Dear Canadians – I got you some cake.

Happy Canada Day!

Canada Day cake

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Israel’s addiction to military force, its only response in times of crisis.

People have short memories. It’s an all-too-human quality that frankly allows politics to continue. But even so, there are times when Israelis’ short-term memory loss can leave me breathless.

When three yeshiva students were kidnapped two weeks ago, the collective response was immediate, and visceral: Bring the boys home, and spare no effort, no matter how costly or violent. The nation’s security forces leapt into action, and Israelis’ prayers were mixed with palpable rage. Few worried that dozens and then hundreds of people – Palestinians -were being swept up in a massive and indiscriminate dragnet; few paused to consider the efficacy or ethics of raiding well more than a thousand targets, including private homesuniversities, and media outlets; few questioned the wisdom of using live fire against those who dared protest it all, killing (among others) a 15-year old boy and a mentally unstable man on his way to morning prayers. Military spokesman Peter Lerner told us, and few questioned it, that the government and military “are committed to resolving the kidnapping and debilitating Hamas terrorist capacities, its infrastructure and its recruiting institutions.”

And perhaps – perhaps – if these methods had successfully resolved past abductions, if the forces intent on grabbing Israelis had abated, perhaps we could at least understand the impetus, struggle as we might with the unending horror of this unending war. But the simple fact is that all of these methods, all of them, have been used time and again, and all have failed spectacularly.

To continue reading, please click through to Haaretz.

“Why can’t ‘run like a girl’ also mean ‘win the race’?”

Thanks to @blazing over on Twitter, I just welled up watching the following, what amounts to an ad for Always feminine products.

I’ve thought about the phrase “like a girl” a lot, and every time I do, it makes me furious. It’s belittling and dehumanizing and deeply destructive, for girls and boys alike (click here to read me talking a little bit about all that) and I’m genuinely glad and grateful that Always decided to take it on. I’m already a customer, so I can’t say that I’ll switch brands or anything now, but I would if I could! Thanks, Always.

Why does the UN love these Israeli caves? Jesus Christ Superstar, obvs!

What makes a place so special that it might be considered the inheritance of all humanity — a World Heritage site, as it were?

If you were to consult UNESCO’s list of World Heritage criteria, you would see that the international body that determines such status considers ten benchmarks. Does the site “bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization,” for instance, does it “contain superlative natural phenomena”? All those things are, no doubt, very important.

But when it comes to one of the most recent additions to the U.N.’s list, Israel’s Beit Guvrin Bell Caves, there’s even less doubt as to what the real reason was: “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Oh, you won’t find a hint of the rock opera in UNESCO’s announcement, or in any of the various press reports — but trust me.

The Bell Caves served as the location par excellence for a crucial early set piece in the 1973 film version of the musical, directed by Norman Jewison. The disciples and their women have set up camp (goats and all) more or less at the feet of Jesus, and are exuberantly demanding to know (in the parlance of the time): “What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happenin’!” Jesus insists that even if they knew the path they trod, they wouldn’t understand, but the excited acolytes will not be dissuaded. Mary Magdalene comes along and soothes Jesus with a cool face-and-foot wash, and Jesus allows as only she knows what he really needs.

But then! A drastic tonal change: In comes Judas….

To read the rest, please click through to The Forward.

Israel & gay cash + Israelis distance themselves from settlements – kinda.

I was away! But now I’m back. And while I was away, I wrote the following two pieces for The Forward:

1) Israel Loves Gay Cash — Just Not Gay Marriage: 

What do you reckon is the busiest time of year for Tel Aviv’s hotels — maybe the High Holidays? Perhaps Christmas/New Year’s, when America’s families are on vacation? How about Gay Pride Week?

Bingo!

…Tel Aviv’s message is clear: Come, have fun! We love your party attitude and your wallet!

To which Israel’s national government can only add: Just don’t fall in love and try to get married.

Even as Tel Aviv was raking in that sweet, sweet gay cash, a few miles away in Jerusalem the Knesset spent Wednesday rejecting a marriage equality bill…. To read the rest, click here.

2) Would Israelis Be Kidnapped If Not For Settlements?

On Monday the New York Times reported that the recent abduction of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank has raised a “hushed debate [within Israeli society] over the conduct of Jewish settlers.”

While I think it’s fair to point out that Israel’s reactions to the kidnappings have been marked more by anger and prayer than debate (however hushed), the simple fact that any questions whatsoever have been posed in conversation with an American reporter is significant and reflects a broader shift in attitudes toward the settlement project.

Earlier this month, Justice Minister (and one-time right-wing stalwart) Tzipi Livni was quite blunt: “It’s time to say things exactly as they are: The settlement enterprise is a security, economic and moral burden that is aimed at preventing us from ever coming to [a peace agreement].” Moreover, a recent study found that a growing majority of Israelis no longer support that enterprise.

It’s important to note, however, that if the citizenry shares Livni’s general sense of disapproval, they do not appear to share her reasoning: 71% of those surveyed say settler violence against Israel’s military keeps them from “identifying with” their settler brethren; 59% say the settlements are bad for Israel’s relationship with the U.S. The violence of some settlers against Palestinians, the financial drain on Israel’s increasingly inequitable society, or the obstacle that settlements pose to achieving a workable resolution of the conflict do not appear to be major concerns. In fact, while 52% support a full or partial withdrawal from occupied territory in the framework of an accord with the Palestinian Authority, 31% support full or partial annexation — where the difference lies between partial withdrawal and partial annexation is unclear…. To read the rest, click here.

Gay, ultra-Orthodox – and married.

What do you do if you’re ultra-Orthodox and gay? You almost certainly hide.

On Thursday, Israeli daily Yediot reported new figures released by religious-gay support group Hod indicating that “two-thirds of ultra-Orthodox homosexuals [in Israel] have chosen to marry women despite their sexual inclination”; almost all of the more than 1,100 men included in Hod’s report admitted to having sex with other men at least once a month.

According to Hod founder Ron Yosef, an Orthodox rabbi and gay activist:

The situation of homosexuals in the Haredi society is much more difficult because of the social isolation they live in. A gay Haredi man cannot share his situation with his friends in the community or the yeshiva, his family members or rabbis, and “coming out of the closet” is definitely inconceivable.

To read the rest of this, please go to The Forward.

I’m No One’s ‘Heretic’

Last Wednesday we learned that, while speaking at a fundraising gala for the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, head of that organization, slandered virtually every Jew on the planet, down to and including a bunch of plain-old-Orthodox folks. We were told that attendees of the event were “stunned.”

“The Torah must be guarded from the secular forces that seek to corrupt its values and the lives of [Jews], from intruders who sometimes in the name of Judaism completely subvert and destroy the eternal values of our people,” Perlow said. And also: “[The Reform and Conservative Movements] have disintegrated themselves, become oblivious, fallen into an abyss of intermarriage and assimilation. They have no future, they almost have no present.” And furthermore, the Open Orthodoxy movement is “steeped in apikorsos [heresy].”

It was quite the little speech. But stunned? Really? Attendees were stunned? Do they not get out much?

Perlow heads an organization that is, by definition, extremist. They believe themselves to be upholding the strictest, and thus most correct, interpretation of God’s own Divine law; they believe that the existence of the Jewish people, the coming of Messiah, and quite possibly the world itself depends on the painstaking observance of that interpretation — which is not, in their understanding, an interpretation at all, but simply Jewish law, halakhah.

Of course he thinks you’re a bad Jew — no, I’m sorry, not a “bad Jew.” He thinks that you’re a literal danger to Judaism itself. You have come — yes, you! — to “subvert and destroy the eternal values” of the Jewish people. You! (Unless you happen to be Haredi, and Perlow’s kind of Haredi at that, in which case, welcome to Forward Thinking, we try to be a very welcoming blog).

To finish reading this, please go to The Forward.