Moses was a jerk, & Passover wouldn’t have happened without five women.

Re-up from a couple years back, but every word (down to “tonight is the start of the second holiday” and “writing about Passover on Easter Sunday”) is true again, so here ye be! This is the kind of stuff I like to think about. I hope you enjoy it, too.

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Moses appears to be a bit doubtful that this is going to end well.

It really does seem that every year, Passover goes by faster. One minute I’m hyperventilating over the inhuman amount of cleaning, the next minute I’m all “what, it’s over?” But here we are. Tonight is the start of the second holiday, the one that closes the week, and then boom – it’s back to bread*. What this means for you, dear reader, is that I won’t be posting on Monday (it being a holiday and all) – so instead, here I am on Easter Sunday, writing one more time about Passover.

On the whole Passover dealio, let’s be honest.

Anyone who knows anything about Passover (and is over the age of 10) already knows the main message: Let my people go, freedom from slavery, big-ass crackers instead of fluffy bread for a week, etc and so on. (And by the way, if you’re under the age of 10, you really shouldn’t be reading this blog).

However! There are other messages that emerge from the story, if you poke around and look a little, messages that are also powerful and necessary.

Like the fact that people can change. That even the worst dregs of humanity can turn their lives around — can, perhaps, become heroes.

Like Moses.

Do you know who Moses was before he became the dude who stared Pharaoh down, the great prophet, the redeemer of the Israelites, the fella who got to go up to the mountain and chat with The Holy One Blessed Be He?

He was a confused princeling with anger issues — and a murderer, to boot!

Moses was ultimately raised in Pharaoh’s family, but he was cared for early in life by his biological mother, and he knew he wasn’t really Egyptian. One fine day, he “went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors” — which is to say, there he was, all dressed up in his royal finery, watching the slaves go about their business (survivor’s guilt, anyone?). Seeing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses did what any of us would do: He turned to his adoptive father and asked that reforms be instituted.

No, no! I kid!

He killed the dude. And hid the body. (Exodus, chapter 2, if you’re wondering).

Discovering the next day that there were witnesses (and I have to ask: How was this a surprise, exactly? Dude was a prince. How exactly did he think he would not be noticed in the act of killing someone?), he runs away to the land of Midian, where he becomes a shepherd, a husband, a father, and a prophet (in that order).

So, to recap: Moses is a murderer. And then he becomes the savior of his people.

We don’t really know what happened to Moses in the intervening years, up until the point where “a long time after that, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God” — but I’m guessing quite a lot. One doesn’t move from life as a prince to life as a shepherd, or abandon murderous anger for hesitant, self-effacing leadership, without undergoing an internal change or two.

But no matter who you are, or who your enemy is, or what that annoying asshole at work or in elective office did or said — there is always room for change. As long as there is life, there remains the possibility for genuine, even earth-shattering redemption.

And I’ll go one further: Sometimes our heroes are the people we most despise.

Sure, Moses is the prophet. Sure, he was the one who turned his life around and saved his people.

But he would never have gotten the chance if it weren’t for Pharaoh’s daughter — the actual child of the evil emperor.

When you read the story of Moses-in-the-bullrushes (Exodus 1), it emerges that five women (I’ll just repeat that: FIVE WOMEN) are the real heroes here:

  1. The two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who refused to kill the baby boys despite Pharaoh’s decree
  2. Moses’s biological mother, who hides him at home and then hides him where he might be found and kept alive
  3. Moses’s sister Miriam, who stands watch over him and has the courage to offer her help to Pharaoh’s daughter
  4. Pharaoh’s daughter, who plucks Moses out of his basket, agrees that Miriam should find him a wet-nurse, and then pays Moses’s mother to care for him.

Reading the story, it becomes blindingly obvious that the daughter of Pharaoh — who, let’s just recall, was heinous enough to order the mass murder of infants — knew exactly what she was doing. And that without her, the efforts of the other four women would have been for naught.

She says, straight up: “This must be a Hebrew child.” Then another child, who could only have been equally recognizably Hebrew, pops up out of the bullrushes and offers to find a wet-nurse — and then a wet-nurse is instantly found.

Pharaoh’s daughter had to know — and she went with it. She saved the baby, gave him back to his mother for as long as she could get away with it, and then raised the child as her own.

So on top of the freedom-from-slavery thing (which is, don’t get me wrong, a very, very good message), here’s another message that I get out of Passover:

No one’s life is predetermined. We cannot know what people are capable of, we cannot know who will save us. We cannot even know about ourselves.

We can only open the basket in the reeds. We can only listen to whatever voice of goodness and grace we hear, whether by water’s edge, or while moving sheep from point A to point B. We can only make ourselves available.

And believe that redemption is real.

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Though we live in America, we’re Israelis-in-exile, so we observe the holidays in keeping with the customs of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), which means a seven-day Passover. Most observant Diaspora Jews keep eight days — that is, through Tuesday.

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East Jerusalem doc ‘My Neighborhood’ wins Peabody Award.

It’s a brief film, only 25 minutes long, but it’s not easy to watch: Glass shatters in the pre-dawn darkness as uniformed men break into people’s homes, shouting “Get out! Hurry! Get out!” Old women and children are pushed and shoved; mothers weep as they comfort their children. “In blood and fire,” shout men in religious garb, smiles on their faces, “we’ll kick the Arabs out!”

But that’s not all we see in My Neighborhood, a short documentary about settler expansion in East Jerusalem that this week received the prestigious Peabody Award. Directed by Rebekah Wingert-Jabi and Julia Bacha, My Neighborhood chronicles the story of Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian area in what is today Municipal Jerusalem, where settlers were able to obtain court-backed approval to evict Palestinian residents from their homes—or, in the case of the film’s central story line, part of their home, a home in which the affected family has lived since 1956—but to which other Jewish Israelis soon came in solidarity and support. That story of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation and nonviolent protest is the heart of what the Peabodys describe as an “honest, hopeful documentary.”

The film (which can be watched in its entirety here) centers on the life of Mohammed El Kurd, a middle schooler who one day comes home from school to find half his family’s house taken over, his grandmother in the hospital as a result of being manhandled by settlers who had literally walked into her home and started to remove furniture. He writes poetry about his family’s loss (“The house has fallen/ Shame! /You pile up the misery/ Shame!/ First it is my turn, then your turn, then the neighbor’s turn/Shame!/ Wake up, wake up!”), and dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer, in order to win back his family’s property. “I hate them,” he says simply at one point, but adds: “I hate them for a reason.”

Mohammad’s life becomes entwined with those of two Jewish Jerusalemites, Zvi and Sara Benninga, brother and sister, children of American immigrants, who find the Sheikh Jarrah story intolerable and launch a grassroots effort to stop the evictions. Zvi makes very clear that the target of his activism is not individual settlers, but state policy: “You can find people who are violent and crazy in any society,” he says. “The problem is that here they’re backed up and supported [by the state].”

Mohammad’s grandmother admits that she has a hard time trusting the Jews who have suddenly shown up (“You’re telling me that they will leave their people and their religion and join us?”) but Mohammad himself has no such hesitation: “Some people say that these are Jews and Jews won’t do us any good. But I disagree…. They’re helping us and themselves. Why shouldn’t they?”

We see Sara Benninga dragged away by police; we hear her father, the son of Holocaust survivors, express the anxiety produced by watching his children arrested time and again. We hear the words of protestors, including Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own sister-in-law, Ofra Ben Artzi, who says: “Where there is injustice and human rights violations, and people are thrown out of their homes, I have an obligation to be there.” In the two years that followed the launch of protests, evictions stopped in Mohammad’s neighborhood—but they continued elsewhere.

Produced by Just Vision Media, a production company dedicated to telling stories of Israeli-Palestinian nonviolent cooperation (as in the acclaimed Budrus and Encounter Point), My Neighborhood is both powerful and moving, but by nature of its truthfulness, the hope the film tries to convey is necessarily limited.

“Sheikh Jarrah elicits hope,” Zvi Benninga says toward the end of My Neighborhood, “but it is set in a reality that scares me.

Protecting nature, ignoring international law.

israel railRemember that whole “make the desert bloom” thing? Well, as it turns out, deserts aren’t actually intended to bloom.

Just like the rest of humanity, Israel has learned in recent decades that when people completely alter an ecosystem, it doesn’t work out for anyone, least of all the people. This is why after early Zionist pioneers drained the Hula Valley to great fanfare, the Israeli government eventually reflooded a large part of it, and why the Dead Sea, having been wildly over-industrialized, is now for all intents and purposes two seas, surrounded by a rapidly increasing number of dangerous sinkholes.

So first—the good news: Israel is taking an important environmental stand with regard to two different development areas, one in the Negev, the other in the center of the country. In the Negev, the issue concerns mineral mining:

The large area known as Hatzeva B is located close to a phosphate factory in the primordial landscape of the central Negev’s Tzin Valley. Until a year ago, phosphate mining had left gashes up to dozens of meters deep here. Now, though, landscape rehabilitation work has returned to site to its original look.

…some 30,000 dunams (7,500 acres) were mined over the last four decades. According to [mining firm Rotem Amfert Negev], various bureaucratic tie-ups – for which the state is also responsible – have meant delays in full rehabilitation of the landscape, and some areas have not been restored at all.

However, in recent years Rotem Amfert has decided to rehabilitate the landscape during the actual mining, under the watchful eye of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Hatzeva B is one of its first sites.

… Rotem Amfert is not doing the rehabilitation purely out of a commitment to nature. It does so because it is a condition to receive new mining permits.

In the heart of the country, the discussion surrounds the construction of the new high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem rail line, an important public transportation project for which Israelis have been clamoring for years:

… It is now six years since infrastructure work started on the first part of the fast rail track from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And though the area in question is only about 300 dunams (75 acres), it covers a strip seven kilometers long.

This case is not specifically about landscape rehabilitation, but rather efforts to encourage the regrowth of the amazing variety of natural vegetation in the area.

The strip has become a field laboratory for the restoration of natural flora, with Israel Railways being assisted by ecologists and agronomists, under the supervision of architect Aliza Kutner.

… “The infrastructure had to be built, but now it can be said that, thanks to the restoration of the natural vegetation, it can be used as a kind of ecological corridor for plants and animals,” [ecologist Ron Frumkin] says, his words underscored by a number of golden jackals not far from where he was speaking.

And now—the bad news: For all that Israel is concerned about local vegetation and golden jackals, it’s not hesitating to build on land that belongs to someone else.

At two different points, the high-speed rail will cross the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank (aka: the Green Line), in violation of international laws regarding the use of territory occupied in the course of war (and skirting Israel’s own laws and the legal interpretations of its own Supreme Court). The rail line also crosses through what is officially “No Man’s Land,” though I suspect Israel’s government cares even less about that.

Needless to say, no one really talks about any of this. Israel is just expanding its rail system—and protecting nature! But this is part and parcel of a larger, decades-long pattern of blurring the Green Line beyond recognition, creating facts on the ground (such as the Security Barrier that runs deep into the West Bank, and West Bank settlement neighborhoods included in the Municipality of Jerusalem) to hold onto as much of Greater Israel as humanly possible, all while distracting Israelis from the actual implication: an ever-shrinking possibility of ever establishing an independent Palestine, and the implications that has for Israel’s own future, not least the likely destruction of either the state’s democratic nature, or of its status as the Jewish homeland.

The protection now being afforded ecosystems in the Negev and the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor is a very welcome development—and even so: Far too much of what Israel does comes back to its self-destructive refusal to end the occupation.

Crossposted from The Daily Beast/Open Zion.

Obama: “Tears aren’t enough.”

Update: As of Tuesday, April 2, the number of Americans fatally shot since the Newtown massacre has risen to 3,292; that’s 239 additional deaths since the President spoke on the issue last week [see below], and it includes 4 year old  Rahquel Carr, shot in Miami-Dade in a parked car. For details on those statistics, please go to Slate; for Rahquel’s story, please go here.

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This morning, the President spoke about gun violence and the need for new laws:

I ask every American to find out where your member of Congress stands on these ideas. If they’re not part of that 90% who agree that we should make it harder for a criminal or somebody with severe mental illness to buy a gun, then you should ask them why not. Why are you part of the 10%?

There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t get this done. But the reason we’re talking about it here today is because it’s not done until it’s done. And there are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock, or changing the subject, or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all. They’re doing everything they can to make all of our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration, their assumption is that people will just forget about it.

…I want to make sure every American is listening today. Less than 100 days ago, [Newtown] happened. And the entire country was shocked. And the entire country pledged that we would do something about it and this time it would be different. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.

There’s one thing that I’ve said consistently since I first ran for this office: Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change.

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I watch this man speak a lot. Every time he speaks on this issue, he is alight with righteous anger — and he is not backing down. I am so grateful.

In the [fewer than] 100 days since the Newtown massacre, 3084 Americans have been fatally shot. Yesterday, it was 3,053. That’s what we’re looking at: about 30 new gun deaths every single day.

If we want to make an effective change in those kinds of numbers, we have to let Congress know, because as he keeps reminding us, the President cannot do it alone.

Here’s what you can do (and if you’ve already done it once, please do it again):

  • Call the US House: 202-224-3121. If you’re not sure who your member of Congress is, find him or her by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).
  • Call the US Senate: 202-224-3121. If you’re not sure who your Senators are, find them by clicking here (if you’d rather send an email, you’ll find that information here, too).
  • Call the White House : 202-456-1111 Let President Obama know that  you support his efforts, and encourage him to continue to fight the fight.

Sample script/letter:

Hi, I’m calling from [location], and I just wanted to make sure that President Obama/Senator XXXXX/Representative XXXXX knows that I support the White House gun control initiative. I think that things like background checks, limits on magazine capacity, and a ban on assault weapons are common sense, and I think it’s so important to also work with inner city communities to address their particular needs — less than 1% of urban populations are responsible for about 70% of all shootings in cities, and it’s tragic that so many people are held hostage to that violence.

Useful resources:

Please call. The President’s righteous anger and dedication is not enough — this is our job. Please call.

h/t Steve Benen at Maddow Blog.

Wonder Woman Car. I repeat: WONDER WOMAN CAR.

Kia has created a Wonder Woman-themed Sportage to help build awareness for the We Can Be Heroes campaign, a philanthropic effort to aid the people in the Horn of Africa, who are still living through the region’s worst hunger crisis in 60 years (click here to read more about We Can Be Heroes, and as this isn’t Kia’s first superhero design for the campaign, click here to see the other cars).

And this, my friends, this is what a Wonder Woman car looks like…!

Wonder-Woman-Kia-Sportage-front-profile*

Wonder-Woman-Kia-Sportage-front-three-quarter-view*

Wonder-Woman-Kia-Sportage-front-seats-732x1024

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Wonder-Woman-Kia-Sportage-dash

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Wonder-Woman-Kia-Sportage-rear-cargo

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I know I should want to be able to help the people in the Horn of Africa regardless, but honestly — I really, really want this car…!

Source: World of Superheroesh/t @SonofBaldwin

Fantasy Seder – like Fantasy Football. Only nerdier.

Jon Stewart at a table that is clearly not a Seder Table as there are rolls present.

Jon Stewart at a table that is clearly not a Seder Table as there are rolls present.

Americans have a penchant for making lists and imagining scrupulously constructed alternate realities in which we, the individual Americans, play a central role. Dungeons and Dragons comes to mind, as does Fantasy Football. Not to mention the List of Five popularized by Friends.

Which is the closest I can come to an explanation for the fact that if you were to look closely at the insides of my brain you would find—tucked behind all the other brick-a-bat—my Fantasy Seder List. Because (apparently) being an egghead who likes a good Ottoman joke isn’t quite nerdy enough.

The rules undergirding the Fantasy Seder are as simple as they are few: To make it in the imaginary door, the potential guest has to be 1) Jewish (duh); 2) alive (double duh); and 3) a complete stranger to me (this is why we call it “a fantasy” and not “an actual guest list”).

Jon Stewart.

I figured I should just get that out of the way, because of course Jon Stewart. I’m an American Jew of a decidedly liberal bent with delusions of low-brow intellectualism. Of course Jon Stewart. The only reason he’s not on my List of Five is because I’m afraid I’d fall in love, and then where would my marriage be? Fantasy Seder it is.

And if Jon Stewart, then Adam Sandler. Sandler and Stewart go way back, and it’s always nice when people have friends at a party!

Now, I will confess that there exists a not inconsiderable handful of Sandler movies of which I am… not a fan. But I did like Zohan and Fifty First Dates, and I loved Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People—but more importantly, every time I see him interviewed, I’m impressed with one very simple fact: Adam Sandler is a mensch. It oozes from his pores, you can see it plain as day. I think he’d be ferrying food to the table, and trying to help ease my nerves. And I’d be apologizing awkwardly for admitting in public that I’m not a huge fan of some of his movies, because frankly, that wasn’t very nice of me.

Here the list grows a little more random: Peter Himmelman — semi-obscure rocker with a decades-spanning career, scorer of popular TV shows such as Bones and Men in Trees, Grammy-nominated children’s performer, son-in-law to Bob Dylan (yes, really), and Orthodox-ish. Himmelman is very, very invited. According to one of my favorite radio DJs of all time (Terri Hemmert, WXRT-Chicago, not Jewish, so not invited), he’s a fascinating conversationalist who’s as likely to talk about philosophy and theology as he is about rock n’ roll or his kids. Heck, I’d even have the event catered for him, as I suspect my Conservative Movement kitchen might not be kosher enough.

The Gyllenhaal siblings are also a shoo-in, though I fear I would jibber and jabber—and possibly giggle—over Jake. Given that I presume my husband will also be attending (not to mention Jon Stewart), fingers crossed that I keep that in check. And Maggie—the presence of Jake’s way-too-cool-for-the-likes-of-me sister might also impose a certain respectability. One can only hope.

And oh, oh! Barney Frank! Totally! I would feel not nearly smart enough to talk with him directly, but I would love to her him chatting with, say, Peter Himmelman. Or with Jack Black! Who is, of course, also invited. Can you imagine Barney Frank and Jack Black conversating over the harosest? Dude. To be a fly on that wall!

And you know Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan will have their invitations printed on the good stationary—but I don’t think I’d let them sit next to each other. Or next to Barney Frank. They’d start talking about the other Justices, or get going on DC insider-baseball, and we’d all be like, “What up Elena, Barney, and Ruth Bader? Talk with the rest of the class!” No, we’ll have to scatter the Washington types amongst the entertainers. I’ll make a note.

Finally, Terry Gross. First of all, she knows everything but is utterly charming about it. Second of all, she really, really likes musicals. Third of all, if there’s anyone on earth who could keep a conversation going among such an odd group of weirdly gathered individuals, you know it would be her.

And there’s your minyan! Mind you, my family and I round the number up to 14, which is neither round nor has any meaning in our religious tradition, but whatevs. If I can get Jon, Adam, Peter, Maggie, Jake, Barney, Jack, Elena, Ruth, and Terry to come to my house? I’ll deal with it.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

What does “pro-Israel” mean in 2013?

Last weekend I was lucky enough to take part in the J Street U Student Summit, speaking on a panel that addressed the above question. It was a real honor to be asked to participate, and I was so impressed with the level of discourse and engagement shown by everyone present. Following are my notes for what I said on the panel (I tried not to read directly from the page, so if you were there, it might have come out a little differently! But this is what I meant).

Thanks for having me, J Street U!

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j-street-u-logoFirst of all, whenever I have to write or speak about the term “pro-Israel” I like to start by saying what the term means to me, and to do that, I kind of have to break it down to a granular level.

For me, the first question has to be: Do we accept the paradigm of nationalism? The international community has been organized along national lines for over a century now, and there’s very little reason to believe that will change in the near future. This is not without its problems and I can understand why some people have decided to reject nationalism all together. Having said that, I’m not among those people, and I further think it’s important to work with people and nations where they actually are, not where they might someday be. And nationalism is, in fact, the international community’s organizing principle.

Then my next question has to be: Do I accept the notion of a Jewish nation? When the idea of nationalism first emerged in the late 19th century, Jews had long shared a language, a culture, and a land – the very building blocks of modern nationalism. The fact that the Jewish people hadn’t lived on their land for centuries wasn’t a choice, it was the result of a rolling genocide that ultimately failed. So yes, to my mind, by any measure, ancient or modern: The Jewish people constitute a nation.

These questions are important to clarify for ourselves when we have today’s conversation because the State of Israel is the successful outcome of the Jewish national movement, aka: Zionism. When I say that I am “pro-Israel,” what I’m saying is that I am in full support of Jewish nationalism and thus in full support of the fact of a Jewish State.

What I am not saying is that I am, by definition, in full support of a particular Israeli government or governmental policy.

This goes to the very heart of the notion of democracy and pluralism: Can I support a political body with which I identify, and yet reject the decisions of the people elected to lead that body for a certain time?

And here’s where we run headlong into the American “pro-Israel” establishment, or what my boss Peter Beinart once referred to as “the carnivorous world of politicized Israel devotion” – people who have appointed themselves, and for a long time were largely accepted as, the gatekeepers of what it means to be pro-Israel.

Over the years, the acceptable working definition of pro-Israel – and with greater and greater frequency, the acceptable working definition of “real Judaism” – has become an ever-narrower version of toeing the line laid down by the government of Israel as expressed through its policies.

We can’t avoid the fact, though, that this thinking didn’t apply to Yitzhak Rabin or his efforts toward a two-state peace via the Oslo Accords – in the mid-1990s, AIPAC coordinated with Netanyahu against Rabin and against Oslo.

This is our sign that the self-appointed guardians of pro-Israel discourse, and the people with the money who fund them, are not (as they present themselves) disinterested parties worried solely for Israel’s best, but are a group of real people actually have strong opinions about what they think Israel needs. And they think (I believe genuinely, for whatever that’s worth) that what is best for Israel is a kind of management of the conflict, in which the Palestinians and various other parties are forever kept at a distrusting arm’s length.

Sadly, these folks are increasingly involved with, or in fact represent, the American far right, as well, and as a result, the politics of “what’s good for Israel” has gotten terribly entangled with the question of “what does the far right think America should do with its power in the world?”

I simply can’t accept that any of this is, in fact, good for Israel, in no small part because it presumes endless war. On the contrary, it is this Zionist’s opinion that continuing to conduct Israel’s affairs in a state of low-boil ethnic anxiety can only lead to national disaster, and I mean that quite literally: I’m fairly well convinced that if we don’t manage to achieve a two-state solution in the next decade or so, history will look back on the Jewish State as yet another in a long list of Jewish disasters.

So I would say that for people who call themselves pro-Israel but do not identify with the traditional standard bearers of that title, we need to do two things simultaneously:

We need refuse to let other people frame this conversation for us, and we need to continue to engage with and criticize Israeli policies that we feel to be a danger to Israel itself.

When we are accused of being self-hating, or pro-Hamas, or neo-Nazis, or even just naïve, we need to politely reject the characterization, restate our position as caring deeply for Israel’s future – and continue with the work of advocating for a future that will include peace and justice. As Americans, we need to tell our politicians and institutions in positions of power – again and again and again – that the old definition of “pro-Israel” simply does not apply, and those people do not speak for us.

For my money, one of the most powerful things we can do is simply to stand up and be counted – to refuse to be silenced by those who would accuse us of ill-intent, and furthermore to refuse to be cowed by their opposite numbers on the left who want to shame us for loving Israel in the first place. As someone who actively advocates for the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state, I cannot accept the idea that my people deserve anything less.

The State of Israel is a legitimate political entity, and within its internationally recognized borders, it is a democratic entity. We are told in nearly every Jewish setting in which we ever find ourselves that we belong to Israel, and Israel belongs to all the Jews.

If that’s the case, then we have a right to an opinion, and we have a right to disagree with the politicians currently in Israel’s government. Thus to my mind, the logical extension of being pro-Israel is working for what we know to be best for the Jewish State, in spite of what other Jews may tell us.

Obama and Netanyahu as Bobbleheads.

Curious about President Obama’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority? Behold! The Israeli Embassy in Washington is here to help!

The Embassy produced a short video in advance of the trip, which, in the spirit of our times, is meant to both inform and amuse. You’ll find it below, but just in case you’re stuck in a super boring meeting, one of those meetings at which reading the Internet is possible but watching videos would be déclassé, let me describe it for you!

Air Force One takes off—and all of North Africa and the Middle East begins to quake! All except for the Gaza Strip, which has literally disappeared from the map (maybe it fell off when the quaking began?). As the plane comes in for a landing, it sounds very much as if it might crash, which serves as an unfortunately apt metaphor for my own fears surrounding the trip, but I’m sure that was unintentional.

We zoom over an Israel that includes all of the West Bank (though there is a very neatly drawn white line around it) and the Golan Heights (no line). Thereupon follows animation of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama mouthing lines from old speeches and looking unnervingly like two moderately creepy Bobbleheads. Smiles! Handshake!

And then we move into what is presumably Netanyahu’s office—they’re reading newspapers! As world leaders do when they get together! And to the strains of (hand to God I am not making this up) the Golden Girls theme song, Bibi and Barack drop the newspapers, smile, make a move as if they’re about to make out—and shake hands again! Fade out, as the words “The United States & Israel Ultimate Allies” come up on the screen.

Not just allies, not even “major strategic partners” as some (*cough* AIPAC *cough*) would have Congress rebrand the relationship—no, no! We Are The Ultimate Allies!

…aaaand scene. You’re welcome.

Through Jennifer Rubin’s looking glass.

jennifer rubinJennifer Rubin, like many on her side of the political map, seems to have not yet gotten the memo that building and maintaining alternate realities, while a pleasant enough hobby, is not necessarily useful in the non-entertainment professions. I say this because in Rubin World, the President of the United States is apparently going to Israel to make up for a single paragraph in a speech he delivered four years ago, in which he (ill-advisedly, I agree) made it sound as if Israel was established because of the Holocaust.

Never mind that the paragraph in question echoed exactly and precisely the rhetoric of both official Israel and the American Jewish establishment. In Rubin World, the Cairo event was “the speech that set off four years of ill feelings and mistrust.” It’s remarkable that Obama could do all that hard work all by himself.

The fact that the Israeli government has consistently greeted the arrival of American officials with renewed settlement expansion, for instance, has nothing to do with it. Neither does the fact that even during the supposed ten-month construction freeze,Israel didn’t actually stop the construction. This is because in Rubin World, the settlement project is not (as it is in Reality) an abrogation of international law and previous Israeli commitments to the United States (among other parties)—it is, merely, “building.” Rubin also writes that settlements have “never an impediment to peace talks under prior administrations,” rather creating the impression that the peace talks in question are to be held with the U.S., and not, in fact, the people on whose land Israel has been building all these years.

Rubin further tweaks Obama for “belittling” Netanyahu and his government (by which I can only imagine she means “disagreeing with”), but doesn’t seem concerned about Netanyahu’s open support for Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential campaign. Attempting to interfere in American elections might not rise to the level of “belittling,” but surely it might have added to the tension?

And then there’s Jerusalem.

Jennifer Rubin writes, with what I can only assume is a straight face, that Obama has put himself

in constant conflict with a country which can never agree not to allow Jews to live anywhere in its historic capital. (The notion that East Jerusalem should remain Judenfrei is an all-to-familiar assumption on the anti-Israel left…).

Whew. Let’s start with the fact that literally one paragraph after complaining about Obama’s mis-characterization of the Holocaust, Rubin leans on Holocaust imagery to paint the President as—what? An ersatz Nazi?

Then let’s examine her use of the word “historical”—to which history is Rubin referring? If she means the Jewish people’s historical holy city—roughly equivalent to the walled portion of Jerusalem known as the Old City—then she’s not talking about the current Municipality of Jerusalem.

Even if she’s talking about the city as it existed when Israel conquered the Palestinian neighborhoods and surrounding villages in 1967, she’s still not talking about the city as currently constituted. Indeed, at no time in history has Jerusalem looked like it does now: it’s three times bigger than the “reunited” city was in 1967, and a hundred times larger than it was a century ago. The area that we all rather inaccurately call “East Jerusalem” is not historically Jewish—most of it isn’t even historically Jerusalem.

And finally, “the anti-Israel left.” All I can really say to that is that Rubin needs to get out more.

I spent this past weekend at the J Street U Student Summit, where hundreds of highly motivated Lovers of Zion (a number of them wearing kippot) were discussing how best to save the Jewish State from its own worst impulses. In their advocacy, these American college students echo the work being done in Israel by Jews born and raised in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, Jews ranging from noted peacenik Amos Oz to noted former head of the Shin Bet Ami Ayalon. Is Rubin honestly suggesting that when all of these people say that Israel will have to share Jerusalem to save itself, they are “anti-Israel?”

I suppose she is, in fact, honestly suggesting that. I do not for one minute doubt Jennifer Rubin’s sincerity.

Her grasp on reality, on the other hand, is a different matter. I take heart, though, from how desperately wrong Rubin was on the Chuck Hagel nomination—again and again, and again, and again. To judge from that example, Obama and Netanyahu will be using the Presidential visit to announce a two-state agreement with a shared Jerusalem as its centerpiece.

As we say in our prayers: Ken yehi ratzon—may it be God’s will.

Crossposted from The Daily Beast/Open Zion.

The power of silence vs. the power of talking.

If reading about rape will trigger you, please respect your own limitations. If you need to talk to someone about any sexual assault or abuse that you or someone you love may have experienced, please call RAINN: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

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shhThe fact that the world is talking about the horrible events in Steubenville is, to put it mildly, an unusual thing. Usually, sexual assault is wrapped in silence.

The silence of social niceties, the silence of discomfort, the silence of fear. Many survivors don’t talk because they’re ashamed, or because they were told they’d be killed if they do. Many don’t want the assault to take up any more of their time than it already has, and many are sure no one wants to listen. Many can’t yet find the words to tell the world what happened.

But it’s been my experience, as a rape crisis counselor and friend of survivors, male and female, that breaking that silence is one of the most powerful tools there is for dealing with the events survivors grapple with — whether it be the assault, or the assault’s aftermath.

Moreover, telling the truth — giving voice to the lived reality of millions upon millions of women and girls, men and boys — is one of the most powerful weapons there is for dealing with those who would deny the realities of rape.

To that end, I present today a guest post, a monologue written by a woman I know named Danielle.

Writing this piece was one of the ways that Danielle has found to grapple with what happened to her. She hasn’t yet performed the piece nor seen it performed, but she hasn’t ruled out the possibility. When I asked her if I could put it on my site, here’s what she said:

I went back and forth on whether to put it out there, because some part of me fears judgment for what happened. However, that is exactly the reason to do it. Women don’t speak up, aren’t honest, because of the fear of judgment. And, maybe it is time to add to the voices that say, “Not anymore.” What happened to me affected me in a major way, but I am not defined by it, nor do I continue to carry it with me like baggage. It happened. It changed me. But, it didn’t ruin me. And, if sharing it can help someone else, then yes, let’s do it.

If you have a story you would like to share, please do so in the comments or send me an email (contact information in the About page, to the right). I promise you, this space will be safe. There will be no trolling here.

Note: I first ran this post in the wake of Lara Logan’s rape in Tahrir Square. It seemed entirely appropriate to run it again this week.

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This is written as a monologue to be delivered to an audience, part acting, part performance art (I wrote it in the style of a Chicago performance troupe the NeoFuturists). Everything in italics is stage direction.
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(she walks slowly from upstage, in clothing slightly too big for her to give the effect of it almost falling off. a clear glass filled with bright pink liquid is in her hand. she is slightly unsteady, but not “drunk”…she may or may not sit down at the lip of the stage)

You made my second drink. (beat) I had a small buzz from the first…but yours tasted like rubbing alcohol. A quarter of the way through, my words began to slur. Halfway done, I couldn’t stand. (pause) “Drink up!” (stares into the glass, at the last bit of the drink…slams it back, then considers the empty glass for a moment–beat) Then I lost my sight.

You didn’t notice me trying to fade into the couch, to pass out with what dignity I could muster. When you pulled me toward you, I saw it in the distance, like when you see a tv on in someone’s home as you drive by. (beat) I pulled away. Did you notice? (pause) Your weight came down upon me as if it had always been there and I wondered if you realized that reciprocity had triumphed over reason. Your hands moving mine to you, my body a vessel for your desires, for I had none of my own. Blind, deaf, and dumb, just as a puppet should be. I followed you outside, stumbling, wondering what I could sacrifice in the name of Not Making A Scene. My clothing peeling off like shedding skin as I tried to keep it close, as if it could still protect me. But shed skin is dead skin and unchecked lust knows few bounds. Your weight pushing against me, supported by elbows abraded by fabric. I had the scars for a week. Did you hear my answer in the silence that followed your questions? Did you see me trying not to cry as you kissed my back, feigning tenderness? When you fell out, did you hear me whisper a quiet thank you, only to breathe it back in when you found your way again? Did you see the face in the window, interrupting us? No, that was only in my mind. I didn’t look you in the eye, but if I had, would you have noticed? My powers came back to me as it ended; however, too little, too late. Task completed, you bounded off with lip service, but not a second look. As you searched for scraps of food in the kitchen, I searched for scraps of myself.

You didn’t notice, did you?

Neither did I.