Saturday, January 14, 2006

More Shabbos Musings

14 January 2006
Tel Aviv

In The Rhythm of Life

This week Liz and I got into a rhythm of living in Tel Aviv. We go to Ulpan five nights. Liz is now so good that she can translate between a woman who speaks French and a butcher who speaks only Hebrew. She does La Soba twice a week and we both go to Beit Noar twice a week. Other days are spent finding a museum or just setting up shop in a café and doing our Ulpan homework while we eat and drink. Food and coffee have definitely been upgraded here from 13 years ago. Life here today is a matter of so many cafes and so little time. I asked the rental agent to get us this place for four months (December through March) next year and am waiting for an answer.

Someone donated an old, beat up guitar to Beit Noar Kadima. It came with strings that were more rust than steel so I put on a new set. I've used the guitar to teach some kids an Israeli song in English (Bashanah Habaah – Next Year – a pop classic here). One of the kids was Orli, one of my girls from the talent show. Orli has a good ear and really should be getting music lessons. This may be something her family can’t afford and the local community center can’t provide. I’m going to make inquiries. Jeff’s backpacker guitar is great to travel with but having a full sized guitar just feels better. My ambition is to buy an airline proof guitar case and bring my Gibson. My guitar went to Woodstock and deserves a trip to Israel.

Football Shabbos

Becky came home from Marva for the weekend, bringing four friends from her base (two of whom were in Hatikvah with her). Plus Deborah who is working in a school in Acco came back for a second weekend, needing to decompress from dealing with troubled kids and having to do it in Hebrew. This all meant that Liz spent three days cooking chickens, brisket (a real adventure in using her Hebrew as no one at the Supersol knows what brust deckle is), noodle pudding, mandel bread, soup and lots of veggies. But mostly we are eating strawberries. Strawberries are in season here and they are delicious. Every time Liz passed another vendor in the shouk their strawberries looked better than the last vendor’s (and they would, of course, assure her that such was the case). So she came home with about four times as many strawberries as she set out to buy. This turned out to be a good thing as the feeding frenzy lasted for about a day and a half.

Becky regaled us with the tale of getting to fire an M-16 both during the day and at night (she couldn’t see the sights let alone the target). Also learning to crawl without putting any body parts up where they can be shot off. And lots of other good Army stuff. Her next assignment is to run a seminar about what they will encounter in the north. This would not be hard as Becky has written and given many Peulot (which I think is Young Judaean for educational programs). Only this time all the information is written in Hebrew and her partner is a lovely young woman from Spain who speaks no English (to go with Becky’s complete lack of Spanish). How this seminar gets done is a bit of a mystery but I think the concept is that one of Becky’s friends can read Hebrew (Thank G-d for Day Schools) while the Spanish girl’s boyfriend knows English. Well, the Army commander ordered this one up so we’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, later tonight we get a bit of home right here in our Tel Aviv living room. The NFL playoffs are shown live on the European version of Fox Sports and something called METV. Last week I watched the Giants self-destruct. This week we get Washington and Seattle at 23:30 and, for insomniacs and the truly obsessed fans, Denver and New England at 03:00. Maybe if I get up early I can catch the last quarter.

Bibi and Robertson, Perfect Together

For the record, Israeli politicians are still holding off campaigning out of consideration for Sharon’s condition. In reality this means that they don’t openly impugn one another’s maternal heritage. Meanwhile, the campaigns are in full swing as various parties get their lists together or just implode before our very eyes.

Last Thursday was a fun day for Likudniks. First, Bibi once again ordered the four remaining Likud ministers to resign. Bibi wanted them out of the cabinet before the Likud Central Committee voted Thursday night to nominate the party list for the March elections. Silvan Shalom’s people (he was Foreign Minister) took a public shot right back and said that Bibi might be party chairman (a post he got by default after Sharon left (or was driven out) of the party) but he’s not the boss of the cabinet ministers. So Bibi had to sit down with Shalom and basically apologize. Shalom, in the interest of party unity, and also because he was already guaranteed the number 2 spot on the list, agreed to resign but on Friday, not Thursday. So Likud gave up the Foreign, Education, Agriculture and Health ministries. This allows Bibi to run as the leader of the opposition. He also gets the bullet proof Mercedes and the perks. His four former ministers will be lucky to get re-elected as MKs. Sharon’s people, also not actively campaigning, pointed out to any reporter who would listen (which is most of them as the Sharon story is getting to be dull – Ariel is unconscious and its unlikely his condition is going to change any time soon) that this is another example of Bibi being unable to take any pressure and quitting rather than standing up for his beliefs. Good thing the campaigns are in abeyance or this could really get nasty.

Before we leave Bibi, his people somehow got the Times reporter to deny that Bibi said that Bibi is the true inheritor of Sharon. The Times man says that he made the remark as part of his own write up of the interview. Well maybe yes and maybe no. I saw the CNN International interview that Bibi gave the same day and there’s no doubt but that he was claiming to be the real inheritor of Sharon. Given that Bibi’s people cut off Sharon’s microphone and literally drove him out of the Likud Central Committee this goes beyond farce to true comedy.

As long as we are speaking of sleazeoids, Pat Robertson rides again. First he tells his 700 Club audience that Sharon’s illness is a punishment from G-d inflicted as divine retribution for pulling out of Gaza. Israel’s response was to cut off negotiations for an Evangelical Christian center in the Galilee. Evangelicals are usually well treated in Israel. First, they provide strong political support in Washington, which translates into serious foreign and military aid. Second, they provide a lot of tourist dollars. Telling the Evangelicals that a $50 million dollar religious center won’t receive the necessary permits (or the land from the government) is serious business. Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network is one of a number of Evangelical organizations that are on board for the project. Faced with the loss of a new, major source of fund raising, its obvious that the other partners in the project prevailed on Robertson to do the Christian thing and apologize. Of course, his apology was in writing to one of Sharon’s sons, the Israeli Ambassador to the US and released to a bunch of newspapers, none of which Robertson’s hard core followers will read because Robertson has convinced them that any non-Christian news source is a cover for Satan, Communists, Liberals and other evil doers. What Robertson did not do was apologize on the 700 Club (at least no news report indicates that this happened). Also, he apologizes like Palestinians condemn terrorism. He says he’s sorry that ill-considered words caused pain to the family of such a wonderful friend as Sharon, but he doesn’t say that just maybe Sharon’s illness is not divine retribution for giving up a piece of Greater Israel. Meanwhile, it’s not clear that the Evangelical Center is going to go forward. Kadima controls all the cabinet ministries, thanks to Bibi, and those folks are still not happy. My bet is that eventually the center gets built but after the elections and a bit more groveling from Pat.

Israel and the Evangelicals have a relationship that should cause Jews to be more concerned than we are. Yes, Israel needs all the friends it can get but do you really want to be in bed with Pat Robertson and the rest of the Christian Right. Even the Bush White House is distancing itself from him. Also, the reason Evangelicals support Israel is the Book of Revelations. For those of you who haven’t made it that far in your biblical readings, Revelations goes into the details of what has to happen before Christ returns and the new, final Kingdom of G-d on Earth gets going. Before any of the good stuff, however, a whole lot of bad stuff goes on. Part of the action requires that the Jews return to Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular and re-establish the Jewish state. We will, when JC shows up, all admit our guilt and convert. This is not exactly what we Jews have in mind. In the meanwhile, the Evangelicals try to make themselves helpful and, times being what they are it’s hard to turn away the help. I think Malcolm Hoenlein, the Executive Director (I think) of the Organization of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (don’t you love that name?), probably has the best take on the Evangelicals. Malcolm suggests that, for today, we need all the friends we can get in Washington (and some tourist bucks never hurts). When the Messiah comes, if it turns out that the Jews are right, none of this will matter. If it turns out that the Evangelicals are right, Malcolm will apologize.

Meanwhile several parties that once were able to influence government policy by joining or quitting a coalition seem on the verge of becoming irrelevant if not disappearing altogether. Among these are Shinnui, which used to be the main centrist party run by a former TV announcer named Tommy Lapid. Last spring Lapid, who for years whenever he was in the governing coalition had decried parties (usually Shas and other religious parties) that would black mail the Prime Minister for money for their pet projects in return for enough votes to adopt a budget. So, last Spring Lapid goes ahead and blackmails Sharon into cutting off funds for Shas projects and adding nearly a billion shekels to Lapid's favored activities in return for enough votes to pass the budget. You’d think someone so shameless would be rewarded with re-election. But Lapid’s party will be lucky to have any seats in the next Knesset and Lapid himself has lost so much support within his own ranks that he may quit the party and form his own party. If he leaves with a majority of current party MKs he gets to keep the party name. So Shinnui will split from Shinnui and run against Shinnui. Shinnui, by the way, means Change. How can you not love this stuff?

And, speaking of religious parties, the two religious Zionist parties, National Religious and National Union, have been told by every pollster they pay that if they unite they’ll get twice as many seats as they separately have now. If they don’t unite, they may not get enough votes to have any seats. So, of course, their unity talks have broken down over how gets to head the list (they resolved all the substantive policy issues). Actually, there is some poetic justice here, if not divine retribution (one would hope that G-d has a low tolerance for arrogant asses). The religious parties have over the years gained control of funding for religious education. They then put all the funds into their Yeshivas and leave nothing for public, secular schools. As a result they have raised a generation or two of Israelis who haven’t a clue why Israel is what it is or where it is. They get some inkling of this when they go into the Army as the Army is smart enough to know that you really do need to give an 18 year a good reason why he or she may have to do something that is likely to get them killed. But the sad truth is that the Jewish education of most secular Israelis isn’t even up to the sorry state of such education for too many American B’nai Mitzvahs. And it’s the religious who are a root cause of the problem.

While I’m ranting about the religious parties, the other problem they have caused involves the sorry records of failing to convert immigrants who are not Jewish under Jewish law (Halakah). Here’s the disconnect. Under the Law of Return anyone who would have been a candidate for a Nazi death camp may claim citizenship in Israel. This group is defined as anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent (the definition used by the Nazis). Halachically, a Jew is anyone with a Jewish mother (let’s not get into the Reform movement’s usage of patrilineal descent). The Orthodox have a monopoly on conversions done inside Israel and, by order of the Supreme Court and directions from the appropriate ministries, are supposed to be expediting the conversions of thousands of immigrants who came here, mostly from the former Soviet Union, under the Law of Return (to say nothing of their non-Jewish spouses who came as family members). The Orthodox do very few conversions every year because, instead of merely insisting on a Halachically correct conversion they want the immigrant to agree to adopt an observant life style satisfactory to the Orthodox. At this point most immigrants (many of whom come from places where it was illegal to live as Jews) just shrug and forget about it. So, Israel is taking in more people but fewer of them are actually Jewish. It’s a good thing we let the Orthodox call the shots, isn’t it?

Finally, the highlight of the week was a proposal from one of Sharon’s campaign managers that Sharon be kept in the first position on the Kadima list. Olmert would be announced as the party’s candidate for Prime Minister but Sharon would head the list. Setting aside the fact that Sharon has until February 7 to wake up and sign a declaration that he wants to run for the Knesset and accepts the first position on the Kadima list, just about everyone thought that this was not a constructive suggestion. The proposal was shot down as a flagrant attempt to play on the sympathy Sharon now gets because he is sick. Bibi’s people joined this chorus. Just one day after Bibi tried to do the same thing. Of course, the polls show that Kadima would probably still get 40 or more Mandates. Personally, I love the thought of Bibi losing the election to someone with the mental and physical capacity of a bowl of Jello.

And here is the rest of it.

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