Monday 1 October 2007

If women ruled shul...

It has often been said that if women ruled the world, there would be no war, no terrorism, and far less poverty. Although there’s no evidence to suggest that this is indeed true, men have been running the show for a while now, and it’s pretty fair to say that they’ve made an almighty mess of it. I’ve also got a sneaky suspicion that if women controlled religion, there would be a lot more common sense involved in the whole affair. If women ran the Beit Din, the chances are that there would be far more order and sensitivity associated with marriage, divorce and conversion. That’s for sure.

When it comes to Succot, I’ve often wondered what it would be like if roles were reversed. I always get a little stressed by Succot, and I’m pretty sure that if women were in charge, life would be much easier. Building the Succah isn’t a problem – thanks to our good friends in China, building the Succah has basically turned into lego for big kids. The four species though are a whole different story. It starts with the picking – our male leaders have developed, over time, an obscure set of laws that determine what’s kosher and what’s not. If women had been asked to interpret the verse, “Pick for yourself a beautiful fruit of the tree”, we would have crowds of people arriving at shul with pomegranates, mangos and galia melons. Instead, we’ve got men examining the tip of a wrinkled lemon with a magnifying glass to see if they can find any miniscule black dots.

But the bit that really gets me is when the men walk around the Bima for the Hoshanot. It would seem that the only reason that shuls were built with balconies was so once a year the women could peer down at the men… and laugh. A shul full of over 200 men, all holding the four species, cannot fit into a tiny space around the bima. But they try. After about 20 seconds they suddenly realise that they’re not going anywhere, so what do they do? They stay there, looking around and yelling at each other to move, as if that’s going to make things better. Eventually, after shuffling no more than three or four steps, they return to their seats, having not learnt a thing from their pathetic attempt. I am sure that if roles were reversed – women leading the service below and the men in the gallery – that the men would be treated to a synchronised display of weaving in and out of pews, worthy of the Royal Ballet.

But let's not take this role reversal thing too far - kiddush would be a disaster!

Sunday 19 August 2007

Valuing Life

In Mishnaic times, when someone accidentally killed, they had to flee to a City of Refuge, which would serve as a safe haven from would-be avengers. There were three cities east of the Jordan and three to its west. The Talmud wonders why there was a need for the same number to the east, when the population there was far smaller. The answer given is that there were more murders to the east than there were to the west. But murderers don’t get refuge – their punishment is death - ask the Rabbis. The Talmud replies that in a place where murder is commonplace, the value of life diminishes and consequently there are more accidental deaths.

We Israelis and Jews have long boasted about our tremendous value for life. We’re proud of the fact that we never forget about our soldiers – no man is left behind, nor forgotten. Every death – whether victim to war, terrorism or road accidents – pains us greatly. But is this for real or is it just empty, oft-repeated rhetoric? If we really did value life so much, then why would we continue to drive so fast, jump red lights and ultimately create an environment where our roads are so frightening?

The time has come for us to admit to ourselves that if life was really so sacred to us, we would do things differently. As I was driving along Route 1 last week, I was forced to slam on the breaks because a fellow driver cut across me at high speed, with no concern for anyone else on the road. Does he value life? He would claim that of course he does – after all he had a bumper sticker calling for the return of the kidnapped soldiers.

It reminds me of my shul. The shul wants to be friendly. So how does it go about be friendly? It appoints a "friendly officer" to stand by the door welcoming people. People might rarely talk to anyone new, and it’s quite unlikely that you’ll get invited by someone else for a meal, But there is a "friendly officer." These people simply don’t get friendliness. You make a shul friendly... by being friendly. When people are warm and welcome strangers, they are friendly. When a shul has to appoint a committee to make some friendly decisions, they have missed the point.

Likewise with valuing life. Valuing life isn’t about printing on the front page of the newspapers the names of everyone who dies in a car accident or in a military operation. Valuing life is making sure that they don’t die in the first place. It might not be so dramatic, but valuing life is about driving slowly and courteously. Currently, we do not value life any more than anyone else.

Friday 20 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Holy Machloikes

At midnight tonight, all will be revealed when the final Harry Potter book is released. The suspense will finally come to an end.

Children and adults across the world will be queuing up to get their hands on a copy. This is, of course, everyone except for Israelis. Why? Because the launch is on Shabbat and Trade and Industry Minister, Eli Yishai, has threatened to fine anyone who opens to sell the book. So we’ll have to wait a few hours longer...unless we go to Steimatzky in the old port of Tel Aviv, where they are proudly advertising a midnight Harry Potter celebration.

But in case you’re concerned that this gross violation of the holy Sabbath will turn into a celebration of everything secular and anti-religious in Israel, do not fear.

No doubt passing most readers by, the advert makes a subtle reference to the holiest of holies in Judaism – the Unetanneh Tokef prayer, composed by the medieval sage Rabbi Amnon of Mainz. “Who will live? Who will die?”

The legend goes that Rabbi Amnon, after refusing the local bishop’s demand to convert to Catholicism, had his hands and legs amputated. At each amputation, Rabbi Amnon was again given the opportunity to convert, which he refused. As he lay dying, Rabbi Amnon asked to be carried to shul for the Rosh Hashana service, where he recited Unetanneh Tokef with his last breath.

When I first made aliya, I was always aware that in this country, state and church often find themselves getting mixed up. But one thing I’m sure of is that two bearded men - Rabbi Amnon and Prof. Albus Dumbledore – never expected it to get mixed up quite like this!

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Wednesday 11 July 2007

How to beat the boycotts

The UK is getting a new Ambassador… and believe it or not, he actually speaks English. Not only that, but one of Israel’s most important diplomatic positions is being filled by someone with an impressive diplomatic record. Ron Prosor is a career diplomat. Fluent in English and German, he has represented Israel in Washington, London and other cities, as well as serving as the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The last three Israeli Ambassadors to the UK were all political appointments, and more often than not, totally inappropriate for the job. The current ambassador, Zvi Heifetz is a successful Russian-Israeli businessman, with a couple of years of experience as a Russian language advisor for the Ministry of Defense. In July 2004, Ariel Sharon appointed him to the post – apparently something to do with Heifetz’s close friendship with Sharon’s son Omri.

Heifetz was previously the chairman of an Israeli music production company, which at least served him well when making small talk with another pop music producer, British Mid East envoy Lord Levy.

Prosor might be good but he’s got an almighty challenge ahead of him. When asked at a recent event what his strategy would be to counter the union boycotts, Prosor proved that he was true Israeli Ambassador material – he replied, “a winning one”. Genius. This is precisely what the Israeli mission, as well as the community leaders have lacked for too long.

If Mr. Prosor starts employing this creative new strategy to other issues like promoting trade and tourism, he might even catch the eye of the locals. Within the next year, there’s bound to be a job opening at the English football team…

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Thursday 5 July 2007

The Perfect Watermelon

Picking the right watermelon is quite an art. Go down the fruit and veg aisle of any Israeli supermarket and you’ll see a crowd of people surrounding the watermelons, placing their ears against the fruit and vehemently tapping away. The theory goes that if it sounds hollow, you’ve got a good’en. If you’re like me, you’ll find that they all sound hollow so you’ll tap, listen and then pick any of them. After taking a couple of rotten ones home, it was put to me that I should ask the supermarket assistant to cut a big one in half, have a taster, and if it’s good, take the half home (apparently this is perfectly acceptable supermarket etiquette).

Whilst waiting in line for my watermelon to be cut, I chuckled at the thought that this was the only place in the whole country where Israelis were happily queuing up for an Arab with an extremely long knife! Who says we don’t trust each other?!

Branding Israel

It’s a question that we’ve been asking ourselves for 40 years: Why is it that we're so bad at PR? I might be a little biased, but even when I try really hard to be objective, I'm still convinced that Israel has a pretty good case. But when it comes to the media, foreign governments and hearts & minds in general, the Palestinians have done a far better job at making themselves heard.

Everything seems to be a PR disaster for us. So much so that we resort to getting some Israeli girls to strip down and model for lads’ mags as “sexy Israeli soldiers”. This might be a bit of harmless fun, but quite embarrassing to have come from an Israeli diplomat, as an official Israeli hasbara initiative. Why is it that no one considers even West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that the BBC even felt the need to apologise when a sports presenter referred to it as such? Why is it that Israel has to defend its “right to exist”, a phrase never used for any other country?

I was driving through a predominantly Arab neighbourhood of Lod on the way to work when I spotted a house at the side of the road. It was a pretty large house, probably owned by one of the town’s more well to do residents, or perhaps simply home to a very large extended family. In the brickwork there was a plaque marking the year it was built (1990) and with an illustration of the Dome of the Rock. The Palestinians love imagery. Every Palestinian official sits in an office with a picture of Jerusalem fixed to the wall. And what have they talked about non-stop for the past forty years? Three things. Jerusalem, the Occupation and refugees. They go on and on about them and find a way of attaching everything that happens to one (or two or three) of them. As far as marketing is concerned, continuously reiterating your key messages is the secret to building up a brand. Ask anyone about the Palestinians and they will know that they stand for these three things.

What about Israel? What are our key messages? Hmmm. We want peace… or at least no war or perhaps separation. We love Jerusalem even though most of us don’t talk about it or even visit it very often. We’re good at science and technology. But our most important message – the one we always like to focus on – is that we want to be accepted by the world. That’s all, just accepted.

So put your feet in the shoes of a neutral and ask yourself, ‘Whose message would convince you?’

Thursday 28 June 2007

Bring Gilad home now

A consensus is emerging in Israel about what to do about the MIAs: We should do everything possible to free them, but doing so in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners would reward terrorism and encourage future kidnappings. The consensus breaks down at whether we should go for a deal anyway, or rather, stand firm and not give in. Much has been written and said about the MIAs but as far as I can see there has been one glaring oversight.

Every occasion that an Israeli has been kidnapped in the last fifteen years has been a result of an Israeli mistake. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from the Kerem Shalom army base within Israeli territory after terrorists dug a tunnel under the border. From a military perspective this is a shocking error that should never have happened. Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser, as well as the three soldiers kidnapped in 2000, were in Israeli territory on the Lebanese border. There is no acceptable reason why terrorists should be able to break through what should be a rock solid border. Elhanan Tannanbaum was visiting Lebanon to do a drug deal and Nachshon Wachsman was hitchhiking in the territories. The common thread is that Israelis wouldn’t get kidnapped if we didn’t make mistakes.

So what’s my point? Whether we do a deal with Hamas and Hezbollah or not, they will always know that kidnapping tortures us. Far more important than trying to regain our deterrence by refusing a deal, is to simply make it impossible for them to kidnap anyone ever again. Just as the IDF is currently undergoing a major retraining in light of the failures of the Second Lebanon War, they should also be figuring out how to strengthen our borders and defend our army bases. A military as strong as our own should be able to protect its soldiers when they’re on sovereign Israeli territory. It’s as simple as that.

Olmert should do a deal straight away, give them whatever they want and bring our boys home… and never let this happen again.

Wednesday 27 June 2007

From Downing Street to Emek Refaim

Tony Blair must be glad to be ending his time in 10 Downing Street. It’s been an incredible ten years for the Labour Prime Minister, but having faced a difficult couple of years under tremendous pressure from his own party, Parliament and the British people, he’ll be pleased to say farewell. Aged 54, he has many good years ahead of him, and by the sounds of things, he’s not planning on getting out his slippers and pipe quite yet. Blair is expected to be appointed the Quartet’s Middle East envoy later today. The reaction was predictable: The Americans think he’ll be great, Tzipi Livni said it was a “terrific decision”, the Russians are disappointed and the Palestinians think it’s the worst thing to have happened to them since al-Naqba.

It will for sure be interesting to see how an envoy that appreciates Israel’s predicament fares in the region. Reaction has ranged from those that think this is yet another pointless effort at mediating between two sides that are so bitterly divided to make the whole exercise worthless, to those that think it’s worth a try, if unlikely to reap any rewards. I, however, am more interested in the spectacle of Tony Blair spending more time in Jerusalem. Rumour has it that he’ll get an office somewhere in Jerusalem. If he’s going to be here for longer periods, he might get fed up of the Citadel or King David and look to buy a small eight bedroom in the German Colony. If he and Cherie are strapped for cash now that they’re a one-income family, they could always call Ehud Olmert for some advice on where to get a dodgy loan, or simply put their Connaught Square house on the market. Then there’ll be the question of whether Tony would prefer to start his day in Café Hillel or Aroma – “I’ll have a coffee and croissant please… and do it Islington style”. He’ll probably fall off his chair when he discovers that a café breakfast doesn’t have to cost £12 . Then of course there’s the question of what to do with the kids. Ulpan would be a sensible first move but the only way to really pick up the language would be to enlist them all in the army and send them to Lebanon for the next war.

Tony has always been a friend of Israel, sometimes at great political cost. His support for Israel last summer might have been the nail in his political coffin, a decision that couldn’t have been made easily. It only goes to prove that he must have a thing for Israel and the Jews. With rumours circulating that he’s considering converting to Catholicism, we can only assume that the story is more or less right but the details are slightly off. When Tony hits the Middle East, don't be surprised if his first phone call is not to Olmert or Abu Mazen - the Jerusalem Rabbinate should be rolling out the red carpet!

Saturday 23 June 2007

Where are they now?

Last week I bought a car. After listening carefully to my friends' conflicting advice, I decided on buying an ex-rental. Having taken the car for a quick spin, I agreed on terms with Udi, the moody Avis salesman, and signed a contract. Just before putting pen to paper, we pointed out that the car was dirty and it would be nice to have it sparkling, at least for the next day. Udi relunctantly agreed and radioed one of his colleagues. By the time we had finished the paperwork, the car was as good as new. We thanked the young Arab fellow and gave him a small tip. He was very grateful and wished us good luck with the new car.

As we left the car lot, we noticed that irritatingly, the security code wouldn’t stop bleeping. Conscious that we were at risk of becoming victims of a car-buying disaster story, we turned back ready to shout and scream. Udi shrugged his shoulders and told us that we must be doing it wrong. But my Arab friend showed more concern and came to have a look. He fiddled with some wires and tried again. When he realised that there really was a problem, he went into the office and came out with a voucher for us to go to a local garage for it to be repaired. Grateful for his help, I shook his hand and asked his name. “Abu Mazen”, he replied.
I burst into laughter. “Abu Mazen?”
“Yes. My name is Abu Mazen”.
Thinking for a moment I said, “I get it. They all call you Abu Mazen here because you’re the only Arab member of staff. What’s your real name?”
“No. They call me Abu Mazen because that is my name. I am Abu Mazen.”
Feeling a little embarrassed I thanked Abu Mazen and off we went, thinking to myself that I could now say that Abu Mazen cleaned my car.

Hamas has been giving the real Abu Mazen quite a headache lately so given the choice between being President of the Palestinian Authority or cleaning cars in Jerusalem, I would have thought that it’s a bit of a no-brainer. With Abu Mazen accounted for, if you have wondered why you haven’t heard so much about Yasser Arafat lately, you can see what Abu Mazen’s former boss is up to by clicking here.

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Read all about it!

Like most subcultures, Israeli shuls have their own printed medium of communication – it’s called the Shabbat leaflets. These leaflets, published by Yeshivot and Jewish organisations, started out some years ago as black and white photocopies, comprised of a few short Divrei Torah. As they became more popular, and publishers saw the possibility of making money from them, they began to include adverts for everything from mobile phones, kosher holidays to the Far East and new homes. As the money poured in, the leaflets got bigger, the graphics got fancier and the general appeal started to grow. The content branched out from Parshat Shavua to cover a wider variety of Jewish topics and the selection of leaflets grew as more and more organisations started printing their own. In piles by the front door of shuls across the country, worshipers now enter shul on a Friday night and can choose from a wide selection.

However, the common thread through most sheets is a strong political line. With Mekor Rishon as the only right wing newspaper among a generally left-wing media, these leaflets fast became the medium through which the Dati Leumi community leaders would air their views. Whatever the week’s Parsha, Rabbis from West Bank settlements search for connections to themes such as the holiness of Eretz Yisrael and the importance of a Torah-conscious leadership. During disengagement, the sheets were vocally anti-withdrawal, directly attacking the government and its policies. Shul reading, previously the exclusive domain of Talmud Torah, has been for some time now, infiltrated by right wing political propaganda. The sheets regularly advertise new housing projects in West Bank settlements, promote demonstrations, and around election time, can be expected to call upon its readers to vote for one of the right wing parties.

The Yesha Council now publishes its own leaflet called Yesha Shelanu. This leaflet is pure politics – it mostly consists of news stories and pictures, all centred around the settlements. In many ways it’s a breath of fresh air – for once a leaflet that says what it is, rather than trying to disguise itself as a Torah publication. Last week’s edition reviewed a new trend of getting married outside the Cave of Machpela and offered a prize to anyone who could identify a photograph taken somewhere in the Land of Israel (funnily enough the Yesha Shelanu photographer never seems to make it to the Galil, Negev or even the Mercaz!)

As something of a backlash against this trend, a couple of new leaflets came out, published by more moderate or apolitical organisations like Tzohar, which aim to keep the focus on Judaism. While some of these sheets have managed to break into the mainstream of shul reading, it is hard to ever imagine a politically left-wing sheet ever being circulated around the shuls. And this is precisely the root of the problem – these publications have no accountability whatsoever. Their circulation is guaranteed by central distributors who decide what to deliver to the shuls, as well as the shul gabaim who have the final call as to whether they allow sheets on to their premises or not. If the distributor or your shul gabbai doesn’t like it, you simply can’t read it – you will read what they give you. And what’s more, I’m yet to see a sheet which publishes letters, leaving the readers with no way of channelling dissatisfaction in the way one can with a newspaper.

So if I don’t like them, why do I read them? Simple really. Beats the alternative.

Thursday 14 June 2007

The President's new clothes

So Shimon Peres is the President-elect of the State of Israel. His two predecessors have both brought embarrassment on the office of the President – Ezer Weizman through his acceptance of large undeclared gifts from, and Moshe Katzav, through his alleged inability to control himself when amongst women.

What kind of president will Peres be? Having been in the Knesset since 1959, he's got used to speaking his mind. But yesterday he pledged that as president, he will be a unifier rather than a decision-maker. Since there's no written constitution, the president’s role and purpose is quite flexible, largely determined by the incumbent. Katsav was little known outside of Israel, considered by foreign dignitaries as nothing more than an official Israeli figure-head. Peres, on the other hand, has enormous kudos abroad and may indeed attract more international attention than the Prime Minister. But when it comes to Israelis, Peres will never command respect from a large number of locals – even if he were never to utter another political word. Which brings us to the question of who the president is there to serve – folk here or folk there?

Yossi Verter in Haaretz, summed up Peres with the following joke:
Shimon Peres comes out of a visit with the King of Thailand and goes to the local market and buys some elegant fabric. He takes it to a Thai tailor and asks him to make him a suit from it. The tailor looks at the fabric and says to him: I'm sorry - It's only enough for a pair of pants, if that. The next day he flies to London. He takes the fabric from Thailand to a top tailor. It's enough for a sleeve at most, the tailor tells him. That evening he's in Paris and goes to see another tailor. Maybe I'll be able to sew you a sock, the tailor says. Disappointed, Peres returns to Israel. On his way to party headquarters, he stops by his usual tailor on Lilienblum Street. Can you do something with this fabric, Peres asks. I'll make you two suits, says the tailor. And an extra pair of pants. Stupefied, Peres asks: How is it that abroad the fabric is hardly enough for anything while here you can sew me half a wardrobe out of it? That's easy, replies the tailor, laughing. Abroad, you're a giant.

Based on that, we can safely assume that for the next seven years, the Office of the President of the State of Israel will be great for Israel's reputation abroad, if largely irrelevant to the kiosk owner in Lod and taxi driver in Rehovot.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Too many cooks

Last week, Shaul Mofaz travelled to the US for high level talks in Washington. As Israel's Minister of Transportation you would naturally expect these meetings to have discussed the sale of new aircraft or perhaps an exchanging of ideas on reducing car accidents. But let's be honest – Mofaz was Chief of Staff and Defence Minister, so talking about cars is a little beneath him. He might have got a better portfolio in this Government if he had jumped ship to Kadima a bit earlier. But Mofaz went down the opportunist path and stayed with Likud until he realised that he wasn't going to get a good job at the end of it. Sharon was smart enough to realise that he didn't need Mofaz as much as Mofaz needed him. And when Olmert was eventually elected, he wanted his most senior security man at the Cabinet table, so gave him Transportation.

Building a Cabinet can be a difficult challenge for a new Prime Minister, especially when leading a new party full of power-hungry opportunists and with several other coalition partners. To satisfy the many, Olmert appointed a record number of ministers, creating jobs that didn't exist previously such as Minister for Strategic Affairs (basically dealing with Iran which used to be the responsibility of the PM, Defence and Foreign Ministers). This is an old trick - in 1996, Bibi Netanyahu appointed Ariel Sharon to the new post of Minister for National Infrastructure, just as a way of giving him a job, but not a very good job. There is no earthly reason why a small country with a 120 seat parliament needs a minister responsible for sewerage, gas and electricity!

More ridiculous, Olmert appointed a whopping six deputies! Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni both hold the title of Vice PM, and Mofaz, Avigdor Lieberman, Eli Yishai and Amir Peretz (soon to be replaced by Ehud Barak) are all Deputy PMs. This is absurd!

The problem here is that the Israeli Government is basically operating like a Jewish organisation. Take a shul for example - there's a Rabbi, a couple of wardens, a treasurer, a president, a vice-president, a secretary, a head of the ladies' guild, a caretaker and even an old fellow who's been a member for a million years - and they all think then run the place. There are 120 MKs who think that they should be running the Knesset and aren’t willing to cooperate with others unless they get something in exchange. Most analysts see this as a product of Israel being a young country which still requires serious reform before it'll settle down into something of a normal liberal democracy. Such reforms include local representation and a written constitution. It would be nice to add to that list a limit on the number of cooks allowed in the kitchen.

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Ten weird and wonderful things about shul

They’re true the world over and if you go to shul, you’ll know what I mean…

1. Shaking hands – Every time someone gets a mitzvah at shul – whether it’s an aliya, opening the ark, lifting the Torah – everyone he passes feels the need to shake his hand and congratulate him. Congratulate for what? It’s easy, it didn’t involve any preparation and we’ve all done it.

2. Instructions on opening the ark – Every time the job of opening the ark is given to a guest, shul wardens always feel the need to explain how to do it, as if directing a novice on how to do open heart surgery. “There’s two strings, one is high and one is low. Pull the high one down and the curtain will open. Then you’ll find two doors. They’re the slidy variety so don’t try to pull them open… Would you like me to go up there with you in case you need help?” Let’s be honest, we all have curtains and doors at home, we’ll figure it out.

3. Shokeling – What’s with the ferocious swaying movement? Sometimes forward and back, occasionally side to side. Someone once told me that Jews shokel to help their concentration during prayer but have you ever seen people violently swaying in an exam, or while driving a car?!

4. 'Someone’s sitting in my seat' – We’ve all been there before, when visiting a shul that someone comes in late and tells you that you’re sitting in their seat. Reasonable people like myself see this as incredible rudeness unbefitting of a House of Prayer. That said, when I come to my shul and see someone sitting in my seat, I find somewhere else to sit…and spend the rest of the service pissed off that someone's sitting in my set.

5. Standing up for the Rabbi – As a mark of respect to the Rabbi, we stand up when he walks into the shul. The problem is, that we’re tired and can’t be bothered getting up for him. So what do we do? We’ve put our hands on the sides of our chair, push all our weight down on our arms, and lift up our back sides so there’s about an inch between us and the chair. Then we release the pressure on our arms and drop ourselves back down. Let’s get something straight – that is not standing up.

6. Pointing your little finger – When someone goes up to lift the Torah for Hagbah, we’ve got this weird thing we do when we point our little finger in the air, close one eye, aim our little finger at the Torah scroll and then kiss our little finger. In my book, that’s not the way to kiss something. And why the little finger?!

7. Correcting laning – When someone goes up to read from the Torah, despite the fact that we know he spent hours preparing the laning and does so for no material benefit, we treat him like an arrogant showman who is out to impress us. It’s the only way of explaining the combat that begins with his first word, where we yell out every time he slips up. And when we do, we have that smug sense of having caught the bastard.

8. Sweetie man – Children are taught never to accept sweets from a stranger. It’s one of the most basic rules of childhood, along with “stop, look and listen”. But when it comes to shul, kids are free to take candy from anyone, regardless of how creepy they look.

9. Missing pages – All shul siddurim have pages missing. We accept it as if it’s a given. In fact, we never question why it is that we have books at home that have been read many times but are still in decent condition, but shul siddurim are always missing pages. Do people get so caught up in their prayers that thy start tearing it apart?

10. Sleeping – It doesn’t matter how much sleep you’ve had – there are certain points in the service that can put even the insomniacs to sleep. The Rabbi’s sermon goes without saying, but things like Megillat Kohelet and that song before laning on Shavuot morning can put the whole congregation down. Just make sure not to snore.

Sunday 10 June 2007

Burg's treachery

Avraham Burg, former chairman of the Jewish Agency and Kneeset Speaker, has caused quite a ruckus round these parts. Ahead of the launch of his book, Defeating Hitler, Burg gave an interview to Haaretz, in which he said things that surprised even those who thought they new the renegade Laborite. It’s always dangerous to take short quotes out a long interview but Burg is too clever a man to have said what he said without meaning it. In response to one question about the notion of a Jewish state, Burg answered “to define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end. A Jewish state is explosive. It's dynamite." Burg, now a successful businessman based in France where he bears a French passport added that he considers himself a “citizen of the world, afterward Jew and only after that Israeli”.

The response was explosive. Burg is now considered a traitor by many, while others are trying to explain it as some kind of psychological, ideological breakdown. Kadima MK Otniel Schneller called for Burg not to be buried in the section of Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl Cemetery reserved for national leaders, even if this requires passing special legislation.

Burg’s interview is in Zionist terms what a Jewish child marrying out is in religious terms. He has turned his back on the State of Israel, on the Zionist vision and the Jewish people. Not to mention his father’s legacy. From the far left to the far right there have been Israeli personalities whose opinions I have found to be deeply mistaken and self-damaging, but they remain true to Zionism. Burg has left the fold and is determined not to do so quietly.

When a Jewish child marries out, the natural reaction is often to disown him. As Chava desperately begs her father to accept her decision to marry out, Tevye asks “How can I accept them? Can I deny everything I believe in?” Burg has married out of the Zionist family and we should make our disapproval known. That said, we should do so in a sensitive way – try to understand where this change has come from – and do everything we can to make sure the door stays open to him. The Zionist project is relatively young and has a long way to go. We can look at the state of government or the dire relations between Israelis and Palestinians and easily give up hope. But being a true Zionist in 2007 is about realizing that we have a long way to go and that we’ll only get there with faith and commitment.