanks, Liberman felt it was misdirected. “I felt like I should be thanking them. I should be standing for them.” Esther D. Kustanowitz, senior editor of PresenTense Magazine, toured Jerusalem’s City of David with Avi Liberman and his pack of American comedians in summer 2007. You can read more about Esther’s adventures at one of her many blogs, http://myurbankvetch.com.
los angeles, california Profession
stand-up comic watch him because
he’s bringing laughter to those who need it most watch them PresenTensemagazine.org
israel @ 60
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around the world
portland is good for the jews
large city with a small-town feel, Portland, Oregon is relaxed yet sophisticated, eco-friendly but chic—a top-five destination city for young college graduates. And now youthful fortune-seekers have more reason to head for the Rose City, as local masterminds transform Portland into a thriving metropolis where it’s hip to be Jewish. From wilderness-traipsing to organic beer-brewing, from rowdy dodgeball to serene meditation, Rose City Jews in their 20’s and 30’s demand programming tailored to their edgy, outdoor ethos. Michigan transplant Jodi Berris and Oregon native Sarah Liebman answer the call, uniting young Jews of all backgrounds and connecting them with the greater Portland Jewish community in unusual ways. Rewind to July 2005. Portland’s young Jewish community languished, a social wasteland but for monthly happy hours organized by the local Federation’s Young Adult Division, until Berris introduced 1-800-SHABBAT, Discovery Production’s nationwide program matching young adults with community hosts for a traditional Shabbat dinner followed by a dessert gathering with peers. Berris parlayed this into Portland Jewish Events (www. portlandjewishevents.com), now the umbrella organization for 1-800-SHABBAT, and for similar yom tov (holiday) meal arrangements; an annual December 24th Christmas Eve bash for Jews; Israeli club nights; Jewish holiday-themed brew parties, and even a “Dodgeball and Drinks” league. Berris’s current undertaking is a new Moishe House, the Forest Foundation’s international initiative that funds Jewish communal homes as gathering places for young adults. Portland’s Moishe House keeps strictly kosher and is shomer Shabbat (Sabbath-observant). Since opening on January 1, 2008, Berris and her housemates have sponsored Superbowl and Super Tuesday gatherings, presented a lecture by
“Having a Jewish connection has been invaluable. I have found a new concept of my own Jewish identity.” PresenTense’s Ariel Beery, initiated a men’s basketball league, and pioneered two alternating, weekly series—“Hebrew with He’Brew” and “Torah on Tap”—that combine education with recreation. “When you see a dance floor filled with young Jewish adults, some wearing kippahs and some having never seen a kippah, and everyone is just partying all together without the barriers of Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, [or] Reconstructionist, you know you’re doing something right,” notes Berris. Naomi Fink, a 2003 emigrant from New York City, agrees. “Before these events, I would go to a
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photos by Hannah Ferber
service here or an event there, but I never felt like I belonged to a community. I especially like that I’ve found a ton in common with people both significantly more and less religious than myself. I can watch the Super Bowl with an Orthodox rabbi, play volleyball in a Jewish setting with my buddies from work, or boogie down with a bunch of Israelis.” Sarah Liebman established Machar (Hebrew for “tomorrow”) and Urban Jews PDX (the airport code for Portland) in fall 2006 to foster Jewish literacy/leadership and to facilitate grassroots Jewish networks within her demographic. Machar (www.urbanjew.org) provides Jews who are college graduates, but not yet parents, with the training, connections, and seed money necessary to birth novel events for their peers. Machar participants, or Macharniks, attend classes from the Florence Melton Adult Mini School, an international venture designed by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to discuss Jewish texts in an open, pluralistic environment, and present leadership PresenTensemagazine.org around the world
workshops. Urban Jews PDX, an email listserv, informs young Jews about the latest happenings from Machar and other Jewish groups. In their first year, Macharniks created “Succot at the Farmer’s Market,” a Jewish outreach education initiative on hunger, and started a Portland chapter of Mosaic, a national Jewish outdoor group. They hosted film festivals, concerts, Middle East peace dialogues, Rosh Hodesh (a traditional celebration of the new moon, long associated with women, and adopted as a women’s holiday in modern times) study groups, and presentations by alumni of Jewish service programs. “It’s inspiring to watch Macharniks imagine the Jewish community they want to live in, and then build it,” Liebman observes. One Macharnik, Shoshanah Krall, has founded a leadership project called Kayam, an eco-conscious Jewish communal home. “Many community leaders are prevented from achieving their dreams by the difficult side of organizing,” Krall laments. “Machar eases that difficulty to a degree I wouldn’t have believed possible.” Machar also enriches the personal lives of its participants. Danit Polunsky explains, “Having a Jewish connection has been invaluable. Machar has created a niche for me: full of friends, support, and learning. I have found a new concept of my own Jewish identity.” Within months of Machar’s inception, Liebman received numerous calls from Jewish leaders in the broader community, seeking advice on how to reach young Jewish adults. Liebman created “Talkin’ About My Generation,” a workshop on bridging the generational gap subsequently profiled in The Jerusalem Post. Armed with new knowledge, local synagogues and organizations initiated programs geared to this demographic. Machar also received funding from Greater Portland’s Jewish Federation. “Machar exemplifies the kind of creative grassroots approach to engaging younger Jews that we need. The so-called organized community should be supporting these entrepreneurial initiatives without stifling them,” suggests Machar Advisory Board member Dr. Jonathan Woocher, Director of the Lippman Kanfer Institute think tank and Chief Ideas Officer for JESNA, an educational partner and beneficiary of United Jewish Communities. Machar’s Advisory Board is evaluating Machar’s potential as a national pilot program. Thanks to innovators like Berris and Liebman, Jewish initiatives for young adults flower in Portland and may spread to Jewish communities throughout the country. Hip Jewish programming, Portland-style: coming soon to a neighborhood near you. Elizabeth Kellogg is a graduate of Wellesley College, class of 2000. She works as a Conservation Educator at the Oregon Zoo, but her studies at Lewis and Clark’s Northwestern School of Law and at the Georgetown University Law Center birthed a passion for writing and editing. around the world PresenTensemagazine.org
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Columbus Explores New Lands thinking outside the shabbat-in-a-box
Heather E.A. Mitchell where a mishmash of intellectual pursuits and football culture reign supreme. While one Jew might take comfort in the respite of Shabbat, another is equally comfortable spending Saturday at a local sports bar taking in the game. Another may toil away endlessly in a campus research photo from flickr.com/people/jflauer lab. With over 50,000 college students and an ntil two years ago, a new arrival estimated 150,000 visitors to campus daily, to the Central Ohio Jewish Ohio State exists as a city within a city, adding to young adult community the number of social secular opportunities and could expect to be greeted by a tugging on a young adult’s time. Between OSU, Jewish communal professional with Shabbat- companies that attract young Jewish employees, in-a-box in hand. The two candles, matches, and the numerous medical and scientific research Manischewitz wine with plastic Kiddush cup, centers, Columbus attracts many Jews in their challah coupon and cover made by children 20s and 30s, and thus the Columbus Jewish at an area day school were well-intended, Community is likely significantly younger than but, perhaps, not the right welcome, at least average, and affiliation with the community not for everyone, given the eclectic religious stands at less than 20%. Stimulating greater and social backgrounds and beliefs of young affiliation has been a perennial challenge in the Jews today. Today, when a Jew decides to face of the many not specifically Jewish allures call Columbus home, the community offers of Columbus. them something more akin to a buffet than Rabbi Idit Jacques, Columbus Federation a single serving of Jewishness. Vice President of Jewish Education and In the last quarter, one Jewish Identity, describes the dichotomy between organization, YAD (the Young Adult Division natives of Columbus and those new to the of the Columbus Jewish Federation), regularly city: “There is a strong sense of community sponsored monthly happy hours; sponsored a and identity among those who have grown professional networking reception with Ohio’s up here. When you grow up here, you have a Lieutenant Governor; collected Hanukkah gifts different sense of the institutional nature of for Toys for Tots; organized two coffeehouse community. We have eight congregations; conversations on the topics of Jewish dating, we have Jewish Family Services; there is the community, and family; and co-sponsored an Foundation and the Historical Society, etc. event for National Coming Out Day called People who grow up here get that sense of “My Life: Jewish and Gay.” compartmentalization. And that creates the Columbus, whose 22,000 Jews make need for a unique approach to outreach.” it the second largest Jewish community The biggest Jewish event of the year in in Ohio, is home to Ohio State University Columbus is the Mazel Ball. Over 150 young
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Jewish adults gather on December 24th to dance, partake of a kosher buffet and an open bar, reconnect with old friends who are visiting home during vacation, and meet newcomers to the area. This year, the ball was held in a bar that was once the mayor’s mansion in the historic German Village. For young Jewish adults who are active in the central Ohio community, activity is a conscious decision, not a matter of happenstance. “Building community” is more than a platitude—it is the process and result of such things as volunteering at the local Jewish retirement center, planning a happy hour, stopping in for a Jewish learning experience; not because an aunt or rabbi recommended it, but because in this place that has become a home-away-from-home, young Jewish adults are choosing to build a community that is their own. Heather E.A. Mitchell works in a teaching enhancement center at The Ohio State University, where she develops learning enrichment programs, is a member of the university’s digital storytelling team, and promotes active learning techniques that are culturally inclusive.
PresenTensemagazine.org around the world
No JDate Here
making jewish matches in india
n a world of Jdate, Frumster and SawYouAtSinai, American Jews don’t seem to want for opportunities to meet other American Jews—preferably cute, single ones with stable jobs. But across the ocean, the Jewish community of India struggles with the challenges of a shrinking photos by Erin Beser population and hurries to marry off its youth before all the eligible partners are gone or these singles turn to nonThe bride waits in the traditional green sari, symbolizing prosperity, for the mendhi ceremony to begin on the eve before her wedding. Jewish alternatives. The younger generation bristles at their elders’ anxiety. “Now there are only 5,000 Jews in India, half of which are females...we thousands have immigrated to Israel, with only 5,000 Jews remaining need some variety to choose from,” jokes Jennifer Jacob, 16. in India. This is quite an old problem for the Indian Jewish community. As India’s economic boom has created new opportunity and When a ship bearing Israelite travelers legendarily sank off the Konkan boundless optimism, the impulse to emigrate eased. Because more coast of western India in 175 BCE, only 14 passengers survived young Indian Jews are looking for a future at home, the demand for —seven men and seven women—to begin a new Jewish life in India. finding Jewish spouses within India has grown, as has the controversy Now that’s slim pickings. between choosing arranged marriages and “love matches.” At least Eventually, other migrant Jewish communities joined the one new bride-to-be rejoices in her “love match.” Lovena Haeems, descendents of these fourteen, but these groups left India in large 25, met Nissim Pingle, 28, in India, through the Jewish Youth numbers after the Partition of India in 1947. Only a scattered handful Pioneers, the Mumbai-based youth group for Indian Jews ages 13remains. Just before the founding of the State of Israel, an estimated 30, coordinated by the Evelyn Peters Jewish Community Center and 20-30,000 Bene Israel Jews lived in India. But in recent decades, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. She and Nissim
he Mendhi ceremony, held traditionally the night before the wedding, is a ritual borrowed from the Indian community at large. The people living in the state of Maharashtra, no matter what their religion, adorn the bride’s hands with henna, hang flowers from her hair for happiness, and feed her sweets for a sweet new life. They throw rice over her shoulders so that there should be abundant grains in her mother’s home which she leaves, and put rice on her knees so that she has abundant food grains in her new home, her husband’s house. The Bene Israel wedding ceremony more resembles the Western Jewish wedding than the Mendhi.
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Mendhi ceremony The bride dons a white dress, distinguishing herself from the Hindu majority which wears red on wedding days, considering white the color of mourning. The ceremony takes place in the synagogue, beneath a chuppah (wedding canopy), with a chazan (cantor) officiating, as rabbis can be hard to come by in India, with an interactive call-and-response participation from the congregation. The bride walks down the aisle with not only her nuclear family, but her immediate one as well, as the groom sings the standard “Yonati Ziv” (“My Beloved is a Dove”) psalm
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in the traditional Bene Israel melody. These verses from the Song of Songs have been sung by every Bene Israel groom in the community’s living memory. The groom does not stomp on the glass to conclude the service (the traditional somber commemoration of the destruction of the Temple occurs earlier in the service), but rather the new couple makes their rounds of the crowd on their way to the ark, where they leave a small offering of money. They then exit the synagogue, with the bride’s parents feeding them sugar to enhance the sweetness of their first steps as husband and wife.
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Members of the bride’s family feed her sweets to sweeten her future life with her new husband.
The groom, surrounded by his father, father-in-law and cousin, recites portions of the Bene Israel wedding ceremony, while holding one end of the ketubah.
decided to get married, though they still asked both his and her parents for permission. If their parents had not approved, she says, the marriage—planned for March—would not have been able to take place. “Our culture is so that people generally take their parents’ approval,” Lovena explains. “Even if they like someone, they would definitely inform their parents about it. If their parents say no, and they just marry, they leave the family unhappy, which people sometimes do when they marry Hindus and Christians. For me, parents’ approval is required.” In many cases, the parents do not wait to be asked, but actively seek out a potential bride or a groom for their child or a matchmaker to aid in the process. Hannah Pezarkar has been just such a matchmaker for the last 10 years. “Nice boys, nice girls are [marrying out of the community]. The parents try to find them someone, but they can’t,” Hannah laments. Hannah outlines the matchmaking procedure. “Mostly parents come with what they want for their kids,” she explains. “Then I try to think of a good match: that both families should be equal, the
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couple should look nice together, their education should be on the same level. They have one or two sittings and then they decide. No one forces them; if the boy or the girl don’t like each other, then it’s not a match.” Hannah refuses to accept compensation for her services, not even the token gold ring, a common Bene Israel gift to the person responsible for a successful match. “My main thing is that Jewish boys and girls should marry in the community,” she emphasizes. Solomon Charikar arranges marriages for his friends and family in his spare time from his work at the Evelyn Peters Jewish Community Center. Like Hannah, he provides this service for the love of his community and its future, not for payment. “The most important thing I look for when I am making a match is whether the person is a Jew who is keeping the traditions of Judaism. I also check to see if any of his family has ever married [out of our religion].” Lovena’s sister, Florence Haeems, 29, also emphasizes the important service arranged marriages provide for the community, though she approves of her sister’s love match. “The community is so small, sometimes people can’t find a good match on their own and they need their parents or someone in the community to help them. Arranged marriages help people find the right person,” Florence explains. Natasha Joseph, 20, concurs. “Arranged marriages today aren’t as bad as they used to be. You meet, spend time together, and then decide if you like each other or not. It’s just that your first meeting was fixed by your parents. It’s a little more demanding, maybe, in the sense that you might discover something about the other person after getting married, and in that case, a little more adjustment is required. As long as both partners make an effort and are mature, it works out really well.” In fact, arranged marriages have such widespread appeal that instead of marrying within the local community, many Bene Israels living outside of India return there and enlist the aid of matchmakers, family members or friends to find them a partner willing to live abroad. But while many assert that arranged marriages are still much more common and successful than love marriages, Lovena disagrees, pointing out the rapidly westernizing society. “With the modernization of India, women want to work,” Lovena explains. “These days, arranged marriages might not be as successful as they were years ago. Back then, people knew what was expected of a woman, to be
More and more young Indian Jews are looking for a future at home. more house-oriented, but these days more and more women want different things.” Jennifer agrees. “It’s me who will find the guy for me, not my parents, because I’m not in for marrying someone I don’t know. I’ll find someone who my parents will approve of me marrying, whether he’s Jewish or not.” Though Jennifer’s attitude seems prevalent among Indian youth, it’s actually in the minority, considering that the intermarriage rates in this highly traditional community are still much lower than their western counterparts. Even with the limited selection, most Jews continue to marry other Jews.
The bride and groom receive a blessing from the chazzan.
The bride and groom kiss the mezzuzah together as they exit from the synagogue.
Azriel Samson, 19, affirms this estimate. “Marrying someone Jewish is important to me because it has been drilled into my head by my parents. It is also important to propagate our religion,” he offers. Family life among young Indian couples still remains very traditional, despite the shift towards love matches. For example, Lovena will live with Nissim and his parents after the wedding. “I’ll stay with his family in their three-bedroom flat in Navi Mumbai,” Lovena says. “Mostly, the bride goes to the groom’s family. It’s very rare that young couples have their own place.” However, in keeping with the changing trends for Mumbai women, Lovena will continue to work as a manager of a gym franchise even after her wedding, though Nissim will still help support the
entire family as an assistant manager at a call center, a common occupation among Indian youth. While the trends in India are changing, the tradition of arranged marriages remains a reliable option. So when the singles scene seems impossible to crack, fear not. There is yet one more alternative to JDate. Buy a roundtrip ticket to India and see what Hannah can find for you in the Indian Jewish community. Just make sure you bring your parents. Erin Beser is a freelance writer and Jewish educator who served as the Jewish Service Corps Volunteer for the Joint Distribution Committee in Mumbai from July 2006 – August 2007.
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here & Now
6 on 60
6 ideas shaping tomorrow’s israel
Abigail Rozenberg and PT Staff “If you get to the kids when they’re still young and their future is still open, you can create memories that will make the campers remember Israel forever through its future,” Kouris says. Recognizing the importance of investing in the next generation, the President of the State of Israel, Google Israel, MTV Israel, and Microsoft Israel, among others, already support eCamp Israel. www.ecampisrael.com
Israel2020 Voice of Tomorrow Israel2020 is a new movement of young people of all religions and streams in Israel working together to ensure that Israel will be a place worthy of all its citizens. With over 1,000 dues-paying members, the movement is managed and led by young adults and guided by public figures and experts in communication, academia, business, society, education, and culture.
eCamp Israel Teen Tech-Connect This summer, Israel and the Jewish world’s first international technology summer camp will open its doors to approximately 300 10-18 yearolds from around the world. Campers will participate in technology workshops on topics ranging from flash animation and 3D modeling to games, programming, web design and wireless game controllers. Because Israel is second only to Silicon Valley as a global center of technology, the campers will meet some of Israel’s most successful innovators, such as the founder of ICQ and AOL Instant Messaging or the creator of the electronic car, and visit Israeli technology centers. Older campers will have a chance to train in the Israeli Air Force flight simulator. Campers will also use technology as the basis for initiatives that promote tikkun olam (healing the world). “The camp combines Jewish values with the number one success story of Israel—technology and innovation. The past is very important, but this is the first camp which will showcase the future of Israel, the future which belongs to these kids,” co-founder Nir Kouris explains. eCamp Israel will provide a traditional summer camp atmosphere, including sports and activities. But Kouris and fellow co-founder Dotan Tamir hope the experience will inspire the campers, as they learn just how central Israel is to global technology, from Hollywood special effects to cell phones.
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Members of Israel2020 are united in their goal to create a society where all young people will be proud to live, regardless of religious practice or nationality; they believe in a democratic Israel with a pluralistic culture and Jewish character. They call for a transparent, representative, and efficient government based on economic excellence, a spirit of social solidarity, and the promise of a clean and safe environment for present and future generations. “Israel2020 is about enabling the young generation to assume responsibility and enter and influence our political system,” director Uri Ginott explains. He identifies at least four future government ministers among the movement’s diverse membership: a religious settler from Gush Etzion, an Arab legal expert from the Galilee, a secular Jew from northern Tel Aviv, and a Druze CEO of a fiber optics company. The movement’s first step is to create a strategic plan for the future of Israel addressing key features of Israeli society, from security, rule of law, and stopping government corruption, to social welfare and education. Following the plan’s release and publication, the movement aims to promote a public agenda for the plan’s fulfillment and to cultivate new, young leadership to implement the values and initiatives of the next generation. “We’re leading a paradigm shift,” emphasizes Ginott, “so that Israel can live up to its destiny, and be more Jewish and more democratic —not one or the other.” http://www.israel2020.org.il/ PresenTensemagazine.org here & Now
Shalom Hartman Institute Giving Educators a Pulpit The Shalom Hartman Institute already has a successful training program for both Israeli and North American Jewish high school teachers, where participants earn the degrees of Masters in Education—now the Institute has launched a multi-denominational rabbinical program for American Jewish high school teachers. According to the Institute’s Co-Director, Rabbi Donniel Hartman, rabbinical schools train their students to become pulpit rabbis, including how to give sermons, make halakhic (Jewish legal) judgments, conduct Jewish life cycle events, and counsel congregants. Yet many rabbis go on to become high school teachers, where they need a different skill set, including being able to articulate the central concepts of Judaism within a school curriculum, address welfare issues specific to adolescents, and adapt Jewish rituals to the school’s timetable. All graduates of the new four-year program, which will be comprised of men and women from all the major Jewish denominations, will receive the title “Rabbi-Educator.” Hartman is passionate about providing quality Jewish education for the next generation. “Assimilation is a product of a mediocre Jewish education,” Hartman maintains. “Being born Jewish is becoming increasingly insignificant in determining our Judaism. The old safety nets are gone… [Program graduates need] to create a Judaism that’s important enough for students in the modern world to say, ‘I choose to be Jewish,’ a Judaism that will compete in the marketplace.” www.hartmaninstitute.com
Humans and Animals in Mutual Assistance (HAMA) Animal Instincts Humans and Animals in Mutual Assistance (HAMA) uses the unique, primal relationship between people and animals for therapeutic purposes. Founded by Avshalom Beni, the non-profit treats troubled children, families, and the elderly (including Holocaust survivors) in a variety of therapeutic centers across Israel. The treatment involves using cats and dogs as “assistant therapists” and includes animals that have themselves been abandoned, abused, or injured. Working with specially-trained session leaders, patients are encouraged to actively engage with the animals through group activities. The process of discussing the animals’ attributes and needs triggers here & now PresenTensemagazine.org
powerful associations with the patients’ own lives. Within a few sessions, patients choose their own animals to work with, and Beni often takes note of the connections that are forged. Those who suffer from physical problems draw particular strength from injured animals, many of whom were rescued from northern Israel following the Second Lebanon War, while “the small, baby-like Pekinese dogs regularly transport the Holocaust survivors caring for them back into their own pre-Holocaust early childhoods and into memories that they thought had been lost forever,” Beni says. When family members successfully communicate with a mute animal but not each other, communication problems within the family become glaringly obvious. “People who feel completely empty, as if there’s nothing left to give in life, feel they can be loved again [after working with an animal],” Beni says of the work of HAMA. HAMA is now looking to establish a permanent center in Rosh Pina, in northern Israel, so that it can concentrate on using animal therapy to help northern Israelis overcome the effects of deep trauma. It has also received requests to replicate its model in several American JCCs. www.hama-israel.org.il
my israel Empowering Donors A new umbrella charity, my israel provides potential donors in the UK with information to make informed choices about where and how to donate and to receive follow-up with data on the impact their money has made. Founded by Danielle Franks, my israel aims to solve both problems. Donors choose from thirteen small Israeli charities which provide a wide range of services for Israel’s disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, ranging from free dental care to counseling for victims of sexual abuse. These charities all have annual budgets of less than $500,000, low administrative costs, and my israel has appraised their efficiency and effectiveness. Donors will know their money is very much needed and that all of it will be used to make a difference on the ground, and they will be provided with feedback with a personal touch whenever possible. Franks points out that many Israel-lovers “cannot conceive that there are 12-year-olds in Israel who have never visited a dentist, or that there are people in Israel who are hungry.” Because administration costs are fully covered by private donors, 100% of each donation made through my israel’s automated giving system reaches its intended charity. “It doesn’t make a difference to us if 10,000 people give $1 or one person gives $10,000, because our administration costs are zero,” Franks points out. “[Donors should] feel an emotional connection wherever possible… and feel the reward of their donation,” irrespective of how much they give, Franks says. “When people donate, they really put their faith in what the charities do.” www.myisraelcharity.org israel @ 60
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new restaurants; ex-pat Jerusalemites wanting to maintain their connection to the city by keeping abreast of its cultural happenings; and first-time tourists trying to get the most out of a short stay. The attractive, easy-to-navigate website includes local maps and a blog, updated multiple times a day, which covers subjects ranging from the fortunes of local soccer teams to the results of the latest archeological digs. Above all, the site offers what Rubinstein describes as its “personality,” using the same irreverent, friendly style throughout. The site’s 800-900 event and city guide listings are written informatively, enthusiastically, and often with humor. “Mozart might be a little perturbed that his middle name had been lent to a strobed-out electronica dance bar for the young and Israeli, but hey, he’s dead,” reads the Amadeus listing. photos by Asaf Kliger
Jerusalemites like to complain, so there are always voices ready to lament about the run-down city center or ever-changing municipal character. But Jerusalemite.net points out the city’s real treasures, to people who perhaps simply didn’t know where to look. “Ben and I have an insider’s perspective, and we know what’s really going on. We’re keeping our ears to the ground all the time,” Rubinstein says.
Jerusalemite Keeping Jerusalem in (Web) Site Jerusalemite is a new website for English speakers, providing a comprehensive, up-to-date cultural guide to Jerusalem. Created by media experts Harry Rubenstein and Ben Jacobson, it is designed to be equally useful for Jerusalem residents simply looking for decent
www.jerusalemite.net Abigail Rozenberg made aliyah from London in 2005. She now works for Meitar—The College of Judaism as Culture—and lives in Jerusalem.
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Israel @ 60
how does she compare?
t the age of sixty, Israel has already accomplished a lot. With bustling metropolises, developed infrastructures, excellent universities and a handful of wars under her belt (and currently on her belt), Israel has certainly gained a weathered maturity. But she hasn’t hit her golden years yet; amidst Kassam rockets flying, never-ending peace talks and corrupt officials, Israel isn’t having an easy start to her new decade. This practically begs the question: is it Israel? Or are the sixties, like the two’s, just kind of terrible? Of course, the only historically accurate way to answer this question is to pick four countries completely at random and compare where they were on their 60th, to determine once and for all if Israel has a ’real’ conflict or if she is just enduring a birthday everyone would like to forget. With no forethought, I’ve picked Peru, Finland, America, and the Republic of Ireland. After becoming colonized enough to understand the term, Peru achieved independence in 1821. In the adolescence of Peru’s statehood, i.e. the 1840’s through the 1860’s, Peruvians bathed in the riches accumulated from the national export of guano (or bat poo). But they overshot the productivity of their natural resources and spent the 1870’s in debt, in battle and in a cesspool of political unrest. Then, on Peru’s 60th birthday, she linked arms with Bolivia and fought Chile in The War of the Pacific. (Remember that from ninth grade history? No, you don’t). The war was about a piece of disputed land rich with goodies called the Atacama desert, and by 1881, Peru’s capital of Lima was occupied by the Chilean invaders. The war didn’t end for two more years—when Peru relented and signed a treaty at Ancon, seceding a big chunk of land for peace. Disputed land, occupation and landfor-peace. That’s called foreshadowing. Finland, a notoriously boring country, doesn’t have much to offer in terms of internal or external conflict. She declared independence in 1917 from Bolshevist Russia and has been happy ever since (the happiest in the world, in fact, according to a Reader’s Digest study published here & Now PresenTensemagazine.org
this past fall). But not so fast: the 1970’s in Finland reveal a blemish. That’s the decade when the country’s heart disease death rate was the highest in the whole world. Finland’s war on her 60th birthday was, in fact, taking place internally—literally within her internal organs. It’s tricky to say when Ireland officially became Ireland, since she declared herself a country in 1916, but no one really believed her until 1922. Let’s be diplomatic and look at 1980 as Ireland’s sixtysomething birthday. During the 80’s, Ireland was in the thick of ‘The Troubles,’ which were just as gloomy as they sound. The nationalist (Catholic) Irish were pitted against the unionist (Protestant) Irish over Northern Ireland’s relationship with (and occupation by) England and its abundant religious discrimination. England thought she was just ‘keeping the peace,’ though the Northern Irish nationalists begged to differ. They demanded a freer Ireland and did so through a war of attrition, which included sneak attacks, public bombings, targeted killings and, in 1980, some highly publicized hunger strikes that left nearly a dozen dead. Let’s now turn to America, or as Americans calls her, ‘God’s Country.’ After centuries of plagues, public humiliation of the natives and innumerable apple pies, independence was declared in 1776 (or, if you prefer the Red Coat account, 1783). By 1836, the US had already spent several decades yelling “manifest destiny!” at anyone who would (or wouldn’t) listen, inciting brutal wars with the neighbors and trading land for beads. While the friskier Americans were grabbing land at every corner of the young nation, those who felt more comfortable staying put adopted the ‘plantation lifestyle,’ which included corn husking (by slaves), cotton picking (by slaves) and gin drinking (made by slaves). After sixty years, was America stable, civilized israel @ 60
and at peace? No. Were all people treated equally under the law? Yes, if by people you mean white men. At sixty, the pesky issue of equality was just edging onto the national radar. In 1836, American news was filled with tales of the Alamo, the invention of Arkansas and the infamous gag rule. This rule, which sounds like it imposed some serious fun, was actually a big win for the pro-slavery faction, who decided that they didn’t want to give up their right to have slaves, much less talk about it. America at sixty was not the basket of pluralism and freedom fries that she is today; the country was gagged, war-fringed and severely lacking in anything that resembled basic human rights. If wild guessing tells us anything, it’s that the sixties might just be a bum couple of years. If anything, this should bring optimism to the hearts of young Zionists: history repeats itself, and that repetition can teach us valuable lessons. As citizens of the countries of the world, we’ve all experienced our share of sticky borders, neighbors who don’t like us, occupiers or guilt about occupying. When it comes down to it, it’s the heart disease that’s the real killer. What’s the lesson here? Israelis should really stop smoking, because the rest will work itself out on its own. Chloe Safier proudly holds both Israeli and American citizenship, and is thinking about joining Finland too. She currently lives in Boston and writes and edits for PresenTense. issue five 2008
Would You Like Some Chumus With That Poke?
facebook invades the holy land
himon Peres is a living legend—a founding father of the Jewish State. He arrived in Israel before the War of Independence, served in the Knesset, held numerous minister positions in the government, led Israel as both Prime Minister and President and has won the Nobel Peace Prize. And yet, he will forever be remembered as the man who just recently introduced Israel to…wait for it….“Bookface.” Even though he’s a young 84, Shimmy ain’t the online hipster that the rest of us are. A little late to the party, he told a group in Jerusalem that the social networking site called “Bookface” can be used for noble causes like fighting hate and anti-Semitism. But despite not knowing the name, the current Israeli President knew what he was talking about: everybody’s favorite social networking site is just as huge in Israel as it is in the States. Some unscientific sources reported in late 2007 that Israel was experiencing the second highest rate of Facebook growth of any country in the world, from 18,000 members in August 2007 to about 400,000 today. Readers out there still picturing the classic Israeli as a blue-collar kibbutznik should wake up and smell the chumus; the young generation of Israeli Facebook users is adding their own unique flavor to the site. First, a history lesson: In the beginning, there was poking. (Do I need to explain what that is? We all know? Ok, let’s move on). On the seventh day, G-d (or some Silicon Valley developer) created SuperPoke, enabling the masses to “throw sheep,” “slap,” “tickle,” or engage in various other meaningless online non-activities. In Tel Aviv? Shalom, IsraPoke! Who needs to “throw sheep” when you can “call someone motek” (sweetie)? “Shmear chumus”? “Shnorer cigariyah” (bum a cigarette)? (Eat your heart out, new Israeli anti-smoking laws—virtual smokes are beyond your jurisdiction). But let’s not forget the mathematical equation of why we’re all on Facebook anyway: Jewish geography + online social networking = unprecedented level of acceptable stalking. Want to research a potential romantic interest? Google is soooo 5767. Facebook’s where it’s at today. Access to information is ridiculously easy in Israel,
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where the social circles are unbelievably small and most people are members of the “Israel” network. Want to find out more about the sexy Jewess whose profile you came across? Study her profile, find out who her friends are and walk around her neighborhood…you’ll probably run into her. Or you could just join one of the countless popular Facebook groups which illustrate vital aspects of Israeli culture and society. Take “Mondays at Socca.” Started last summer by socialite and American immigrant Brad Bernstein, this group gathered other Anglo olim (immigrants) to a Tel Aviv club for hip-hop music and shmoozing. Fast-forward a few months… Socca spawned the bigger “Tel Aviv Party List” group (currently around 800 people), a move to a bigger bar, and a write-up in the Jerusalem Post (plus a new side gig as a party promoter for Brad). But Brad’s an American. Do native Israelis use Facebook? But of course, and there are just as many silly (or important, depending on perspective) causes to promote as in America. Here’s one: Only one hundred years ago, Eliezer Ben-Yehudah single-handedly revived the Hebrew language. One hundred years later, Israelis mucked it up and modernized it, breaking grammar and conjugation rules, and driving ulpan teachers crazy across the land. More and more people have begun to incorrectly conjugate, saying for example, “yeh-lekh” (“He will go”) instead of “eh-lekh” (“I will go”). Enter the Facebook group named “The Organization to Keep the Letter Aleph in First Person Future.” Seventeen hundred members and seventy-four wall postings aren’t going to let Eliezer’s efforts go down without a fight. There’s also the “Ema, Stop Freezing Pitas” group and the “Movement to Expel Those Who Translate Movie Titles into Hebrew.” But, as in America, Facebook isn’t all fun and games. There’s nothing fun about the tens of groups, numbering thousands of members, calling for the release of Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev, the three soldiers who have been missing since 2006. As you scroll through these groups, you also hope that the emotion of these social networkers is matched by real-life activism on their part. Who’d have thunk that in only 60 years, Israel would go from making David Ben-Gurion’s dream of making the desert bloom come true to shmearing virtual chumus? It’s enough to make us Israelis open an H&M store and bring Dunkin’ Donuts to the Holy Land. I guess it can’t be too far off…not if the Bookface groups have their say. Benji Lovitt, a comedian and writer, lives in Tel Aviv and blogs at WhatWarZone. com. You can book him for a show at BenjiLovitt.com. PresenTensemagazine.org here & now
Airfield of Dreams
americans’ first steps in their new home
he December 26, 2007 El Al flight from New York to Israel was different, more animated than usual. The usual crowds of families saying goodbye to loved ones at the airport were joined by Danny Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, and Tal Brody, the American-Israeli basketball star of Maccabi Tel-Aviv. But perhaps what was most unique was that the flight carried 191 new olim–immigrants to Israel–preparing to start new lives in Israel. The charter flight was one of over a dozen sponsored each year by Nefesh b’Nefesh, an organization which facilitates aliyah from North America and England. In addition to providing charter flights, it helps with pre-aliyah planning and absorption, provides forums for olim to meet one another, and offers financial assistance as well. This flight in particular had over 100 young people, who spent much of the flight meeting and giving advice to one another.
Despite sharing the common goal of aliyah, these young North Americans failed to fit into any single stereotype. Marna Lew, 26, originally from Wilmington, Delaware, here & now PresenTensemagazine.org
had traveled to Israel several times before. She realized, “I didn’t belong in the US—it was ingrained in me that Israel is where I belong—this is where I want to raise my children.” Others were more practical than idealistic. Ryan Seideman, 23, from Long Island, was on the flight to join his Israeli girlfriend. “We met in college, and she returned to Israel to complete her army service.” Motivations aside, the olim photos by Judy Lash Balint differed in what they felt was necessary in order to prepare for their arrival Other olim were not as gung-ho about in Israel. Via the Nefesh b’Nefesh employment obligatory military service, but rather saw it office, Lew was able to find a job that matched simply as a means to integrate into Israeli society. her educational background and career goals. “I don’t want to go into the army but feel that “I recommend that people make a pilot trip and I should. I wouldn’t be Israeli if I didn’t,” said should definitely look into job opportunities Jeremy Shir, 25, from Boston and Miami. before you get here,” she said. One common thread among the new Although planning is recommended by olim was the need to learn Hebrew. Some, like Nefesh b’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency, it’s Shir, had concrete plans to enroll in ulpan, not for everyone. Seideman takes a contrary or intensive Hebrew study class. Indeed, he view, saying, “People who plan out details moved to Kibbutz Maagan Michael to attend are full of shit—you can’t plan out your life.” a kibbutz ulpan, which included both Hebrew He hoped that Nefesh b’Nefesh would help study and work on the kibbutz. him find a job in the future, but first wanted On the other hand, Lew is disappointed to focus on learning Hebrew and starting his that so far no ulpanim have fit into her work mandatory army service. schedule. Nevertheless, she has seen her Seideman was not alone in planning to Hebrew improve exponentially since she made serve in the Israeli Defense Force. 30 olim aliyah and began work. “I’ve learned on the on the flight planned to enter the IDF in the job. I had little formal language training, next six months, some starting only days after and yet I can read emails now.” they got off the plane. She scorns her fellow Anglos who rely While there were those who viewed on their English skills to get by. “I have a army service as a necessary but uninspiring lot of trouble with Americans who come to obligation, some olim were looking forward to Israel and think ‘I’ll just speak English’—it the opportunity to serve the Jewish State. frustrates me. News flash: you have to try!” Leor Suissa, 24, from Marlboro, New Three months after the Nefesh b’Nefesh Jersey, was enthusiastic about his impending flight, she is still adapting to life in Israel. “I induction into the IDF. “I was always want to be part of the society here, and I make interested in the military, but people told an effort every day to earn that teudat zehut me, ‘Don’t go the US Army—go to the Israeli [Israeli identification card]… Sure, it’s been army!’” As he was already past the prime draft hard. Am I happy with it? For the most part. age, he had to fight for acceptance into the I know I’m in the right place.” full three-year army service, but he seemed undaunted by the challenge. “I’m thinking Simi Hinden is the Advertising and Circulation about serving in a tank unit,” he said. “That Director for PresenTense. She lives in Jerusalem way I can advance higher and faster.” and is excited about her imminent aliyah. israel @ 60
issue five 2008
Miami to My Country
tv reporter finds life and career in the holy land
he first day my mother put me on the bus for North Miami Beach Jewish Day School, the buttons on my polo were so tightly fastened I could barely breathe. I was nervous. Would the cafeteria’s kosher lunch have anything good to eat, or would I have to eat the candy photo by Oded Balilty bar in my pocket? Orthodox life in Miami Beach was not complicated. If I stuck to the rules, I could play the game. I went to synagogue on Saturdays, sang in the choir, and even won a few awards at the Torah Fair. My religious education was supposed to make me feel closer to G-d. Instead, my schooling was filled with hours of learning Gemara while covered from head to toe in an itchy, blue polyester uniform. But my connection to Israel helped me bridge the divide between me and religion. I believed if I had a close relationship with the Jewish homeland, it would be smooth sailing with G-d. Post day school, I was unfulfilled by reviewing local restaurants, and decided to move to Israel to become a journalist there. Within three days, I had sold my car and my furniture and quit all my writing jobs. Everyone laughed, and declared me clinically insane. My first day on the job at the Jerusalem Post, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in Jerusalem. I will never forget the scenes from the attack, the sight and smells of what explosives do to human flesh. I went from writing about the trauma to seeing it, living it, and, to my horror, dreaming about it for months to follow. Later, I landed a job at IBA News and found myself covering the kind of earth-shaking, historical assignment I had always dreamed of—Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Afterward, I covered Pope John Paul II’s funeral in Rome, the long journey of the Falash Mura from Ethiopia to Israel, and then, my first real war—reporting live from the Lebanese border, Katyusha rockets exploding not far away. One Friday night, my father called me as he was about to light the Shabbat candles. “Where are you?” he asked. He could probably hear explosions in the background. When I told him, he began to cry. “You chose bombs over Bible study, excitement over routine and Tel Aviv over Torah, but I’m proud of my little girl.” Living here, breathing the country, knowing and feeling it, has brought me back to the memory of that little girl waiting for the bus in Miami Beach. My roots are still very much a part of me, and my faith and belief in G-d, though different, have not lost their intensity and may even have grown. Israel has also granted me the opportunity to achieve personal and professional accomplishments usually reserved for someone much older. And if it requires running off to the West Bank on assignment as the sun is setting on a Friday night, I have to go. Leah Stern is a TV correspondent, anchor and editor for IBA News and a Falafel TV producer. She also directs, produces and films in Israel for CNN’s World Report Program and is the video coordinator for ISRAEL21c. israel @ 60
PresenTensemagazine.org here & now
photo from flickr.com/photos/24866829@N00 Urfa. Abraham’s birth place.
erusalem, Hebron, Damascus and the Euphrates River are not usually found together on a typical holiday itinerary, but a new initiative is planning to take intrepid travelers through at least six different Middle Eastern countries, hitting the above locations and many more. The new cultural tourism project, called the Abraham Path, aims to take travelers of all backgrounds along the route the father of monotheism is believed to have navigated over 3,000 years ago. Parts of the terrain, which includes Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, are even more treacherous to pass in 2008 than they were in Abraham’s time. Though he wandered by foot, the ease of travel afforded to modern travelers by road and air transport is rapidly cancelled out by the modern-day political and ethnic turmoil in many of the countries through which the tour hopes to pass. Currently, Israeli citizens cannot legally travel into Syria, and Jordanians will be barred entry into Iran if their passports are stamped with an Israeli visa; so how does the 1,200 km path hope to succeed? While the vision maybe be ambitious, the organizers of the Abraham’s Path Initiative, founded by Harvard University’s Global Negotiation Project, are realistic. “The Initiative has no political agenda, and will not attempt to change any nation’s policy on border control or visa regulations,” say the organizers. “Most visitors from the West will be able to travel the entire length of the Abraham Path without any problem, and visitors from most countries of the Middle East will be able to travel large portions of the route.” Combining religion, geography, and history can be a recipe for confrontation, but the initiative hopes to use the path to focus on the shared cultural heritage of places rather than dwell on their differences. Jerusalem and Hebron have become a focus for Jews wanting to connect with their religion and past, as well those attempting to assert sovereignty over them in the present. Consequently, they have become flashpoints for tensions as Jewish and Palestinian claims compete. Another place where biblical figures have been invoked to promote tourism is the City of David archaeological site in the Arab village of Silwan in East Jerusalem. The visitor’s center has become one of the city’s top tourist attractions owing to the incredible archaeological discoveries of the original city of Jerusalem, which some claim could be the site of King David’s palace. But the project has come under fire for promoting here & now PresenTensemagazine.org
In the Footsteps of the Father walking abraham’s path
Michael Green a selective Judeo-centric narrative that excludes other histories and cultures, including that of the current Palestinian residents of the neighborhood. The Abraham Path takes an entirely different approach, using places associated with Abraham in Holy Scriptures as intercultural meeting places and economic catalysts for the localities. In Israel, work is beginning in the Negev through a partnership with Ben Gurion University to develop the path southwards from Beersheba. “The path is being developed within each nation initially. Where there are no routes, we will assist in their creation,” explains Josh Weiss, managing director of the Initiative. The whole path won’t be ready for some time, Weiss says, but small tours will be beginning this year, with groups traveling by bus and hiking in Turkey and the Palestinian Authority. In Jordan, travellers will engage in ‘voluntourism’ activities to help build the path there. The organizers don’t claim to follow the precise route of the Patriarch’s ancient wanderings, but the path will begin and end with sites that the three Abrahamic faiths concur he once resided, beginning near the ruins of Harran in Turkey where Abraham is said to have heard G-d’s call to go to “the land I will show you,” and ending at his final resting place at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the battle-scarred West Bank city of Hebron (Al-Khalil in Arabic). For more information and to view the route, visit abrahampath.org. Michael Green is UK-born freelance journalist living in Jerusalem. He blogs about the environment and politics at greenprophet.com and swordsandploughshares.blogspot.com, respectively. israel @ 60
issue five 2008
rules of engagement
ews have established vibrant communities spanning the globe, but always direct their prayers toward the land of their biblical ancestors. How does this ancient connection to Israel affect the personal lives of Diaspora Jews today? In celebrating 60 years of statehood for Israel, PT presents two different views on Jewish living in the Diaspora.
NYC. I’m not aware of any other place on the planet which could offer me [these]opportunities.
photo by Miriam Intrator
Rachael Kafrissen Rachael Kafrissen is a Yiddishist: the web editor for Jewish Currents, she is currently writing a book titled Myth of the Yiddish Atlantis. She lives in New York City.
What do you refer to as your “Promised Land”? NYC. My definition of a “promised land” is anywhere Jews can be free to practice their way of life, without the threat of persecution. That place for me is here, America. What ideas or images come to mind when you hear the word Diaspora? For me, Golus is the Diaspora. All Jews live in Golus, even those living is Israel. My destiny is to be here, immersed in my Yiddish-based Jewish culture. The followers of the Shlilat HaGolah (negation of the Diaspora) ideology attempted to kill the past to create a new, ‘stronger’ breed of Jews. [But] My Diaspora is one of rich culture; I gain my strength and vitality from the past instead of abandoning it. Since Israel is now a “developed” nation, do you think Zionism is still necessary? Zionism is the Jewish version of goyish nationalism. To attract more patriotic
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residents and appeal to its clientele, Zionism needs to remain an integral part of Israel’s DNA. Zionism isn’t relevant to me, but it still has relevance for the State of Israel. Outspoken Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua once said, “Only Israel, and not Judaism, could ensure the survival of the Jewish people.” How would you respond to that? I don’t believe in such Judaism. Jewish people, Jewish text, Jewish way of life—wherever you have those things, you have the survival of the Jewish people. It’s ridiculous to say you can only have those things in Israel. The Jewish way of life can exist anywhere and everywhere. Do you have any problems synthesizing your Judaism within a non-Jewish world/society? As a Yiddishist, my culture is very Jewish. I live in a Jewish neighborhood, eat Jewish food, frequent Jewish theaters—I’m very lucky not having obstacles in living a Jewish life. Do you think you’d have an easier time practicing your lifestyle in Israel? I wouldn’t be able to practice my way of life in Israel. My community is entirely composed of those who love and live the Yiddish culture. Yiddish isn’t just a language, it’s an Eastern European Ashkenazi way of life; it governs where I eat, which newspapers I read, and the conversations I have. I usually attend two to three Yiddish events a week in israel @ 60
Do you feel it’s important for young Jews living in the Diaspora today to visit and experience Israel in order to preserve their Jewish identity? It’s irrelevant. If you want to make them Israelis, then send them to Israel. But if your goal is to create affiliated American Jews—what does modern Israeli culture have to do with Jewish identity? Instead, millions of dollars could be spent to send children to day schools. For those coming from alienated Jewish communities, send them to NYC, have them hang out with Hebrew hipsters. NYC is the best Jewish city in the world. We have everything here, why do we have to send them away to preserve their Jewish identity? What are some lessons that Israelis can learn from their Jewish brethren living in America? That there’s no shame in being an Eastern European golus yid (Diaspora Jew). You’re a golus yid no matter where you live. In Israel, people are critical and ashamed of their past as Eastern Europeans; how can people move forward if they don’t respect their past? Don’t be ashamed of where you come from. In order for Israel to survive and thrive, do you think a thriving Jewish Diaspora also must exist? Logistically—yes; we write the checks and they need our support. But we all need each other; one part can’t function without the rest. PresenTensemagazine.org rules of engagement
young jews + israel how vital is israel to diaspora jewish identity?
Alicia Post Alicia Post has been involved with Taglit-birthright israel for over seven years. Alicia also volunteers for various Jewish organizations including Fuel For Truth, Hadassah and the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled.
What do you refer to as your “Promised Land”? Israel. What ideas or images come to mind when you hear the word Diaspora? I see Jews living everywhere…such a small percent of the population and yet we inhabit all corners of the earth. For the first time in modern history, we have the opportunity to live under our coreligionists in Israel, yet many, like me, still choose to live here in America. Since Israel is now a “developed” nation, do you think Zionism is still necessary? In many aspects it’s still a third-world country; too many Israeli citizens live below the poverty line. But we have made remarkable progress through countless technological advancements and breakthroughs made by Israeli scientists and professionals. I believe Zionism does remain a crucial element for Israel’s survival. Facing terrorism on a daily basis, Israel needs as much support as it can get. Outspoken Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua once said, “Only Israel, and not Judaism, could ensure the survival of the Jewish people.” How would you respond to that?
rules of engagement PresenTensemagazine.org
Israel is very important to the Jewish people, but the two are not dependent on each other. My Jewish identity is very strong wherever I am; it’s not a question of where I am, but who I am. Do you have any problems synthesizing your Judaism within a secular American society which wouldn’t be present in a Jewish-Israeli society? Growing up, I was one of only a handful of Jews in my public school. [That] was a great opportunity to create a meaningful dialogue; I could act as an ambassador of the Jewish people and become more conscious of my own identity. In Israel, I’d have the amazing opportunity of going to pray at the Kotel, but living in Israel doesn’t necessarily mean your practices will change. It’s more about the individual and how much effort they’re willing to put into it. NYC has so many resources; it’s not difficult to live a fully enriched Jewish life here. Although, there are little practical things—like finding kosher for Passover food during the holiday—which wouldn’t be a problem living in Israel. When Israel is criticized, do you feel a need or responsibility to defend her? Discussing the issues in a nonconfrontational, open setting is a necessity for true dialogue. That being said, I do feel the need to stand up and defend Israel against Israel’s detractors, especially those denying Israel’s right to exist. Another reason I need to speak out is due to the prevailing apathetic behavior of many Jews. Sderot has been under daily rocket fire for seven years with no end in sight; I recently went to a rally in israel @ 60
photo by Sari Lisch
NYC for Sderot, and only a handful of people showed up. If we want to change things we need to raise our voices and show we care. Did you always feel a special connection to the land and people of Israel? Israel was just a word; something you said in prayer, a foreign, biblical place which had no real significance in my personal life. I didn’t truly feel a connection, until I went to see it with my own eyes. [Now] every trip I take to Israel, I’m in awe the entire time. Do you feel it’s important for young Jews living in the Diaspora to visit and experience Israel? Every Jew should visit Israel once in their lifetime. How is one supposed to get a sense of their homeland from what they see on the news? To many young Jews, Israel is an amalgam of violent images. That’s why it is so important to visit and experience Israel first-hand. Israel is where the Bible comes alive, where we can all connect to our Jewish heritage on a higher level, and our best bet at fostering pride of our homeland for future generations. If you can move to Israel and be happy, nothing should stop you, but I also believe the Diaspora is very significant for Jewish life to continue. Here in America, I live and work on a daily basis for Israel, my ability to assist Israel from NYC is the best option for me. Borders can’t restrict my love for my homeland. Josh Whisler is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC, and is the author of The Iranian Track blog (www.iraniantrack.blogspot.com). issue five 2008
societ y REAL Housing for Real People
building green in the negev
Noa Levanon “The opportunity to move to Israel and take part in a project that, at its heart, is about supporting Israeli needs, was not one I could turn down.”
srael’s first president, David Ben Gurion, retired to Sde Boker in 1963, determined to help fulfill his Zionist dream of “making the Negev bloom.” Over four decades later, Jews from Israel and abroad are achieving this dream by building solar homes for families in the Negev. Toby Lewis, a Master’s student in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder, is one of them. Lewis came to Israel in late 2007 at the invitation of her advisor, widely acclaimed engineer Chaim Brown, to assist with the company he helped to found, REAL (Renewable Energy for Affordable Living) Housing. She was well-suited to the project, having served as the construction manager for The University of Colorado-Boulder’s team in the Solar Decathlon, a semi-annual international competition between designers of small, solar-powered homes. “The opportunity to move to Israel and take part in a project that, at its heart, is about supporting Israeli needs, was not one I could turn down,” says Lewis. The government views settlement of this region as a potential solution to mitigating overcrowding in the urban areas near Tel Aviv. Development of the Negev region, 60% of Israel’s landmass but home to only 8% of its population, has proved essential to addressing key issues of Israeli quality of life. Without significant incentives, however, the draw to settle in southern Israel is minimal. The REAL Housing project aims to provide such incentives. With Lewis as his construction manager, Brown is building an assembly plant for completely prefabricated solar homes that can be hauled to any destination in Israel. The houses are prepared in three sizes, making them suitable for students or young couples, small families and large families. In addition to creating these affordable,
issue five 2008
israel @ 60
ready-made houses, the project is creating jobs. The group’s first assembly plant, which has already produced a small prototype photo by Lane Greene home, is located in a renovated former candle factory in Kibbutz Merav. Equipped to build 60 homes per month within a year, it has the capacity to employ over 100 workers. Since the group’s aim of ultimately building 200 homes per month will necessitate the opening of more plants, it will also significantly expand the group’s capacity to employ Israelis. REAL Housing currently plans to open five other factories in the Negev area, each with the potential to employ from 100 to 200 people. According to Lewis, Brown, who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in 2003 with his wife, feels a “strong sense of obligation to create Israeli jobs and build affordable homes.” The professor believes that it is both possible and critical to combine these two goals with the use of renewable energy. Lewis seconds the viability and value of such a combination. She says, “One of the criteria at the Solar Decathlon was market viability, so there was a definite emphasis on the idea that an environmentally-friendly idea like solar homes can be mass producible and affordable, which I think is really important.” Lewis contends that the consumer base for such houses is real, particularly in the Negev region. There, affordable housing serves as a primary draw for attracting new residents, and the sunny climate is optimal for the use of solar panels. Specifically, the company is negotiating a contract to build 60 solar homes for a student housing community just south of Be’er Sheva. They have also been taking orders for homes from Israelis who have been displaced from the West Bank as communities there have been dismantled. Lewis and Brown are eager to build a sustainable business with opportunities for placing houses all over Israel. But Lewis describes a far more ambitious vision for the project: entire communities of solar homeowners, proving again that the environmentally-friendly solution is simultaneously economicallyPresenTensemagazine.org society
photo by Jared Zimmerman
friendly. “Solar homes are more effective in numbers, because [building for a group] can cut down costs through mass production, as well as reducing the number of solar panels needed per house,” Lewis says. There is also is the added benefit of synergy: since an array of solar panels can often provide energy for more than one structure, communities connected on the same solar grid would be able to produce enough energy for communal structures such as schools, industries and synagogues at little to no extra cost. Even without such communities, solar homes will financially benefit their owners. Impending legislation, expected to take effect within a few months, will encourage solar homeowners to connect their homes’ solar panels to the existing electric grid and sell the solar energy to the Israeli Electric company. By allowing residents to sell this electricity, the legislation would grant anyone, with up to 4KV manufacturing ability by alternative energy, an exemption from income tax on up to 18,000 NIS, reports Real Housing VP of Development, Shaul Amir. Selling solar energy would contribute to the affordability of solar homes, which, if implemented in peripheral areas such as the Negev, would certainly serve as an asset to help the campaign to encourage settlement there. “It’s absolutely in the government’s best interest to encourage a shift to independent renewable energy,” Lewis says of the imminent legislation. The government seems to agree, with plans to build two 250-Megawatt solar power stations in the Negev. According to Amir, the power stations are a state priority, although the date of their implementation is unknown. The REAL Housing project is determined to be a catalyst. “The Negev was chosen [as the focus of the project] in large part due to Ben Gurion’s dream, but also because, despite a lot of government hype about investing in the Negev, not a lot of attention and emphasis has been placed in that region of the country,” says Lewis. “We wanted to be part of [that] change.” Noa Levanon made aliyah almost five years ago, shortly after receiving a B.A. in English Literature from Princeton University. Having completed military service as an officer in the IDF’s Liaison and Foreign Relations Division, she is now studying for a Master’s degree in International Relations at Hebrew University.
Making the Desert Bloom
israel’s environmental past and zionist future
photo by Ron Almog
rom the early 1900’s, Israelis have had a strong emotional tie to Israel’s landscape—depicted in the writings of A. D. Gordon and Rachel the Poet and in the favorite pastime of contemporary Israelis: hiking. For pre-State Zionists, this fondness for Israel’s natural habitat stemmed from biblical liturgy, specifically verses extolling the flowering beauty of the land, and socialist ideologies, which had a marked affinity for the peasantry and farming lifestyle. Although these influences vied with the rationalist need for development, the image of the early Zionist—the hard-working, browsweating farmer draining the swamps and “making the land bloom”—has resonated with Israelis until today. Despite these romantic and nationalistic sensibilities, a great deal of the early Zionist agricultural drive grew from political and financial, rather than environmental, considerations. Politically, trees acted as boundary demarcations; financially, trees served fundraising purposes as American and European Jews contributed money to Jewish National Fund (JNF) forestation. Israel’s focus on agriculture during the 1950’s can also be traced to a pragmatic motivation—Israel faced
issue five 2008
a food embargo from its Arab neighbors, and the resulting famine increased the necessity of produce autonomy. Given these pragmatic needs, as well as the fact the country needed to sustain its fast-growing immigrant population, it is no surprise that Israel made some ecological errors along the way. One of the most glaring examples was the drainage of wetlands. Arguably, Israeli scientists were doing what they thought was right; malaria outbreaks aside, prevalent opinion at the time regarded swampland as a nuisance. Although some scientists demurred, many held that it was ecologically sound to drain swampland and replace it with cultivated farmland. The extinction of numerous native species of wildlife and vegetation and the nitrification of the soil was not clear until a few years after the drainages, and did not become publicly acknowledged until the late 1980’s. Part of this delay in recognition was due to the varied information scientists had at hand. Yet, it can also be attributed to the original Zionist mentality of “making the desert bloom,” a mentality that viewed Israel’s natural habitat of desert and swampland as a landscape to be forested. israel @ 60
Israel’s water development history serves as another example of early environmental miscalculation. Israel’s history of water is complex. On the one hand, the fact that scientists were able to develop pipelines to spread water throughout the country, and thus enable development and livable conditions, is, in the view of some, miraculous. Israel’s current advances in water-conservation technology— such as drip irrigation and wastewater recycling in agriculture—have garnered the praises of scientists worldwide. On the other hand, Israel’s water resources have been strained beyond their capacity. Israel’s largest freshwater source, the Coastal Aquifer, was already over-pumped and saline by the 1950’s, and pollutants— both in the form of nitrates from fertilizers and effluents and chemicals from industrial wastedumping—have severely lowered the qualities of numerous rivers in Israel, such as the Yarkon and Kishon rivers. The Jordan River and Dead Sea are steadily drying up due to water diversion upstream, and, regardless of all its utilizations of water for development, Israel’s current water allocations are approximately 500 cubic meters per capita. This is sadly short of the internationally recommended 1,000 PresenTensemagazine.org society
cubic meters, and below which a country is considered to have “water stress.” The need for livable conditions, as well as enforcement laxity regarding pollutantdumping, certainly account for the exacerbation of water resources. In addition, the eco-romantic foundations of the State, as well as the early Zionists’ European-influenced aesthetic view, which longed for lush forests rather than desert, has meant that Israel promotes the image and welfare of the farmer, to the point of allocating the vast majority of its hydrological resources toward agriculture. During the 1950’s, when imminent famine and a food embargo threatened the f ledgling State, this mindset was understandable. However, Israel currently uses approximately 63% of its water for agricultural purposes, according to the World Resources Institute; yet, as of 2002, only 2% of the population worked as farmers and produce comprised only 5% of the GDP. Israel has had some environmental achievements in recent years, among them the growth of environmental activist groups in the 1990’s and the restoration of the Hula Valley, an area that had been drained in the 1950’s. Indeed, in the water arena, innovations such as drip irrigation—which
While conservation efforts have helped, Israel may find itself with depleted water resources much sooner than anticipated if efforts remain within the framework of an unquestioned focus on agriculture. allows farmers to minimize the amount of water used for crop irrigation—wastewater treatment and recycling, and desalination efforts, have all served as examples for the international science community. However, the question is simply whether these achievements are enough, especially in the case of water. While conservation efforts have helped, Israel may find itself with depleted water resources much sooner than anticipated if efforts remain within the framework of an unquestioned focus on agriculture. What is needed, in fact, may be a paradigm shift. Zionism of the 20th century was visionary, idealistic, and, fundamentally, pragmatic—the inspirational words of Herzl coupled with overnight settlements, military barricades, and the urgent need for water transport in order to develop and hold the southern half
of the country. Historical Zionism’s errors are understandable and excusable, since it was the Zionism of survival. The next decades of Israel’s history, however, might see a shift in the direction of reform—whether in the realm of social justice, economics, education, or environmental awareness. Making the paradigm shift from an agriculture-focused water policy to a more conservative and sustainable one could be a mark of a paradigm shift not only in environmental concerns, but in Zionist ideologies as well. Meira Levinson was an Environmental Studies and English major at University of Pennsylvania, where she also earned an MA in English Literature. She wrote her thesis on Israel’s hydrological development, and hopes to one day live there and enjoy extremely short showers.
photo courtesy of Tevel B’Tzedek
Along with the urge for freedom and exotic frontiers after an arduous and insular army service, I sensed that the trip was also connected to a thirst among Israelis to know and to touch this other side of the human world from which we are conventionally separated.
ne Friday in January, on a makeshift stage in a crowded high school in Kathmandu, a 16-year-old boy performed a short play with tears flowing down his face. He had written the scene himself; it depicted how
issue five 2008
Healing in the Himalayas
jews build community in nepal
Micha Odenheimer he had helplessly watched his father die when his family lacked funds for medical treatment. He had never been on stage before—nor had the 17 other children who acted that day. Most of them worked as porters, waking up at four in the morning for an eight-hour work day of carrying heavy loads in the vegetable market, interrupted only by six hours of school. The children had been guided in the process of turning their raw experiences into theater by two twenty-something Israelis who had worked with the teens for the previous three months. The young actors worked diligently during the one and half hour window each day when they were not carrying loads or studying. The Israelis, along with a team of fourteen other Israelis, American and Canadian Jews, were part of a program I founded called Tevel b’Tzedek—a phrase from the Psalms that translates as “the earth in justice.” The program was designed to introduce Israelis and Diaspora Jews to the complex and heart-wrenching reality—and struggles—of impoverished populations in the regions once known as the Third World. israel @ 60
The idea to create Tevel b’Tzedek was sparked during a two and a half month trip through India that I took with my family in 2004. Traveling through India’s Himalayan north, we saw ample evidence of what has become a huge phenomenon among Israeli youth—the post-army trip to India, Nepal, South East Asia, Africa, and South America. More Israeli young people travel through these areas for long periods of time—sometimes six months or a year at a time. Along with the urge for freedom and exotic frontiers after an arduous and insular army service, I sensed that the trip was also connected to a thirst among Israelis to know and to touch this other side of the human world from which we are conventionally separated. Tevel B’Tzedek participants choose to forego the typical post-army experience, and instead live together, study Jewish texts on social and environmental justice, learn about Nepal’s culture and politics, and study the effects of globalization on the poor. Over the course of the program, participants work on PresenTensemagazine.org society
Isn’t it a betrayal to turn to the tending of foreign fields when there is so much to be done at home? Isn’t this the kind of universal concern typical of misguided Jews who care about everyone except their own people? projects that bridge their community with that of the local impoverished Nepalese. These projects expose them to a range of strategies and ideas meant to create a better world by changing society in the direction of greater equality, justice, and sustainability. Most Israelis and Jews who hear about the project immediately identify and empathize with its intentions and goals. But some are troubled. Something bothers them about the project. These people express their unease with the same question: “Why aren’t you doing this project in Israel? After all, don’t our sources say: ‘The poor of your own city should be given first priority when it comes to tzedakah?’” There is an angst behind this question, which articulates the sense shared by many that the Jewish people, at least in Israel, are themselves in dire straits. They face poverty, environmental woes, and military threats. But there is also a sharper edge to their challenge. Isn’t it a sort of betrayal, they say, to turn to the tending of foreign fields when there is so much to be done at home? Isn’t this the kind of universal concern typical of misguided Jews who care about everyone except their own people? One answer to this question is that in a world where we are all part of an encircling economic system, in which the food we put on our table, the coffee we drink, the clothes we wear, and the fuel in our cars likely comes from China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria—or Nepal—the definition of “the poor of one’s own city” is in flux. As technological innovations advance and globalization brings the entire world to our own doorstep, we are compelled by Judaism and by our collective humanity to act. The suffering of the poor in Israel is real. Still, poverty in the developing world is of a different order. Children die of curable diseases due to lack of clean water, thousands of children live on the street, and chronic undernourishment, if not starvation, is the fate of hundreds of millions. What is our responsibility towards people who live outside the worlds we usually inhabit, whose cries we hear in muted tones, if at all? Traditional Jewish literature abounds with teachings that call for us to tear down the walls that muffle the voices of the Jewish and non-Jewish poor. A Talmudic story tells of a righteous man who was on such a high level that Elijah the Prophet, who in Jewish tradition never died and serves as a gateway between the spiritual realms and the human world, used to visit him regularly. One day, the righteous man constructed a small guardhouse in front of his courtyard which, even though it might not have been his intention, prevented the poor from approaching his door and shut out their cries for help. Elijah the Prophet ceased visiting him. By shutting himself away from the poor, he also blocked the gate between heaven and earth. Historically, concern for the poor has been a central component of the Jewish religion. Where I grew up—in the 1960’s United States—empathy for the poor was a Jewish absolutism. I remember how my mother, a devout Orthodox Jew, didn’t buy lettuce or grapes for years because the United Farm Workers who represented impoverished migrants from Mexico, were on strike. Today, much of the Western world’s poverty has been “outsourced” to Africa, Asia, and South America. Our civilization has put up guardhouses that prevent their cries for help from being society PresenTensemagazine.org
heard. For the sake of the spiritual health of the Jewish people and in order to return to our own basic values, we must break through these guardhouses and once again connect our lives to those whose vulnerability is greatest. Tevel b’Tzedek was created in the hopes of adding another dimension to the Israeli presence in places like Nepal. It serves to connect the Israeli love affair with what is often called the “developing world” to the rich knowledge and experience of American and other Diaspora Jews, for whom tikkun olam is a central concept in religious life. Increasing our knowledge and understanding of the half of humanity whose lives usually remain hidden from our view does not signal an abandonment of Israel or Jewish issues. Rather, it can return us to Israel or the Diaspora with a renewed hunger to struggle within our own nation and community for a more beautiful and equitable world, and a belief in our power to do so—as Jews. Micha Odenheimer is a rabbi and journalist and the founder of Tevel b’Tzedek. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the London Times, Haaretz, and other magazines and newspapers.
I Like the Size of Your Gun
finding your promised man in the promised land
Rachel Lieff Axelbank
s a single, twenty-something Jewish coquette, I, like many of my single, twenty-something Jewish coquette peers, am plagued by a conjunction of that constant onus to date and marry a nice Jewish boy and my suspicion that, well, I’m just not attracted to nice Jewish boys. Blame it on an evolutionarily supported predilection for genetic diversity; whatever it’s about, they’re lacking something. Something that grabs me. Something that’s patently not lacking in the tow-headed, Roman numeraled squash players I knew at Princeton or the smoldering immigrati recenti who—far more than the cannoli—make so tempting my jaunts to the North End of Boston. Israeli Jews, however, are a different story. The time I saw Jon Stewart doing live stand-up, he drew a distinction that captured this phenomenon perfectly. “You have American Jews, who are the ‘let me help you with your tax return’ Jews,” he said. “And you have Israeli Jews, who are the ‘hold my machine gun while I take a leak’ Jews.” Could he have put it any better? The contrast is so marked and moreover, reliable, that I almost think it merits its own idiom. I can just hear the Emerald City doorman telling Dorothy et al: “Well, that’s a Jew of a different nationality—come on in!” Here’s the weird, and also awesome part: these Israelis seem to have a similar appetite (to say the least) for us American maidels. While in Jerusalem for work this past summer, I found myself awaiting security clearance to enter Prime Minister Olmert’s office, with ample time to feast my eyes on the secret service guys. As I wondered whether I would ever get my passport back, I was pleased to realize that my appreciative glances were being returned by these men—men fit for a Vogue photo spread (although the next page would feature them divested of fatigues and down to only their Yigal Azrouël briefs and surveillance headsets). As I passed through the third and final metal detector, I turned to catch a wink from the cutest one. And although
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I very coolly met the wink with a coy smile and a toss of my hair, what I really wanted was to run back, throw my arms around his knees and cry with gratitude, “You like me; you really like me!” I called this “weird,” and here’s why: just as Israeli men got it going on, so do Israeli women. My male Hebrew school classmates all verified this, and even if we mistrust the judgment of men who once chose “SimCity” or “Talk to the Hand (‘Cause the Face Ain’t Listening)” for their Bar Mitzvah themes, surely Leo DiCaprio is to be believed. I tell myself that I’m not exactly a girl who would pose a challenge for Yenta the Matchmaker. Nevertheless, I wonder: why on earth would any guy want a pale, neurotic monoglot like me…when the Holy Land is teeming with lithe, olive-complected beauties who breezily switch between Hebrew, English and each of their parents’ Argentine dialects? And yet, it is so. As soon as I open my mouth and deliver a faltering “lo midaberet ivrit,” smiles spread over their faces. “You are—ehm—American?” Ohhh, the misplaced syllabic emphasis, the voiced uvular fricatives, the verbal tic of Zionism. I swoon, and they go on leering. A friend of mine has suggested that perhaps our appeal lies not in our alabaster countenances, but in the prospect we hold of a nice, crisp Green Card. I would call this friend cynical. Others would call her someone who has simply spent a lot of time in Israel, but I remain unconvinced. My evening off during the same summertime business trip to Israel found me in a Tel Aviv nightspot with a college buddy and a pair of (female) Israelis he’d befriended. Chatting with these women, I shared
Should we coin yet another idiom, one that proclaims “the marital prospect is always greener on the other side of the El Al flight”? with them my eagerness to take a crack at the Goldstar-clutching talent milling about the bar. I tossed out the Jon Stewart anecdote and was rewarded with their enviable throaty, Semitic laughs. Then one of them said: “I know—why can’t they be more like American guys?” (Imagine Ehud Banai record scratching to a halt). What? “I love those nerdy Jewish boys,” she went on. “Israeli men are all so macho and…sexual.” I wanted to shake her, but her friend nodded. Then they both glanced longingly at my college buddy, who was in Tel Aviv to conduct research for his PhD and was at that moment peering through his horn-rimmed glasses at a volume from the book bag he’d brought along to the bar. So, what’s at play here? Should we coin yet another idiom, one that proclaims “the marital prospect is always greener on the other side of the El Al flight”? Or perhaps just “the green card is always greener …”? I have no idea, but until I get my transfer to the PresenTense Haifa bureau, you can find me ogling the immigrati recenti in the North End. Rachel Lieff Axelbank is a single, twenty-something Jewish coquette-slashrenegade writer. She lives and works in Boston. PresenTensemagazine.org society
zionism a to z
israpedia for the z-word
Tal Perry and PT Staff
n contemplating an issue celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the State of Israel, we found ourselves in a unique editorial position. Most of us would define ourselves as Zionists, but how did we define our Zionism? There’s practical Zionism, religious Zionism, secular Zionism, sexual Zionism, and creative Zionism, among other terms both classical and innovative. If we had to come up with 26 terms, each beginning with a different letter, that together created a picture of what Zionism is, what would it be? How would our lists differ? Would a cohesive Zionist mission statement emerge? Good questions, we thought. So we went for it. Here are the results of our search: a collection of terms—people, places, initiatives, and events—that have made a palpable impact on Zionism the way we experience it today. It represents some input from editors and the work of one intrepid Israeli writer. But everyone is welcome to express dissent or agreement online. Read the list, learn a thing or two, and then join us online to continue the discussion. Two Jews, three definitions of Zionism, right?
autoemancipation Leon Pinsker’s call for practical Zionism preceded even Herzl’s. This pamphlet, inspired by the pogroms of 1881, was a passionately written expose of the origins of anti-Semitism. In it, Pinsker concluded that Jew hatred is a form of daemonophobia (fear of ghosts), directed at a people unlike all others—without a land, without a home. As long as the Jews wander bodiless (and landless) in the Diaspora, Pinsker argued, others will consistently lash out at them. Pinsker called upon the Jews to liberate themselves from landlessness, to assume a body that would complement their spirit.
begin, menachem Emerging on the scene in the 1930’s as the leader of the right-wing Etzel organization, Menachem Begin became the first nonsocialist Prime Minister of the State of Israel in 1977—after thirty years as the opposition in the Knesset. In a move that surprised the world, Begin negotiated the Camp David Accords shortly after being elected. The Accords set in place a peace agreement with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, wherein Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and return it to Egypt.
canaanism An Israeli political movement which reached its peak in the 1940’s and called for embracing the indigenous culture of the land of Canaan and casting off Judaism’s superstitions. Their emblem was “Nimrod,” represented as a statue of the biblical hunter king, naked and uncircumcised, carrying a bow and with a hawk on his shoulder. Needless to say, the statue and the movement were highly controversial.
dreyfus affair The trial of French-Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus, who was sentenced to life
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imprisonment in 1894 for treason against France. Attending the trial as a reporter for an Austro-Hungarian newspaper, Theodore Herzl was surprised to hear the crowds yell not “death to the traitor,” but “death to the Jews” during and after the conviction, which came only through false evidence. In 1906, Dreyfus was found innocent and exonerated. It was in this moment that Herzl transformed from an assimilated Jew into the father of political Zionism. (According to Wikipedia, actor Richard Dreyfuss and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus are distantly related).
eban, abba Born in South Africa, raised in Britian, Eban was a diplomat and politician known for polished presentations to the United Nations in a time when the UN was openly hostile to the fledgling Jewish State. Abba Eban served in various positions in the Knesset under several prime ministers, and also served as president of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. A veteran of many peace talks, Eban famously quipped that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Eban’s television series, “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews,” was viewed by an estimated 50 million Americans and was shown internationally. The accompanying book achieved a best-seller record for non-fiction.
falashmura The Jews of Ethiopia, also known as Bete Israel, and previously known as Falasha (although this is a local Ethiopian term that means “stranger” in Amharic and considered pejorative). Tracing their heritage as far back as King Solomon, with some claiming to be descendants of Moses, the heritage of the Ethiopian Jews is unique due to their estrangement from the oral tradition. Over 85% of Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel, most through Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991).
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gurion, david ben Born David Grun, there are few people who have impacted the State, the Zionist movement, and the Jewish People more than this rather petite fellow. Unruly as his hairstyle, Ben Gurion was a poor corporal in the British Army–but thanks to his leadership the Jews received the IDF (he came up with the plan), the State (he was the first prime minister), and the complex structure of Israel’s political system. And more pertinent for this israpedia: due to Ben Gurion’s insistance, Zionism transformed from a global movement of Hebraic empowerment into a call for immigration. Jews worldwide have been confused ever since.
hadassah, the women’s zionist organization of america From its founding in 1912, Hadassah members mobilized around the platform of “practical Zionism,” raising funds to send nurses to the Holy Land to treat trachoma and provide maternity care. The small organization quickly became a strong support in the health infrastructure of what would thirty years later become the Jewish State. Hadassah’s activism helped to create centers of healing in Israel, with two famous Hadassah hospitals, in Ein Kerem and on Mount Scopus. The organization has also supported youth aliyah, absorption and education; dedicated state-ofthe-art medical and educational facilities; and contributed to medical advancements in areas including mother-and-child care, burns and trauma treatment, and gene therapy. In 1936, Hadassah also adopted the Zionist Young Judaea youth movement as an official project, taking an active role in supporting Zionist youth in America and YJ projects in Israel.
infected mushroom The legendary trance duo, Erez Aizan and Amit Duvdevani, were pioneers of the Israeli underground trance scene and are today of international acclaim. Named after a defunct punk band from Haifa, Infected Mushroom has contributed to electronic
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music composition and synthesis techniques and has shaken thousands of partiers in Israel and around the world.
jabotinsky, ze’ev In the years before World War I, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky and Yosef Trumpeldor determined that in order to have a seat at the table in subsequent post-war negotiations, the Jewish people should participate in the struggle and the liberation of Palestine from the Turks. At first, the British limited Jewish participation to a transport group, which came to be known as the Zion Mule Corps. With time, a Jewish Legion was formed. Today, there are more streets, parks, and squares named after Jabotinsky than any other Jewish or Israeli historical figure, and the Likud party claims to continue his legacy.
klezmer The traditional music of Eastern European Jews now enjoying new-found prominence in Israel, but with a twist. Many young Israeli musicians have infused Klezmer with jazz and hardcore metal, hip-hop beats and classical music to create a vibrant new Israeli sound that is at once historical and contemporary.
law of return The law that entitles any Jew to receive citizenship status strictly on account of his/her Judaism. Highly controversial in the 1950’s with American organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, the law insinuated to some that Jews were politically aligned primarily with the State of Israel, raising dual-loyalty questions that haunted non-Zionists. Over the years, this law has forced Jews everywhere to revisit the “who is a Jew” issue, resulting in multiple amendments to the law.
maccabi tel-aviv Think Jews can’t jump? Tell that to the multiple-time European basketball champions, with one of the best track records in the league. Sure, some of the players are not exactly Jewish, but when they win— representing the modern and diverse State of Israel—they fill Jewish hearts around the world with pride.
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netafim The world leader in irrigation solutions, Netafim was born on a kibbutz when the founder of the company noted that a tree growing next to a leaking pipe grew better. After some research, Netafim has created irrigation systems that have multiplied crop yields and reduced water consumption around the world.
orthodoxy As a traditional form of religious lifestyle, when Orthodox Judaism participated in the building of the State with its own inflection of Zionism, it often saw the State in messianic terms. Currently, as the reigning denomination in the Israeli rabbinate, Orthodox rabbis determine religious law within the State of Israel. However, many non-Orthodox residents resent their power over all aspects of Jewish life. Because of Orthodox control over marriage and divorce, today there exists a serious plight for agunot, women who, because of a rabbinical stricture, remain trapped in bad marriages. (See “A Woman to Watch,” page 8).
palestine Some people see this as the “P Word,” a name for Israel which instantly provokes trouble (providing the P in Arafat’s “PLO,” Palestine Liberation Organization). Used to describe Israel’s pre-State (or British Mandate) period, it is a historic definition based upon a Roman renaming of the land following their conquest in the first century. Ottoman maps, as well as other maps throughout Arab history, did not know the name—the first time the name “Palestine” appeared in Middle-Eastern publications was when the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem used it to describe their nesletter at the turn of the 20th century. Since the end of British Mandate, “Palestine” has been used by the land’s Arab residents to claim wrongful eviction from their land.
qumran Qumran is the settlement nearest to the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 (and slowly excavated until 1979). The discovery of the cache of nearly 900 scrolls found in eleven caves have prompted extensive excavations, yielding finds of ritual baths and cemeteries, and provoking speculation as to who lived there. Some archeologists believe PresenTensemagazine.org society
the area was occupied by Essenes while others believe that Hasmoneans or Sadducees dwelt there. Because they are the only known surviving copies of Biblical documents made before the year 100 CE, they present evidence of considerable diversity of belief and practice within late Second Temple Judaism. Some of the scrolls are kept in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
russian immigration After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel absorbed one million Russian immigrants over ten years, which is equivalent to the United States absorbing the whole population of France. Russian immigration brought a fresh injection of culinary tastes, cultural sophistication and technical excellence to Israel and was the most successfully absorbed immigration wave in the State’s history.
sabich A local delicacy, competing with falafel for gastronomic attention. The sabich, which originates from the cuisine of Iraqi Jews, consists of thinly sliced fried eggplants, a hard boiled egg, hummus and tahini, and an assortment of fresh vegetables stuffed into a pita. This simple food has hoards of fans that have been known to wait in line for over an hour at some of the more established eateries.
the technion Situated on Haifa’s Mount Carmel, the Technion is ranked as one of the best technological schools in the world. Its graduates are responsible for firewall internet security, Pentium computer processors and ICQ instant messaging, among other innovations.
vetek/vatikoot An unofficial ranking system in the IDF based on time served in the army. The vatikim, the elders, are exempt from such nuisances as cleaning toilets or staffing the mess hall. Naturally the “tza’ir,” the younger member, has to assume double the work. While unfair, proponents of the system (mostly vatikim) see it as giving a feeling of promotion and something to strive for.
wingate, orde charles Major General Orde Charles Wingate was a non-Jew stationed in Palestine in 1936 as an intelligence officer. He saw the founding of a Jewish state as a fulfillment of Christian prophecy and closely tied himself to the Jewish community, known as the Yishuv. Wingate formed, trained, and commanded the Special Nights Squad, the Yishuv’s first special forces. While Moshe Dayan said that “Wingate taught us everything we know,” the officer was a known eccentric. He sometimes walked around wearing only a shower cap, and often wore a raw onion on a string around his neck, in case he wanted a snack. The Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Centre for Physical Education and Sport near Netanya, houses the Israel Sports Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
xenophobia In any A to Z list, X entries are inevitably the hardest. But one cannot deny that xenophobia, the fear of others, did play a major role in the expulsion of Jews from various countries over the years, and consequently in the foundation of a place that Jews could always
call home. Without the persecution that Jews encountered while living in xenophobic countries, there would have been less of an imperative to seek a homeland.
yozma Yozma literally means innovation, but refers to a project created to attract venture capital groups to Israel, in which the government would match funds brought in and sell out its part in the company. This project has helped Israel become second only to the Silicon Valley in terms of start-ups per capita, earning the nickname “Silicon Wadi.”
zionism 25 entries into the Zionism dictionary and you still need to ask? The Jewish people will never agree on one singular definition of Zionism, which might be for the best. What definition could encompass everything listed above, not to mention the emotional connection of millions to various connotations of the term? PresenTense defines Zionism as the movement to realize the collective potential of the Jewish People. But the fact that its definition is still debated shows that Zionism is still very much alive, a part of our ever-forming national identity and an idea still impacting our daily lives. How do you define Zionism? What’s your Zionism A to Z? Log on to http:// presentense.org to read other opinions by our editors and writers, and to discuss what Zionism means to you. Tal Perry, a former New York resident, lives in central Israel. Via a passion for Judaic and Zionist history and Fourier series, Tal explores the bizarrely trivial yet unanswered questions of modern Jewish life in Israel.
uganda project In 1903, following brutal pogroms in Eastern Europe, the British offered Herzl the opportunity to found a Jewish autonomous state in a part of Uganda that is now Kenya. The Zionist movement nearly collapsed when the Sixth Zionist Congress voted to consider the option, but because of the land’s unsuitability and its cultural insignificance to the Jews, the Congress politely declined the offer in 1905.
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ebauched, wanton, salacious. Words used to describe a seedy brothel, or, these days, a high school dance in America. As young as fourteen, the once innocent sweat of a young dancer has fermented into something more foul, as members of the opposite sex throw arms and buttocks into the fray. Religious conviction or self-consciousness leads some students to ditch or sit estranged in a corner. However, everyone else is out on the dance floor freaking with the rest of ‘em—or at least trying not to look too out of place. Perversely, teachers and parent chaperones are expected to watch—or ignore—as these young’n’s get frisky like disowned cats in a dumpster. Upon matriculating to college or metropolitan nightclubs, jungle cat imagery would seem more appropriate to describe the scene. Whether in clubs or our schools’ hallowed walls, there is an alternative to American dance ethos, and it rests in Zion. June 2007, Jerusalem—At the International Cultural Center for Youth in Jerusalem, approximately one Thursday each month is designated “Erev Boogie.” Attendance holds steady at around 300400 Jerusalemites, ranging in age from eighteen to thirty-something. Statistical outliers include a septuagenarian sporting a red beret, and a dancing infant buoyed by her young hipster parents. Dancers crowd into a dimly lit room with the feel of a small high school gymnasium, complete with streamers, a stage, and a tall curtain that conceals a women-only dance section. Thankfully, any likeness to American high school dances ends here; with the exception
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movement and music in the middle of jerusalem
of some men in tattered clothing, and some women wearing pants, shorts or sleeveless T’s, the Boogie-goer’s dress suggests both comfort and modesty. Moreover, the layout allots each individual a personal bubble of space, where he/she may move freely without fear of being ogled or thrust upon. Moral support peppers the night of dancing as people nod and point approvingly at one another, shouting “nice moves” over the music. The music selection is both eclectic and surreal. Making the DJ’s cut that night are Afro-Cuban; classic Israeli folk dance; reggae; the soundtracks to Hair and Fame; the mid-nineties Hassidic techno phenomenon Oif Simchas; and the suburban bar mitzvah party throwback “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Noticeably omitted from the musical selection are songs touting misogyny. For those seeking a reprieve from dancing, the walls are lined with packing paper and markers for rhythmically-induced expression. In a small dance studio across the hall, a live band plays. Along the way, a Bedouin-style chill zone serves cheap ethnic cuisine and beverages, including an alcoholic grapefruitarak mixture, since everyone save for the dancing baby is legally permitted to drink. Avi Edry is the Boogie’s founder, and one of eight unpaid core organizers. He attributes the decision to create the Boogie to his interest in martial arts and movement, which he studied “for fun” at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Givat Ram, Jerusalem. “We wanted to emphasize movement, to [let people] bring [their] own dance,” says Avi. “At clubs,” he explains, “you see twelve hundred-thousand people all dancing the same. At Boogie, there are six or seven corners of the hall where people dance differently to different music.”
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Eyal Shemesh, an employee, first stumbled across the event about eight years ago. “I was just looking for a place to dance,” he explained. Four years later, he proposed to his wife, Galit—an architect who now lends her talents to the decorating effort—on that very dance floor. Renovations at the Cultural Center that began after the 5767 (2007) season forced organizers to experiment with a few different locations. They finally settled on the Gerard Behar Center in Nahlaot, the decidedly bohemian district of Jerusalem where it all began eleven years ago. Just like the early days, today’s Boogie begins with a DJ who provides background music for a half hour of guided movement. “The guided part is not like every class you take in movement,” says Avi. “It’s more jumpy, more authentic, which helps people get into the mood [for dancing].” In the past, about 2-3 hours into the dance, live music would strike up in the next room. This “jam session,” as Avi recalls, had a unique vibe. “What’s special was that the people jamming were not a band that normally played together; they were musicians from different bands who came to play together.” Boogie is an un-sponsored non-profit, serving an e-mail list of 2,000 and an SMS list of 2,500. This past year, organizers expanded Boogie’s programmatic offerings. On Tuesdays, at Beit Avi Chai in the center of town, Boogie runs integrated music, acting, and learning sessions based on both parshat hashavuah (the weekly Torah reading) and the tractate Pirkei Avot. Indeed, Avi is committed to the traditional lifestyle, and his language is seasoned with quotes from liturgy and his rabbi. Nevertheless, he understands the contradictions in his work. “According to halakhah [Jewish law],” he points out, “a religious person can’t dance at the Boogie—but I’m not getting into this corner, what people do in their private life. I leave it open.” Openness is a principle that Avi emphasizes greatly. “At a club, there’s someone out front telling people ‘you’re in,’ or ‘you’re out.’ They think a big man or a big shot at the door will make a
At the International Cultural Center for Youth in Jerusalem, approximately one Thursday each month is designated “Erev Boogie.” Attendance holds steady around 300-400 Jerusalemites, ranging in age from eighteen to thirty-something. difference. At Boogie, everyone is ‘in’.” The results? “There’s no violence, no bad attitude. [Being open] is what will make the filter at the entrance.” In some ways, the recent renovations have matured the Boogie. Whereas the Boogiers of 5767 danced past 2 a.m., those returning in 5768 have seen the lights go out at 11:30 p.m. The twentysomething crowd has bemoaned the earlier closing time; still, Eyal believes that Boogie “is the best it’s ever been.” The society PresenTensemagazine.org
photos by Eitan Hochster
father of a one-year-old, he and his wife can partake in the 5 p.m.8 p.m. session for children and parents. “It’s a place for children to dance—and a place for parents who can’t go to dance because of their children.” Another change is that alcohol is no longer sold. While Avi personally prefers an alcohol-free environment, he is “on the fence” about serving alcohol to make people open to movement. “Some people need it. If they can control it, fine. If not, I’m against it.” Could Boogie catch on in America? “Betach [Of course],” declares Avi. “I think the best place for Boogie is America. But we have to make hachanah [preparation],” for instance, finding a way to lure Jews away from the clubs and towards community centers for a night of movement. Avi, however, remains optimistic. “I think that now’s a good time, with the garbage of the clubs,” suggests Avi. “It’s garbage: smoking, drugs, alcohol. But changing, it is a process; it doesn’t happen in one day.” Reflecting back to Boogie’s beginnings, Avi states, “It wasn’t opened to be counter to other clubs. I’m just trying to make a better chevrah [society] in Jerusalem.” As with several other aspects of American leisure, it could just be that Jewish students and young adults wish to revel in the same grinding and gritty dance culture as “everyone else.” However, for those bothered by the status quo, the Boogie beacon shines from Zion. Adam Soclof is the Creator and Producer of HyperSemitic, a Jewish dance & music project. israel @ 60
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More than a Pretty Face israel’s pr makeover
The “Who Knew?” ad campaign is featured on billboards, the Internet, major magazines and newspapers, and is broadcast on TV in the United States. The commercials display nightlife, shopping, historic sites, contemporary architecture, and food and wine, culminating in the punch line. The print and Internet components of the campaign, which were launched after the war in 2007, contain a second message as well: “You’ll love Israel from the first Shalom.” These ads also feature regular Israelis, such as a chef, a sailor, and a cowboy. “The campaign’s thrust is to depict ordinary Israelis with interesting hobbies/careers, in beautiful places,” says Sommer. The ad suggests that, despite what potential tourists may see in the news, Israeli is just a normal place filled with normal folk.
erulean seas, an iridescent sunset over yellow and pink sand, epicurean delights, attractive natives— who wouldn’t want to vacation in such a destination? There are “passionate people” and “magical markets,” a country replete with a “sense of history,” and the “mystery of nature.” There is beauty, sophistication, and friendliness. You might not have known it, but this is Israel. In an effort to increase international traffic, the North American office of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism launched an $11 million marketing campaign based on the slogan “Israel: Who Knew?” It presents Israel as the perfect place for the “sophisticated traveler”—a necessary feat for a country dependent on tourists for crucial state revenue. As Israel approaches its 60th birthday, the current ad campaign reveals how Israel’s marketing team views the country. According to Arie Sommer, Israel’s Tourism Commissioner for North and South Other countries once known for war now overflow with America, the average traveler may have heard of the Galilee or the vacationers. Though Croatia’s leaders are now on trial for war crimes Dead Sea, but they are not always associating those places with committed in the 1990’s, its sparkling port of Dubrovnik—once Israel. Rather, he said, people think of Israel as a holy site or a place under siege—is a ritzy cruise stop that welcomes thousands of tourists to visit family, but not as a place where a vacationer would travel for per day during the summer season. a cultural experience or a scenic escape. Sommer acknowledges that The current tagline, aimed at the average American traveler, is the political climate of Israel affects not the first campaign to resort to the tourist traffic, and that a decrease superficial perks of the land—see the in terrorism contributes to recent “Israel. Whatever: It’s All Beautiful” increases in tourism. campaign circa 2000. Israel’s recent Originally conceived in 2005 history of campaigning for tourism as the Second Intifada was winding may ignore some important aspects down, the new campaign seeks to of Israel’s substance. Yes, Israel is convey a different kind of Israel. home to camels, colorful rock Unlike the Foreign Ministry, whose formations, and beaches, but it is goal is to cast Israel in a new light also a land of great historical and (the infamous Maxim spread religious importance as well as of bikini-clad Israelis is just one scientific innovation and modern example), the Ministry of Tourism architectural achievements. seeks to attract visitors because Beyond pure economic visitors spend money. In 2000, motives, it’s worth asking whether Israel hosted a record 2.5 million Israel has an interest in—or even a tourists, but the Second Intifada and responsibility to—urge and entice war in Lebanon kept them at bay Jews to come to the Holy Land. After for several years. In 2007, tourism all, Israel isn’t the Virgin Islands or to Israel reached the highest level the Amalfi Coast. Who knew? since before the Second Intifada at 2.3 million, a quarter of which was Anna Melman lives in Jerusalem, where from the United States. A 10-15% she works as an editor and pursues an growth in tourism is projected for MA in public policy. She tries to take 2008, the year Israel celebrates its advantage of some of the sites featured 60th anniversary, according to the in Israel’s ad campaign, even though Tourism Ministry. photo provided by Israel Ministry of Tourism she is not a tourist.
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Yes, Israel is home to camels, colorful rock formations, and beaches, but it is also a land of great historical and religious importance.
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photos by Brian Goldfarb
Is Ten Days Enough?
our generation claims its birthright
Jordan Chandler Hirsch
n the fall of 2006, Adam Rosenfield arrived at the University of North Texas armed with a typical American Jewish upbringing—Hebrew school education and involvement with B’nei Brith Youth Organization. He shared nothing more than a tenuous association with Israel and Jewish nationalism. Indeed, when he began college, his strongest identification with the Jewish people had come from reading the Diary of Anne Frank in public school. With a miniscule Jewish community at North Texas and no surrounding synagogues for miles, Adam expected to live a life unconnected from his Jewish roots. Just over a year later, Adam is now spearheading a campaign to bring Israel activism to his campus. He reads Israeli newspapers on the web every day. He is seeking a long-term internship in Israel for the summer, and has even contemplated aliyah. What caused Adam’s radical transformation? As he put it, “birthright israel can do that to you.” features PresenTensemagazine.org
Marlene Post, former Chairperson of Taglit-birthright israel North America, defined the program in 1999 as “an outreach to young people who have not been drawn into existing Jewish frameworks and may therefore soon be lost to the Jewish people.” To achieve that lofty goal, an astonishing alliance of Jewish philanthropists, organizations, and the Israeli government combined their efforts to send Jews 18 to 26 on a free ten-day trip to Israel. Now, thousands of buses stream up and down the country every summer and winter, carrying birthright groups from college Hillels, travel agencies, and local communities. Over 3,400 Israeli soldiers accompany the tour groups, bonding with North Americans their age and leading to important AmericanIsraeli interaction. To date, birthright has sent over 150,000 young Jews on free trips to Israel in less than a decade. But quantity alone cannot measure success. Is birthright forging new appreciation of Israel and the israel @ 60
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Jewish people? How is it affecting the American Jewish connection to Israel? Is ten days in Israel enough to create a sustainable bond? Has birthright become, as it endeavored, an instrument to recapture those who “might soon be lost to the Jewish people?” According to Dr. Leonard Saxe, Chair of the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis, birthright is exceeding expectations. In June 2006, the Cohen Center conducted a comprehensive polling study of 3,000 participants and 1,000 nonparticipant applicants (those who applied and were rejected) from multiple trip cohorts. Dr. Saxe’s findings suggest that birthright participants’ scores on questions such as “are you planning to marry someone Jewish,” and “are you planning on raising Jewish children,” are on average 10% higher than those of non-participants—at 62% and 83% respectively. More, Dr. Saxe found that the “strongest single attitudinal effect of the birthright israel experience is on participants’ sense of connection to Israel.” Sixty-one percent of 2002/3 participants affirmed that they shared a strong attachment to Israel—as compared to only 45% of non-participant applicants from the same year. Considering this evidence, Dr. Saxe believes birthright “has had a transformative impact on young adult Jews’ attitudes to Israel.”
hat is a home? That answer has evolved for me over time, especially in recent years. At 25 years old, I am in transition and in between families, the one I was born into and the one I will create for myself. I exist in the ambiguous space between worlds, searching for answers to questions that I pose with sincerity and curiosity. I sought answers when I went to Israel in January and again in August. But in Israel it seems that questions lead to more questions and answers are rarely finite.
features issue PresenTensemagazine.org five 2008
israel @ 60
Yet none of these numbers are particularly high for a program meant to prevent intermarriage and inculcate a strong connection to Israel. In his report, Dr. Saxe conceded the effects of birthright on alumni three years removed from the trip seemed to taper off. Indeed, Yossi Katz, an instructor at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) for nearly thirty years, questions whether birthright is having a meaningful and lasting impact on American Jews. “Right now birthright has that aura about it that it cannot be criticized,” Katz said. While he believes that birthright is certainly a positive experience, he highlights the distinction between positive and meaningful. Katz’s school specifically targets the same unaffiliated Jews as birthright does, since it is one of a number of long-term (anywhere from six- to twelve-week) Israel programs dedicated to providing a comprehensive Jewish education to high school students. Such schools have suffered a dropoff in applications in recent years because, according to Katz, parents of Jewish teenagers at public schools are opting to forgo a high school Israel experience for their kids in lieu of birthright. “Six years ago, everyone would be asking about security when I would come the US to recruit. Now, frankly, I haven’t had one person address security with me.” Instead, Katz said, “parents are asking why they should spend $7,000 to send their kids on my program when their kids can go for free on birthright instead.” In the minds of both parents and students, Katz contended, birthright seems a free and fast fix to an Israel connection without the need for longer engagement. In Katz’s view, only longer-term programs can craft a new generation of Jewish leaders. “The most important years to touch a student’s soul are 11th and 12th grade.” On birthright, “bus drivers and hotel operators tell you that they clean up vomit all morning,” while on AMHSI, students are “studying Jewish history from Abraham to Ehud Olmert six hours a day.” Katz argued that birthright is unintentionally competing with AMHSI and similar programs by not opening up to high school students. “Originally, birthright weighed offering every young Jew from the age of sixteen a free round-trip airplane ticket and ten paid days in Israel which could be used on any quality recognized Israel program,” Katz said. “We could use that money to send the student to Alexander Muss or other programs, and it cuts the cost in half.” In the long run, Katz is convinced that birthright’s last-ditch mentality and “Israel-lite, Judaism-lite” experience will dramatically dilute the American Jewish-Israeli relationship. “If someone proves to me one day that the birthright experience is enough,” said Katz, “then everything I’ve worked for my whole life is a mistake.”
At Home in Israel Meredith Levick Meredith Levick is a New Yorker currently living and working in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In August 2007 she participated in the Galilee Fellowship run by Livnot U’Lehibanot.
“Six years ago, everyone would be asking about security when I would come the US to recruit. Now, instead” Katz said, “parents are asking why they should spend $7,000 to send their kids on my program when their kids can go for free on birthright instead.” While Adam Rosenfield is pursuing Israel activism and summers abroad in the Holy Land, few can predict what direction his connection to Israel will take when he enters the workforce and settles down. Katz may be right to worry whether birthright’s effect can survive the rest of college, let alone the ensuing years and decades. Dr. Saxe’s admission that birthright seems to lose its ‘momentum’ on participants three years after the trip lends credence to concerns about the lasting effect of a ten-day trip. If birthright’s goal is to serve as an “outreach to young people who… may therefore soon be lost to the Jewish people,” does its program truly provide a framework, a foundation, for its participants? Can we rely on birthright to sustain the future of the American-Jewish relationship? While birthright is not a magical solution for saving those who might “soon be lost to the Jewish people,” it has filled a gigantic void in the Jewish world that Alexander Muss and other programs could not accommodate. When compared to six-week programs, birthright’s ability to establish a rock solid connection to Judaism and Israel seems tenuous. But birthright is not attempting to cram into ten days what the long-term programs do; it is not meant to achieve the same impact as six-week educational experiences. While the long-term programs and birthright seem to target the same population—unaffiliated Jewish students—they do so at different demographics and different ages. Though it does not obviate the need for participants to visit Israel in the future, birthright does play an invaluable role as a “booster kit” for Jewish young adults—a bridge program that initiates a framework for a connection to Judaism. To enjoy a lasting impact on the attitude of American Jews towards Israel, birthright should offer comprehensive alumni programming to its participants, above and beyond reunion gatherings and Facebook groups. Indeed, it should consider expanding its own long-term programs for its alumni to return to Israel and receive a more indepth encounter. Accordingly, Rabbi Daniel Brenner, Vice President of Education for birthright israel, reports that birthright is in the midst of refreshing its infrastructure for returning participants. “When birthright started, there was a feeling that it simply needed to give that ten-day gift to young Jews, and that established institutions could run follow up programming,” Brenner said. Yet those existing organizations did not respond to the challenge effectively. As the number of birthright participants soared, the problem only worsened. Recognizing the need to build its own community structure, birthright israel brought Brenner on eight months ago to invest in the currently operating ‘post-programming’ efforts—rebranding it as birthright NEXT. While participants returning to colleges can rely on their Hillels, post-collegiate alumni age 22-30 suffer a gap in Jewish life without connections to their local communities. Brenner notes that birthright therefore plans on “investing ten times our current amount” in alumni-related activities in order to enhance the post-programming professionals already on the ground, and empower full-time directors on the ground in ten to fifteen features PresenTensemagazine.org
major US cities. Brenner believes that through substantial effort and funding, birthright can help “fill the enormous gap” in Jewish life for young Jewish professionals lacking community. As birthright embarks on an ambitious program to ensure that participants enjoy extensive infrastructure upon their return, it must navigate difficult waters. It must capitalize on the upcoming opportunities by reinforcing its message. Directors must ensure that the communities they seek to foster amongst birthright participants will eventually link with the broader Jewish community as well. While this task seems daunting, birthright can only achieve its stated goal by working not only to keep alumni connected to each other, but also to non-birthright participants. Only with these challenges in mind can birthright translate its initial impact into a sustainable influence on the American Jewish connection to Israel, and prevent so many young Jews from slipping into assimilation. Jordan Chandler Hirsch is a Columbia University sophomore majoring in History. He is Editor-in-Chief of The Current (www.columbia.edu/cu/current) and a member-at-large of LionPAC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
israel @ 60
issue five 2008
photo by Rob Levy
either a political activist nor one to join in any protests, in September of 2006, I found myself, a Christian among mostly Jews, participating in a protest at the UN against the president of Iran. We held signs that read “Christians United for Israel” and we wanted the Jewish people to know that Christians would not remain silent to murderous threats spoken uncontested amongst world leaders. A Jewish man approached us with tears in his eyes and thanked us, comforted that Jews were not alone. As an evangelical Christian working in the Jewish non-profit world, I am often entangled in discussions related to Christian motivation for support of Jews and Israel. My first job after college, and where I remain eight years later, is working for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in its New York office. Growing up, I had a vague idea that, as a Christian, I should support Israel and the Jewish people. Aside from this personal connection with Israel, I am one of many evangelical Christians who take G-d’s promise to Abraham literally: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:3). In recent years, a spiritual awakening among Christians has sprouted a “movement” that has encouraged the embrace of Christianity’s Jewish roots. Judaism is our spiritual heritage; there is no Christianity without Judaism. At times, some Christians forget that Jesus was not Protestant or Catholic, but Jewish! Because of these commonly held beliefs, it is hard to understand how anti-Semitism ever existed among those claiming to be Christians. A combination of anti-Semitism and fear caused many Christians to be silent during the Holocaust, a sin that should never be repeated. Christians cannot be silent in the face of anti-Semitism in today’s world and I can’t think of anyone in my family, friends or church that is not supportive or in agreement. Many evangelical Christians believe that Israel has a right to all the land given to the Jewish people in the Bible (Numbers 34). However, not all Christians will agree with every action taken by the State of Israel. Giving up land, holding on to land, building a security fence, actions toward Palestinians; there is diversity among
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israel @ 60
Who Would Jesus save?
christian zionists strengthen the holy land
Jo Ann Panzella Christians on the specifics, the same as among Jews. This vague idea of support for the Jewish people does not always translate into strong support for the State of Israel. However, there are many American evangelicals who feel that being a friend of Israel means supporting her right to make decisions others—even the United States—do not agree with. Millions of Christians across America have a deep love for Israel and the Jewish people and want to stand with them during these difficult days. Yet, until recently, pro-Israel Christians were divided and often silent. They limited their support of Israel to prayers and charitable donations. In February 2006, Pastor John Hagee decided the time had come to create a national grassroots movement focused on the support of Israel. He called upon Christian leaders from across America to join him in launching this new initiative. Over 400 Christian leaders answered the call, and Christians United for Israel was born. The activities of this organization include educating Christians on the biblical basis for supporting Israel and communicating this support to elected officials. Education serves two purposes. The first is to educate pro-Israel Christians about how to support Israel; the second is to influence Christians who would say they believe in the Bible but do not support Israel. One of the goals of new-found evangelical efforts is to send a message to elected officials that a pro-Israel American policy is important PresenTensemagazine.org features
to Christians as well as Jews. And there are a lot of evangelical Christians in America. Another Christian ministry taking a very active role in support for Israel is Eagles Wings. They sponsor The Jerusalem Prayer Banquet, a national leadership event which catalyzed worldwide initiatives such as the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem. The International Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem was instituted with the endorsement of hundreds of Christian leaders from around the world, representing tens of millions of Christians, and is held annually on the first Sunday of every October. With anti-Semitism festering on American college campuses, many Christian students lack the experience and knowledge to speak intelligently about the complex issues facing Israel today. Eagles Wings has a program each summer called Israel Experience, which has been called the Christian version of Taglit-birthright israel. For three weeks, Christian students visit Israel to learn about the Jewish roots of their faith, including the Christian history of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, modern Zionism, and the current Palestinian situation. The students on the Israel Experience program now visit the Hebrew University as part of their trip, learning about the current Middle East situation from experts on the subject. Most reactions from the Jewish community are positive with regard to Christian support. For example, the promotional flyer for Eagles Wings’ Israel Experience program contains a quote from Benjamin Netanyahu: “I am very excited about young, non-
Jewish Americans, Christian Americans, coming to Israel. The experience of this program will be indelibly etched in their minds and in their hearts.” Daniel Ayalon, former Ambassador of Israel to the United States, and Natan Sharanksy, among others, concur. This is just one example of a specific pro-Israel venture and how Israelis are reacting to it. There is certainly anecdotal evidence of suspicious reactions among Jewish people, but that seems to be a rare occurrence. My connection with the Jewish world and the land of Israel has been an unforgettable experience. I have traveled to Israel three times, experienced aspects of Jewish and Israeli culture that few Christians have, and I hope that I have also succeeded, in my own small way, in encouraging Christian connections with Israel. Working there through the Second Intifada solidified my connection with Israel, and tragically, the biggest impact was made when I lost a personal friend in a bombing in Jerusalem. My commitment to supporting Israel will stay with me long after I have moved on from my current employment. I hope Christian support for Israel will continue to grow. I believe that it will, as ties between the Jewish community and Christian community grow stronger. I hope to pass on these beliefs to my children, helping to ensure that the mistakes of past generations will not be repeated. Jo Ann Panzella has an MBA from Baruch College in New York, where she lives and works for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
israel @ 60
issue five 2008
The Case Against Israel Advocacy
calling for less pro-israel activism
Benjamin Greene photo by flickr.com/people/ashbash9
t a recent major student conference on Israel, a placard detailing the conference’s aims included two bullet points: “Focus on quick facts and points/counterpoints about current issues in the Middle East,” followed by, “Focus on improving your debate skills.” When it comes to Israel in America, this emphasis on advocacy is common. The established post-Second Intifada mentality, particularly on college campuses, has generally been that Israel is “under attack” by an evergrowing coalition of deceptive, anti-Semitic organizations. This assessment has led to the prevailing belief that we must train our youth to battle against these organizations so that those on the sidelines will realize that the accusations against Israel are baseless and that the Jewish State is truly in the right. Unfortunately, among the flaws of this approach is that it presupposes an established love and passion toward Israel, which for many students has never developed. One study conducted by Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman found that only 48% of American Jews under age 35 believe that “Israel’s destruction would be a personal tragedy,” and the general community is searching to understand what went wrong. As communal officials debate whether the blame for this attitude can be pinned on everything from intermarriage to media bias to simply an apathetic and selfcentered generation, what is truly needed is for the American Jewish community to critically evaluate its current strategies of Israel programming, which have come to exhibit a clear imbalance between pro-Israel advocacy and direct engagement with Israeli society. All too often, today’s youth are beckoned to speak on behalf of and in defense of Israel without first being given the chance to speak with actual Israelis. As the birthright israel experience has shown, direct contact and shared experiences (mifgashim) with
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Israelis is consistently reported to be one of the most meaningful and influential aspects of the trip. When American youth have the opportunity to hike in the Negev and explore the Tel Aviv nightlife with their Israeli peers, relationships and understandings are formed that transcend those which can be created in advocacy-centered programs. As such, personal experiences with Israelis are of paramount importance for forming and reinforcing connections to Israel. Regrettably, the American Jewish community has misallocated its resources through its determined focus on teaching young people how to advocate for Israel, instead of providing them with gateways to build positive, complex, and sustainable relationships with the Jewish State and its people. Emotional connections are not made with complicated maps, nuanced UN resolutions, and meta-arguments about territorial rights. Rather, these connections are established with people, music, art, literature, and other windows of cultural and social engagement. Young Jews will never develop deep and lasting relationships with Israel if these relationships are predicated on entering a type of public debate. In our zeal to craft sound bite arguments, we have created situations where many are now better suited to have conversations about Israeli policies with protesters than they are with Israelis. Student trained in advocacy programs often believe they are representing the Israeli view of the situation, as though all Israelis have a monolithic view of State decisions past, present,
and future. Which, of course, they do not: for the majority of Israelis, the debates over such matters as settlements, borders, and targeted assassinations are far from resolved. Issues at the heart of everyday life, such as religion and state, environmental protection, economic expansion, and 21st-century Zionism, are unfortunately absent from most Israel programming. Instead of featuring “Israel updates” that are synonymous with an update of the peace process and Israeli politics, “Israel updates” should be about emerging popular artists, social trends, and technological innovation. Instead of preparing youth to counter what Americans are talking about on television, we should help American Jews to find out what Israelis are talking about in coffee shops. Combating anti-Israel propaganda on college campuses is a legitimate concern, but we cannot allow it to drive all of our Israel programming and initiatives. It is distressing when the primary or only opportunities and resources a student may have to develop a relationship with Israel are focused solely on forms of advocacy or counter-protest. Instead, we should develop programs and initiatives that are centered on aspects of Israeli life and culture, providing students and young adults with access to direct engagement with Israelis and Israeli society. If we really hope to promote and build meaningful and enduring connections, tomorrow’s strategy must focus on the voices within Israel, not the voices shouting against her. Benjamin Greene is Program Associate for The Samuel Bronfman Foundation and pursues a Master’s at Jewish Theological Seminary’s School of Jewish Education.
All too often, today’s youth are beckoned to speak on behalf of and in defense of Israel without first being given the chance to speak with actual Israelis. israel @ 60
Israeli Cars, Unplugged the electric revolution starts here
hen I crowd onto the bus in Jerusalem, I wish that I had enough money to afford the gas to drive my own car instead. Hope is on the way—thanks to an Israeli entrepreneur, Shai Agassi, and his Project Better Place (PBP), I could soon realize my driving fantasy if the electric car makes its scheduled debut on the Israeli market in 2011. The electric car is supposed to work much like a cell phone, by plugging the battery-operated car into a charger. PBP will provide the infrastructure by setting up a network of charging spots and battery exchange stations that will allow Israeli drivers to drive all over the country. If they need to drive longer than the charge on their home battery allows, they can simply exchange their used battery for a fresh one. Since these new cars can travel up to 200km (120 miles) in one charge, Israel, as a small country, offers an ideal testing ground for the new technology. While most Americans don’t drive more than 120 miles in one day, one difficulty in transferring this project to the United States on a grand scale would be the network of charge spots and battery-exchange stations needed around such a large country. Electric cars could also be more environmentally-friendly and put Israel on the map as the first country to wean itself off gasguzzling cars completely. The jury’s still out for Israel’s citizens, who don’t know that much about the technology yet. But as another crowded bus ride awaits, I’m hoping this place becomes better, soon. Tamar Weiss has been in Israel for over three years. She currently teaches English at the Ziv and Marks School in Jerusalem.
photo from www.projectbetterplace.com/press-room
israel @ 60
issue five 2008
Next Year in Jerusalem israelis in america, temporarily
photos by Vladimir Gitin
n Israeli in New York walks into an elevator and overhears a couple of Israelis speaking Hebrew. “Yordim?” he asks. “Not at all,” they quickly reply, “We are here temporarily.” Like many immigrants, Israelis come to the United States to make a better life for themselves. They come for the job prospects, educational opportunities, and a lifestyle not dominated by the harsh realities of a neverending war. They also come to escape hardships such as religious and sexual exclusion, broken families, and interpersonal conflicts. It is hard to say how many Israelis are actually living in the United States. One estimate has it at around 130,000, another at 350,000, still a third at 600,000. While in comparison to other immigrant communities these numbers may not seem significant, for a country the size of Israel, the numbers are staggering. Much to Israel’s chagrin, the people who are leaving the country are the young and educated: a phenomenon known as “brain drain.” Contrary to occupational stereotypes that associate Israelis with manual labor (e.g. Moishe’s Movers), by and large the Israelis who come to live in the United States are doctors, engineers, professors, students, and business-people (e.g. high-tech field). However, despite a high standard of living, one of the unique, if not comical, aspects of Israelis living in the United States
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is that regardless of the number of years they have resided there, most believe that they will one day return. Israelis, in other words, constantly sit on their suitcases. A sociological study of Israelis living in New York found that 55% (citizens and non-citizens) said that it was important for them to return to Israel. Given that most of the subjects interviewed have been living in New York for 5 to 12 years, their desire to return seems inauthentic. One explanation given is that by saying that they are planning to return, Israelis assuage their sense of guilt for leaving home. “My way of dealing with the guilt was not only to imagine that my family and I will one day return,” Dr.
negated what the Jewish state stood for—an ingathering of exiles. Given that Israel as a democracy could not bar its citizens from leaving, its only tool was to bludgeon their Zionist superego with guilt. The stigmatization was evident in the language itself. The very Hebrew word for the people who left the country is “yordim” —literally, those who descend or go down. This stood in stark contrast with “olim”— literally those who ascend or go up. In 1976, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously described yordim as “leftover weaklings” and “lowliest of parasites.” Rabin later retracted his statement, but for a long time afterwards, the notion stuck in the collective consciousness of most Israelis. In recent years, the Israeli government has taken a different and softer approach to the phenomenon of yordim. Instead of shaming them into returning, the government has attempted to entice (some would say bribe) them back. The Ministry of Absorption, for example, has recently launched project “Coming Home,” which seeks to reward Israelis for returning to Israel. The rewards include: tax
The stigmatization was evident in the language itself. The very Hebrew word for the people who left the country is “yordim” —literally, those who descend or go down. Efrat Bar-Lev, an Israeli OBGYN who has been living in the US for the past seven years, explains, “but I used to also search for and buy electrical appliances that can work both in Israel and in the US. I still do.” For a long time, Jews who immigrated out of Israel were viewed in a negative light. By leaving Israel, they physically rejected and israel @ 60
breaks, employment, and small business loans. In addition, the private organization Nefesh B’Nefesh is offering Jewish doctors (MDs) $60,000 for moving back to the country. In his support of such initiatives, Prime Minster Olmert, who himself has two children living in the States, has commented, “Every Israeli, even if he lives abroad, is Israeli at PresenTensemagazine.org features
heart and knows that his home is here. I call on all Israelis to return home.” But such calls will most likely fall on deaf ears. The truth of the matter is that Israelis today feel snug and comfortable living in the States. Yes, there is some guilt. And yes, they identify as Israelis before Americans. But life is good. Moreover, whereas in the past many Israelis “broke” because they missed the smell, taste, and feel of home, today they are creating little enclaves of home—mini-Israels across the U.S. In addition, technology has made it cheaper and easier for people to communicate
with friends and family abroad, thus further reducing the distance and difficulty of living away from home. “The one thing I used to really miss was the food and the culture,” says Yaniv Segev, a 35-year-old Israeli musician who has been living in New York for the past 15 years. “Now, I go down to Saint Mark’s and eat at Hummus Place, where I meet a bunch of friends from home. After, I cross the street and buy some Bamba, and maybe rent an Israeli film from Holyland Market. My little Israel keeps me connected and less lonely.”
Barring a major catastrophe (or miracle) in Israel, the future promises to bring more of the same. As long as the economic, educational, and political status quo remain, young and educated Israelis are going to continue to enter the US in droves—building the good life on top of their guilt-assuaging suitcases. Roi Ben-Yehuda is a regular contributer to The Observers, Jewcy, and AllVoices. His work has appeared in publications such as Haaretz, Jbooks, Tikkun, Zeek, Voices-Unabridged and The Epoch Times. Read his blog at www.roiword.wordpress.com.
the art of israeli yeridah
wenty-five years ago the thought of yeridah, emigrating from Israel, was an all-consuming end-all-be-all. It was a trying time in the country, as the economy was in a dismal state of triple-digit inflation and barely perceptible GDP growth. At the same time, the high-tech industry was taking off in the United States and companies like Digital, National Semiconductor, and AMD were growing rapidly and doling out plenty of work visas to qualified Israeli graduates from the Technion. Lured by company cars and comfortable salaries, eligible Israelis made the hard decision to uproot their families for greener economic pastures. This was before the Internet, “globalization” and cell phones, when phone calls to family members outside of Israel were measured in dollars per minute and required the logistical consideration of having both parties available and present near a landline. These Israelis constituted the first wave of modern yeridah and were generally frowned upon by their native counterparts. They were deemed lesser citizens, ostracized anti-Zionist pariahs that simply couldn’t cut it and gave up on their home country for superficial material gains. They congregated in the States around ad-hoc support groups based on social interactions, and kept a noticeable distance from their American neighbors when work was not involved. Today, Israel is experiencing a second wave of modern yeridah, which is both similar and different from the previous wave. The type of Israelis leaving the country now are in many ways the same as those who left in prior years: educated, financially ambitious, Ashkenazi. Yet globalization has made labor migration easier, and has vastly decreased the effective distance between Israel and the United States. The once seemingly insurmountable physical and ideological distance between Israel and her expatriates has been replaced by instant messaging, Facebook, and bargain airfare. More importantly, globalization has not only affected the economics of yeridah but also the outlook of yeridah. The once common negative perception of Israelis living abroad no longer holds, features PresenTensemagazine.org
both because of the sheer numbers involved—estimated at around 700,000 worldwide—but also because back-and-forth migration between Israel and the States is now commonplace. Many Israelis will spend a few years abroad and return to Israel, and many olim will spend a few years in Israel and return abroad. Rather than being seen as people who abandoned their family, yordim are now regarded with a degree of empathy bordering on envy, because they have the financial and educational means to gain experience and insight beyond Israel’s small borders. The real change in the mentality toward yeridah, however, lies in the growing disenfranchisement and disappointment that Israelis feel toward their own country. It is no longer taboo to voice a negative opinion about Zionism. Alternative viewpoints and dissent are no longer deemed subversive; they are generally accepted as part of the growing fractionalization of Israeli culture. Even those who leave the country to avoid mandatory military service can find backing and support for their decision in some sectors of Israeli society. Yordim are no longer seen as selfish Americanized consumers, but rather as people simply trying to get away from the incessant instability of the region and find some sense of normalcy. If the effects of globalization are the pull toward yeridah, then the ongoing stagnation (be it economic, ideological, political) in Israel is the push toward yeridah. With these issues still unresolved, it appears that Israeli emigration will continue to increase. The deciding factor will be whether the new wave of immigrants will maintain their connection to the land like their predecessors, or whether the increasing ease of leaving will also increase their letting go entirely. Yoav Fisher is a graduate student in Economics at Tel Aviv University and a frequent contributor to NewZionist.com israel @ 60
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paradigm shift Not Just a Holy Land why the deification of israel hurts us
ll too often, Jews argue about the way Israel is portrayed in the news media. Unfortunately, this controversy often obscures a more crucial issue facing Israel: how the country is represented among Jews. Day schools, camps, youth groups, and travel programs have built up Israel into a mythical place, one with a perfect set of attributes and no failings. Each group has its own ideologies. Secularists describe Jews as liberated from religion living Jewishly, kibbutzniks toiling away in the fields to build a new, modern country for the Jewish people, and young Israeli soldiers heroically defending their homeland. Those with religious leanings portray Israel as Eretz HaKodesh, the Holy Land, focusing on the historical background of the country and the various connections of particular locations to the Biblical narrative. Its innumerable yeshivot of every style cater to the always-been religious, the newly-religious, and the not-yet-religious, offering a chance to strengthen one’s Torah knowledge and commitment to Judaism while imbibing the holiness present in the land. Month-long teen trips during the summer, birthright israel, and Bar/Bat Mitzvah tours all feed into and reinforce these stereotypes of Israel. The participants view Israel in prepackaged form, planting trees on a Jerusalem hilltop, cramming tiny handwritten notes into the
Day schools and travel programs have built Israel up into a mythical place, one with a perfect set of attributes and no failings. Western Wall, and partying in a Tel Aviv disco rented out especially for their tours—with only a fleeting glimpse of the real Israel through a tour bus window. Each trip may differ slightly in its format or purpose, but nearly all portray the Israel that Diaspora Jews expect to see: the epicenter of Judaism and the Jewish people, a place to be born again religiously, the fount of the Zionist ideal, a source of hot Israeli soldiers who are infinitely more attractive than their Diaspora college student counterparts—and, of course, the antidote to intermarriage and assimilation. The perfect country. And it remains that way—that is, until the bubble bursts. For each person, it is a different moment that sparks this disillusionment. It might be the realization that Israel has a large secular
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israel @ 60
photo from flickr.com/photos/36m2
population which cares nothing for religious observance; it could be the dismay at the size or influence of particular religious segments of the country; or, it is the poverty, injustice to foreign workers, ongoing terrorism, political messes and bureaucracies, anger at disengagement, or the inevitable municipal strike which leaves piles of garbage strewn upon the picturesque streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. Ariel Daube, currently a student at Ben Gurion University Medical School for International Health, recalled that as a student in Jewish day schools and on family trips to Israel, he saw a very narrow view of the country. “Growing up, I was only exposed to the Anglo community, to the middle class. It was only when I came here independently that I was able to look at things on my own. As a volunteer with Magen David Adom, I met Israelis who were frustrated with religious coercion and Arab ambulance drivers who were frustrated with prejudice.” Similarly, Navit Robkin, a Dorot Fellow currently working with Darfuri refugees in Israel, related that “Jewish day schools have almost done a disservice by deifying Israel and making it holy.” Sooner or later, visitors conclude that Israel isn’t perfect and that it has problems just like any other country. Of course, this shouldn’t be anything new; people’s expectations of other countries are routinely disappointed. However, since Israel is deified as larger than life by run-of-the-mill mythology disseminated by everyone from youth groups to the tourism industry, recognizing that Israel is just like any other country in so many ways crushes peoples’ expectations—and drives them away from the State. A solid relationship cannot be built upon myths and exaggerations, and if we intend to ensure a healthy relationship between Diaspora Jews and the Jewish State, we’re going to need to inject a lot more realism into our relationship. Israelis have day-to-day concerns about their children, their mortgages, the state of the economy, their health, and the latest political brouhaha. Israel cannot be expected to support and alleviate all of the problems in the Diaspora while simultaneously living up to unrealistic ideals. Additionally, Israel cannot be expected to be a perfect haven for those wishing to move there. For Diaspora Jews, the biggest ideal of all has been aliyah, or immigration to Israel, regarded as the ultimate commitment to the State. However, Diaspora Jews should not be made PresenTensemagazine.org paradigm shift
to feel less Jewish for not immediately packing up and moving to Israel. It’s one thing to plan a week- or month-long visit on starry-eyed views; it’s another thing entirely to uproot oneself and move to a new culture and new country that has its fair share of problems. Moreover, the idealized view can have the opposite effect than intended. In Daube’s experience, “people who have come intending to make aliyah didn’t have realistic expectations, and when they were exposed to Israeli culture in its rawest form, they were shocked back to their home countries. There are many people like that.” Robkin concurs. Pushing aliyah by selling Israel as an ideal place “causes aliyah disillusionment,” she says. Her friends, whose upbringing has led them to see the country only through a religious lens, “don’t grasp Israel as a living, breathing country, and don’t see it outside of a religious purpose.” To prevent the negative effects of this disenchantment, Israel should be made more “real” to Jews around the world. To do so, there needs to be real engagement between Israelis and Diaspora Jews on an individual level. Although there are plenty of long-term trips and programs which seek to achieve this goal, all too many participants fail to step outside the university or the Anglo bubble and connect with Israelis. As such, there should be more emphasis on actual immersion in Israeli culture and an increased effort to integrate foreign participants into Israeli life, whether through housing, classes, volunteer work, or social events. Because not everyone can do a long-term program, shorter programs should also seriously focus on making Israel real. Tours can involve volunteering in development towns and home hospitality with Israeli families; teen trips can be reoriented to include Israeli peers for a portion of the tour. By mixing Israelis and Diaspora Jews,
not only will Diaspora Jews see Israel through the eyes of Israelis, but Israelis will also see their country through the eyes of Diaspora Jews. By seeing the country from a different perspective, each group connects with it that much more strongly. Outside of Israel, our educators and leaders should represent Israel as it really is, not as a perfect country, but as our homeland, which is unique and special in many ways. Israel has never been flawless, not during the times of the Temple, and not more recently during the building of the kibbutzim or the establishment of the State. Israel is not a magical cure for various Jewish ailments, be they assimilation, religious apathy, or anti-Semitism. The images we draw while touring Israel or learning about it from afar must be augmented with realism. Israel is our homeland despite its flaws, or perhaps even because of them. It is a place we are to love and support, even as we disapprove of some of its qualities. Rather than build it up into a mythical land of our dreams that exists only in our imaginations, only to disappoint when it doesn’t live up to expectations, we must instead connect with our Israeli brethren and see them as people like us, and help improve our country so it becomes a better and more successful place for its citizens and for the Jewish people around the world. “Utopias are called utopias for a reason—because they don’t exist,” Daube explained. “To be a true Zionist, you have to realistically understand the good and the bad of Israel. It’ll only get better if you recognize the bad and try to make it good, and I have a responsibility to be part of this experiment and make what is bad, good.” Simi Hinden is the Advertising and Circulation Director at PresenTense. She lives in Jerusalem and enjoys traveling and learning about the real Israel.
israel @ 60
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With Flying Colors Shelley Shafran
ehind the headlines stands a people of immense strength, people who fight to live ordinary lives when events dictate
a reality of the extraordinary and miraculous. While war and terror conquer the world’s attention, the nuances and complexities of daily life elude the world media in this small corner of the Middle East. Those familiar with Israel know it is the norm for perfect strangers to warmly invite you to their home for Shabbat. They feel the pure joy of celebrating at a wedding nestled in the Judaean hills. Even veteran olim are struck by the “only in Israel” moments and are touched by the humor in a hamsa on the wall of a kiosk with a blessing for success in business and the Coca-Cola sign.
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israel @ 60
aking cover in a falafel shop on a sunny afternoon in Sderot during a â€œcolor redâ€? alert stimulates both fear and resilience.
While picking out fruits at the Shuk, one marvels at their beauty but also at Israelâ€™s advancements and ingenuity in the fields of science and technology. photoessay PresenTensemagazine.org
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elaxing in a café, one becomes sensitive to the subtleties in dress that mark the differences between one cultural
group and another. There is a common struggle to shake off the apathy that has gripped the nation over the past years. As I reflect on Israel at 60, for me the most meaningful moment was at the funeral of the eight boys murdered in the Merkaz haRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. We were sitting in grief in the blazing Friday morning sun when a hint of orange caught my eye. Here was a young girl still wearing an orange bracelet—orange being the color adopted by supporters of the residents of Gush Katif. Nearly three years after disengagement, this girl refuses to take it off. It could easily be dismissed as a symbol of the “right,” but I believe her resilience represents a common trait that runs across the full spectrum of Israeli society regardless of politics, ethnicity or religious affiliation, and that is the desire to fight.
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nnate in all of us is the drive to perpetuate our life in Israel and continue the unbroken chain of Jewish history. As Israel celebrates
60 years and embarks on its 61st, the people of Israel will continue to fight for change, justice, morality, and truth. Mostly, they will continue to fight to lead ordinary lives. Or perhaps they will discover that it is in leading extraordinary lives that the Israeli people derives its strength. photoessay PresenTensemagazine.org
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Emerging From the Deep
israeli jellyfish come to american shores
hira Geffen and Etgar Keret are each already highlyacclaimed in Israel and abroad—Geffen as a playwright, theater director and actress, and Keret as a fiction and screenplay author. Their transition to directing film has proven to be just as successful. The Israeli couple’s debut feature, Jellyfish, won the Camera d’Or prize at the 2007 Cannes International Film Festival for best first feature and has been enthusiastically received at numerous other film festivals around the world. The film begins with a little girl at the beach with her parents, who are engrossed in an argument. As the child plays in the water, the parents continue to argue—they don’t notice their daughter being pulled into the sea and drifting away. These images from a short story written several years ago by Shira Geffen are the inspiration for the screenplay and form the emotional basis of the film: “the feeling of being in the water and not being able to feel the ground under your feet,” as Geffen describes. In Jellyfish, the little girl takes the form of an unnamed fiveyear-old (Nikol Leidman) who emerges mysteriously out of the sea wearing nothing but panties and a striped inner tube. Instead of her parents, the child encounters Batya (Sarah Adler), a young, sad-eyed waitress whose boyfriend recently left her. The child, who does not speak a single word, attaches herself to Batya and follows her home to a run-down apartment—where the roof is leaking and the landlord still demands rent payments that Batya can barely afford. The setting is the coastal Israeli city of Tel Aviv, which is also where Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret have spent most of their lives. The beach where many of the scenes were shot is where Keret’s father had a kiosk and sold ice-cream when Keret was a child; the building in which Geffen and Keret first lived together also makes an appearance in the film. Nevertheless, Jellyfish is not only about life in Tel Aviv. Geffen insists it is about more universal experiences—the conflicts and heartbreaks of people in the modern, urban world. The filmmakers intentionally aimed to keep the city abstract, “like the city of a fairy tale,” says Geffen. This city is populated by individuals who cross paths but are strangers to one another; their stories interweave at various moments in the film but they are mostly unaware of their connection. As such, Jellyfish exposes the breakdown of structures and institutions—both emotional and physical—that were once stable and reliable. “The feeling in the film is that everything is disintegrating, malfunctioning,” says Keret. “The same way Batya’s house is falling apart and is flooded with water, everything doesn’t work—the police
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israel @ 60
photo from www.etgarkeret.com
don’t seem to work, the parents don’t function, the children don’t seem to be able to take care of the parents.” The feeling of disintegration is reinforced by striking visual elements interspersed throughout the film: Keren’s wedding gown crumpled on the floor of a bathroom stall and her broken leg in a cast; beautiful flowers wilting in Batya’s hands and water pouring from the ceiling of her apartment into the mute little girl’s mouth; and the sea with its unrelenting power of erosion as the film’s overall, blue-tinged backdrop. This underlying role of the sea is a central symbol in the film. Etgar Keret elaborates, “When you live in Tel Aviv, you really feel like there is the sea and there is the city. And in some unconscious way they are in a war. It’s kind of a war between nature and manufactured reality, between the subconscious and rational, between concrete matter and liquid—you feel this clash. All the houses near the beach in Tel Aviv are starting to fall apart because of the effect of the sea, as if the sea is trying to drive them away. I think that this was something very dominant [in the film]—I could smell the beach and the sea from every page of the screenplay.” Like the feeling of being swept away by the currents of the sea, the characters in Jellyfish share the experience of drifting through life without really knowing the direction in which they are moving. They often feel overwhelmed, powerless, and alone. But somewhere along the way they rediscover an inner strength that reminds them that they can be the captains of their own destinies—at least to an extent. The music at the end of the film, a Hebrew cover version of “La Vie en Rose,” reinforces the optimism that prevails even amid all the heartache. Marianna Evenstein is a broadcast journalist, author and translator. After graduating from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Studies, Marianna received a Fulbright Scholarship to Germany, where she has been living and working since 1999. PresenTensemagazine.org reviews
The Things They Carry
trauma and triumph in the fight for israel
The protagonist’s ultimate sacrifice is honored by the UN surveyor who finds an Israeli flag in one of the fallen soldier’s hands and designates the hill as Israeli. photo by Julien Harneis
ade in 1955, Giv’a 24 Eina Ona (English: “Hill 24 Does Not Answer”) was the first movie ever produced in the State of Israel. It tells the story of four soldiers in the newly-formed State—an Irish and an American volunteer, a native Israeli sabra and a Yemenite girl—who were given the task of holding a position on top of one of the hills surrounding Jerusalem in the final hours of the Independence War. The protagonists’ ultimate sacrifice is honored by the UN surveyor who finds an Israeli flag in one of the fallen soldier’s hands and designates the hill as Israeli. Set seven years after the Independence War of 1948, Giv’a 24 makes for an interesting contrast to this past year’s Israeli Oscar Nominee, Beaufort, which was released seven years after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. Giv’a 24 glorifies sacrifice for the State. Even as it mourns the loss of youth, its theme provokes thoughts of the words attributed to reviews PresenTensemagazine.org
Joseph Trumpeldor on his deathbed, “Never mind, it’s good to die for our country. “ In Giv’a 24 it is clear that every Israeli soldier carries the destiny of the Jewish people and the Zionist dream on his or her shoulders. Beaufort, however, highlights a very different aspect of Israeli society. Beaufort explores the Zionist reality rather than the Zionist dream. When olim and volunteers come to serve in the Israeli Defense Force today, they are often thought of more as friarim or suck-ups than heroes by the teenagers serving their mandatory service. Beaufort seeks to grapple with a host of extremely different and yet equally immediate challenges to the State of Israel including the strain of occupation and the albatross of past generations’ mistakes. This film is far more hesitant to justify loss of life than the first Israeli film and is more directly critical of the military and political command. For example, at one point in Beaufort, a critical evacuation is delayed because the Cabinet has israel @ 60
still failed to adjourn their meeting, though their decision has already been made. Both films are joined in the annals of Israeli film by the 1976 cult favorite Giv’at Halfon Eina Ona (English: “Halfon Hill Doesn’t Answer”). Set amidst a unit serving their reserve duty on the Egyptian border, Halfon Hill is a lampoonian salute to military service. When considered together, the three films seem to reflect three very distinct eras in the development of the modern State. Giv’a 24 spoke to a time of sacrifice and idealism, Halfon Hill of comedic irreverence. Judging from its virtually unprecedented box-office success, Beaufort’s attempt to grapple with innocence lost and shattered idealism has hit a nerve in Israeli society. Yael Twito grew up in Plano, Texas. She divided her undergraduate studies between George Washington University in D.C. and the University of Haifa. She is currently working as Assistant Director of Camp Young Judaea Texas. issue five 2008
Filmed in Israel: Five movies You May Not Know
ith the arrival of films like Someone to Run With, The Band’s Visit (see review on p. 57), and Beaufort (see review on p. 55) Israel may have only recently become known as a cinematic player by Diaspora hipsters. But a little trip through the Internet Movie Database reveals that in addition to her native-grown films, Israel has served as inspiration—and often location—for other films you may (or more likely, may not) have seen.
Double Edge (Lahav Hatzui) (1992)
Goodbye New York (1985)
The Body (2001)
Julie Hagerty (Airplane!) runs away from her husband and flies to Paris. But when she accidentally misses her connection, she ends up in Israel instead, without money or connections. An Amos Kollek film, with a cameo by his famous uncle Teddy as a passerby.
Before anyone had heard of The DaVinci Code came this story about an impossibly good-looking priest (Antonio Banderas, really?) who is sent by the Vatican to Jerusalem to investigate remains that were unearthed there. This is the story of a discovery that rocks the political and religious worlds that it touches.
A woman journalist (Faye Dunaway) travels to Israel and encounters the day-to-day life of figures on both sides of the Middle East conflict. The independent woman also comes into a culture clash with the largely chauvinistic culture of the region, and interviews political figures of the day. Written, produced, and directed by Amos Kollek, it features vignettes with actual Israeli political figures of the day, including Hanan Ashrawi, Teddy Kollek, Abba Eban, and Meir Kahane.
Every time We Say Goodbye (1986)
An American flyer (Tom Hanks) recovers from a leg injury in Jerusalem, falls in love with a Sephardic Jewish woman, and has to figure out (in Ladino no less) whether their love can bridge the gaps in their very different backgrounds. Iron Eagle II (1988)
You may have forgotten this Lou Gossett Jr. action film, but Israelis might not have, since it was filmed in the Holy Land.
And one film gets an Honorable Mention: Free Zone (2005)
So, this one you might have heard of, but only because it involved Natalie Portman filming in her native country, and because it involved a much protested kissing scene at the Kotel. Israel: it ain’t Hollywood. But it sure gives good location.
Celebrate Israel’s 60th with a Guided Tour of Israeli Film Purchase or download free www.azm.org/film.shtml
Lost, But Not in Translation what happens when the band visits
sraeli cinema produces its fair share of escapism: family dramas, romantic comedies, juvenile humor. But to film festivals and American art-house theaters, the country exports movies soaked in topicality, politics, and conflict. About a group of Egyptians visiting Israel, The Band’s Visit seems to fit into the latter category. Expect cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, and one or two impassioned exchanges on war and justice. Expect significance. But, in the case of first-time filmmaker Eran Kolirin, don’t. The film begins with the following words, serving as both introduction and disclaimer, scrolling across the screen in Hebrew and Arabic: “Once, not long ago, a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this...It wasn’t that important.” Invited to Israel by a local Arab cultural center, the band—the Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra to be precise—arrive at Tel Aviv airport expecting VIP treatment. But they are met by no one. The image of eight stoic Egyptians, clad in identical powder blue uniforms and lined up all in a row, has the tragic hilarity of a silent movie. In fact, the film’s first twenty minutes are largely wordless, relying on visual incongruity and pitch-perfect timing for humor. Forced to use their halting English to reach Petach Tikva, the band ends up broke, on a bus to Bet HaTikva instead—a tiny desert town with “no Israeli culture, no Arab culture, no culture period,” as we are told by local restaurant owner Dina (Ronit Alkabetz). What ensues isn’t epochal: culture clash gives way to common ground. But Kolirin forgoes treacle for drollery, and the film’s lingua franca remains the uncomfortable silence. The salty Dina finds beds for the eight Egyptians, out of amused boredom as much as goodwill. She herself hosts the band’s two polar opposites: bandleader Tawfiq (Sasson Gabbai), a man who won’t take off his hat and who calls Dina “Madame,” and Haled (Saleh Bakri), the band’s skirt-chasing screw-up. Instead of going after the heartthrob, she pursues the wizened Tawfiq, and their relationship forms the emotional center of the film. Poor Haled is left to find out what passes for nightlife in the desert—a roller disco straight out of ’76—and play Cyrano for a local Israeli boy, in one hilarious scene demonstrating what to do with a woman. The film alternates between the tragic, the absurd, and moments that manage to be both. The Band’s Visit is mostly in broken English, the only language the musicians and the locals share. In fact, the film was disqualified from the Oscar’s foreign film category for that reason, and Israel had to submit the Lebanon war movie Beaufort instead. Politics remain under the surface, though popping up in a few clever reviews PresenTensemagazine.org
photos from www.thebandsvisit.com
vignettes, such as the obvious discomfort of one orchestra member forced to eat under posters celebrating the Six Day War. But ideology never quite simmers to a boil—the film dramatizes the unease of strangers forced into close quarters, not the meeting of enemies. Perhaps this is only possible because the Egyptians are stuck in a desert backwater, far from political arguments and far from the Zionist dream. The Bet HaTikva citizenry are more bedeviled by domestic problems, by the dead-end town they live in and the dead-end lives they lead. The young Israelis the band interacts with were born long past kibbutznik glory and far away from settler pride. They were raised on a steady diet of disillusionment and broken promises, and when they meet eight Egyptian musicians dressed in powder blue, no one talks about guns or wars. Instead, they sing. And I mean that literally. Haled’s favorite pick-up line involves singing “My Funny Valentine.” The dinner-table awkwardness between three band members and their hosts is diffused when they all channel Ella Fitzgerald and break into “Summertime.” Yes, these scenes are a bit too cute, a bit too obvious, but they work. And what else do you expect from a movie about musicians? When asked why the police would need an orchestra, Tawfiq responds, “It’s like asking why a man needs a soul.” Music and art and culture—if there is any hope for peace, maybe that’s where it lies. Or not. Towards the end of the movie, we find out the source of Dina’s Egyptian attraction. As a child, she used to watch Egyptian movies on the Israeli TV station every Friday afternoon, and since then she has dreamed of “big Egyptian love.” The streets of Israel would empty out because everyone was inside, watching Omar Sharif with Hebrew subtitles. Dina wants Tawfiq to be a movie brought to life—minus the subtitles. In some ways, the musicians’ entire visit takes place in the shadow of those Arabic melodramas. That’s all that art can hope to do—cast a shadow larger and stronger than politics can. Esther Breger is a sophomore at Princeton University studying Religion and Near Eastern Studies. israel @ 60
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oav, born in Israel, moved to California with his parents as a child. Though his first years in school were difficult, he later integrated well into American society. Yoav enjoyed Israeli youth movement activities, always dated Jewish women, and married a Jewish woman. He defines himself as “Israeli” and says that his being Jewish is not his primary identity—but only a component of his being Israeli. Through the accounts of Israelis who live in the San Francisco Bay area, Arai’im Ve’ kvuim—Permanent and Temporary—by Roni Floman, opens to us a world of life stories, full of strong emotions and experiences. The interviewees expose their past and present lives, both the happy and the unpleasant. To give us a deeper understanding of the dilemmas revealed in the stories, Floman tells her own story: she lived in California for seven years, until she decided to return to Israel. She then reviews the research on Israeli immigrants, as well as on immigration in general. The interviews portray how Israelis take up residence in the United States for various reasons. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where these stories take place, many come for high-tech careers. Others come to study at prestigious universities. And, of course, some seek a different, more supportive culture, not feeling in place in Israel. Despite their different reasons for being in San Francisco, each person is conflicted to various degrees about being in the United States. Most of those interviewed, even those she categorizes as “permanent,” say that they want to return to Israel or are keeping the option open. Some claim they want to stay in order to apply for citizenship, then return.
This identity is not about where they live; rather, it is where they are from. A common dilemma is deciding whether their children will be raised as Israelis or as Americans, and whether to educate them to return to Israel and serve in the army. Much of the conflict stems from the fact that Jewish life in the United States is very different from Jewish life in Israel. Floman shows us how Israelis in the Bay area may
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Abroad but at Home
israelis in san francisco await their return
Temporary and Permanent: The Israeli Community in the San Francisco Bay Area (Hardcover) (Arai’im Ve’kvuim) by Roni Floman
make a conscious decision to live a Jewish life by enrolling their children in Jewish day schools, sending them to Israeli youth
race. Identity in Israel is found in knowing that Israelis may live together, but might never agree; accepting, as a people, “the honey and the sting,” as the poet Naomi Shemer once sang. In Israel, Jewish identity is woven into the religious education system, pre-army academies for social leadership, and elite military service in the IDF. Israeli soldiers dodge bullets and lose their friends, and many would do it over again—all because it is at the core of who they are. But this supporting structure, and this sense of obligation, is lost to many Americans. With this apparent lack, it is hard for Israelis in the United States to know which country they will end up living in. Since both countries have different sets of benefits and drawbacks, one could practically live in either place—all the while unable or unwilling to forget one’s Israeli past. As such, when
Despite their different reasons for being in San Francisco, each person is conflicted to various degrees about being in the United States. movement activities, or getting involved in a Jewish community center. They are also faced with the dilemma of whether to join a synagogue—a relatively unforeseen dilemma, considering that in Israel even secular Israelis would not do so—feeling that just living in Israel leads to a life filled with Jewish content. For them, when in Israel, being Jewish is expressed by walking the empty streets on Yom Kippur, taking part in a Seder meal with family and feeling free to practice any Jewish ritual—anytime, anywhere. It is difficult for Israelis in America to come to terms with the dissonance between their Israeli identity and the lives they live in the United States. Identity in Israel is often found in the hardships of life and in the obligations to friends, family, country, and even to the human israel @ 60
observing those who live in California from a distance, it may appear that they have integrated into American society. Yet through their own words we learn that they remain “Israeli,” and, therefore, distinct. It may appear that they do not have a sense of Jewish identity, yet for them, what makes them Israeli also makes them Jewish. This identity is not about where they live; rather, it is where they are from. And this emphasis on their roots is especially more sharp since they come from a country that, for 2,000 years, their people have longed to have. Joey Gelpe lives in Jerusalem and studies at the Hebrew University. In his copious free time, he organizes and is active in volunteering activities and brews homemade beer. PresenTensemagazine.org reviews
The Changing Face of Tel Aviv theater in the non-stop city
reparation for the 100th anniversary of Tel Aviv has elicited all manner of ideas from obscure municipality committees for potential landmarks to mark the occasion. Some have suggested putting up a carrousel, as in London, while others have enthusiastically pushed for the construction of a Hollywood Boulevard. These aesthetic proposals with little ideological significance underscore the fact that Tel Aviv is increasingly moving away from its complex ideological grounding. Its blueprint has changed from the vision drawn up by the early settlers—to create the first Hebrew city—to the insipid slogan of “the nonstop city,” coined by the Tel Aviv Hotel Association. If Tel Aviv committees seem to lack inspiration, instead of looking for Western symbols, they should take a close look at the young Israeli theater that has been able to balance ideological beliefs with artistic needs. Theaters in Israel—most specifically the Cameri, Habima and Beit Lessin—have been thriving for years. This is surprising considering Israeli theater’s relatively young age of about fifty years and its historic antagonism to traditional Judaism, which likens theater to idolatry. In Yerushalami, Berakhot, 4b, of the Talmud, Jews express gratitude to God for having made them frequenters of “yeshivas and synagogues” and not of “the theaters and circuses; for I labor and they labor, I—to inherit the Garden of Eden and they—the pit of destruction.” The creation of theater in Israel was the work of the secular Zionists, who aspired to break from their European counterparts. The new “Hebrew Theater” in Israel was designed to be radically different from bourgeois Western drama. Nachum Zemach, the founder of Habima, envisioned theater “as a vital tool for the realization of the Zionist vision.” Israeli theater was seen more as a medium through which to express ideological tenets than a means of creating an aesthetically pleasing product: the aim was to establish a dialogue, rather than to create a spectacular show. The ideological
The creation of theater in Israel was the work of the secular Zionists, who aspired to break from their European counterparts. component of Israeli theater is in line with Jewish art in general, which historically has often contained more ideological or functional components than non-Jewish art. Israeli theater is also distinguished reviews PresenTensemagazine.org
photo by Daniel Model
from Western theater in that it focuses on responsibility, and not human primal urges. If early Israeli theater was entrenched in the utilitarianism of the pre-State period and failed to achieve artistic superiority, the first major change came after the First Lebanon War in the 1980’s. Israeli society was overwhelmed by the political situation, and as a result, Israelis sank into an escapist attitude. The new public mood manifested itself in the success of the Broadway musical Les Miserables at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv, which surpassed that of the more traditional political plays. As the repertory theaters began to produce more entertaining and profitable plays from adopted foreign cultural mores, the harmonious balance between ideology and aesthetics became increasingly disrupted by a Western influence in favor of a preference for aesthetic concerns alone. By this time, Israeli academics had already proclaimed the end of Israeli theater, asserting that it had shifted from High Culture to a Cultural Industry. However, in 2008, the achievement of the Israeli theater both in term of quality and popular success is undeniable; it has been able to keep its unique ideological goals and has simultaneously raised its artistic quality. What is troubling for Tel Aviv is that the city seems to be at odds with its theatrical production. Whereas Israeli theater has acquired the sufficient maturity to treat the anomaly of Israeli existence as productive material and uses it to create realistic dramas and entertainment, Tel Aviv seems to negate its ideological problems, and solely concentrates on aesthetic issues. Tel Aviv should learn at least one thing from Israeli theater: in the Jewish vision of the world, aesthetic achievement can never overthrow or separate itself from ideological content. Eythan-David Volcot-Freeman is currently studying at the Hebrew University and at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is very interested in the economy of Israel. israel @ 60
issue five 2008
what poetry makes happen
oded carmeli and the tel aviv literary landscape
photo by Eyal Levkovich
or poetry makes nothing happen; it survives/In the valley of its making”—W. H. Auden, “In Memory of
W. B. Yeats.” Poetry runs native in the blood of all Israelis. Raised on Bialik and Alterman, Rachel and Yehuda Amichai, Israeli appreciation for its native-born poetic tradition belies the shortness of the modern State’s history. In every generation, Israeli poets reinvent their poetic forms, building on the richness of Biblical and Rabbinic texts as well as on the greats of English and world literature. Now in the university halls and smoke-filled cafes of Tel Aviv, a new poetry is being rebuilt, reborn, with a name not seen for decades of establishment poets: neo-Modernism. Oded Carmeli is younger than I expect, 23 perhaps, slim, shaven head, black turtleneck. Despite his youth, he is already well-known in Tel Aviv poetic circles as the founding co-editor of Ketem, a neo-Modernist literary magazine dedicated to the alternative voice in the world of Israeli poetry. Over our coffees at a hipster café in Tel Aviv, Carmeli tells me the story of the Israeli poetic revolution. Helikon, he describes, is the establishment journal—a traditionalist publication, referential, identity politics as invented in the 1960’s. The world of Israeli
issue five 2008
poetry was dead for twenty years, he says, until the journals Ma’ayan and Ho! started up in 2005. These two anti-establishment publications brought forth the works of younger poets, both the political uber-lefties and the neo-traditionalist rhymers. “Ketem is specifically neo-Modernist,” Carmeli says. “We want to return to the poem being the thing, not the politics or the form.” I page online through archives from early issues of Ketem until I find “Thus Does One Write Poetry: A Ketem Manifesto,” a mock-High Modernist key to writing acceptable poetry. Here is a sampling of their guidelines: 1. Poetry written in the first person is masturbation. 6. Line Breaks Do not Transform Text Into Poetry. 7. Inspirations from myths, quotes from Tanakh, or any references to “culture” in order to “elevate” the poem are low contrivances. It is uninteresting to the reader what book the writer has recently read or what lecture he has recently attended—or why he lacks confidence in his own writing and beliefs. israel @ 60
Why do you want to return to the days of Modernism, I ask Carmeli. He responds obliquely by describing the fragmenting force of identity politics in the Israeli poetic communities, political poems that read as angry and futile when separated from their causes and times. While other new journals may emphasize political discourse—Mi’ta’am and Ma’ayan are two he mentions—Ketem maintains the mission to separate poetry from its timebound self, to produce works that can stand without the passions of their young writers. Part of their mission is a contrived fight against the literary lion, Helikon. “In honor of the most recent issue of Ketem…we’d left a package with balloons and Ketem fliers in front of Helikon’s door. It looked like a dummy bomb...we got in some trouble for that.” He describes the activities of his hevre, or social group: critique circles, poetry readings, monthly publications that reach 20,000, events reminiscent of 1920’s salons. As our interview draws to a close, we shake hands and leave the café, Carmeli to meet his girlfriend at a T. S. Eliot evening. I catch the bus back to Jerusalem. As I retreat from this most Hebrew of cities, I ponder the goals of reinventing Modernism for this new age. For decades, centuries it might seem, Hebrew poetry has been inextricably tied to the language of Rabbinic literature, Tanakh, and to the politics of Zionism and Israel. The Hebrew of Bialik, Alterman, and Amichai is so connected to the ancient language and concepts that those poets cannot help but use its metaphors and reference the traditional canon in all their works. But now in the works of these Israeli neo-Modernists, these Jewish references are replaced with a striving towards universal emotions, unfettered descriptions, language theoretically more timeless. Carmeli’s evening of Eliot’s poetry is more indicative of where he and his community stand than the classic PresenTensemagazine.org arts
evenings of Israeli song held in the center of town. Perhaps what Carmeli and his fellow writers are saying is that they no longer need their Hebrew to connect them to the older tradition. Calling to the High Modernists of English literature, they aim to carry their own writing beyond the confines of their religion and time. One might argue that these English poets were themselves selfreferential; in any case, these neo-Modernists see hearkening back to this larger literary movement as a potential connection to a more authentic tradition. I saw Ketem’s project as
And in every generation, Israeli poets reinvent their poetic forms, building on the richness of Biblical and Rabbinic texts as well as on the greats of English and world literature. potentially an outgrowth of the lambasted Tel Aviv “bu’ah,” the bubble of non-involvement in Israeli society emblematic of parts of youth culture. But while their rejection of traditional Israeli poetic forms may be antiestablishment, the society of writers that they have built is just as communal and supportive as that of early Zionist days. I wonder whether seeking a broader frame of reference will lead these poets to more public recognition, or whether they will lose the distinctiveness of writing in Hebrew if they run from the tradition. Often, it seems, the regional poetry that gains worldwide prominence epitomizes specificity, local culture, rather than more self-conscious universality. Will the neo-Modernist poetry achieve the resonance that earlier Hebrew poets have found, or will their quest for universalism diminish what’s made Hebrew poetry special for the past few generations? I am interested to see what impact these young poets have on Israeli poetry—and on poetry of the world, for generations to come.
Skeleton Skin by Oded Carmeli Translated from the Hebrew 1 The summer will come exposing the flesh conserving water, conserving men some thing in the skin will turn common unsparing there will be no one to listen to stories and on the shores each will his brother breathe we will slither away from them upon our belly. 10 I need skin now smooth and snug on bone not on sinew not in flesh stiff on bone taut skin hides no thought what’s in the SkeletonSkin for thinking it has no space to consider my needs. 13 SkeletonSkin is the most thin how I sought to lie in SkeletonSkin I had to come naked as can be I spared no thought for my life SkeletonSkins were my thoughts I heard their tongue I reprised SkeletonSkin is the most thin everything just to have leave to grasp them pressed air stressing lung and I felt nothing. 15 Walking in dozens and lying in hundreds we become one only in running, the wind reduces us the work reduces us, makes us into concentrate in the warm bathwater we’ll dissipate once more. We’ ll put things in order we’ ll hand out names to differentiate and bodies for the names to make their own I tell you if we only let them bodies will rush to us to make a start.
the brit-mila a poem
Mosheh Vineberg The Rabbi’s beard like bleached steel wool, hides lips that tremble, a tongue that dances reading drops of black ink on white parchment; mystic fire and ecstasy. Appearances deceive: he is no disheveled homeless beggar, there is beauty buried beneath that worn velvet kippah, wrinkled finger tips that have caressed teffillin straps smoothed over years, and eyes pressed shut in timeless meditation, a worn bench and shtender await his fragile bony frame. An 8 day old boy is brought to his lap, his eyes swollen with tears, a great grandson wails! Tears mixing on the embroidered pillow, the knife is brought Another link is welded in time. Mosheh Vineberg lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his wife and daughter. He is currently learning in a kollel. He enjoys doing abstract photography, writing poetry, and striving to fuse the creative and Jewish worlds in his life.
Sara Meirowitz studies and teaches at the Conservative Yeshiva and works as a freelance editor and writer in Jerusalem.
israel @ 60
issue issuefour five 2008
All Shuk Up
returning to the marketplace
mid the shopkeepers’ competing voices, enticing potential customers with the sweetest watermelons, the ripest tomatoes, and the best deals, Israelis expertly weave their way through the narrow labyrinthine lanes of the Shuk. It is easy to differentiate between the locals and the tourists, the former busily doing their shopping in preparation for that evening’s meal, the latter slowing down to gawk at the colorful sights and tantalizing aromas emanating from various stalls. A former Taglit-birthright israel participant states, “The Shuk was totally different than anything I have ever experienced. It seemed utter chaos to me, but all of the natives were totally relaxed and in their element. It was an amazing window into the world of an Israeli.” Like the members of any Western society, Israelis enjoy ease and convenience. Large supermarket chains, department stores, and online shopping are the norm. But there is one thing unique to Israel that is unlike any shopping experience available elsewhere in the world: Shuk Mahane Yehuda. The Shuk, like Israel, is a mishmash of diverse tastes and experiences. Founded in 1928 and located in the heart of Jerusalem, the colorful variety of cultures found in this large, outdoor market has changed in accordance with the growth of the State of Israel. In the early days of the State, the large influx of olim from the Middle East and North Africa manifested itself in the Shuk. Today, one side corridor—known as the Iraqi market—is home to vegetable stalls, ethnic restaurants, and social clubs where retirees come to drink, smoke, and play sheshbesh (backgammon). Most of the Shuk’s many spice stores offer Persian specialties such as dried whole lemons, and large, thick Yemenite pitas can be found side by side with their smaller, more traditional pocketed cousins at many of the Shuk’s bakeries. Over the last 60 years, the options available at the Shuk have grown exponentially. With each wave of new immigrants, foreign delicacies are introduced, such as the sour, bubbly Ethiopian injera bread one can now find next to pitas at the bakeries. While Israelis branch out and travel the world, they bring their discoveries back home with them, such as the vegetarian Indian fare favored by Israeli young adults, many of whom travel to South Asian once they complete their army service. As Israel matures, so do the taste buds of
Israelis, who can now appreciate the kosher gourmet wines and imported cheeses available alongside stalls of hummus, fresh fish, and vegetables. On the eve of her 60th birthday, we are reminded that Israel is a melting pot of past and present, ancient and modern, tradition and innovation. Democracy and religion, function and style, old-fashioned and new-age: all these elements have a place in this ever-developing society. Nowhere is this medley of styles more evident than in Jerusalem, and no place in Jerusalem is as eclectic as Shuk Mahane Yehuda.
Jerusalem Kugel This classic sweet yet spicy noodle concoction is a frequent find at most Israeli Shabbat kiddushs. Available at any number of stalls in the Shuk, Jerusalem Kugel is best served with a tangy pickle, which nicely compliments the peppery caramel flavor of the noodles. • 1 pound spaghetti or thin egg noodles • 1 cup vegetable oil • 1 cup sugar • 1 to 3 teaspoons salt (or to taste) • 1 to 2 tablespoons ground black pepper (or to taste) • 6 eggs, lightly beaten 1. Preheat oven to 350˚ and grease a large baking dish or tube pan. 2. Cook the noodles as directed on the packaging. Drain well and set aside. 3. Mix the oil and sugar in a large saucepan over a low heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and continue cooking, carefully, until the mixture starts turning a deep brown color—about 10-15 minutes. 4. Pour the noodles into the sugar and oil mixture, stirring well till noodles are coated evenly. 5. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper. Allow to cool, then add in eggs, mixing thoroughly. 6. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake for 1 hour or till done.
Yaffa Yonah, a vision therapist who resides in Jerusalem with her husband, Shmuel, made aliyah from Minnesota nearly seventeen years ago.
issue four five 2008 2008
israel @ 60
Peter Orosz is a writer, editor and dilettante based in Budapest, Hungary. He likes giant squid and the Ramones.
israel @ 60
issue five 2008
Chari Pere graduated #1 in her class from the School of Visual Arts in May 2007 with a B.F.A. in Cartooning.
photo by Yonit Schiller
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No one has seen them, no one at all. There’s been nothing. This is why I’m asking you to raise your voices to demand a sign of life from my husband and his colleagues. Karnit Goldwasser July 16, 2007 outside United Nations Headquarters in New York
Bring Israel’s Soldiers Home Now american zionist movement www.azm.org
PresenTense's special edition exploring the implications of Israel's 60th birthday on young Jews around the world