Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why I won't be running for elected office

I admit it, Bill Ayers was a member of my dissertation committee. I met with him on several occasions and have even invited him for Shabbat dinner in my home. Oh yeah, and my daughter's bat mitsva.

Apparently, being associated with Bill is a severe no-no in the political world. This explains why a blogger for The National Review, searching for dirt on Obama, brought up their association through the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a $500 million multi-city school reform grant, and why Hillary Clinton, and now the Republican party, in desperate attempts to tarnish Obama's name used this association to paint their opponent as a radical by association.

The truth is that Bill is a radical. He has a lot of crazy ideas. For instance, he is an editor of an anthology called Teaching for Social Justice. What kind of hippie nonsense is that? We all know that teaching is about transferring irrelevant information and filling students' heads with antiquated knowledge. It's about scores on tests in math and reading, even when it means eliminating arts and citizenship studies from schools. And it's about disciplining children so they will grow up and go into the work force or join the armed forces without questioning their own ability to write their future and that of their country.

If that's not a good enough reason to fault Obama for his association with Bill, then how about his book, A Kind and Gentle Parent, which he wrote after volunteering in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center for a year and worked hard to understand why Jane Addams' brilliant idea of a separate justice system for children has failed so many of our young people, particularly those of color. Bill, stop wasting the University of Illinois' taxpayers money trying to solve the problems of our society's most vulnerable members.

And how about this completely un-American idea. Bill made it all the way to professor status at UIC, and instead of selling his courses to an Internet start-up, on-line college so he can take his hippie wife on vacations to Haight-Ashbury, he decided to take the 2 year writer's workshop at the University of Iowa to improve his craft and get his radical ideas out to the widest audience of unsuspecting teachers. Bill, don't you know that bilking a state university for all you can and doing the least amount of work for it is the American way?

Beside Ayer's name on my dissertation, I can be traced to my high school friend, Shlomi Lechiani's visit to Bill for counsel on applying the “small schools” ideas in the school's of Bat Yam, one of Israel's biggest city's where Shlomi is mayor. What chutzpa of Shlomi to take the Jewish people's money to consult with a known terrorist and implement his ideas in schools where Jewish children study. This shanda on Shlomi makes me guilty by association.

But my biggest mistake, by far, is when I had Bill speak to my collaboration of the Chicago Avenue Homeless Book Club I led for two years and the Chicagoland Jewish High School social justice club. What was I thinking? It was bad enough that I exposed Jewish kids to actual, physical homeless people, but to bring in a sixties radical to teach and then have them all go together in the same school bus to Jane Addams' Hull House, that's just too much.

So, there it is. Even with no experience with cocaine or drunk driving convictions, like our current president, I must recuse myself of any current or future political ambitions. If I don't, we might be dragged through another episode of Ayersgate, and clearly this country is not ready for a sequel.

Friday, August 29, 2008

i and thou

I'm considering dropping the capitalization of the letter I in the proper noun that refers to me. I do this with all due respect for one of my mentors, Martin Buber, who illustrated for us the importance of the change from an I – it perspective on the world to an I – thou.
I place Buber in the long chain of rabbis and other great teachers who struggle with the problems of justice and holiness in the world, and I see his wonderful addition to our collective knowledge as a major, tikkun, or repair in our efforts to perfect the world, but I think he missed something essential. I and thou doesn't fulfill the mitsva, “Love your neighbor as thyself.” It is a step in the right direction, but it still puts the I above the thou through the capitalization of the pronoun.
“Love thy neighbor as thyself,” is a complicated commandment. It is the basis of the golden rule, “do onto others as you would have them do onto you,” but I think this is a critical misunderstanding of the mitsva, so did Hillel. According to our great sage, we should not do onto others what is hated by us. This is not an interpretation so much as it is a derivative message, but the way it is stated clearly relates more to the misinterpretation of the golden rule.
“Love your neighbor as thyself,” is about the treatment of others, but it is also about the way we treat ourselves. This I learned from my partner in crime, Rabbi Dov Taylor. Rabbi Taylor and I work at Congregation Solel together and, as the education director, I sit with the rabbi, almost weekly, as we help our thirteen year olds develop their ideas for dvrei Torah, sermons, that will be presented at their bar or bat mitsvas. In one of these sessions, Rabbi Taylor told a student that the essence of this commandment is not in how we treat others but in what it requires of us. In order to love a neighbor, one must love oneself.
I love Rabbi Taylor's interpretation, especially for adolescents who are filled with internal strife about their own self worth. His interpretation also guides my thinking about I and thou. Can I really love my neighbor if I see her as the non-capitalized pronoun positioned next to my very important capitalized I?  i don't think so.
Caroline Winter recently substituted for William Safire in his column about language in the New York Times, and she explained how the capital I "first reared it's dotless head." It comes from Middle English and is a variation of "ic" or "ich," which always reminds me of the Kennedy proclamation, "Ich bin a Berliner." But even that would not be capitalized had it not started his sentence.
The reason the "I" received the capitalization, according to Ms. Winter, is that, "it could not stand alone, uncapitalized as a single letter." This, she implies, was the product of pressure from early manuscripts and typography which, "played a major role in shaping the national character of English speaking countries."
i'm not sure if the great educational philosopher bell hooks had the same intentions as I do when she dropped the capitalization of her two names; bell – which she was given by her parents, and hooks – which, in our patriarchic society, was given by her father. i love the fact that she draws Our attention to these changes, and i wonder what the world would look like if they were not aberrations. 
By dropping the capitalization of my personal pronoun, i hope to draw each and every thou amongst you closer to me, and in doing so maybe i will find partners to create these very necessary precursors to a more perfect world. This is what i believe bell hooks was doing with her name, and it certainly was what Martin Buber was doing with his introduction of I and Thou. i believe there are others out there who will help make these small changes into the necessary catalyst on the path of tikkun olam, repairing our world.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Idiot Ben Stopped Blowing Today

Marshall McLuhan wrote that media become extensions of man, and right now my computer is an extension of my tear ducts. My friend Ben was murdered the other day. He was on a business trip and was held up in the parking lot of his hotel in Detroit. I heard about it from Dan while shopping for vegetables with my son Itamar. I almost cried as I chose beets for my wife.
Gil Scott Heron once lamented that “We almost lost Detroit.” But I just lost a friend, in Detroit, and I'm really, really sad. I just found him on Facebook the other day and wondered why he hadn't responded to my friend request. It wasn't like him. Ben was the technology guy among all my Habonim friends. He even lived in Silicon Valley.
The Talmud says that, “If you seek to have a world, strict justice cannot be exercised; and if you seek strict justice, there will be no world” I don't want strict justice, but some justice will do, and I can't find any justice in what happened to my friend Ben. In my broadest, most bleeding heart liberal perspective, this isn't justice for the oppression of the poor and downtrodden. Some slightly richer poor person will go to bed with blood on his hands, and two young children will go to sleep without a father, and Lonnie, his wife will go to bed, incomplete, without her partner, her soulmate, her love.
Justice is one of the most repeated words in the Torah, and I wonder what the author was thinking as he watched my friend die. Did he feel regret for creating free will? Does he feel remorse for not exercising his?
Twenty six years ago, in Red Hook, New York, my friend Ben played us a song. He borrowed the music from Bob Dylan and infused the lyrics with his own. Idiot Ben, why did you stop blowing? Why did someone take the wind from you? Why?

Israel in the Balance

For some reason, people in the Jewish community believe that the only way to present Israel is through "balance." I respectfully disagree.

When the norm of the country is a rapist president, a ganif prime minister, a chief of staff who sells his stock portfolio on the day a major war is launched, a deputy prime minister who forcibly sticks his tongue in the mouth of a young female soldier just before entering the meeting to decide to launch the war, and a finance minister who admits to stealing from the state coffers, then balance actually is something radically different. When a state has occupied another people for 41 years without giving them full political rights, then balance is something radically different. And when a state goes from almost full economic equality in the 1970's to being the country with the greatest disparity between the impoverished and the new rich next to the United States, then balance is something radically different.

I don't think that balance is a static term. It is not a value. We certainly don't need to read neo Nazi literature to balance our aspirations for peace, so why do we need to support giving a voice to Israeli Jews, or Americans who support them, who believe that our Palestinian neighbors should be transferred to Jordan, or that they don't deserve full political rights, or that we can, against our own laws, appropriate their lands for our own national purposes.

We do this on the economic level as well. People talk about pride in Israel through the lens of the successful high tech industry, but we never talk about the toll that has on the Israeli economy. The Gross National Product of a country says very little about how it takes care of its poor and Israel has many poor; forty percent of them are children living under the poverty line. Israel speaks proudly of its contributions to the advancement of medicine, but, in my own family, we have people who were the victims of human research with radiation that was banned in the United States.

As I write this, I am acutely aware that I sound like I don't love my homeland, and that is so very wrong. It is because I love Israel that I want to dispel this nonsense about balance in discussing Israel. I think balance is an important issue, but it should be balance between saying we are the only democracy in the Middle East and saying that we have a long way to go in incorporating our non-Jewish residents into the system. Israel still has never accepted an Arab party in the governing coalition. It direct contrast to Jewish values, she has a separate set of laws for Jewish citizens and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and foreign workers, and Israel has run without a constitution for 60 years. Talking about both sides of the democracy coin is the type of balance I would like to achieve.

Or we could talk about the resurgence of Judaism from Tel Aviv in contrast to the very Jewish notion "כי מציון תיצא תורה" from Jerusalem Torah will emanate. Judaism has never been balanced in Israel. I was forced to marry abroad because my Reform rabbi's officiation at my wedding was considered illegitimate. Israeli Judaism is orthodox Judaism and Tel-Aviv and other strongholds of secular or non-orthodox Judaism are starting to gain ground amonst the people. This, I would say, is a development we can be very proud of and discuss as a move toward "balance," even if it is going to be a long journey.

George Lakoff, a linguist at Stanford , wrote a small book that was really a manual for the American Democratic party called Don't Think of an Elephant in which he lays out some basic principle of confronting the conservative affront on America. The most important of these principles is, "Don't let them frame the argument." By insisting on this benign term with all the positive connotations, we allow "balance" to frame the debate and paralyze us into inaction when our people are in serious crisis. Thomas Pynchon, in Gravity's Rainbow says, "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers." Let's not allow the conservative mainstream, with it's ganifs, rapists, and crooks to stop us from making Israel the great nation that it is meant to be.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

From Munich to Tel-Aviv: Journal

From Munich to Tel-Aviv: Journal

July 21st, 2008
Miriam's Bathroom – outside of Freising, Germany

“if you are an American and have not signed your passport, you will be fined $1600 U.S. Dollars.” Welcome to Germany! I hear these gentle words as our plane approaches Munich Airport. The Earth below is flatter than I expected from Germany of the Alps. The fields are orderly and every so often there is a patch of tall trees which look like asparagus from above.
For a second, I consider the law of conservation of mass which I vaguely remember from high school. Is it possible that based on this theory I am entering a reconstitution of the energy of my murdered brethren? Is my plane descending through a layer of Jewish souls hovering over their unwanted and premature graves?
It has become my custom to say the Shema prayer as I take off and land. It could be considered my way of hedging my bets. But as I descend upon Munich, I wonder if God hears the cries over German airspace.
I land in Munich and disembark from my plane. The voices from the airport sound system deliver their messages in the same tongue that was used to propagate lies about my people. I'm not wearing a mezzuzah or star of David, but I would love to take one out of my shirt and announce my arrival. “Here I am. A Jew. A Jew who lived in Israel and served in her army. A Jew who freely studies and teaches in a university.” I look to plan B, a newspaper in Hebrew that I can keep in my arms as a sign of my defiance, but who sells Hebrew newspapers in nearly Judenrein Germany? How can I announce with pride that I now have a homeland and a language and a world class army. What am I doing here? What can a first year rabbinic student find in Germany that he can't find in Boise, Idaho, the new national home of the Aryan Nation.
I leave customs and am accosted, in the best way possible, by my dear friend Miriam. How did she stay so young while I became the old man that I am? How can she live here among the original Aryan Nation while most of us can not forget and some cannot forgive?

July 22, 7AM

To wake up in Germany to the sounds of airplanes and birds. Wow! I now have memories from my first day in Germany. Personal memories, not the collective ones that had me dreaming of Hitler climbing through my bedroom window to kill me as a child. These are my memories and they are nothing like I expected. Yesterday, I strolled through Freising and ate Indian food in a well established and respected restaurant owned by Indian immigrants. There were no signs in the store windows warning about the religious and racial background of the owners, no yellow stars sown on the outside of people's clothing. Can a country really change? Can people?
After lunch, we returned to Miriam's apartment where I met her son Yonah. How brave to be a Yonah in Munich. This 14 year old boy is a bundle of joy. He is addicted to the computer, loves to play a virtual reality card game called Magic and definitely wants the respect and company of an adult male to fill the void left by his abandoning father.
Miriam and I leave Yonah at the computer (in the same position we find him 8 hours later) and go to Munich. We park the car and board a train which helps avoid the parking problems of the big city. What words are there to explain what it first feels like to board a train in Germany? I have no words, no feelings, just images of my ancestors waving from box cars as they travel to their final destination.
Me, I exit the train and surface from beneath the city streets in a public square filled with spectators starring at the toys in a fantastic building facade. We take pictures of the spectators taking pictures of the toys, and I am reminded of the FBI agents who took pictures of me as I demonstrated on the UIC campus against South African Apartheid and for the divestment from that inhumane system. I wonder which of these people's parents demonstrated on our behalf as the authorities shipped my people off to Dachau and smashed their store windows.
We walk over to St. Jakob's Platz, to the new synagogue and Jewish Museum, which is closed. My Israeli passport is instrumental in assuring our hosts the nobility of our intentions as we enter the synagogue, which looks more like a fortress. The sanctuary is divided to assure men and women sit separately, and I am upset that consensus among my people must always favor the Orthodox. Can it be any other way? How can it when the congregants face Judaism's central headquarters in Jerusalem, capital of the only country in the world where Jews do not have freedom of religion. As I sit in the pews, I reflect on my own weddings, (yes weddings with an S because I had to be married outside of Israel in order for my Reform wedding in Yaffa to count in the Jewish state) and the distant uncle who made the sign of the cross and heckled as the rabbi explained the seven blessings we just recited.
An employee shows us the mikveh, the ritual bath for women. He speaks Russian and German but shows us the Star of David around his neck. Apparently, the majority of Jews in Germany are Russians who left the former Soviet Union, didn't find themselves in the Jewish State and decided to build their life in the new, democratic German Republic.
We consider staying for Mincha services but opt for the beer garden in the English Garden, the largest public park in Europe, bigger than Central Park in Manhattan, and bordered by the Kunst (art) Museum. This neoclassical edifice once housed the Degenerate Art Exhibit organized to spotlight the “depraved” artists and their work in an effort to unify Germans around the “true” Aryan beauty. In a magnificent twist of fate, the crowds that lined up for miles to see the show were not there to support their rulers. Those proud Germans came to pay their last respects to the art they love.
In the English Garden, we drink an absurd amount of beer and eat the stinky, hard cheese and pretzels we brought with us. I try to buy a cigar from a man smoking next to us, but this is his last one. To make up for our disappointment, he shares his opinions of the American Jewish comedies and answers my question, “What is absolutely necessary for a rabbinical student to see in Munich?” He tries to send us to the new synagogue not knowing that this is where we just came from.
When we return to Miriam's apartment, I meet Tom, her German boyfriend, a physics teacher in a local high school. When I am comfortable, I will ask him about the law of conservation of mass. Right now I am focused on sleeping through my jet lag without the need to drain my bladder.

Tuesday, July 22, 7 AM

Even something as benign as a shower can be very heavy in Germany. I turn the faucet with trepidation and am greeted with warm water. Relief. The sky is full of clouds and it feels like my Dachau experience is being programmed for me. How can one experience Dachau on a sunny day? Instead of focusing on my emotional state, for the moment I focus on physical concerns. I packed for Israel and my only shoes are Crocs. Will I get a token of the suffering people experienced here when my socks in Crocs get drenched with the ever threatening rain?
“Arbeit Macht Frei” is the first German I completely comprehend as I enter the gates of the camp. Work will set me free, but the recorded tour costs a few Euros and I am reminded of the “Holocaust Industry” claim made by Norman Finklestein the professor who constantly finds himself in tenure purgatory for his very strange aggression against Israel and the suffering of people like his parents who survived the Holocaust.
I am troubled by the laughter of school children who are on their mandatory field trip to the camp. I just spent a week learning how to teach the Holocaust, and I never heard a word about the objectives of this education. What do we want from German kids that requires them to see this place? Will guilt by association make them better than their ancestors? Does seeing the camp make a person more sensitive to the suffering of others? And how could we prove any of this?
With me are Miriam and her 14 year old son, Yonah. We walk through the barracks and see the evolution of housing from terrible to hell. This place was built for 6000 soldiers and ended up housing 6 times that many at any given time.
The trees in Dachau bare witness to the atrocities that took place here. For them this is memory of their past. For us it is collective memory and history. If only the trees could speak.
The church and Jewish memorials are sacred reminders of the slap in the face this place must be for believers. I recently heard that Rabbi Twersky of Denver said about the Holocaust that, “Some walls must be walked through.” I understand what he means and thank God that I'm agnostic.
What really troubles me about this place is that it feels like de ja vu. I've been here hundreds of times. The difference is that today I am not dressed right for the weather. I remember my son coming to bed one night scared by his dream that Hitler tried to kill him in a game of dodge ball. Will he have been here hundreds of times before he arrives in person?
We see a very graphic movie about Dachau and Jonah walks out so disturbed that we need to leave immediately. Those were the grandparents of his classmates who sat by silent or participated in the horrors. He is the only Jew in his class. Might these kids repeat their ancestors crimes? These thoughts bring school yard bullying to a whole new level.
I take one picture at Dachau, the sign on the gate. I have my memories and there are somethings best said without pictures. This is why I cannot forgive Steven Spielberg for taking us into the showers in his movie Schindler's List.
Yonah wants to eat Thai food. I think his choice reflects his desire to be as far from Dachau as possible. After lunch we take him to friends and drive to the Olympic Village in Munich to pay our respects to the Israeli wrestlers who were killed here by Palestinian terrorists less than thirty years after the Holocaust. We light candles and say kaddish as the residents pass by and stare. For my people, it seems that if it's not one enemy it's another.

Wednesday, July 23rd, 4:45 PM, Munich Airport

I spent my last evening discussing physics with Miriam's boyfriend Tom. The theory of conservation of mass is less applicable than I had hoped. We move to Newton's 3rdproposition that all force is met by an equal and opposite force. We try to apply this to peace education and decide that, just as in physics, the only way to alter the cycle is to escape the paradigm. It's kind of like the Third Way proposed by an academic from Harvard.
By 1 AM the conversation has degenerated to jokes about President Bush and a silly verse about Mahatma Ghandi – “a supper, calloused, fragile, mystic hexed by halitosis.” I fall asleep around three and awake at 6:30. I realize that the biggest concern I had in the Dachau camp was that the nexus of the rain shower and the bright summer sun would produce a rainbow. The world may not allow for strict justice, as it says in the Talmud, but it's just not right that Dachau should be blessed by a rainbow.
Before I leave German, I have to pay my respects to the Degenerate Artists who Hitler censored and, in some cases, sent to their deaths in concentration camps. I cannot forget the history lesson I learned about his visit to Paris. He was there for twenty four hours after the city was conquered and managed to make time to desecrate the grave of the famous and beloved German poet Heinrich Heine who was a convert to Christianity from Judaism. If I can do anything to reverse his affront on art and my people, I want to do it, and seeing their work in German museums is part of this effort. It also happens to be a lot of fun as my favorite arts are among this group; Max Beckman, Emile Nolde and Ernst Ludwig Kirschener.
While starring at Nolde's “Dance of the Golden Calf,” it suddenly dawns on me what a sad and beautiful world this is, a line I borrow from Roberto Benigni's character in the Jim Jarmusch film, Down By Law. My eyes swell with tears as I focus on a work of art painted by an artist labeled a degenerate by Hitler, who once was a member of the Nazi party, denounced his affiliation, and still shares with me the subject matter of sacred text.
I came to Germany with a plan to taste the country that fills me with fear and rage and to learn something about the conjoint history I have with these people. What I have discovered fills me with joy and hope. Germany, from my brief encounter, is a rich cultured, diverse, pluralistic and tolerant society (altough I have heard different things about the West). The people have a clear humility about their Nazi past and have taken action to reverse and repair their course.
Last week at the Facing History and Ourselves seminar, I learned about the difficulty Germany had with the Treaty of Versailles after World War One. After World War Two, the victors behaved differently. Instead of focusing on punishment, the Marshall Plan helped Germany become the nation it is today. This reminds me so much of Alice Walker who suggests that when children behave badly we need to hug them tightly and smother them with love. Germany was not a child, and they did not just behave badly, but the difference between the punishment of Versailles and the support of Marshall is a good indication that, as the Beatles tell us, “Love is all we need.”
My next stop is Israel, where I will participate in the International Institute of Peace Education, and I am hopeful that this conference will be the start of something important and that I will leave better equipped to be an agent of change and spread the love that is desperately needed in this sad and beautiful part of the world.

Monday July 28th, My In-laws home, Beit Semesh, Israel, 9:00 AM

Unlike in Germany, here I need more time to reflect on my thoughts before committing them to ink. I once heard a post-modern Israeli novelist talk about the words she chooses when she writes. She said she needs words that stick to the page. This is exactly my fear. My thoughts about Germany can be fleeting. I hang my existence on my thoughts about Israel.
My last three visits here, I was a tour guide. I came with my childhood friend Mark four years ago and was overjoyed to be able to share this world with someone from my other world. Three years ago, I came with my teacher and dear friend Patrick who continued with me from here to Sarajevo to lecture about peace education, and two years ago I was a VIP in my own country as I toured with Alderman Walter Burnett, also a dear friend and a partner in crime in our efforts to teach Israelis and Palestinians about the wonderful aspects of Chicago democracy (yes, there are many).
This visit is to participate in the International Institute of Peace Educators in Haifa. The host organization choses 65 peace educators from around the world; a quarter are from one side of the conflict (Palestinians) and another quarter from the other side (Israelis) and the remaining half from around the world. There is an imbalance in the fact that the conference takes place in Israel, not the Palestinian territories, but it is compensated for by the fact that the host city is Haifa which is very mixed.
I will be presenting my Torah which is a literacy approach to peace education with deep roots in Judaism. I hope it will be well received and that it will provide a framework for critical literacy for participants in the conflict. I know I am preaching to the converted, but we still can learn a lot from each other and strengthen ourselves in our efforts to promote peace. I could use strengthening. I so often feel like a pariah in my own community for having the minority perspective on Israel's dealings with the Palestinians. I am vocal, and sometimes I feel like I am heard, but much of the time the establishment tries to marginalize people like me without engaging us in a serious conversation. I imagine that Palestinian and Israeli peace activists feel the same. Speaking with my American Jewish hat on, I hope to get out of this conference some tools to empower myself within my own community in Chicago.

At this very moment, I get to observe my closest high school friend, Doron, in the midst of his creative process. Doron has won three Israeli Oscars for his movies and is a great director of both narrative and documentary films. He is also a producer, actor and film teacher.
Doron's screenwriter is here. They are working on his film about the Israeli Broadcast Authority. Doron has made it his tikkun, cause, to explain to his society the problems with a government owned channel that controls the information that gets out to the people and the culture built by its choice of broadcast messages. This is not easy to understand as an American. I usually feel that the most honest reporting I get comes from National Public Radio. In fact, what bothers me is the fact that the group with biggest purse usually gets to determine the biggest portion of the public discourse. Fox News or CNN, it doesn't matter. I want to understand the world and these guys dominate the conversation and set the tone. In the days of the founding fathers (and mothers) journalism was also biased. In fact, bias was expected from journalism and every party had its own voice in the press it presented, but there were also loud alternative voices like Tom Paine.
Doron's dedication to exposing the problem with government created news is wonderful. He could be making films about things that enrich him monetarily. Instead, he lives modestly and makes important movies. I am proud to be Doron's friend. His Zionism is something we need a lot more of. When we were younger and I lived here, we argued about serving in the reserve duty during the Intifada. My job in the reserves was so benign, it didn't matter, but Doron was an officer who had soldiers he took into the territories to repress the Palestinian resistance. Doron argued that pointing guns at little kids throwing rocks corrupted his moral sensibility. I said that we need more people like him to watch over the operations in the West Bank and Gaza. I still don't know which of us was ultimately right, but he sat in jail whenever he was called to the reserves in the territories and we are still oppressing Palestinians. I like to think that the actions of one person make a difference, but I'm not sure the action of saying “no” and sitting in jail has contributed what it was intended to do. Clearly, it has kept Doron from corrupting his moral sensibilities, but it hasn't changed much on the ground for others.

On Thursday when I landed here, I was greeted by my father in-law, who may just be the funniest man I ever met. In my family we like to use his sayings when ever appropriate. The Hebrew for “go with the flow,” he translates as “go with the river,” and we get lots of mileage out of that, but his newest one was fall on the floor hilarious. We were in a store trying to buy a yad, a Torah reading pointer, for Maya for her bat-mitsva, when he said to the sales person about the expensive price tag, “you don't have to buy a glass of milk to get a cow.” Maybe you are not laughing, but with my dyslexia, it was very funny.

Thursday morning Chaim, my father in-law, took me to see a school I have considered studying at to complete my rabbinical studies. The place is called the Shalom Hartman Institute and I first heard about it in Tom Friedman's book, From Beirut to Jerusalem. The institute is orthodox and pluralistic. Any Jew is welcome to learn there and take with them the Hartman approach to Judaism, and they are very progressive about interfaith work that confronts fundamentalism. I can see myself becoming a rabbi at Hartman. It is the Harvard, for me, of rabbinic schools with some of the best teachers in the field, but it would require me to return to Israel and I am very unsure of this prospect. It is easy to stay in the country of your birth and not feel ownership of the wrongs it does in the world. I was born there, I didn't choose the place, my parents did. But I chose to live in Israel, become Israeli, serve in the army, and I need to take full ownership of this choice. The biggest bummer is that either me or my wife, Irit, has to live with this ownership issue where ever we live.
There are other things that make America more attractive. I move more comfortably in the language. There is baseball in summer, football in fall and basketball in winter. The food in Israel is much better, especially the fruits and vegetables, but the options are a bit wider in the US and it is still cheaper to live a petty bourgeoisie lifestyle in Chicago than Tel-Aviv. Thinking about this issue gives me pain. I need to take a break and read the newspaper.

July 30, 11:58 PM
This is the third day of the International Institute of Peace Education. There are 70 of us from all over the world. The people are bright and witty and full of optimism. I feel proud to be among them.
In the first plenary session of the conference I had the opportunity to hear Professor Gavriel Salomon who I quoted in my dissertation. I liked the hopefulness of his message, but I was surprised and displeased by the reliance on quantitative data. It was as if he could only know something if it was measurable. I don't need statistics to believe the methodical observations of my colleagues, especially not in the social sciences.
Gabi did say something, though, that appropriately contextualized our work. He said that peace education is very much like trying to sweeten the ocean with teaspoons of sugar. It is an enormous task that has fruits that we may never see, but somebody has to do it or else we loose all chance of making the world a sweeter place.
In the same plenary session, Chaggit, a pre-service teacher educator at Kibbutzim College in Tel-Aviv, spoke about a mentally and physically disable seven year old Sudanese girl in south Tel-Aviv who was carried to Israel by her parents but appears invisible to the local authorities. She made the connection between this girl and peace by suggesting that peace is a vision of the future and about how we will live and respect each other as human beings. Chaggit opposed this to the more common perspective on peace which sees it as a cessation of violence.
All the speakers spoke about where to position our efforts. Should we work from within the power structure or from the outside. Roberto, a professor at Boise State in Idaho, said we need to work both ends, but ultimately the goal is to overturn the entire hegemonic system which allows for oppression. Roberto spent a lot of time in Latin America and is highly influenced by Paolo Freire, but I think he lacks some necessary criticism of Freire and the fact that this perspective is both anachronistic and dichotomistic. When we were asked to prepare questions in small groups, I asked how Freire's concientizacao, conscientization, can be applied in a conflict where both parties see themselves as oppressed. I felt like his answer was rather simplistic. He said that in hegemonic systems everyone is oppressed because because the system is oppressive. Duh!
One thing I really enjoy about being here is that it confirms for me the transformation I went through in my doctoral studies. We all have a pretty similar library and speak the same vernacular. Having decided to write about peace education in a school where it is not taught, I always suspected that I was missing something conducting the dialog with myself.
One thing about the conference that bothers me is that it is a generalization of peace education. The IIPE is conducted in very much the same fashion in every country each year. There are plenary sessions with question and answer groups, workshops and reflection groups. The things that are unique to each country are only location, food, the tours and the composition of the group which is supposed to include fifty percent indigenous people half from each side of the conflict.
What's lost in this specific IIPE is the sensitivity to the religious component of the conflict. The IIPE is pretty much the same for the whole week. The only reason we won't be at the University of Haifa on Friday and Saturday is because it will be closed, not because of some form of respect for the religious communities that make up the population of the conflict. The same goes for food. The place we are staying is kosher, as is the University cafeteria we eat lunch at each day, but last night we had a dinner that included dairy and meat in an Arab restaurant in the city. I think it was nice to have food in the city, and nice to include the local minority population in our choice of venues, but I was bothered by the lack of sensitivity to the orthodox Jewish woman who probably had nothing to eat last night. Likewise, I was bothered by the friendship game which had us in two circles shaking hands with one another. When I got to the Moslem woman with her head covered, I said that I wanted to be respectful of her and didn't have to shake her hand. Fortunately, she was very progressive and professional and said that she was able to put the interaction into her own understanding as an occupational necessity. This woman has become one of my best friends in the group.

August 1st 2008, 7:37 AM
Yesterday I was very disappointed by my one on one encounter with a professor who I quoted and relied on for my dissertation, and I learned a lot from the experience. I told him about my doctorate and my plans to focus on literacy, particularly critical media literacy. I told him that we know that kids spend a lot of time in front of screens and that those pieces of information they gather in their screen time are many of the building blocks they make meaning and knowledge from. I said that these kids have a perspective and opinion about things they have not and may never encounter and that they haven't been trained to critically relate to those pieces of information; the building blocks of their personal epistemologies.
He asked me a question, “How can I know that they learned anything from these encounters?” and then he asked, “How can you be sure that anything you teach, let alone anything kids see on a screen, is learned?” These are good questions, in a sense, because they come from a critical and self-analytical perspective on pedagogy, but they were also bad questions. How can I know assumes that things are knowable and that I need to act on some form of absolute knowledge. I don't know if my assumptions are correct, but I could be like this professor and make a career out of finding methodologies to make people accept that my assumptions are some form of “truth.” But ultimately I don't think I would be contributing something positive to the body of knowledge if I were to statistically “prove” that something is “true” or “real.” Even statistical proof about the behavior of cancer is subject to change and flat out rejection. For this reason, I see my epistemology as dynamic. What I understand about the world is always in flux and the degree of my belief in something I know is both hierarchical and dynamic. The key word here is “belief.”
Hope and belief are very connected. I don't think human beings can hope if their beliefs deny them the possibility of believing that something can happen. I believe that if I teach children and teachers to be more critically media literate, they will start unpacking and deconstructing the meaning of messages sent to them by the world they live in.
The same professor said, “How can you be sure that something that has been taught will be used at the right time, in the way you intended?” This is a more useful question. First of all, I cannot be sure, at least not as sure as the fact that if I jump up I will land on the ground below me or if I eat Manny's corned beef a smile will appear on my face.
But there still is a problem with how this question is phased. Pedagogy, this work of teaching, is not defined universally, nor is it static. Every teacher has a unique idea of what s/he is doing when they see themselves as teaching. I would like to think that teaching is about transforming students, giving them tools to think and make meaning, conveying knowledge... But I am always congizent of the story of the principle who survived the Holocaust and would always leave a note in his teacher's mailboxes on the first day of classes that said he is aware of learned engineers who build ovens to cremate people, and trained carpenters who built shower rooms where people where gassed to death...and he is not so sure about education.
Clearly, there are no panaceas in the world and we just need to be constantly checking ourselves and helping others learn to check themselves about the foundations of our actions in the world. This is the best I can hope for in my teaching. The rest is icing on the cake. So when I am asked, “How can you be sure that something that has been taught will be used at the right time, in the way you intended?” all I can answer is that I can't be sure and rely on hope.
But there is still something valuable in these questions because if we are trying to sweeten the ocean with teaspoons of sugar, then we need to be very efficient about our work. We have insufficient resources to complete a Herculean task, and all that can drive us is our hope that we are making a positive difference.

On Wednesday, we traveled into Haifa and met the mayor. It was a wonderful reception with wine and fruit and all kinds of cakes. It really made everyone feel welcome except my religious Moslem friend who doesn't drink alcohol, and this was slightly bothersome. The whole idea of inclusion is difficult. Ought we only do things that work for everyone? In a world of peace, I imagine that trust would be a mitigating factor and individuals would feel fine with compromise knowing that their needs will also be met. I'm reminded of when I was sidran avodah, work supervisor, in my agricultural high school in Israel. I had to send 250 people to work everyday and not all the jobs fit the wishes of all the workers. Some days you would have to harvest potatoes when you really wanted to be milking cows. Understanding this, I decided that to make my work effective, I needed to make everyone trust that I would do my best to accommodate them as much of the time as possible. I think this is the way peace should look, with genuine trust that everyone is working for a common good even though it is not always being achieved.
At dinner, there was a similar problem. We ate at an Arabic restaurant. This was very important because the organizers were trying to give deference to all the cultures that live here. The problem was keeping kosher. One woman in our group is an orthodox Jew and she couldn't mix milk and meat or eat meat that wasn't slaughtered in the specific kosher way. I asked this woman if she felt comfortable with the meal and she said that she ate the dairy and vegetable parts that were prepared in ovens that didn't violate her standards. This answer is another dimension of what peace might include; active participants who work to accommodate pluralism. This woman had to relent. She compromised her kosher lifestyle to eat in the Arab restaurant and be a active participant in the group.
Before this dinner, there was a tour of Haifa by foot. I'm not a fan of tours, unless it's a famous ballpark or chocolate factory, and there was a pregnant participant who didn't feel up for the walk. I, ever so nobly, volunteered to stay behind with her and wait in a cafe. It was the best choice I made because she was absolutely fascinating. She is a Dutch photojournalist who spent 3 years living in Jerusalem; a year and a half in the east and the same in Jewish West Jerusalem.

August 1st just after plenary session

This was the most difficult plenary session of all. It was about sex workers, human trafficking and critical media literacy as it relates to pornographic images in mainstream media. The first speaker, Gal, introduced the subject as if there was a separation between her work with victims of the sex trade and peace education, but I disagree. Peace would not include a sex trade unless attitudes about sex significantly changed.
I remember sitting with Steve Allen when I was an undergrad at UCLA when he told me about Lenny Bruce wanting to speak with Steve's father-in-law, a reverend, about the ethics and morality of his message. Steve said he was truly perplexed about the resistance to his language about sex. Lenny used to wonder why anyone would oppose the use of the word “fuck” because he thought that having sex was such a nice thing. He would talk about the intimacy with a partner and good feelings. I understand Lenny and I understand those who oppose the sex trade, but I think the subjects should be separated. Abusing human beings is wrong. The sex trade is an abuse, but sex is not wrong. In fact, it can be, as Woody Allen has said, “the most fun I've had without laughing.” Anything misused, brought to an extreme, forced, etc. can be bad, but sex is not inherently bad, and if we are going to be critically literate, we have to acknowledge the neutrality or goodness of sex.

It's almost Shabbat and we are going to welcome it now, so I must sign off.

Shabbat, August 2nd, 1 AM

Wow! I don't know where to begin. Maybe this is just ridiculous. Maybe it is an anomaly in this part of the world. It definitely proves the possibility of it happening on a larger scale. I just spent my Friday night dancing with Mariam from Bethlehem and Mohanad from Haifa and Olfat from Haifa and Bihah who is returning home from 7 years of doctoral studies in England to live in Ramallah under occupation, and others whose names slip my mind after having drunken several Goldstar beers in the Beit Oren Pub.
Mohanad tells me that much of the situation is a matter of luck. Mariam was born in Bethlehem and didn't have the good fortune to get an Israeli Arab education and a job with an Israeli NGO, and still Mohanad tells me that he is jealous of his friends in Ramallah who go to theater in Arabic and eat Arabic food and don't have to be worried about life as a minority in the place you call home.
Mariam tells me that I have many false assumptions about Palestinians and that she would be in a pub, drinking beer and dancing if she were in Bethlehem right now. She promises to tell me more tomorrow.
Olfat just keeps dancing and dancing. If she didn't have an Arabic accent, you would think she is an Israeli Jewish woman. She is tall, thin and beautiful. She doesn't dress with the modesty you expect of a Moslem woman, but she is one and she's proud of her heritage. She's not religious, and at times she identifies more with her Israeli Jewish girlfriends from the national volleyball team which she plays for, but then she can be reminded of her position in society when, as she told me, she was searched and delayed on her exit from the country to play for Israel in an international competition in Europe where she had to stand under the Israeli flag and listen to the playing of Hatikvah, The Hope of the Jewish people. This is so complex since she shares so much more with the Jewish people of Israel than many of the Jews in Chicago who go to synagogue with me or defend Israel, right or wrong, against Olfat's people.
I am so lucky to be able to participate in this, and yet I am completely aware of the objections and disbeliefs and counter arguments and anger that my being here with Mohanad and Olfat and Mariam will incur.
This is a clear case of cognitive dissonance. We cannot accept that the people we vilify are nice and fun and very much like us. “Arab's don't dance to the Black Eyed Peas. They're too busy figuring out how to kill Jews.” It is so absurd. I know people are going to tell me that you can get a false impression from hanging out with a peaceful minority, but it really doesn't matter because they are wrong. There is a taste of the possibilities here and it tastes good. Instead of telling me what is wrong with my experiences, I wish we would spend time and resources figuring out how to replicate them.
Mohanad was uncomfortable dancing under the Israeli flag hanging from the wall. He did it anyway. He told me that he likes the taste of Goldstar beer, but feels uncomfortable supporting the Israeli economy when Israel is so unaccepting of him. I can totally accept that. He said that he doesn't think he should vote any longer. That it doesn't and hasn't given Arabs any power in Israel in all of her 60 years, so why should he vote and give legitimacy to the Jewish claims that this is the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, but it is also a great distance from being perfect, and the treatment of her Arab citizens is a clear representation of that. But even more, her treatment of Arabs by regular Jewish citizens, not the government, is below all standards of civility. Of course, it is hard to call Israel on this from the United States where the African American population, which was forcefully brought to the country from their homes in Africa, is still treated with disrespect and left to fend for itself among rampant poverty and neglect. Bill Cosby and Barak Obama may rightly observe that African Americans need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but they shouldn't put the burden on them without asking white America to take ownership of the racism and hatred that keeps them there. The same could apply to Israel and the Palestinians. We can't say we have no partner when we deny them the basic building blocks of a civil society. Israel needs to take ownership of this.

August 3rd, 12:42 AM

We just spent the night in a beduin museum and restaurant in the Carmel. Beside their food and entertainment, we also had a culture night with presentations from many of the participants. I lack talent but decided to tell two stories that I thought would go over well with this crowd. I told about Yochanan ben Zakai's escape from Jerusalem to sue for peace and I told my Rosh HaShana apple and honey story about the prophet Mohamad. Later in the night I got what I consider one of the greatest compliments. I was told I am a great storyteller.
Today was another beautiful day. It was a bit weird to have Shabbat be like any other day, but the plenary session was captivating, as were the workshops. The plenary was about nuclear proliferation, gun control and the Iraq War Tribunal. Small gun violence, I learned, has labeled handguns as the new weapons of mass destruction. In our question groups we talked about how people confuse law with morals and how the Washington, D.C gun control laws could be interpreted by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional and in violation of the second amendment and still be a nexus of law and morality. The second amendment is the law that allows the right to bear arms, but this idea opens up the door for a lot of immoral and unethical behavior. Laws are not inherently good or bad. They help societies function. If DC sets up a law that protects its citizens, the Supreme Court should back off.
Janet, one of the organizers of IIPE, spoke about the Iraq War Tribunal, a people's tribunal to discuss and evaluate the legality and legitimacy of the Iraq War and to make recommendations for its peaceful end. Janet spoke a lot about how pro peace groups should cooperate, but I am a sceptic. Since the first Gulf War, I have seen a progressive increase in the militancy of the left. I have also seen a continuous anti-Israel bias. Every demonstration, no matter what it is for, will be co-opted by people who equate Zionism with Nazism. This is sick and repels liberal Jews like me. I wish the left we not full of double standards.
Sara was part of my question group, and she told a fascinating story about her six year old daughter, Ella, who, a week after Memorial Day for the Holocaust and the Heroism, asked her mom when is memorial day for the Nazis. When Sara explained that the Nazis were bad and don't deserve a memorial day, her daughter said that her mom's explanation wasn't good enough and that they too are parents and children, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. There is a story in the tradition that tells about the difference between a king and God. A king makes a mold and prints all his coins the same while God is herself the mold for human beings and each of us comes out differently. This is an important story to remember when we want to evaluate others. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. Some of us fuck up. Some fuck up a lot. Some become Nazis. We don't have to forgive the Nazis, but we need to remember their humanity, especially if we are to learn anything from their behavior.

Sunday, August 3rd, 6:42 AM
If I don't wake up early, I don't have time to write, and I feel like it is my obligation to write everything significant that happens here. Its hard to understand, but I try making myself a human bridge to these experiences of peace with Palestinians from the West Bank and Israel. I feel, and I hope I am wrong, that my community (mostly in Chicago) are too quick to judge Palestinians in order to make their narratives work. This fits nicely with Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance. As he describes it, if I were a smoker and I learned that smoking is bad for me, I would have to do one of three things; stop smoking, reject the information I just learned, or accept the consequences of being a smoker - “I'll die anyway. I might as well enjoy my life.”
With regard to Israel, we Jews want to think that we are good. We want to think that our efforts in making a country for ourselves have no bad implications in the world. We want to believe that any bad that results from our statehood is a product of other's (possibly inferiors) rejection of our noble aims. But as Mohanad and other's have said, you came to our land, created a state, made those of us who live among you into second class citizens and made our compatriots in the occupied territories live in sub-standard conditions that bring out the worst in them. Mohanad asks why Jews are surprised that Palestinians don't embrace them with open arms?

Yesterday, I participated in Hinaya's workshop about Palestinian women and what it feels like to be written out of society. She shared some Israeli school curriculum with us that they are provided in Arab schools which totally writes Arab women out of the Israeli narrative. For example, when they write about the importance of names, they give examples of people who changed their names including Israel's founding father David ben Gurion, Mohamad Ali and Elton John.
I can imagine the response I will get as I write this. “Look at the Palestinian curriculum and then talk.” But my ethics are not set from outside. I don't need the “other” to make sure my texts fit my values. In Hinaya's exercise, we also looked at Israeli women's magazines. Here I didn't agree with her. These are governed by the laws of capitalism. The style supplement to Maariv my group looked at is not created with any altruism in mind. It is not meant to serve all of society. It is meant to sell newspapers. The Nimrodi family which owns the paper could be concerned with how Israelis dress, but I don't think they would expend serious resources on shaping it. They make money from providing information. The fact that it establishes a white, Western, skinny, rich and beautiful ideal for society cannot be seen as totally the bias of Maariv. That is what sells newspapers. Leah, an orthodox, Ashkenazi jewish grandmother is also absent from this magazine. So is my wife, a skinny and very beautiful Sephardiah (Jewess from North Africa).
There are public spheres of society that we control through the market place and there are public spheres of society that we, ideally, control through democracy and expect to see reflected in the work of our elected officials. The Israeli Ministry of Education should be much better about the null curriculum it creates when it leaves things out of the official curriculum. I'm not sure we can hold the Nimrodi's to the same standard. But this doesn't excuse Israeli society and its marketplace of ideas from accepting these very limited ideas about style. How we change this is the job of peace activists and feminists like the people in this conference.

The afternoon session I attended was led by Islam, very much my counterpart in Hebron. Islam is thirty nine, a father of three and an activist/educator. He has been involved with Seeds of Peace for three years and did some of their exercises with us. At first, we sat in a circle of chairs and he led us through a guided meditation with our eyes closed. At first it was hard to imagine peace, and then I settled into my seat behind first base at Wrigley Field as the Cubs were finishing their sweep of the Los Angeles Angels in game four of the World Series. For some, peace is a cessation of violence. For me, it is something different. What Islam was trying to show us is that in peace we are all very happy.
In his second exercise, he had us write a dialog in which we took both sides of a disagreement. My roommate argued with his own despair. A Professor from the Open University here argued with his Judaism. I felt so shallow when I was asked to read this dialog which I wrote between two relative strangers, who get tickets next to each other from a common friend, and sit together at the ballpark.

Do you want a beer?
No, I'm good.
I'm fine, really.
Who's pitching?
I think Ryan Dempster?
It was smart of them to make him a starter.
I wouldn't know.
What are you talking about?
I'm a Cardinals fan.
A what?
You heard me. I was born in St. Louis.
So what. You live here now.
I don't care. I like the Cards.
So why'd you come today?
I like baseball.
Me too.
Oy, they're doing the wave.
I hate the wave.
Me too.
It's like the Nazi's. It's fascist. Everyone goes along without thinking.
I know. That's why I don't get up.
Me neither.
(The wave passes them by as they continue to sit.)
Where are you going after the game?
I'm going to the beach to fish.
You fish?
Love it.
Me too. What beach?
North Avenue.
Mind if I join you?
Not at all.
You know, maybe I will have that beer after all.

Our conference is about critical pedagogy and I understand what bothers me about this dialog. Baseball is not the problem. It's the tightness of the ending. Peace is not a destination. It is a journey. These strangers find commonality in disliking the wave and this becomes the catalyst for them pursuing other common ground, but it is too tight and very American (with all the negative connotations), like a Hollywood movie. On the other hand, there is the element of the unknown. Like the amazing ending of my favorite movie, The Graduate, when Ben and Elaine have just run away from Elaine's wedding and sit in the back of a bus that journeys to a life of the unknown. In my dialog, the players will finish the game together, go fishing and who knows what else. Maybe there is something good in what I wrote. It shows peace as an incomplete process that always has challenges and it brings it down to the individual human level. Maybe it has some merit, but I don't want to get to comfortable with myself as a writer. In the end, that would bite me in the behind.

August 3rd,

Palestinian scholar Sari Nusseibeh tells a story which illuminates his families
perspective on this conflict. He relates that, “during a visit with mother, I posed a question. Just
suppose, …, that in the early years of the century an elderly and learned Jewish
gentleman from Europe had come to your father to consult with him on an urgent matter.
And suppose this gentleman told Grandfather that a looming human catastrophe of
unimaginable proportions was about to befall the Jews of Europe. And suppose this
gentleman added that as an Abrahamic cousin with historic ties to Palestine, he would
like to prevent the genocide to come by seeking permission for his people to return to the
shared homeland, to provide them with safety and refuge. What do you think Grandfather
would have said?”
“Her answer surprised me.” Nusseibeh continued, “I was prepared for a long
conversation full of conditions and clauses, but instead she replied straightaway with a
wave of the hand, ‘What do you think? How could anyone have refused.’” Nusseibeh
then explained his amazement at “how easily compassion sliced fifty years of pain.”

It's now sixty years of pain, and I have friends whose pain my country continues to cause. And these same friends have compatriots who cause my pain in my country, and no solution is in sight. At the same time, we continue to live our lives and work for peace and hope that others will follow our lead.

Today is the last day of the conference and we are essentially through with our learning. In the certificate ceremony, each of us awarded a certificate to another who we chose randomly from a pile of envelopes. When someone was called to accept her certificate, she would hug the presenter and receive a gift from IIPE, then she would present the certificate she chose to the person listed. Karma must have been at play because Mohanad gave me my certificate and I gave Hinaya hers. Hinaya was the first Palestinian I met here. I was very careful not to violate her traditions and only shook her hand when she offered it. When I presented her the certificate, I said out loud that I still don't know what to do, and Hinaya reached out to shake my hand. This small gesture may seem trivial, but it is not. It's like Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon in some ways. She was able to go outside of cultural norms to extend her hand in peace, and it was very warmly received on my side. Hinaya and I have even said that if opportunity knocks, we would like to study our sacred texts together. For now, though, we have taken on an even better task, in some ways. Hinaya is going to read my dissertation and see if she wants to translate it into Arabic. This is amazing. My Talmud filled pages in front of Palestinian readers in their own tongue. Wow! What a difference a week makes? This conference sure has been transformational, and now I am returning to my old home town, Tel-Aviv, to see if this place could be my hometown for another four years while I finish my rabbinical studies. Good bye Beit Oren. Goodbye new friends. I hope our work here will bring fruit someday.

August 4th, 10:35 PM Beit Shemesh

My conference is over and I'm now in Beit Shemesh with my in-laws. During the ride here with my brother in law Shaul, we discussed the conference and I referred to the participates as they preferred to called. Those from the West Bank see themselves as Palestinians and those from within Israel see themselves as Palestinians with Israeli passports, citizenship or just Palestinians in Israel. It may be my American sensibility, but I respect the right and need of people to self identify. It's a complicated issue with the tension of assumed and ascribed identity. As a Jew in history, I have learned a lot from the extremes of ascribed identity, and as a non-religious Jew in Israel, I have learned a lot about the need to assume identity in a place where others try to institutionalize identity. At the IIPE, I learned a lot about something that I still need to better problematize; namely presumed identity, something which I may be making up on my own.
After a week of being surrounded by strong, female feminist pedagogues, I am uniquely aware of my presumed identity; for example, the nexus between the natural state of my being a man and the ascription of specific tendencies related to that identity.
In a sense, all ascribed identities are presumed until confirmed by the holder of his or her identity. The continuity of ascription and assumption removes the presumptions, but at the IIPE I often felt like I was ascribed certain dispositions without having them confirmed or discussed. One of my colleagues at IIPE said that there is a big gap between the language of a joke (with sexual references) and the behavior of the deliverer. I'm not sure I agree. I looked at this with the lens of homeopathy (what little I know of it).
My understanding is that in homeopathy, we are treated with the smallest fraction of a sample of the element that is making us out of balance. That sample somehow multiplies and puts us back in balance. Although that is a very cursory treatment of a serious healing system, I'm only using it as a metaphor. I believe that there is a strong possibility that even though there are no clear actions present to reflect the inferences of jokes, the acceptance of these jokes can lead to those actions. This is why Jesse Jackson, in spite of his hypocrisies, was right in demanding that all Americans, particularly African Americans, desist from using the N word. Still, at IIPE I felt as if there were presumptions about me because of my sex.
Clearly, sex and gender are distinct. Sex is biological and gender social, but gender is much more complex than a dichotomy between sexes. We have observed that there exist cultures with more than 2 genders, and we know that sex is transformable, so why do we constantly fall into the trap of binaries when addressing issues of gender and sex, and why are men presumed chauvinist until proven innocent? Maybe this is something that demands a lot of empathy on my part, and I am trying to understand, but so far I am feeling othered by feminism due to my sex, and I believe that this is very problematic.
As this relates to my discussion with my brother in law, I think many Israeli Jews suffer from a serious lack of empathy for Palestinians. Shaul said that the Palestinians gave up on their right to the use of the label “Palestinian Israeli” (in whatever form they use it) when the suggestion of moving borders to include them in a future Palestinian state was greeted by polls that indicated that 95% of them would retain their Israeli citizenship. This reminds me of a quote by the novelist Thomas Pynchon. “If you get them asking the wrong questions, you don't have to worry about the answers.”
Statistics in social sciences are problematic to begin with. The human psyche is too complicated to be reduced to statistics. If I need a blood test, I will welcome statistical interpretations (with some skepticism), but when I want to understand people I need a broader lens than the answer to a simple question. This is where empathy comes in.
If I wanted to explore this subject of citizenship and identity, something I think I constantly explore, than I might use a statistical measurement to start with, but I would go much further. For instance, I would return to my sample and do a qualitative study and ask why they would retain their Israeli citizenship. I would also try to implore empathy to create my own self understanding. If I were a Palestinian offered this option of having my village incorporated into a Palestinian country, I would want to take a wait and see attitude. On one hand, I would like to participate in shaping my national homeland, on the other, my sense of self preservation would push me to be sure I would be safe before giving up my Israeli identity. There are all kinds of consequences to changing citizenship. Would I be an equal citizen, or might I be discriminated against due to the luxuries of my prior national identity? Would my new country meet the standards and expectations I have of a country based on my prior experiences? There are hundreds of considerations, and my point is not to demonstrate how I would empathize. I just want to show that one statistical expression does not help us uncover a universal truth. In fact, it is more likely to create a omnipotent untruth.
What's great about my wife's family is that she has some very smart siblings. My sister in law Yochi is a doctor of acupuncture and a brilliant teacher. Shaul is a doctor of Middle East studies, and although we have very different ontological approaches he is very capable and willing to unpack issues and consider them deeply.
After deconstructing the issues of identity labels, our conversation moved to pluralism. Shaul said that former Meretz party leader Yossi Sarid, a devout leftist, said that in his wet dreams he wakes up to an Israel without Arabs. Knowing Sarid, I hear this not as a statement about Arabs, but a statement about the desire to have a Jewish state without a problem of others, but I believe he was wrong from saying it this way and hurtful to many. Still the question arises, is Israel better off with religious diversity in its midst?
Religious diversity is also complex. There are Jews and non-jews and then there is diversity among Jews. Monoliths are really just ideals. Even Hitler, who tried to create a monolithic, Aryan, society, were he successful in eliminating others, would not be able to create a monolithic nation because humans are too complex. Human diversity is always ever present. So how does this reflect on Yossi Sarid's comment. I think it strengthens the stupidity of this aspiration. Judaism is only one identity of Israeli Jews. Shaul argues that diversity is very good for this country and wants Palestinian (he calls them Arab) participation in the project. He is not a racist. He puts a lot of effort into incorporating Palestinians in the national dialogue. He does this for selfish reasons. It's good for his country. This small chevruta study that Shaul and I did in the car has helped broaden both of our comprehensions of the complexity of our world. I'm so glad to have a family like this to explore my concerns with.
But the really joy came when we arrived in Beit Shemesh. My father in law, Chaim, was watching a re-run of a soccer (football) game. I asked him if he knew who wins the game, and he said that Betar Yerushalaim beats Poland and that its fun to see Jews beat the Polish. This was something I could understand and relate to, but Shaul said something even better. He said that in Israel we have enough tension already and prefer to enjoy the game without having to worry about winning or loosing.

August 6th, Tel-Aviv, Doron's couch, 6:49 AM

Last night I saw an amazing and very disturbing movie, Waltz with Bashir, a reference to Bashir Gemayal the Christian Lebanese leader helped to power by Israel and whose assassination led to the revenge massacres at Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Beirut. It was an animated movie in a hyperrealistic style which was often very graphic in its portrayals of the brutality of war. For me, it brought up lots of terrible memories.
The narrative is about a guy who is just slightly older than me who lost his memories of the war and has them triggered by a friend who is having nightmares. The main character searches for more triggers and finds enough to bring back his own memory. All of the history explored in the movie occurred while I was still a high school student at the Kfar Hayarok, an agricultural school on the north border of Tel-Aviv. I was work supervisor at the time and sent 250 students to work all over the farm each day. I was also very idealistic and made sure to work everyday myself despite the fact that my job was work supervisor. I would get up every morning and milk the cows from 3:30 until 7:15 and then start my work or go to school depending on the day.
After the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla, Peace Now planned a demonstration in the public square outside of the Tel-Aviv Municipality, the place where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4th, 1995, by a Jewish extremist. As work supervisor, a lot of people came to me asking to be released from work to go to the demonstration. I went to my supervisor, the head of the school, and asked what he thought. He said that our conversation was off the record and that he appreciated my desire to increase the numbers at the demonstration and to allow my schoolmates to be active participants in this cause. He also said that this would be a political disaster because it would set a precedent and I would have to accommodate the right wing in the future. I agreed and said that this conversation never happened and that when students don't show up at work during the demonstration it would be ignored but not officially accepted. While this wasn't my introduction to politics, it was my first experience of the nuance of politicking.
Among those who didn't show up to work, I went to the Kings of Israel Square, now Rabin Square, and joined what has been recorded as 400,000 to 600,000 thousand fellow citizens as we protested the government and called for the immediate dismissal of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and the resignation of his boss Prime Minister Begin. It was a very interesting event for me. I was flabbergasted by the sheer size of the demonstration and proud to see the moral outrage. People really cared and were ready to stand up against evil.
At the time of the demonstration, we didn't know what the complicity of the Israeli government was. We wanted an independent commission to investigate and explain what took place. For a quarter of a century, I have only understood our role to have been that of the occupying power that allowed this to happen with a very low level of real time knowledge. The brilliance of Waltz with Bashir is that it explores the real Israeli complicity on a very personal level. The filmmaker is telling his story and using himself as a metaphor for the Israeli national loss of memory. This may be autobiographical, but it forces us to remember that our country was a very big part of this tragedy.
Art has a way of triggering emotions in a way that experience and literal discourse are limited. Telling a story is very different than experiencing one, just as the past is very different than history. We experience things and sometimes react. But usually we process our experiences and tell ourselves stories that trigger or come from existing epistemologies, then we engage in the world. There is something very linear about it. Processing experience, personal or collective, seems to be a precursor to action, and epistemology seems to both guide and be a product of the processing. This is why Paulo Freire was so insightful when he explained that education is not about banking information in our students; it is about developing their capacity to process and create knowledge.
Making movies or sharing journal reflections are wonderful ways of triggering the conscientization Freire wrote about. More than anything else, I want to be a catalyst for this transformation. This is why I write and why I teach. I try to do this as a screenwriter and personal essayist, as an academic and as a Jewish educator. Hopefully it has some positive affect in the world.

There is a quote from Jonathan Sacks, England's chief rabbi, that really relates well to my discussion with my brother in law Shaul. Rabbi Sacks says, “If we are to live in close proximity to difference, as in a global age we do, we will need more than a code of rights, even more than mere tolerance. We will need to understand that just as the natural environment depends on biodiversity, so human environment depends on cultural diversity, because no one civilization encompasses all the spiritual, ethical and artistic expressions of mankind.”
Sometimes I worry that studying to become a rabbi and limiting myself to the Jewish perspective is a hindrance to my fuller comprehension of the world. I really shouldn't feel this way. I already have a terminal degree and I have learned to be a scholar and understand the world critically, but I feel a tension between my huge appetite for Jewish text and discourse and my universal goals of tikkun olam and gmilut chassadim, human concern for people. I guess I'll just have to see where it goes.

August 6th, Sasha's couch, Tel-Aviv, 8:00 AM

My art teacher when I was a student UCLA, Robery Gray, was one of my biggest inspirations at that time in my life, and message has remained with me more than any other. He said that there is a lot to be angry with in the world, but if you don't have a vision of how you want the world to be the anger will destroy you. I have tried to follow Bob's advice on two levels; one, I try not to be angry, just disappointed and saddened by those things that don't seem right, and I constantly try to see the beauty in the world.
In the context of talking about Israel, it can be hard to sing her praises because you end up putting yourself in the context of those who are reaching for straws or see only the good side of the changes here. Lots of American Jews praise Israel's strong economy, but I know this is very much a product of a new class disparity here that has a lot of people living in poverty, mostly the weakest citizens, new immigrants, single parents... But I don't want to go there.
Tel-Aviv, my favorite city after Chicago, is a bustling hot house of art. There are 30 different concerts every night here of great bands that often play for free. The music is fresh and the lyrics are deep and self reflexive. Last night, Doron's friend Tamir came over. He had a band called the Gingies. He gave up music when he was born again (Jewish people call it “returning in repentance”) and then he dropped it (what we call, “returning with questions”). He is torn between his rejection of religion and the religious wife who bore him 4 children. This is just a sample of the rich emotional experience of being Israeli.
My friend Doron is an amazing filmmaker. He is making a documentary film about the Israeli Broadcast Authority and it starts kind of like the beginning of Annie Hall in narrative format with actors. Doron wants to change the political climate here by exposing the problems with state generated news. He works tirelessly to teach a new generation of filmmakers who will have social commitment. He drives to Shderot to teach at Sapir College in spite of the threat of rockets from Gaza. He also takes his decisions regarding the military very seriously. He was recently released from further reserve duty, but when he was a soldier, he would not command his unit if they went to the West Bank. Instead he would sit in jail, without salary, for the duration of the service he was called for. Doron is a nexus of culture and values that I am very please to see here.
Yesterday I was at BINA's yeshiva. BINA is dedicated to the advancement and aggregation of Jewish learning and values through secular, academic study. They give seminars on Judaism that teach but don't preach. There is no dogma. I sat in a class with Ari Elon. It could be seen as a divine intervention. When I first grew to love my rabbi, Alan Kensky, we studied Ari's book which was translated by Alan's (beloved and deceased) wife Tikva, a great feminist scholar of the Bible. I find it hard to believe that it was just coincidence that he Ari was teaching the very moment I came to visit, but its not worth a lot of time and thought.
BINA is one of many cool things happening in Judaism today. Last night I slept at my friend's Talia and Sasha's house. Talia has been training for four years to become a Humanistic rabbi. This is just one of many explorations of our roots and values that are swiftly entering the national discourse. Judaism is alive and vibrant here, in spite the hegemony of the orthodox.
While I have been here, I have been rereading Amos Oz's autobiography. I really shouldn't enter a discussion about Hebrew letters with Oz because he is a person of international stature and sometimes obstructs the view of all the other great writers there are here, but his book is a masterpiece.
Israel is full of great writers. The Moslems call Jews “the people of the book,” and they are so absolutely right. Language is celebrated here in so many ways. Reading HaAretz in Hebrew is a great challenge for me, but I find the articles as rich as the best of the New York Times. There are three main newspapers in this country despite the fact that the potential readership is comparable to that of Chicago, yet in Chicago we barely manage to keep our two newspapers alive, and neither is very good journalism. But I must qualify this by saying that Maariv is currently being boycotted for printing Obama's letter to God in the Western Wall and Yediot Achronot is not really a bastion of ethics either.
Last night, as I walked from my bus stop, I passed the national opera and Cameri Theater, both next to the world class Tel-Aviv Museum of Art. A bus load of senior citizens was going to see a play. Not far away, at the Bima Theater, I observed a similar bus. It was amazing to see that art is alive and well here and available to the masses.
Speaking of the Bima Theater, it has been around since long before the state was established. I have a personal connection to it because my adopted grandmother in Israel is the daughter of the founder, Bertonov. His is a really great story. It reminds me of something from the Exodus. When Moses led the people out of Egypt, we only know of four things that came with them. We obviously know about the unleavened matza which they ate because there was no time to bake the bread and the bones of Joseph that Moses insisted on carrying as a symbol of Jewish continuity. There were also the Egyptian reparations in the form of jewelry. But the one thing we can infer that they took with them is musical instruments. We know this because when Miriam led the women in song and dance. They made music with their tambourines.
When Bertonov took his Hebrew National Theater out of oppressive, progrom saturated Russia, he too had little time to gather his belonging. They came with their scripts and few costumes and they built a national theater for Israel. This is an amazing story, and something all Jews can be proud of.
I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot, but my time is so short. I have taken to the slogan, “I'll sleep when I'm dead.” I have been sleeping where my energy ends at the end of each day. I carry a toothbrush with me where ever I go and have been buying underwear and borrowing t-shirts so I don't have to waste 2 or more hours traveling to my in-laws to change clothes. I am so fortunate to have so many dear and loving friends around this country. Yesterday I awoke on Doron's couch, today on Sasha's, tomorrow I know I will awake at Yochi's. I'm trying to get in every minute of time with all these great people. Other than the toll on my back from sleeping on different couches every night, I am so glad to be able to spend this time here and so grateful to my wife for making it possible.

August 7th, Yochi's Office, 5:29 PM

Friday in Tel-Aviv is my favorite experience and the thing I miss most from Chicago. This morning I woke up and did a pilates class with my sister and brothers in law. We then went to breakfast and I met my older brother in law Shaul's new girlfriend. My in-laws family all have Ashkenazi spouses, and Shaul's girlfriend is Ashkenazi like me. This difference might not seem big among American Jews, but it is pretty big here. There was a time of great racism between Europeans and Mizrachim. In the late 60's and early 70's there were even Black Panthers in Israel. Today tha racism is suttle. The Jewish left Meretz party, with all its idealism about peace, is basically a bastion of Ashkenazi middle class Tel-Avivis. When Ran Cohen,  a Sepharadi veteran of the party, wanted to take over the leadership, he lost out to Meretz new comer Yossi Beilin, an Ashkenazi who moved to the left from the Labor party. Many poor Sepharadim still live in development towns in the periphery of the country, but basically it is better to be a Sepharadi in Israel than African in America.
There are many things that Americans don't really understand about this country, and it has been very interesting to have a foot in each culture. I was corresponding with a friend who was discussing Jimmy Carter and American Jewry. Carter, my friend said, "is radioactive" among American Jews, but his terminology and logic are not completely uncommon here. I have heard many Israelis refer to the situation in the West Bank as apartheid, which was Carter's major sin, but he is not Israeli nor Jewish. I guess it is like being white and saying the N word. I can make kike jokes, Richard Pryor can make N jokes, but if I make an N joke or he (I know he's dead) makes a Kike joke, then we are way out of line.
Yesterday I was exploring the good in this country and I want to put more ideas down. I don't really care that Israel has created much of the world's mobile phone technology or has numerous Nobel laureates, but I am very proud that my friend Doron focuses all his film expertise on making social justice films that don't make money and that he teaches film in Sapir College in Shderot under the constant barrage of rockets from Gaza. I am floored by Sasha and Talia who went to Russia to adopt two abandoned children because they recognized their ability to do so and wanted to share the wealth. I am amazed that my sister in law Yochi makes a conscious effort to give a tithe from her work hours to people who could benefit from Acupuncture but cannot afford it, and I am awed by my brother in law Shaul's work to make Palestinians with Israeli citizenship into full participants in this society.
My friend Eran, a former general, dedicates himself to running the BINA NGO which brings Judaism to secular Israelis, Chaggit, a teacher in the Kibbutz Seminar that was in my conference works with the mentally disabled and deaf communities, my buddy Muchamad Darawshe has worked his whole adult life as a fundraiser and educator in peace work, and my close friend Ilai, a Tel Aviv University professor, has made environmentalism part of his personal and professional agenda. The Talmud says that "All Israel is mixed with eachother," and my friends are part of the Israeli efforts to share the responsibilities for this country and its weakest sectors.

I haven't said much about the food here, but something must be said. Israel has a great fusion of Ashkenazi and Sepharadi kitchens. The vegetables are delicious, the fruits are sweet, the breads are out of this world. I love the cheeses, the salads, desserts and drinks. Most people who know me, and even those who just see me (unfortunately) give me credit as a food person. I enjoy food. When I live here, I miss Manny's corned beef and the steaks at Sammy's Roumanian on the Lower East Side. There are no good Mexican Restaurants that I know of in Israel and they don't have anything like Chicago's Vienna beef, but Israelis know how to eat. They enjoy food. People who go to McDonald's in Israel are simply misguided. The cheapest fast food shwarma here in a workers restaurant does circles around the Kosher shwarma of the States. The hummus at Abu Chassan in Yaffo is the best in the entire world. If I were about to be executed and was granted a final meal it would include Abu Chassan's hummus. I don't know if my words do justice to the food here, but my enthusiasm is well founded and shouldn't be ignored. Come to Israel and eat. It's worth the flight, heat and expense.

Another thing I love here is the way Judaism just melds into the life cycle here. Today, everyone is out shopping before Shabbat arrives and stores close. When I travel on the bus, the seats in the front have signs above them that say, "Get up for the gray haired," a Biblical quote which implies respect senior citizens. As an American, it is great to see the Star of David on an ambulance and police car, and, although the combination of churn and state troubles me when the church is only Orthodox Judaism, I love that Shabbat feels like a day of rest; the stores are closed, there are no busses... When I was walking down Sheinkin Street this afternoon, I passed streets with names from the Talmud like Yohanan the Sandler, and from Zionist history - Achad Haam. The national poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik, took all the legends from the Talmud and made a collection available for secular Israelis, and the some of the greatest world literature is born from the Hebrew language which was just revivified a hundred years ago (not that it was dead, but it wasn't spoken). I even named my son after the son of Eliezer ben Yehuda who single handedly revived Hebrew and brought it back to the people. Itamar was not just the first Hebrew speaking son, he was also the first native Hebrew speaking Steiner male.

I better get to the store and buy my newspapers for Shabbat. I try to read HaAretz in Hebrew and have the International Herald Tribune for back up. My brother in law will soon pick me up and bring me to my in-laws for Shabbat dinner. My father in law, Chaim, will welcome the Shabbat with traditional prayer, and in my heart I will be singing Shabbat Hakallah, a secular Shabbat song written by Bialik that we used to sing at my socialist, Zionist camp in Michigan - Tavor. After dinner, we'll sit on the porch and play backgammon, my mother in law will force me to eat her cakes (which are delicious, but I will be full from her amazing Morrocan dinner) and then I'll get in bed and read my newspapers. In the morning, the in laws will go to shul, and I will stay home and relax and check on the baseball standings via the Internet. Later, my brother in law Lior will come with his wife and kids for chamin, Morrocan cholent, a dish that cooks in the oven overnight because the Orthodox do not light fires on the Sabbath. At the end of the day, we will return to our place in time, our place among the mundane, but for 25 hours or so we will create holiness with our families, in our synagogues, within our communities, and we will experience the great side of being Jewish in a Jewish country each in our own special way.

Shabbat Shalom.

August 8th, Beit Shemesh, just before Shabbat

On the drive here from Tel-Aviv I noticed something very interesting. Half of all the agricultural fields we passed were growing food and half had signs that said “This field respects the Shmitah year.” Shmitah is the seventh year of the agricultural cycle. The system provides a rest for the soil, as you are forbidden to farm the land every seven years. Whatever grows is meant to be left for the poor. In this sense, the creator or interpreter of the shmitah created a ritual that is both environmentally friendly and geared at social justice. But they also created a problem. All lands in Israel are supposed to rest in the seventh year. How are the people supposed to eat? Maybe the originator of the shmitah wanted to make the Jews of Israel dependent on their neighbors to sell them food in order to guarantee peaceful coexistence between neighbors. Maybe the objective was some form of pluralism.
In my last writing, I touched on a serious issue that could be very touchy for many. I spoke about the “great side of being Jewish in a Jewish country.” I own these words completely. Many people speak about the inherent prejudice in a Jewish country. Other's speak about Israel as a country for Jews, not a Jewish country.
There are problems with the idea of a Jewish country. Who determines what is Jewish? What happens to all the inhabitants that don't want to live Jewishly or are not Jewish? The country for Jews idea is much easier to palette. Anti-Semitism exists. People say the term is broad and expresses a general bias against people of all Semitic language groups. I recently learned that the term was coined expressly to describe hatred of Jews. The idea of a state that cares for Jews is not beautiful in and of itself, all states ought to care for all of their citizens, but the case of the Jews is unique. History convinces me and many of my coreligionists that we need to look out for ourselves in the contemporary mechanism of statehood. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” The great Hillel asked.
“But if I am only for myself, what am I?” Is it right for a Jewish state to not treat all of its citizens equally? I'm not sure. In the United States, I want to not be treated anyway by the state with regard to my religion. I want complete separation. In the Middle East, this is virtually impossible.
But what does the Jewish character of a state look like? Today is the opening of the 2008 Olympics in China. The Chinese deny human rights in Tibet. They sell arms to the perpetrators of genocide in Darfur. Should a Jewish state send its athletes to compete in the Olympics in China? Maybe we shouldn't?
The idea that a country is set up around specific values is potentially great under two conditions; the values ought to be good and the people have to choose the values. I was born in the United States. I didn't choose the values. They were thrust upon me. In some ways, this allows me to not completely own them. I oppose the Iraq War, but I didn't build the system that allows for it. Maybe I should say that I haven't worked hard enough against it. Maybe I should push for changes in the system that better reflect the values of the people. I'm pretty sure Thomas Jefferson wanted the Constitution to be rewritten every twenty years. I think Mao said that their should be a revolution every ten.
Israel was set up as a land of the Jews and for the Jews, but it wasn't set up as a Jewish homeland in the sense that the Declaration of Independence doesn't talk a lot about the character of the state. It does, however, assert “the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.” This is very problematic. In the last Israeli government there was a party that wanted to separate synagogue from state. Can this be part of the mastery Jews have over their country? I suppose it could, but I wouldn't want it that way.
I have heard arguments about staying Jewish after the Holocaust. Some say there is no God. Others say we need to remain Jewish in spite of Hitler. Some say God was impotent or disconnected. I think we should remain Jewish because Judaism can be a very powerful force for justice and holiness in the world. It offers a framework for critical pedagogy and a post-modern, though ancient, methodology for deconstructing the world.
I want to be a rabbi because I am proud to be a link in the chain of Jewish tradition. I love the texts. I love the way we learn and the way we question. I am not overjoyed with the fundamentalism that has taken control of many parts of the population and the Jewish thought that is bastardized by fundamentalism, but I explain this to myself by concluding that what they are doing to Judaism is simply not very Jewish. I try to be pluralistic about it. I'm sure they say the same about me, but my objective is to win them over from within. I want to be part of the Jewish discourse and I want to lead from within my community.
The shmitah is not the best example of a Jewish value that is lived and benefits the world, but it has a grain of the great affect Jewish values could have in the world. That grain is food for the poor, literally, and respect for the planet. Maybe our interpretations need to be more consistent with the world we live in, but the system is still among the best we have come up with, at least for me, and I want to make sure it continues.

Shabbat, August 9th, Yochi's living room, 6:30 PM

Writing a Journal is not work for me. It is pure pleasure. No rabbi could convince me that I am breaking the Shabbat by writing, but I'm not that observant that it really matters. I'm on vacation and every day is a rest of sorts. Furthermore, I choose how I want to separate holiness from the mundane. Ideally, I do this in a community, but sometimes I make these decisions in my family or on my own.
Today, I chose to make Shabbat holy for me by going to the Old City of Jerusalem with my friend Eran, who lives 15 minutes south of the town where I slept at my in-laws, Beit Shemesh. We drove to Jerusalem early because my brother in law was coming with his wife and kids for Shabbat lunch at 12 and Eran had his own plans for the day. We got to the Old City around 8:30 and entered through Jaffa Gate where we had a coffee before walking through the market. I knew I would buy stuff for my teachers who teach for me, so as we made our way to the Western Wall, I stopped a lot to gather prices.
Last time I was in Israel, the Western Wall was not on the agenda. It sounds weird, but I was giving a tour to a Baptist friend, also an alderman of the city of Chicago, and I told him that I am embarrassed that my people have made and idol out of a wall. I don't think it is very Jewish to find holiness in space. We make holiness in time, which is what celebrating the Shabbat is about, but space is mundane, even the space where the Holy Temple was.
My rabbi once told me that he was in Hebron after the Six Day War and that he didn't feel the Schinah (God's spirit) there. I believe he felt it in Jerusalem, but I am not sure. I have felt the Schinah in Wrigley Field, but when I see the way we have made a holy site out of a wall and the way the women are segregated and not given equal space, I simply loose my ability to feel the Schinah. Furthermore, I'm not sure I believe in one, although that contradicts what I said about Wrigley Field.
Today at the Kotel (the Western Wall) was different. I didn't feel anything spiritual, but I was moved by the fact that tonight we will read the scroll of Eicha and mourn the destruction of our Temple. Our holiday, Tisha B'Av (the nineth day of the Hebrew month of Av) commemorates the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. I understand the sadness over the end of Jewish sovereignty, but I am not compelled by the prospect of creating a third temple or returning to the days of animal sacrifices. In many ways, the destruction of the Temple may have saved Judaism and it surely was a catalyst for a much nicer Judaism. Burning sacrifices and other rituals of the Temple period are simply not something I have in mind for myself, nor do I see it as a way of achieving justice and holiness in the world.
When I was a kid in the Labor Zionist movement, I read Berl Katznelson's essay about addressing the traditions. He spoke about renewal long before liberal American Jews made a movement out of it. He said that in a new Jewish country, we need to turn Tisha B'Av into a celebration of our sovereignty. Tonight, BINA, Alma and another organization will follow Berl's lead as we read Eicha together, see theater, sing songs and discuss what we are doing in this land. I'm so excited to be able to be a part of this. I'm going with my sister in law and maybe a friend. I hope I have a lot of great things to write and think about.

Sunday, Ninth of Av, Tel-Aviv, 8:20 AM

OK, I was wrong. Renewal in Tel-Aviv was not what Berl Katznelson was describing. “Home, Sacrifice, Home,” the event I went to to mark Tisha B'Av was not exactly a celebration, but it was a renewal. Instead of focusing on national tragedy, the event was a mishmash of ethnic, individual and small community tragedies.
The even was held at Tzavta, a culture venue under one of Tel-Aviv's older malls, London Ministore. It cost thirty New Israeli Shekels, which was very interesting as it represents a shift from a dues plus model of religious worship in a fixed location to a fee for service model. It was also a combined effort of three organizations led by one rabbi, Estaban. Estaban Gottfried is the rabbi of the Israeli House of Worship which does big festive prayer services on Friday afternoons at the beach, among other events. They are non-traditional and equalitarian, but they are not selcular in the American sense of the word. Here in Israel they are secular because most Israelis allow the Orthodox to define them by promoting the idea that there are only two forms of Judaism; secular and orthodox. Worship is far from being my connection to Judaism, but the event was not about God. It was about tragedies. Only in the Scroll of Eicha, Lamentations, did we hear the question asked, “Wherefore dost Thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time? לָמָּה לָנֶצַח תִּשְׁכָּחֵנוּ, תַּעַזְבֵנוּ לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים .”

Estaban lead a group of readers who sat on the floor on the stage. His position in the middle of the group pushed me to think of Jesus at the last supper. He started the night with an overview of the holiday and then we heard the first portion of Lamentations in traditional Mizrahi melody. It was a beautiful presentation of Biblical poetry that brought to life all the sadness of this day. To break up the reading, there were artistic interpretations of tragedy, the first of which was a relatively young musicians songs about his fight with cancer. The songs were beautiful, but I was bothered by the personalization of the holiday's collective nature. Tisha B'Av is about the tragedies that befell the Jewish people. Not only British Jews bewail the expulsion from England, not only Sepharadim bemoan the expulsion from Spain. Just as we all cry over the destruction of the Temples and the dispersion from our own land, what is unique about the Jewish people is that we are all mixed in with each other. Our national tragedies are collective, as is our collective memory. This is what keeps us a people, and individualizing the mourning of tragedy is problematic for me on this day.
Eicha, Lamentations, was read by several people including an American woman rabbinic student from Boston's Hebrew College and a young Israel woman who I met at BINA a few days earlier. The reading of Eicha is traditional and other than the beautiful interpretations and the bringing together of many voices, it was nothing that demands significant reporting. The other between chapter presentations were very interesting, though, and help paint a picture of Tel-Aviv and its struggles with Judiasm.
One voice that was very beautiful and descriptive of this city was that of a Yiddish language archivist who ran a drive to collect 40,000 Yiddish books and find them a home in this city. He sang very dramatically in Yiddish as the lyrics were projected in Hebrew on a screen. An Ethiopian student from Tel-Aviv University told the story of the personal tragedy of having to leave her country, walk across the dessert to the Sudan to be airlifted to Israel and then loosing the richness of her tradition as her family was forced to find balance between an Israel of melting pots and the rich salad of Israeli culture that treasures diversity.
What was most interesting for me was the thirty something year old basketball fan who very intelligently bemoaned the destruction of the Ussishkin Stadium where HaPoel Tel-Aviv used to play. In Israel, sports was very politicized for many years and HaPoel means the worker which aligns the team with the Labor movement. When I was here two years ago with Alderman Burnett, we met Prime Minister Ehud Olmert two days before the most recent elections and when the alderman asked him if he was totally absorbed in the elections, his reply was that he would thing about the elections after the Betar Jerusalem soccer game that night. Betar is the right wing youth movement and a reference to Zeev Jabotinsky and the Revisionist movement.
The idea of equivocating between the destruction of a basketball stadium and the destruction of the Temples sounded very odd at first, but then I started thinking of Wrigley Field and everything became very clear. My sister once dated a guy who owed a brick from Ebbets Field where the New York Giants (I later discovered this blasphemous mistake. It was the Brooklyn Dodgers) used to play, and he keeps it in its own little shrine. Today I read commentary in The Jerusalem Post about the ethics of Israel sending a team to the Olympics and the writer made the case that one of the purposes of competitive sport was to avoid war. I guess in this sense, baseball or basketball really do have a holy purpose. I definitely feel holiness during the seventh inning stretch when all fans, of all teams, join together in a song about our beloved sport. Not long ago, I was reading about the twentieth anniversary of lights at Wrigley Field and the terrible violation felt by Chicagoans when night baseball was thrust upon them. With all said and done, the destruction of Ussishkin was a collective tragedy for many and I think it was definitely appropriate for this holiday.

Now it's morning in Tel-Aviv and I am still empty stomached, but I don't think I will fast. I don't do it for God and as a mechanism for remembering collective tragedy for my people, I don't need it. Maybe I'll just forgo the shwarma I was planning to have.

Tisha B'Av – Later in the day

I committed blasphemy on Tisha B'Av and mistakenly wrote that the NY Giants played in Ebbet's Field instead of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I hope Jackie and company will forgive me. At least I didn't write Maccabee Tel-Aviv instead of HaPoel Tel-Aviv. That could get me killed over here.

I still haven't eaten. I've spent my morning studying Torah. I was very disturbed by commentary from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin who lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat. R. Riskin writes, 
Contemporary history, post-Holocaust, teaches us that the nation of Israel cannot survive without a Jewish State and a Jewish army; the fact that we do live in a global village in which one madman with (G-d forbid) nuclear power can destroy the entire world teaches us that unless the inviolability of the human being and the universal acceptance of a G-d of peace becomes an axiom of all humanity there will be no free humanity left in the world, and certainly no Jewish Nation. For today’s world, Rabbi Akiva has become vindicated; only a Holy Temple teaching fundamental and absolute morality in our City of Peace can secure the future of Israel and the free world in our global village!
In my conference, a young Israeli Jewish woman said that she loves the slogan, “Killing for peace is like fucking for virginity.” I wasn't comfortable with this metaphor, but I think it applies when you need to confront radical fundamentalism of so-call pragmatic realists like R. Riskin. 
In his dvar Torah, words of Torah, he explains the old argument about whether Yohanan ben Zakai or Rabbi Akiva was right in their approach to the Roman occupation of Israel. Yochanan sued for peace and R. Akiva encouraged the Sanhedren to support Bar Kochva's war against our Roman occupiers. Yochanan preferred Yavne and the scholars over Jerusalem, Akiva, in my view, was greedy. He wanted it all and wasn't willing to make compromises, a cardinal failure of fundamentalism.
Today in Israel, the settlement movement represents R. Akiva's perspective. They want the entire Promised Land, and they're willing to live there amongst hostile enemies to achieve their goals, even if it means total deprivation of human rights. When R. Riskin argues that, “unless the inviolability of the human being and the universal acceptance of a G-d of peace becomes an axiom of all humanity there will be no free humanity left in the world,” he is being a radical fundamentalist in very much the same way as Hamas, and, in many ways, even though this is a very unpopular statement and I will get more than an ear full for making it, maybe even delegitimized altogether in my community, Tzahal (The Israeli Defense force) becomes the military arm of this fundamentalism, even if it is a legitimate army of a democratic state. (The irony here is that I read this stuff in the free Israeli press all the time, but at home in Chicago I will find a crucifix for myself next to Jimmy Carter's.)
Riskin's message is such bullshit, and I just don't know how to deal with it. There is no pill big enough to make me ever believe such nonsense, and I don't know how to deal with the fact that people eat this stuff up. After reading things like his, I just want to throw my hands up and quit (or fight, and I'm a peace educator). I kind of feel like I need to take the same road as God and give up on a generation, cause a flood, I don't know, but it makes me sick and I don't know what to do with it. This is why I am a member of Peace Now, and it's why I prefer to be a pariah in my community than complicit in fundamentalist violence.

If you haven't noticed, my language has changed. This is because I stopped my last writing in the middle and have now picked it up after a very long night of drinking. 
It started with a movie for people in the Israeli Film Academy that was screened for voting on the next Israeli Oscar. The movie was a autobiographical picture of two brothers and their family and shared love of the same girl. It was the second movie I saw that dealt with the Lebanon War, and I was compelled to ask Doron if this is a new phenomenon, which he said it is. The movie was so-so, but it added to the trigger of thoughts about that war and how it affected my life, my dreams and my future - which I am now living.
When I was in high school in the Kfar HaYarok, I was a full blown Labor Zionist. In retrospect, I may have chosen to come here to escape the consequences of my parent's divorce, but my narrative then was that I came, like the early Zionists, “To build and be built.” I worked hard to become an Israeli. I worked hard picking oranges and peanuts and grapefruits... until I was given a chance to work with the cows. I worked hard to learn Hebrew and Israeli culture. I tried, unsuccessfully, to like soccer and listened to games every Shabbat on the radio. The show was “Shirim v'shaarim” songs and goals, and I tried my best to overcome my resistance and my great preference for American football, baseball, basketball and even hockey. I never grew to like soccer, but I did become Israeli, at least in many ways. My dreams for my future, after the army, were to live on kibbutz, have an Israeli wife named Raquel, raise sabras of my own and name them Itamar and Maya, which I did. Fortunately, my second child was a girl and I had the opportunity to name her Sahar, crescent moon, a reference to the cinema – reflected light like the moon – but when I married, I got an Irit, daughter of a Raquel, and I never really lived on kibbutz after the army.
I finished high school as “excellent student,” the equivalent of the American valedictorian, and I went to the president's house (Yitzhak Navor) to speak, but when we arrived in the army, I was a failure. 
My dad was in the Coast Guard in order to minimize his service. He was such a natural pacifist that he did whatever was possible to avoid shooting his gun. He is an artist and drew the manual for shooting during target practice. In fact, I remember him telling me that the only time he was diligent about carrying his rifle was Yom Kippor when his anti-Semitic commanding officer tried to get him to drink and eat to break his fast.
When I was a kid, I never had squirt guns, just a squirt porpoise, which all the kids on the block would laugh at when we played cops and robbers. When I got to the army and was given a semi-automatic machine gun on my third day of service (the Israeli Galil) I was shocked and didn't know what to do with myself. My army service sucked and I was way down from the high of being valedictorian. And to top it off, we were in a war in Lebanon which all my older friends who were already serving told me was Israel's Vietnam. These guys taught me Hebrew and how to milk cows and told me about sex before I ever discovered it for myself and helped absorb me into Israel, and they came back from the front saying that everything I was learning in civics classes and history was bullshit. And I didn't know what to do with it.
So when I had surgery during the army and was released from my service for a year, I rushed home to the safety of my parents' houses and a university education, and I thought this was a good way of saving myself from the corruption of Israel, and I put my love for the country and the people on a floppy disk and did my best not to remember the experience and not to long to fulfill dreams I could only fill in Israel. I succeeded for six years.
I went to UCLA, studied film and fine Art, got involved with American politics and then found myself in a conflict of interests between being for more diplomatic efforts to end the Gulf War and feeling like I wanted someone to defend my country as she was being bombed from Bagdad. A year after the war, with a bachelors degree under my belt, I met Irit moved to Israel and went back to the army, and later reserve duty, so that I could be a full participant in this enterprise called Zionism. but after five years, we left the country, my second departure, and moved to Chicago where I got two more degrees including a terminal degree in education. 
And now back in Israel, after two encounters with the Lebanon War in two different movies and lots of discussions with friends, I am really angry about what was forced on us as kids, our akaidah, and and saddened by what it has done to my generation and my friends. It feels like Allen Ginsberg when he wrote Howl. Being here during this period of introspection, I realize that “I've seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”

Monday, August 11th, Doron's Couch, Tel-Aviv, 8:15 AM

There is a God. I woke up without a hang-over.
I just read what I wrote last night. I like the Howl reference, but the Akaidah metaphor is also strong. In many ways, my generation of Israeli men is very much like our ancestor Isaac. Imagine how messed up a person becomes knowing that his father was willing to sacrifice him. Whether Lebanon was a defensive war or not, people my age feel like they were sent to Vietnam. “Born in Israel,” could be a hit of an Israeli Bruce Springsteen.
Last night I didn't write about the hours of drinking after the movie. Doron took me to a club called Abraxis, I assume it is named after the great Carlos Santana album, but I don't know the meaning of the word. Abraxis was crammed with young Israelis, the oldest people were in their mid to late forties. The band was called Zohar Wagner and the Stinkers. It was a sleaze rock band led by a woman who worked as a striper in New York for three years. She is a friend of Doron's and Gili's (Doron's friend who went out with us). After the concert, Gili got a text message thanking her for coming, and she told me that Zohar is a yekeh, the Yiddish word describing an anal retentive German Jew. (Wikipedia: The term anal-retentive (or anally retentive, anal retentive), commonly abbreviated to "anal", is used conversationally to describe a person with such attention to detail that the obsession becomes an annoyance to others, and can be carried out to the detriment of the anal-retentive person. The term derives from Freudian psychoanalysis.)
Zohar's lyrics were about weird sexual fantasies and being a “bad girl.” She did a lot of weird dancing and sang a bit like Grace Jones. The audience ate it up. In many ways, I obsessed about the audience. If I found the same number of American Jews with the same age distribution and brought them to this concert – with the only difference being the translation to English – they would be like a fish out of water. The gulf between American Jews, in general, and Israelis is so big it is mind blowing.
Sure, this concert is not the average Israeli experience, but the audience was very representative of a good slice of Israeli society. And I know from my own experience that American Jews are not a monolithic group. In fact, the concert last night reminded me of concerts Doron and I would go to in Los Angeles. One group, dominated by Jewish band members, was called Chuck E. Weiss and the Goddamn Liars, and they were part of the crowd that produced such greats as Tom Waits and Ricki Lee Jones. In fact, Ricki's song, Chuck E.'s in Love is about Chuck Weiss.
Anyway, there is a place for generalizations, and this is it. I observe this major gap between the two cultures that I am firmly planted in, and I straddle this gap. It is a very difficult place to be, and a blessing at the same time. Bob Dylan has a great line in the song Positively 4th Street. He sings, “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes, then you'd know what a drag it is to see you.” It is a major drag to see myself in each of these cultures, and often something to be proud of. I don't want to be so negative that I only see the “drag,” but I am a person who strives to make positive changes in myself and my surroundings, and you don't change the parts that you are happy with – at least not willingly.

It's almost 9 AM and it's my last full day here. At this time tomorrow, I will be on my way to Vienna, followed by London, where I will spend the night at my friend Shoshi's house. The next morning I have a flight to Toronto and then one to Chicago. What a drag it is using mileage to get to Israel? If I were a rich man...

August 11th...

I just made a blog, a sort of canonization of this text even though I haven't been editing or proofreading my writing at all this whole time. The address is, and you are welcome to share, although I do not promise to respond to all comments. I will try to respond in email when time permits.

August 12th, Ben Gurion Airport, 6:29 AM
There's a not so funny one liner about 2 Jews, three opinions. I thought I had a pretty well rounded perspective on things before Gilli, my high school roommate came to Tel-Aviv to take me to lunch. Gilli just arrived from his first trip to the United States and he was still in awe from his experience.
Gilli was always one of the most committed citizens I know, a paratrooper, he held a serious job in his reserve duty and he is currently in charge of security at Israel's largest electric power station in Hedera. Gilli lost several soldiers and friends defending this country and it has hardened him in his feelings about Arabs, but he is still in the center-left politically and waxes nostalgically about Israel's history as a socialist country.
Our meeting over lunch was shocking for me. He told me things I never though his mind was capable of thinking. He said he didn't want his kids to go to the army, that today is not like when we were kids, that there are some families that benefit a lot more from the defense of the army than others. “If my son defends the country, what is he defending? Olmert the criminal and his children who live outside the country? Our rapist president? The Minister of the treasury who stole our tax money? I have an apartment in Hedera and a family. That's what I defend, but there are people here who have a lot more. I don't want to defend them when the disparity in this country is so great.”
Gilli's change in attitude is very significant because he represents the mainstream. He is second generation Israeli, wealthier than his parents, still traditional about Judaism but not religious and has a family with children who will be drafted into the army whether he likes it or not.
Gilli was mad about the Lebanon War. He said that it wasn't fought like it should have been and that maybe it was an unnecessary sacrifice of our children.

When I left Gilli, I went to my brother in law's house for my nephew's birthday party. Ido is 2 and I pray we have peace before he is old enough to be drafted. On the way to his party, I walked passed Gan Meir, a small, but big for Tel-Aviv, public park where the first rape in Israel took place. The response to the news of this rape, over sixty years ago, was very peculiar. “Finally we are a normal country,” my friend Doron told me was the public reaction. That is so weird for me, but I cannot get into the zeitgeist of that period.
Today Israel really is a normal country, in many ways, we still have announcements in the newspapers about how to fast safely for Tisha B'Av and pieces of Talmud and Torah getting into the public discourse, but overall, Israel has joined the world of nations and dragged the Jews with it, and I'm not sure if this is a blessing or a curse. Last week, Jews worldwide started reading the last book of the Torah, in many ways Moses journal of his experiences leading the Jewish people. When my daughter will be called to the Torah for her first time as an adult Jewess in September, she will read about the blessing and the curse Moses warns the Jewish people of before they enter the land – without him. As I reflect on this visit to my adopted homeland, I ask myself whether the current state of the country is a blessing or a curse, whether we are better for having sovereignty and whether the world is better for granting it to us.
I don't want to be a Jew just because my parents are Jewish, and I certainly am not a Jew because I am defined this way from the outside. Israel, as a refuge for Jews who are oppressed for how they are defined from the outside, has an immediate and necessary objective, but Israel as a Jewish state defined from within by Judaism and the Jewish people is not absolutely essential. Rabbi Riskin is wrong when he declares, “For today’s world, Rabbi Akiva has become vindicated; only a Holy Temple teaching fundamental and absolute morality in our City of Peace can secure the future of Israel and the free world in our global village!” This is fundamentalism of the highest degree, and having “God” instruct you about “absolute morality” is dishonest and sick. It is manipulative and unfair, and it is alive and well in the Land of Israel.
What I want for my country is something very different from what I have found on this journey. I still love that “between a person and his friend,” there is a much greater social order than I have ever experienced anywhere in the world, but the warm social climate already doesn't extend very far from close circles anymore. There is a lot of crime, rape, inhumanity between citizens and economic disparity that goes beyond acceptable measures.
I have great hopes for Israel, for Jewish pluralism and creativity, just relations between the country and the Palestinian and Arab neighbors, honorable leadership and economic justice. Now the question is whether getting to the promised land, from within the promised land, is something I need to do from without or from within. This is the cliffhanger I leave as I close my journal and return to life in the diaspora. This is the question I have been asking my self from the day I arrived, the day I took my family from Tel-Aviv to Chicago and the day I originally took my Israeli citizenship, and it is a question that, in many ways, will plague me whatever I decide.