Sunday, October 30, 2005

Israel Advocacy Program

The Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Jewish Agency for Israel will be hosting another excellent online "Ambassador Course" starting 7 November. For a fairly small financial contribution (and even smaller for students), you can participate in a 4-week online course led by well-known Israel Advocate Neil Lazarus. "Ambassador" trains you to promote and defend Israel - in the media, on campus, in the elevator and so on.

The course includes video lectures and online forums. I have taught the course previously on behalf of the Ministry and the Jewish Agency and I found it both informative and enlightening (even from the perspective of a teacher). It allows you to meet other pro-Israel advocates online and to work together with them in building ideas and comparing experiences.

Click here to read more about the course and to register. Please send this posting to friends and family (by clicking on the envelope icon below) and encourage them to get involved in this online educational Israel experience.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Unusual Diplomatic Friends and Favors

Like obedient little boys, the Islamic Jihad School for Brainwash and Seventy Heavenly Virgins has visited the innocents of central Hadera. Basking in the warming light and encouragement of Iran's 'World Without Zionism' conference, a misled 20-year old Palestinian has returned shivers to the collective Israeli spine. We did not know which of the thousands of brainwashed, helpless creatures would actually take the bait this time, but we knew it was coming and we know that there will be more.

During my twelve days or so caught up between apple and honey, vacation and illness, I have had a little time to get some perspective. We who write and talk publicly often find ourselves needing to satisfy the urge to write immediately following any major breaking news. I have taken the liberty not to do so until now and it feels good to approach the keyboard with 12 days of contemplation behind me.

The new Jewish year has complicated my train of thought. Still, help comes from the strangest sources sometimes and there we have it, right when we needed it. Iran has delivered us the diplomatic gift of the century - this century is still young of course but let's not lose the moment!
After two ghastly terror attacks in the last 10 days or so, (one apparently against "young Jewish settlers" and the other against "innocent Israel civilians"), the Israeli leadership has been sent back to the Arafat era. In their own words, the Prime Minister and security chiefs are ready to embark on anti-terror operations like those we witnessed in the dark aftermath of Sbarro, Dolphinarium, Park Hotel and so on. In essence, they have been given no choice. Their political futures and Israel's sanity depend on Israel showing its strong hand in addition to its Disengagement and patient hand.

I have seen cynical little online comments from interesting folk who proudly claim that the Hadera massacre has proven that no wall, no helicopter and no tank will stop the Palestinian struggle. In the opinion of these people, only ending occupation will see an end to terror.
And you know what, they might be right - but there is only the slightest chance that Abbas and the terror groups will ever change their strategies for even a minute in order to allow for a Palestinian state to emerge and occupation (if that's the best word for it) to disappear.

Little comments online (even if I admit I make plenty myself) do not necessarily reflect reality nor truth. The way I see it, the IDF is quite capable of providing a fairly massive blow to Islamic terror in Israel and the Palestinian Authority regions. That's not to say that such a response would not further enrage the masses or that it will not indirectly lead to the loss of innocent life on both sides. I am sad to say that at this stage, in light of Disengagement and the upward terror sprial in the region, I can not advocate for staying the IDF hand for the sake of avoiding these regrettable consequences.

However, the hands may yet be tied, handcuffed and chained. There is no need to delve into the history of US and world pressure on Israel to respond with proportionality only. Whatever proportionality the world preaches, it is such that applies to Israel only. G-d only knows what Britain would be doing now if they had somewhere in the world other than Birmingham, Liverpool and London in which to retaliate...

... which is why I am pleased that Iran has played its joker - and what a joke! On the very day that Israel needs some means of getting the green light for taking care of Palestinian terror networks, Iran has less than gently, rather ridicuously jolted the world with one of the most arrogant and hopelessly undiplomatic statements in the earth's history. Thank you - you have done Israel a great favor and shown the world (in particular the Europeans) that your intentions, whether truly nuclear or not, smell of evil and of hate and of destructive terror.

Personally I am pleased to see countless world leaders expressing their horror at the Iranian rhetoric. Coupled with the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad performance of Wednesday, Palestinian terror and Iranian extremism are now seen for what they really are - connected at the hip and the bank and heading on a collision course to the great sorrow and loss of their people as usual.

Here's hoping that tomorrow the world will still be standing strongly and honestly in defence of Israel's right to exist and her right to defend herself. Please don't lose any sleep calculating the odds...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Untouchables of Aliyah

After my KIC session with Bnei Akiva MTA on Friday, one of the participants approached me to ask the following question: "Tell me why I should live in Israel when all I see is a rude and unfriendly society". Well for those of you who are educators out there, I am sure you have various pre-programmed answers ringing through your mind for the very moment he has finished uttering the challenge - and a massive challenge it is.

Only that morning, I had returned to the Renault dealer in Talpiyot (Jerusalem) where we bought our car just over 4 years ago. Again, the automatic gearbox is broken, having already been replaced twice. The first time they demanded we pay 13000 shekels, then offered it for 7000 and then for free when our lawyer came walking into their offices. Now on the third occasion when the gearbox has ceased to operate as it should, we simply requested the courtesy of a rental car for the period that they are fixing this recurring and unacceptable problem.

Sure they said - that will cost you 140 shekels per day. Hmmm. Nice. And how about the rip in the front passenger seat that your workers left after the last gear replacement. "Nothing to do with us" - apparently! And the fact that we have to bring the car in every month for mechanical repair. "Ummm, not our responsibility".

How about the fact that you are playing 'silly buggers' the day after Yom Kippur? "מה קשר" - "what's the connection?"

So two hours later, this Zionist Bnei chanich throws the Aliyah question at me and I feel myself beginning to symphathize with him, almost wholeheartedly. It took me some time to reach the true and honest conclusion in giving him a sensible and appropriate answer.

The KICview is that Aliyah is tough work and that it is not for everyone. Sure, it's a great mitzvah and a great achievement to make a life for oneself in this Land, but it's hard work and many will not have (or find) the time, energy or patience to carry it through. (However, in my humble opinion, lack of (enough!) money is not a reason not to at least try).

As I said to the Australian guy, Israel is not Bondi nor is it Florida. We all have to face the reality that though Israel is more or less first-ish world and great to be a part of most of the time, it is by no means fully Western - it is not England or New Zealand, USA or Australia - and in many respects that's a good thing!

But, Israel is in the Middle East and with it comes Middle Eastern weather, Middle Eastern moods, personalities and Middle Eastern attitudes. Many olim say that "while we hate living here, we couldn't see ourselves living anywhere else". That feeling doesn't exist among all or at all times, but it does raise its head often. Love it or leave it, that's Israel.

I left him with these thoughts. I listed him some of my reasons for living in Israel that are simply untouchable and immeasurable.
It is in this season, at this time of the year that I am often reminded of the beauty of living in this often frustrating Jewish state. I found great satisfaction from Aron Razel's Yom Kippur tefilot at Shir Hadash which included several dances during Neilah. But it was even more satisfying to know that I had so many shules to choose from within walking distance, one of them being the Kotel. Still, I particularly like Shir Hadash because it represents a community of olim (and some Israelis) who are committed to making a go of it in our homeland.

After almost 6 years in Israel, it was my first time in Jerusalem where I could see the wonderful sight of completely (I mean 100%) car-less, empty and peaceful streets for the 25-hour Yom Kippur period. The country shuts down and pedestrians re-take the roads. It was truly a holy sight in itself. Now, there are Sukkot springing up on every corner of empty bit of ground around the country. Sukkot are built at restaurants, bakeries, shules, hospitals, workplaces. Lulavim, etrogim and the like are on sale everywhere and there is a wonderul sense of the grand Chol Hamoed Sukkot national holiday week ahead. This morning I started davening among waiting patients at Hadasah Hospital and then joined a minyan in the hospital shule. People brought around free kosher sandwiches for patients and staff wished their patients Shana Tova and Chag Sameach.

I really could type about these things for some minutes. In essence, these examples are some of the untouchable reasons. These things make me feel that I am living a full Jewish existence everywhere I look and everywhere I go. Not just at the shule, in the kosher restaurant and when I arrive home from the office to my Jewish house. In Israel, we live Judaism everywhere and it is an inherent part of the way the country runs day-to-day. When I go to work, or to the mall, to university or to the hospital, people are not only tolerant towards me because I am different, but my Jewish-Zionist desires are fully accomodated automatically.

These feelings are personal and untouchable. Each prospective oleh needs to develop strength to recognize these incredibly positive aspects of Israeli life and to channel them in a way that they will help to overcome the societal challenges that do in fact exist.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Big Picture

A couple of weeks ago, Melitz and Otzma asked me to provide their students with a view of 'the big or bigger picture'. That is, to facilitate a Israeli Politics 101 session which helps them to grasp the idea that there is more to Israel and Israeli current affairs than just Disengagement, Terrorism and Peace Processes.

Frankly, it's often difficult to decipher what exactly constitutes the bigger picture when it comes to Israel. What do I mean? Are the societal ingredients in Israeli society small fish in comparison to the bigger fish of terror, war, peace and everything in-between? Or does intra-Israel politics more clearly define Israel as it is today and provide a clearer bigger picture than the things that more often than not get CNN and BBC executives giggling with joy and excitement?

In this ten days of personal introspection and evaluation, highlighted by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at either end, it was very nice of the Shinui party and others to provide us with the opportunity for a little national self-evaluation on topics outside the army, borders and fences. The issues themselves raise questions about the Jewish character of the state and Judaism's relationship with democracy. In addition, the way the issues are beng handled gives us an uncomfortable reminder of how desperately controversial and hurtful such issues can become.
One can always rely on politicians to bring things to a head.

The Ganot interchange, as big and busy as it is, may not have thought she would attract quite the attention that it now finds itself swimming in. I am no halachic expert so I do not wish to comment in that regard, other than to say that I am, in general, in favor of maintaining strong Jewish character in the state. The lines between flavour and in fact enforcing views of one on another remain blurred. There is a great deal of sensitive legislative work to do in that regard.

Regardless, I am not impressed with the pretty horrific insults flying from Shinui mouths. Claims of extortion and blackmail and the like lead us nowhere but to hatred and hurt. I actually struggle to fathom the Shinui attacks in light of their own attempts to convince Sharon to carry forth the controversial policies that suit their supporters - civil marriage laws, for example. In reality, is there any difference between Shinui and ultra-Orthodox approaches to coalition building and power battles? Doesn't Shas have an equal right to push for extra benefits to the poor as well?

When it comes to the crunch, there is probably just one man enjoying this jostling for power. I am sure Ariel Sharon can still taste the sweetness of his upset victory over the Likud rebels - small but sweet nonetheless. As he looks to reshuffle the Cabinet seats, he will be playing fairly hard to get.

The other Shinui-inspired issue is less difficult for me. Like last year when their MKs made similar complaints, Avraham Poraz and friends are now demanding that any Government-backed initiatives to encourage involvement in Yom Kippur observance and prayer be cancelled and rejected. I might not go as far as Shas' Eli Yishai (in the above link), but certainly I am uncomfortable with this Shinui policy. A simple reading of the information provided by MK Rabbi Melchior makes it clear that the program's intention is by no means to "persuade people to become observant Jews". Rather, it appears to be a refreshing and creative means of allowing Israeli Jews to discover or rediscover aspects of their heritage and traditions and to mix with other Jews of different persuasions. Creative tefilah/prayer is a key element of Jewish education worldwide and would not do any harm here.

Of course the line between State and Synagogue in Israel is blurred and sometimes impossible to navigate. Still, a government of the Jewish state should be congratulated for supporting such seemingly harmless Jewish projects. How silly it would be if non-Jewish governments around the world encouraged maintenance of religious observance and culture but our own state refrained from doing so. I know that in New Zealand, we often applied to the government and the Lotto Grants Authority for Jewish educational funding and in fact the Government there supports the Jewish schools only if they maintain their Jewish character.

I hope all kinds of Israelis take advantage of 'Judaism for All' on Thursday.

Here we are then, just before Yom Kippur and I am still not sure what exactly anyone means by 'the bigger picture' - but that does not really matter.
What is important is that we are finding time to look at other issues and topics that require discussion and evaluation. It is important that Hamas Incorporated does not always dictate our lives and our thoughts.

As well as these intra-political issues, there is so much more that we Israelis should commit ourselves to working on post-Yom Kippur. The road toll is horrific, a full ten times greater than the terror toll. We still leave our weakest links to struggle. (A statistic that presents average salary as 7500 shekels per month means nothing to two-thirds of the population). Last but not least, crime and violence continue to spiral out of control. Work has begun and it is reaching the top of Israel's policy agenda slowly - better late than never.

Yom Kippur is always a special day in Israel. Streets are almost empty and there is a real sense of introspection. There is a lot of positive here and we need to do some good national self-evaluation on Thursday to make sure that the optimism can be harnessed and led down a path of tolerance, responsibility, national pride and security.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Stating the Case

I would like to encourage KICblog readers to register to an online course that will enhance your ability to advocate and defend Israel in the media, on campus, at your office and even among friends.

Stating the Case is presented by Israeli Foreign Ministry representatives and hosted by the eAcademy of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

I strongly recommend your involvement in the course which includes video presentations and thorough online direction and training my forum facilitators.

See the link above, read about the course and register now.

The KICblog will be back with full commentary on Israeli Current Affairs shortly...

Monday, October 03, 2005


Michael is currently being KIC-ed by some kind of flu. It is therefore unlikely that there will be another KICpost before Rosh Hashanah. However, we invite you to add a comment below and provide us with your highlights and lowlights from Israel & and the world in 5765 and to make your predictions for the months ahead.

Thanks for reading and shmoozing on the KICblog and for supporting KIC sessions.
שנה טובה ומתוקה לכולכם

PS - Help us to KICstart the New Year by adding a link to KIC from your blog or website. Thanks again...