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Reading, Misc. XIV

  1. Homeland insecurity (H/T RH).
  2. Ben Gurion’s American vision.
  3. What do you want to be when you grow up?
  4. Israeli economy.
  5. Ten most offensive Israeli ads.
  6. Diversity bad? (H/T MM).
  7. Recession over?
  8. Between Haifa and Yeruham.
  9. Crossword puzzle absence.
  10. The right tax.

And this week’s Haveil Havalim.

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On the Importance of Arabic

Israel is in the Middle East. The Middle East is largely an Arabophone region. These two facts are undisputed. However, Israel insists on behaving like a western outpost in the Orient. While it does so with regards to its foreign policy, it is equally true, and just as foolhardy, with regards to domestic issues.

While many Israelis would like to be European or American, they are not. Modern Israeli culture and behavior is derived from numerous sources, and has morphed into something new.

The current level of language instruction in Israel has a lot of room for improvement. Though not as bad as English, Hebrew language instruction in Israel is poor, to say the least. Instead of improving, Israel’s Ministry of Education has decided that regional language skills are unimportant. As of last year, Arabic has been completely dropped from the mandatory core curriculum.

This was not in order to invest more in to Hebrew or English instruction. There was no pedagogical reason for this decision. This step down in Israeli education was “motivated by an effort to create a curriculum acceptable to ultra-Orthodox schools.” This capitulation to narrow political interests is corruption, pure and simple.

Things are different on the other side of the ocean. Instead of imparting the language of the Jewish people to the next generation, some Jewish day schools are expanding their language departments to include Arabic.

This is the right move in the wrong place. I am not saying Jewish students should not learn Arabic. They should – in Israel. The problem is prioritization. Adding another language to the mix will only serve to dilute the already lacking Hebrew instruction offered by the Jewish educational system in America. In other words, first Hebrew, and only then Arabic.

Israeli education needs to strive for nothing less than excellence. Excellence in today’s Middle East requires the knowledge of Arabic. Instead of eliminating three years of Arabic study from the curriculum, language instruction in Israel needs to be placed front and center. Along with Hebrew and English, students should begin Arabic studies in first grade, if not beforehand.

I am in no way advocating forgoing Hebrew in favor of Arabic. Nor do I think Arabic is more important than English. The three languages are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, understanding, and playing by “house rules” in the Middle East requires knowing the language. That language is Arabic.

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Reading, Misc. XIII

  1. Scandanavian friends. (H/T CiJ)
  2. United, but perhaps not for long.
  3. The war over the streets.
  4. Returning to a changing homeland.
  5. The war.
  6. A strike against the camera.
  7. Taking a step away from the bedroom.
  8. Living together?
  9. Stupid.
  10. “It’s vegetarian, it’s healthy, it’s beans.”

Moment Magazine on Israeli blogs (including yours truly), and of course, Haveil Havalim.

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Zionist Crime

The level of violent crime in Israel is much lower than in most cities in the West, but it is quickly becoming a serious problem. Teenagers kill each other. Organized crime is on the rise. And the authorities are nowhere to be found. Regular police patrols in crime-ridden areas are few and far between, and if someone is actually arrested and convicted, the odds are the sentence will be hardly more than a slap on the wrist.

Last week violent crime struck again. Enjoying their time by the Kinneret, visiting American college students were inexplicably attacked. Although having suffered serious injuries, one is still planning on leading a birthright-Israel trip after graduation. Nevertheless, he is concerned regarding the investigation of this incident. “If nothing happens, I don’t know how I’ll feel safe,” he said from his hospital bed. Most likely little will happen, unfortunately. All but one of the suspects fled the crime scene.

Safety has become a rare commodity in too many places. Bialik’s threshold for becoming a normal state has long since been passed – no one is pining for the first Hebrew criminal. Israel does not have a culture of law and order, partly because people know they can get away with so much. The courts are no help, handing down meager sentences  that do not serve as real deterrents, not even for the convicts themselves.

Furthermore, this case specifically would be a PR nightmare. Thankfully for the inept state authorities, it seems all of the major Hebrew-language papers have decided this attack was not newsworthy. American Jews constitute the largest diaspora Jewish community. Setting aside the issue political support, if they are in danger of other Jews in the Jewish state, how will they ever believe aliyah is the right move?

Israel Police needs to start doing its job. Judges need to start sentencing violent criminals to long sentences, with no incomprehensible furloughs. Not just for tourists, but for Israelis. Israel needs to be more than a haven for Jews but sadly, from (some) Jews, as well.

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Pro-Shabbat or Anti-State?

It is summer in Israel, so someone must be either protesting or on strike. This time protests were started by only a small, extremely anti-Zionist sect within the Haredi community, the Eda HaHaredit, over Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to open a parking lot for use on Shabbat. The parking lot would be operated by a non-Jew, and would help alleviate the city’s parking shortage. That was a few weeks ago. In the mean time, much of the larger Haredi community has taken on this “cause” as their own.

These protests are not peaceful demonstrations, but violent riots, and often take place on Shabbat, in violation Jewish law. Not only do the rioters ignore the concept of ואהבת לרעך כמוך (love your friend as yourself) by attacking people, throwing rocks is a violation of Shabbat. These rioters, and those who incite them are merely masquerading as observant Jews.

A few weeks ago, (former) Ha’aretz reporter Shachar Ilan wrote in his The Marker blog about the situation:

To embarrass! That is the name of the game in the new Shabbat struggle in Jerusalem. The Eda HaHaredit (a small fanatical faction) opposes the participation of the Haredi parties in the municipal coalition and so they protest. In the intra-Haredi political game the Eda HaHaredit is the opposition and the Haredi parties are the government. The opposition’s job is to criticize. The fact that the Safra Parking Lot is surrounded by restaurants, pubs and clubs that have been operating on Shabbat for years is irrelevant. As is the fact that the parking lot will not charge for parking, or that parking at Safra will prevent parking on Shivtei Yisrael Road near Mea Shearim, and will prevent serious safety hazards. The issue is the opening of the parking lot on Shabbat, and the Eda HaHaredit will not miss a golden opportunity to embarrass the Haredi parties.

The economic angle. There is a difficult crisis in donations to religious institutions due to the global economic crisis. The Eda HaHaredit subsists primarily on donations. It is a well-known secret that religious struggles and confrontations with the Zionist police encourage donations. Could it be that the new Shabbat struggle in Jerusalem is part of the fallout from the global economic crisis and that the reporting of the Shabbat protests should be done in the business section? Can’t be. No way. How could one suspect the Torah sages of such motives?

Ilan’s analysis is interesting, but the comments section is fascinating. A former Haredi,  Shlomo, shares his insight into the world of the young protesters. This perspective is rare to see, as airing dirty laundry is taboo. Teenagers were assigned to various locations for the protests, and participants were exempt from homework. In his words, they were but “mere cannon fodder.” When they threw stones, they thought about the punishment Shabbat violators will receive in hell. When they burned Israeli flags on Yom Ha’atzmaut, they thought about how the state is impeding the arrival of the Messiah. Vandalism or respect for property – “these were not terms that were in our lexicon.” These crimes are encouraged, and those who commit them are idolized:

Each of us that was arrested, turned into the darling of the class, or the Yeshiva, surrounded by love in shul, got calls of “yishar koach” from passersby, even though we only spent a few hours in the Russian Compound (police headquarters).

In addition to the brainwashing of these kids to commit crimes, the hypocrisy of the rioters is clear. On the one hand, they are anti-Zionist, disavowing Jewish sovereignty until the coming of the Messiah. On the other hand, their behavior exhibits their sense of entitlement in the Zionist state.

An old story (source unknown) about Rabbi Shach emphasizes this point. Upon witnessing a Haredi man yelling at an Israel Police officer, Rabbi Shach quipped that the man must have become a Zionist. The man was surprised, “What are you talking about?” Rabbi Shach responded, “Would you have dared to yell at a police officer back in Poland?” In other words, is there rioting in the streets of Brooklyn and Antwerp?

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Reading, Misc. XII

  1. Legitimacy.
  2. Clinton is wrong.
  3. Will the Dead Sea live?
  4. U.S. Taxpayers’ Damage.
  5. Paying the price for wishful thinking.
  6. What is Kosher?
  7. Another eulogy for marriage.
  8. Don’t what where you eat?
  9. Israeli economy.
  10. Benefits of democracy.

Also, check out the latest Haveil Havalim and JPIX.

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On the Importance of Hebrew

One of the most important steps in pre-statehood Zionism was the revival of the Hebrew language. In 2,000 years of exile the Jewish people has developed many languages of its own, but they do not serve an overarching national purpose. Yiddish and Ladino have an important cultural and historical place, but do not unify us as a nation. Only Hebrew has done that.

Bible study and Hebrew go hand in hand. Forty years ago the very idea of “translating” the Bible into modern Hebrew would have been unthinkable. Tanakh was once widely studied, as an important Jewish text, and the Hebrew language flourished.

Today, however, that has all gone by the wayside. A declaration that “we are all Pinchas” does not cause an uproar, because most simply do not understand the implication. Equality and mediocrity have taken the place of excellence. Dumbing down of primary education for the sake of a lowest common denominator is taking a serious toll on Israeli students. The most basic of grammar mistakes are extremely common. In fact, speaking proper Hebrew in Israel, of all places, is likely to elicit bemused looks.

This is not just an Israeli problem, but a global Jewish problem. One of the biggest failings of the American Jewish community is the refusal to incorporate effective Hebrew language instruction into the Jewish educational system. Even the average Orthodox Day School graduate can barely get by in Israel on Hebrew alone. Are they afraid that a stronger connection with Israel and Israelis will lead more to make aliyah, further weakening the American Jewish community?

Setting aside the questionable validity of Jewish life outside of Israel, Judaism without Hebrew is an incomplete entity. For thousands of years Jewish study was reliant on Hebrew. However, a break with that past occurred in the mid-19th century. The religious leadership of the diaspora no longer relies on Hebrew. What sort of Jewish identity does one have without a basis in Hebrew? How can a community rely on Rabbis who are not truly versed in the language of the sources?

If Jewish continuity is a real goal then effective Hebrew education is necessary. Halting the detorioration of the language is imperative for the continued existence, and thriving, of the Jewish people. Proper Hebrew must not be preserved in an encyclopedia, but be the common language of Jews everywhere. The loss of Hebrew and the inability to read primary Jewish sources will leave us with only a watered down cultural heritage, not a national identity.

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The OU and Aliyah

A Jewish community fair was held in New York recently, in order to “to lure Orthodox Jews from New York City to towns and other cities where emerging Orthodox communities are eager to reinforce their numbers.”

Sponsored by the Orthodox Union (OU), this fair is an attempt to bolster “emerging Orthodox communities.” Many small Orthodox Jewish communities around the U.S. want to attract new members. But Jews should not be moving to more small Jewish communities in the U.S. If these communities are having a hard time staying alive, the relocation of Jews from those places should be addressed, not vice versa.

How can the observant Jewish leadership justify an active effort to expand Jewish life outside of Israel? Is life in the diaspora a goal of the OU?

Israel is central to Jewish life, and should be treated as such by the leaders of the observant Jewish community. Even if mass aliyah is not around the corner, the further entrenchment of life in the diaspora should not be the alternative.

There are “emerging communities” in Israel, in the Negev and in the Galil. Sponsoring a jobs and relocation fair for those communities would be far more in line with the commandment to settle the land of Israel.

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Leave No Man Behind?

Yesterday marked three years (according to the Jewish calendar, this Thursday will be the Gregorian date) since Gilad Schalit was abducted at Kerem Shalom. Three years of talks, of attempts at negotiating his release – but he is still absent. Schalit, however, is not the only Israeli soldier to be left behind.

  • October 10, 1973 – Ze’ev Rotshik went missing, while in search of his unit during the Yom Kippur War.
  • June 12, 1982 – the battle at Sultan Yaqub resulted in three MIAs – Zecharia Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Tzvi Feldman.
  • October 16, 1986 – an Israeli F-4 Phantom II suffered damage in Lebanese skies. Two crew members were able to eject to safety, but the navigator, Ron Arad, went missing.
  • August 17, 1997 – Guy Hever mysteriously disappeard from his base in the Golan Heights, and has never been heard from since.
  • May 24, 2005 – Majdi Halabi mysteriously disappeard, while on his way from home back to his base, and has never been heard from since.
  • October 1, 2000 – Jospeh’s Tomb in Nablus was attacked, and Border Patrol Officer Madhat Yusuf was shot in the neck. No rescue mission was sent to save him, and he died due to loss of blood.
  • October 7, 2000 – Benny Avraham, Omar Sawaid, and Avi Avitan were kidnapped in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah. In early 2004 their bodies were returned to Israel in a questionable prisoner exchange deal.
  • June 25, 2006 – Gilad Schalit was taken hostage in an attack on an IDF post.
  • July 12, 2006 – Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were captured in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah, leading to the Second Lebanon War. Their bodies were eventually returned in an even more questionable prisoner exchange deal.

Israel has a declared policy of leaving no man behind, of caring for its soldiers. However, there are too many missing soldiers whose fate is still unknown. And the last few times it has tried to bring any kidnapped soldiers home through negotiations, it has paid too dear of a price, and learned, all too late, that it was sold a bill of goods.

The last real attempt at rescuing a captive IDF soldier was in 1994. On October 9 of that year Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped from an intersection by Yehud, and an operation was undertaken for his release. The rescue mission was unsuccessful, leaving both Waxman and the mission commander dead.

Ever since there has been a fear of launching, admittedly dangerous, rescue missions for the release of Israeli captives. Soldiers risk their lives for their country. That is a given – it is the very nature of a soldier. It does not mean that avoiding risk is an acceptable excuse for the abandonment of Israelis behind enemy lines. Nor does it mean that the release of murderers in exchange for dead bodies is an acceptable attempt at bringing the soldiers home. It only strengthens the enemy’s resolve.

While no Prime Minister would dare admit this in public, this fear seems to be grounded in politics, than stemming from a concern for soldiers’ lives. A failed mission would cost the government a significant amount of political capital, but that does not mean that they should not try. These pathetic excuses must be brushed aside, and the government must begin fulfilling its duty – safeguarding the people of Israel.

Even unsuccessful rescue attempts are better than the current situation, in which the kidnapping of a soldier can bring a whole country to its knees. In any case, Israel has executed successful operations in the past, leading to the safe return home of captives. Although the abducted were not soldiers, arguably the most famous of these was in Entebbe, Uganda. Another well-known operation was the rescure Sabena Flight 572, in which two future Prime Ministers participated – Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Today, Netanyahu is the Prime Minister, and Barak is the Minister of Defense. Why have the years gone by with nary an attempt at rescuing the MIAs. Where is today’s Entebbe? Where is today’s Sabena?

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Reading, Misc. XI

  1. Liberty at sea.
  2. Calling for the undermining of Israeli sovereignty.
  3. Failing Israeli schools.*
  4. The international Manchester United.
  5. Hope for Jerusalem?
  6. Olympics – not the best city, but the most popular.
  7. Trader Joe’s – a failed boycott.
  8. Absent demonstrators.
  9. Unorthodox Orthodoxy.
  10. The U.S. Military’s Neo-Nazis.

This week’s, and belatedly, last week’s Haveil Havailm.

*The final paragraph, of suggestions, is missing from the English version, and can be found in the original Hebrew.

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