Tag: Mideast

Loving Israel is in the Details

Ah-yup… Loving Israel is in the details. I love this piece by Joel Chasnoff

NEW YORK (JTA) — In honor of Israel’s 62nd birthday, I’ll forgo the expected Op-Ed about Israeli government corruption, the Bibi-Obama drama, or the Israeli Rabbinate’s stranglehold on marriage and divorce.

Instead, I offer this love letter to Israel: “Top 10 tiny details about Israel that make it the most wonderful country on earth.”

10. Egged Bus #394: The midnight ride from Tel Aviv to Eilat. The trip begins in the gray-stucco slums of south Tel Aviv. Two hours later, you’re rolling through the desert beneath a blanket of stars. You crack open the window. The desert smells dry and ancient, like an attic. At dawn, you pull into Eilat as the city comes to life.

9. The way Israelis refuse to cross the street on a red light. Drivers blare their horns the instant the light turns green. Yet pedestrians refuse to cross the street until the sign turns green. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon at 3:00 a.m., the streets bare and not a car in sight.

8. The Jewish soul of even the most secular Israelis. I served in the Israeli Army with kibbutz kids who were so anti-religious that they never even had a bar-mitzvah. But on Friday nights, as the brigade sung the Sabbath Kiddush en masse, I could see my secular comrades mouthing the words.

7. Flush handles on Israeli toilets. Almost all Israeli toilets, both public and in homes, have two flush handles — one for “light” loads, and one for heavy ones. This saves Israel’s most precious natural resource: water. And it’s genius.

6. Drop-dead gorgeous Israeli soldiers. The men are hunky, the women beautiful. Try not to drool as you watch them strut down Ben Yehudah Street in their olive-green uniforms, M-16s slung across their backs. It’s not so much their physical beauty that charms us as what they embody: Jewish power.

5. Shuk Ha-Carmel on Friday afternoons. So many things about Israel drive me mad. The bureaucracy is crippling. Government offices operate when they want, for as long (or short) as they want, usually something like 8 a.m. until noon Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Thursday. Each week, another group goes on strike — schoolteachers, garbage men, postal workers, phone operators, cable guys, bus drivers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, airport baggage guys, and the old men in blue jumpsuits who walk the streets of Tel Aviv stabbing pieces of trash with meter-long spears have all struck in the past year — so the country never runs at full power.

The Knesset, Israel’s 15-party parliament, is trapped in a state of perpetual gridlock. And yet, when I step into the Carmel Market and hear the shopkeepers barking their wares, smell the mixture of frying lamb, goat cheese, and human sweat, and watch the people line up to buy flowers for Shabbat, I remember why I love Israel so much. It’s the excitement of the place, but also the Middle Easterness of it — the barking, the bargaining, the haggling that’s at once friendly and brutal. At pushcarts and stalls, middle-aged men with gold chains and raspy cigarette voices sell mangoes, lemons, whole and quarter chickens, cow lungs, cow tongues, cow testicles, sheep brains, 50-plus varieties of fish, calculators, knockoff Nikes, carnations, sponges, girdles, batteries, and men’s and ladies’ underwear.

Friday afternoons, with only a couple of hours until sundown, the peddlers shout their last-minute pre-Sabbath bargains: “Tangerines, 1 shekel, 1 shekel!” “Pita, hummus, chickpeas– yallah! Shabbat, Shabbat!” Whenever I walk through the souk, I think about all those American diplomats who call Israel the America of the Middle East. If those diplomats really want to understand Israel, they should leave their fancy Jerusalem hotels and take a stroll through the Carmel Market.

4. Chocolate milk in a sack. Half a liter of Kibbutz Yotvateh chocolate milk sealed in a palm-sized plastic bag that you rip open with your teeth and then squeeze, causing the milk to shoot into your mouth in a way that makes you feel like you’re drinking straight from the udder of a chocolate cow. Need I say more?

3. The incredible bond between Israelis. Maybe it’s a remnant of shtetl life in Europe, or perhaps it has something to do with living so close to your enemy. Whatever the reason, Israelis act as if everyone is everyone else’s next-door neighbor. The first time I experienced this unique bond was the week I arrived in Israel to begin my army service. I was driving to Tel Aviv in a rental car when a guy pulled up next to me at a stoplight and beeped his horn. “Hey, achi!” he called. “My girlfriend’s thirsty. You got water?” Beside me, on the passenger seat, was a bottle of water. But it was half empty.

I held up the bottle. “It’s already open,” I said.

“No problem,” he replied, and stuck out his hand.

A week later, I was at my girlfriend, Dorit’s, family’s apartment with her parents. It was dinnertime and we had ordered pizza. Finally, after two hours, the pizza guy showed up on his motor scooter. He was disheveled and sopped with sweat. “I got lost,” he whimpered.

“So come inside! Sit!” said Dorit’s mother, Tzionah. “Coffee or tea?”

“Coffee,” said the pizza guy. “Milk and two sugars.”

While Tzionah made the coffee, Dorit’s father, Menashe, opened the pizza box. “Please take.” He offered a slice. The pizza guy waved him off. “Nu! You’re offending me!” said Menashe. “What’s your name?”

“Oren,” said the delivery guy.

“Oren. I insist. Eat.”

And I’ll be damned if Oren the pizza guy didn’t sit down at the kitchen table and eat the pizza he’d just delivered. As we ate, I thought about all those porno movies where the lonely housewife invites the pizza boy inside and seduces him on the kitchen table. In the Israeli version of the story, the pizza boy doesn’t make love to the housewife. Instead, he sits down with the family and eats pizza.

2. Dropping off a passenger at Ben-Gurion Airport. You pull up to the Departure door, hug your loved ones goodbye, and watch them walk into the terminal. Then you inhale a breath of sweet Israeli air, look up at the cloudless Tel Aviv sky, and think, “They have to leave…but I get to stay in Israel.”

1. ____________________________________________ . I leave this one up to you. What do you love most about Israel? E-mail me [email protected] and I’ll post your responses on the blog page of my Web site.

(Joel Chasnoff is a stand-up comedian and the author of “The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Kid From Chicago Fights Hezbollah,” about his year as a combat soldier in the Israeli army. View photographs from his army service and meet the characters from Joel’s book at www.joelchasnoff.com.)

In Love with a Book

I am in love. Of course, with my wife, with whom I recently celebrated as our eldest turned 18, our baby became a Bar Mitzvah, and our middle one continues to be wonderful. Such simchas always bring forth the love.

I am also in love with a book, a novel about love, archeology, life and death. Zoe Klein’s first novel, Drawing in the Dust, has been called “a magically inventive archelogical expedition into love’s psyche” by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner. Like The Red Tent before it, this novel weaves Biblical stories – the book of Jeremiah – with modern midrash to create a tale that enthralls and even educates.

I confess that I learned more about archeology from this book than I have since leaving rabbinic school. Moreover, the book, simultaneously an exploration of death and life, challenged me to reconsider ideas about what comes after this life. All this, while being caught up in a fast moving, engaging book. Perhaps that is why Rabbi Harold Schulweis called it “an archelogical adventure which resurrects buries romance.”

Read the Jewish Journal and Ha’aretz review of the novel.
Read it for the romance.
Read it to reconnect to the Bible.
Read it if you are interested in learning from Zoe Klein, one of Los Angeles’ most inspiring rabbis.

I gave copies of the book to my mother and sister, two women who love to read and who love Judaism. My wife will be reading my copy next. Let me know what you think when you have a chance to read it too.

America vs. The Narrative: The Omnipresent Story Taking Hold in the Arab-Muslim World

America vs. The Narrative

What should we make of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who apparently killed 13 innocent people at Fort Hood?Here’s my take: Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced — I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam,” and about his contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America — the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by “The Narrative.” What is scary is that even though he was born, raised and educated in America, The Narrative still got to him.The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down.Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving. Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you’d never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America’s unprovoked onslaught on Islam is the real story, and the Muslims are the real victims — of U.S. perfidy.Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes — the Taliban and the Baathists — and to work with Afghans and Iraqis to build a different kind of politics. In the process, we did some stupid and bad things. But for every Abu Ghraib, our soldiers and diplomats perpetrated a million acts of kindness aimed at giving Arabs and Muslims a better chance to succeed with modernity and to elect their own leaders. The Narrative was concocted by jihadists to obscure that.It’s working. As a Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said to me: “This narrative is now omnipresent in Arab and Muslim communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. [It says] the West, and right now mostly the U.S. and Israel, is single-handedly and completely responsible for all the grievances of the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Ironically, the vast majority of the media outlets targeting these communities are Arab-government owned — mostly from the Gulf.”This narrative suits Arab governments. It allows them to deflect onto America all of their people’s grievances over why their countries are falling behind. And it suits Al Qaeda, which doesn’t need much organization anymore — just push out The Narrative over the Web and satellite TV, let it heat up humiliated, frustrated or socially alienated Muslim males, and one or two will open fire on their own. See: Major Hasan.“Liberal Arabs like me are as angry as a terrorist and as determined to change the status quo,” said my Jordanian friend. The only difference “is that while we choose education, knowledge and success to bring about change, a terrorist, having bought into the narrative, has a sense of powerlessness and helplessness, which are inculcated in us from childhood, that lead him to believe that there is only one way, and that is violence.”What to do? Many Arab Muslims know that what ails their societies is more than the West, and that The Narrative is just an escape from looking honestly at themselves. But none of their leaders dare or care to open that discussion. In his Cairo speech last June, President Obama effectively built a connection with the Muslim mainstream. Maybe he could spark the debate by asking that same audience this question: “Whenever something like Fort Hood happens you say, ‘This is not Islam.’ I believe that. But you keep telling us what Islam isn’t. You need to tell us what it is and show us how its positive interpretations are being promoted in your schools and mosques. If this is not Islam, then why is it that a million Muslims will pour into the streets to protest Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but not one will take to the streets to protest Muslim suicide bombers who blow up other Muslims, real people, created in the image of God? You need to explain that to us — and to yourselves.”