a different side of Israel

Tag: America (page 2 of 14)

Coming Up This Week

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Exclusive: News headlines from the future!

July 20
  • Monday: Barack Obama arrives in Jerusalem. A new state’s witness is claiming he saw Senator Obama handing PM Olmert a fat white envelope.
  • Tuesday: Gilad Shalit’s IDF comrades disposed today of their olive uniforms after 3 long years, as they reenter civic life. Nothing funny to say about this.
  • Wednesday: In their Washington meeting, Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and his American counterpart Admiral Mullen allude at a nearing strike on Iran. Oil prices reach 150$ a barrel.
  • Thursday: Minister of the Interior, Meir Shetrit, endorses the construction of a new Arab city in the Galilee. He also promises to give away free Hershey bars every sunday until the coming primaries.

Daily Israeli – Weekend Recap

New Story MarkPressure is mounting on PM Olmert and his Ministers to make a decision regarding the captive soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. After long two years, a swap deal with Hezbollah has finally been drafted, and the only thing that’s required for its immediate execution is the government’s approval. Ehud’s wife, Karnit Goldwasser, made a public appeal over the weekend and urged PM Olmert not to delay this decision any further, and to bring Eldad and her husband back home.

Israeli and American Chiefs of Staff
New Story MarkAdmiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the United States’ Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a short and unscheduled visit to Jerusalem this Saturday, meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Rav Aluf (that’s the title) Gabi Ashkenazi. This is his second visit to Israel in 6 months. As a result, oil prices crossed the 140$ mark for the first time in history.

New Story MarkMinister of Justice Prof. Daniel Friedmann continues his crusade against the High Court, this time proposing to amend the “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” in such a way that it will not apply on immigration and border control issues. In other words, if this amendment is accepted by the Knesset — and that’s an unlikely scenario — Israeli officials will be legally free to deport any and all foreigners, including asylum seekers, without the High Court being able to intervene in the matter. Since Israel does not currently have a Constitution, Basic Laws are the closest thing we have so far, and playing with them is a very big deal.

Photo by AP

2008 Elections – Israel should follow American example – Debate the issues

Tomorrow, unless something truly extraordinary happens, the Knesset will vote to disperse itself, setting the scene for November 2008 elections in Israel. As we all know, the American public is scheduled to go to the polls in November 4th, but unlike their Mid-Eastern counterparts, they’ll be doing it willingly.

It’s been said time and time again in the Israeli media over the past couple of weeks that no one in the political arena is truly interested in initiating such a dramatic move, especially at such a critical point in time. Nevertheless, it seems we’re heading there anyway.

Israel doesn
This isn’t debating

I think I’ve probably said it before: Whoever wins the American elections in November will be a better president, just by going through the elections process, than he could be if he was elected today. The political arena is the perfect training ground for any national leader — but only when this arena features the issues and not the backstage transactions.

Having to undergo 26(!) televised debates, the Democratic candidates had sufficient opportunities to clearly describe to the public their stance on all the major issues. In fact, candidates who had started this campaign with vague platforms and relatively little public experience, had to become savants in economics, foreign policy, and health care — naming just a few of the issues — if they wanted to survive the process of primary elections and to present themselves as viable and serious candidates. They also had to literally “go to the people”, hold local gatherings, tour the country, get to know their constituents first-hand. The American voters have come to know these people rather well, being acquainted with their style of behavior, type of personality — and most importantly — knowing exactly where these candidates stand when it comes to the issues, and how well they understand what they’re talking about.

Additionally, required to clearly state their platform time and time again, these candidates also demonstrate whether they hold an honest agenda or whether they constantly change their positions according to the recent opinion polls. This is crucial information for constituents.

This entire process happens before an American president enters office! He has plenty of time and opportunities to make noticeable mistakes and to learn from them before these mistakes have the potential to cause national instability. Here in Israel, the same process tends to happen after a Prime Minister has been put in office by his party.

In short, what I’m trying to say it this:
The Israeli public deserves to have a series of televised debates where all presumptive PM candidates face each other and publicly answer questions.

Americans do hold political debates
This is debating

It is frighteningly amazing how a man such as Ehud Barak can be chosen to lead a major political party in Israel without actually saying anything clear about the issues! Or how both he and Ehud Olmert allow themselves to go public with peremptory announcements every now and then — and then to never go through with their own promises! What’s even more regrettable is the fact that no one expects them to be clear or consistent anymore!

This is absurd. And I’d like to see both the Israeli public and the Israeli media pushing forth the notion that Israeli politicians must follow the example of their American counterparts and publicly clarify their positions during face-to-face televised debates — before they enter office.

The Naked Truth

Assi Dayan is a renowned Israeli actor, writer, and director. In recent years he is most associated with the character of Reuven Dagan, the therapist in the midst of the hit drama “Be’Tipul” — which has been adapted to the American audiences by HBO, titled “In Treatment”. Assi Dayan is a long-time drug addict and he doesn’t hide this fact. In fact, he likes to talk about it.

T ShirtLast week, Dayan was twice viciously exposed in the media: First, he gave an interview to Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s leading daily newspaper in the Hebrew language, and was featured naked on the weekend edition. In the interview, he compared his hairy belly to the state of Israel, saying they’re both in terrible shape. Then a few days later he made a phone call to channel 10’s entertainment correspondent Haim Etgar and invited him to come with a film crew to document his messy apartment and his messy life. The piece, aired on primetime TV during the evening news, bluntly exposed Dayan snorting white powder

These sensational interviews brought much outrage on the media affiliates that apparently weighted ratings over ethics, while Haim Etgar defended himself by saying that Dayan was pleading for help and that the primetime exposure was meant to divert public attention (and support) to his ill condition. Needless to say that Dayan granted full permission to both these interviews — He initiated the whole affair.

Dayan’s cousin, the author Yonatan Geffen (who was once a drug addict himself) published an article in Ma’ariv — the second largest Israeli daily newspaper — in which he blames the media for exploiting his cousin’s condition, and reminding us that Dayan’s so-called consent is morally and legally invalid, since he was not thinking clearly at the time. He accused the media of “tenderly” pushing Dayan towards his death, comparing his cousin to Britney Spears, who has also been suffering from intrusive media reports. Although perhaps an Amy Winehouse comparison is more fitting in this case.

We all have demons of self-destruction; they are not the sole property of celebrities. I wonder why the camera loves them so much.

Why would anyone want to be a politician – Part 1

As Israel stands on the verge of possible general elections, and America is nearing the end of its primary season, each of us — as private citizens — has to make up his mind, and pick his favourite candidate. How should we tackle this crucial task? Should I choose to vote solely on the basis of the candidate’s promises? Her past record? And what about personality? It’s a proven fact that personality plays a critical factor in this decision.

Hollow PoliticiansBut then, what aspects of personality should I take into account? His family status? Do I find it significant whether she displays herself as a warm and open character, or as a bold and intelligent person? And finally, what about his motives? Should I care why he made it into politics in the first place — Would it imply how good of a politician he might play out to be?

I want to list the major factors that drive different people into the violent fields of the political game. I don’t think we could ever really know what motivates a certain person — mostly, he doesn’t fully know it himself. Nevertheless, defining these possible motives is something I would like to attempt here today.

Please note that the human psyche is a very complex phenomena. Accordingly, each person may accommodate a range of different — and even opposite — motives at the same time, at different ratios. These ratios may change over time. Yes, (some) people do change.

Okay, enough with the chit-chat… let’s start: We can divide the factors that drive a certain person into politics to three distinctive categories: Pragmatic Reasons, Psychological Deficiencies, and Moral Imperatives.

A. What Pragmatic Reasons are there?

1) A person who isn’t especially good at anything discovers that the political arena doesn’t require special skills or a university diploma. He has to make money somehow, and it’s the only place where he could find a job.

2) Another person ventured into politics to make a change. He’s in the game for twenty-thirty years. He’s already lost the spark many years ago. Cynicism covers him as he lies in bed, and indifference walks beside him as he enters another lobbyist’s gathering. But it’s now a habit. It’s too late to change profession after so many years.

3) A third person tried to make money in the private sector. Then he realized that nepotism is the name of the game; that without publicity, you’re nothing in this world. So he offered himself as president… This way, he could befriend a lot of rich moguls, who would line up to invest in his new business when he resigns office. Or he’ll be invited to sit in a corporate board of directors. Or he’ll travel the world and charge $1,000,000 for a single lecture. There’s also a book deal around the corner… But seriously, even if he isn’t one of the lucky few who exit politics straight into the tight embrace of Capitalism, he can still arrange a nice job for his niece, or have the bureaucratic leverage to receive a delicious bribe or two. (In short: Politics is a way to develop business relations, and to earn a high Market Value for oneself.)

Tomorrow I will continue this post.

A Tale of Two Cities

There is only one Jerusalem. And there is only one Tel-Aviv. Both cities dominate the Israeli landscape, while each of them represents different aspects of the country.

Jerusalem is the capital. The heart of Judaism, and the largest city in the country, it is home to the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). Jerusalem lies inland, on top of several hills, and surrounded by forests and valleys. It is a conflict city, which has a large orthodox population on one side, as well as a large Arab population on the other side.

Tel Aviv is the heart of new Israel, the epicenter of its culture and its Western lifestyle. The first Hebrew city to be built by the Zionist pioneers, it lies on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and attracts young people at their 20’s from all across the land. Many foreign embassies reside in Tel Aviv — including the American embassy — since Jerusalem’s status as the Israeli capital is under dispute in the international scene.

The “Ha’Dag Nahash” (the Snake Fish), a successful Israeli band, has a rap song that describes the rivalry between these two cities. The character in the song moves back and forth from one city to the other, uncertain where his heart lies.

The song is titled “Ee’Ne A’Ni Ba” (Here I Come).

The first and third chorus goes like this:
Tel-Aviv, A’Ni Ma’Gia, Ba’ti Leha’Zia – A’T Ha’Yechi’Da, A’Ni Nish’Ba
(Tel-Aviv, I’m coming, ready to sweat – You’re the only one, I swear)

The second chorus goes like this:
Ye’Ru’Shala’Eem, Ho’Zer E’Laeich, El Ho’Mo’Taich – A’T Ha’Yechi’Da, A’Ni Nish’Ba
(Jerusalem, I’m returning to you, inside your walls – You’re the only one, I swear)

Hurray! Peace with Syria – Political Commentary by Ashley

Guest Commentary

Wait a second – Weren’t we at war with them? What does it mean to announce peace talks with a regime that we vastly outgun in military matters and totally humiliate on an economic level (Israel’s per capita GDP is $30,000 and climbing; Syria’s is just scraping $4,000)?

Israel recently entered Syrian airspace after disabling Syria’s “latest and most advanced” Russian-made air defense systems and then destroyed what’s thought to have been a nuclear weapons facility. Even during the Lebanon War — that mismanaged, mangled, and relatively pathetic display of Israel’s military capabilities — Israeli warplanes were able to buzz “President” Assad’s palace without so much as being shot at.

So, clearly, Syria is a major threat to Israel and we should scramble to give up the ultra-strategic Golan Heights (where Syria attacked Israel from when it actually was a threat) in order to quell the potential “shit-storm” that Syria might like to serve us.

What’s really going on here? No sane nation in today’s geopolitical world, and none in the history of nations, would ever sit down to give away land — strategic land — to a bordering country that not only has limited power but also constantly calls for the destruction of the first, more powerful country.

All I can say is: Welcome to Israeli domestic politics.

We’ve seen this before, many times. The parallels are actually frightening. Let’s rewind back to the winter of 2000, when Ehud Barak led Israel through a number of failed, disastrous policies. In February of 2000, Barak, according to The Economist, was accused by the state comptroller of corruption and “shenanigans over election financing.” Barak, as skillful and slippery as any Israeli politician, managed to sway the public focus away from him by doing something “bold”: he removed Israeli troops from their strategic position in southern Lebanon where they had been keeping Hezbollah (and their likes) at bay.

After the troop withdrawal, Hezbollah had the opportunity to casually saunter into southern Lebanon. In effect, Barak’s wily plan worked — he was praised by the left-wing media for his dovish actions and his campaign imbroglio was largely forgotten. He also, by the way, wiped out more than a decade of hard-won gains in Lebanon that kept terrorists out of firing range of Israel’s population centers. Six years later, we got a terror war from the south of Lebanon in which Israeli soldiers and civilians were murdered.

Ariel Sharon provides another instructive example. Just after he became prime minister, Sharon began to deny accusations of campaign finance violations faster than he could gobble down Shwarmas. Boomerang, a book written by left-wing Israeli journalists and based on extensive interviews as well as on the examination of declassified documents and use of archival material, had made the case that Sharon used the withdrawal from Gaza to distract the Israeli public from his misdoings.

It seemed to work — except for the small annoyance that some call “daily terror attacks”, in the form of Qassam and Katyusha rockets fired from the recently withdrawn-from Gaza Strip. (There have been roughly 8,000 rocket strikes on Israeli ground from Gaza to date since the withdrawal.)

Of course, not a problem for Sharon — then and now — who sleeps with a clear conscience.

Olmert, who, some scientists speculate, may actually be amphibious, has set off on the same mission. A quick browse of today’s news headlines and you can see all the pieces coming together: Olmert announces his new peace plan with our seriously threatening enemy, Syria. At the same time, he wrangles with the police and the justice department officials, in an attempt to delay the testimony of the American financier, Morris Talansky, which could put him behind bars. Delay it just long enough for the peace-crazed public to forget… Forget what, again…?

Olmert may have gone too far this time. But then again, we in Israel like to draw lines in the sand, never remembering that the desert’s political winds blow hard.

Bush in the Knesset

Bush in KnessetThis last Thursday, President George Bush gave an historical speech in front of the Israeli parliament. Bush has paid a three-day visit to Israel in honor of Israel’s 60’s anniversary.

In a pro-Israeli speech, Bush has expressed his nation’s support of Israel. Bush said how proud America is to have such a close friend as Israel. President Bush opened his speech in Hebrew: Yom Ha’atzmaut Samech [happy Independence Day]. Bush’s Hebrew is far more impressive than his English, that’s for sure!

“I’m honored to be here… America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world; our alliance is unbreakable,”

“You have worked tirelessly for peace and freedom. When Americans look at Israel we see a pioneering spirit, talent and determination of a free people refusing to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny,” said Bush.

Did Bush say something that we have not heard before? I doubt it…In response to some of Bush’s compassionate statements, all Knesset members and visitors rose to their feet in applause. Indeed, it has been one of the greatest kiss ups that our nation has seen in the last sixty years.

Picture: Haaretz

Channel 10 — the true Survivor

Up until 2002, there was only one commercial broadcasting television channel licensed to operate in Israel. There were already many niche channels transmitting via the cable networks (which have meanwhile merged into the “HOT” network) or the satellite network “YES”, but up until that point, Channel 2 was the dominating force of commercial TV in Israel, and considered to be the mainstream option for the average Israeli TV-goer.

In 2002 businessman Yossi Meiman made the bold move and initiated the creation of Israel 10 (known simply as Channel 10 in Israel), infusing huge amounts of cash into this media adventure. At the beginning, it seemed that he threw away his money in vain, having to face many bureaucratic obstacles and initial low rating levels. Despite shameless purchasing of Channel 2’s main news anchors, Ya’akov Eilon and Miki Haimovitz, Israel 10’s future remained uncertain for the first 3 years or so. All changed when new investors jumped onto the wagon, and when Israel 10 had decided to claim its share of the lucrative pie known as Reality TV…

Israeli Survivor 10Yesterday 36% of Israel’s TV screens were tuned “10” — mine including — on the occasion of a “good-trash” celebration, known as the Survivor 10 Live Finale, taking place in a major basketball arena, no less. After 16 successful seasons in which the reality show Survivor has been a definite “hit” in America, it was high time for the gold-laying chicken to learn how to speak Hebrew. Still, it wasn’t a simple case of a format purchasing and localization. Israel 10 went several steps ahead and has grossly altered the known format, turning the fast-paced reality into a semi-scripted soap opera. Countless magazine articles have published multiple claims of game manipulation by the Israeli production, ranging from the supply of groceries to the castaways, and up to changing the rules on-the-fly in order to keep their preferred characters inside the game, when these faced an imminent threat of dismissal by their fellow tribe members. Personally, I have no idea if these claims have any truth in them; the production certainly denies such allegations. One thing is for sure, the show fulfilled its purpose as a major rating magnet, and provided Channel 10 with a widespread buzz, that is normally the exclusive property of Channel 2.

Three finalists came on top after 52 days on the island: Dan Mano, the young Haifa attorney, whose uncle owns the wealthy Mano Cruise company. Dan has been painted as the manipulative mastermind, who managed to irritate most of his fellow castaways, and a great proportion of the viewers. At one point, when Dan was about to be voted off the island in the following tribal council, the production suddenly transferred him into the women’s group, virtually “saving his ass”. He always claimed to simply playing the game, and personally I must admit that he was my favourite pick for taking the one million shekels prize. Next to him, we had Na’ama Keisary, the new mom, who left her one-month baby, and her dying father, in order to challenge herself in this dire experience. She hadn’t won even a single contest on the island, yet came across as a strong and independent woman. Last but no least, the third finalist pleading the jury for a check last night, was Noam Tor, the humble bee-keeper, who was elected Israel’s sexiest man alive by a major magazine. Noam was voted off the island relatively early in the game, but survived a secondary game in what was called “the Island of the Dead” — a serious deviation from the original format.

Despite being filmed in the Caribbean Islands, the winner wasn’t chosen on-site, as done in the original version, nor was the decision free of public influence. The castaways arrived at the Nokia Arena while already enjoying a celebrity status, and have had many weeks to influence the members of the jury after leaving the island. In addition, the TV finale included an SMS poll, in which the audience was asked to pick its favourite finalist — and these results would have been considered the tie-breaking vote if such a scenario was materializing. In the end, after an excruciating evening that included 3 weary finalists, and many emotional breakdowns, Na’ama Keisary was chosen the ultimate Survivor, surprising everyone believed strongly that Noam was signaled by the production as the suitable winner.

Now that the first Israeli season came to an end, Channel 10 is losing its first rating monster, and leaving many viewers with a bad taste in mouth. Nevertheless; it was fun, it was hot, and it was addictive. Expect a second season heading your way next year….

From celebrations to allegations

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denies allegations for allegedly accepting bribes worth millions of dollars from US businessman, Moshe (Morris) Talansky. On Thursday, at the end of Israel’s 60th Independence Day, Olmert addressed the Israeli public during his post gag order press conference:

“I was elected by you, citizens of Israel, to be the prime minister and I don’t intend to shirk this responsibility. At the same time, and even though the law does not require me to do this, I will resign from my job if the attorney general decides to issue an indictment against me” , said Olmert.

Prime Minister OlmertOlmert says he will resign if indicted. Dramatic as it may sound, it would be impossible for any prime minister to stay in office if investigation continues.

“I was not born to be prime minister, and I’m not going to stay here until the end of my life. I’m too young for that. Right now, I think it will be a mistake (to leave), and I have a job to accomplish, a vision to realize. This is the great vision of peace which I think is possible this time more than ever”, he said to the American press during the weekend.

Moshe (Morris) Talansky, a key witness in the investigation, is now in Israel.

We will have to wait and see what happens next.

One thing you can say for sure while celebrating 60 years of statehood –there has never been a dull moment!

Sources: Ynet , Haaretz ; Picture by PM Office

Olmert Under Investigation – Again

This is from the NYPost

A Long Island mogul is at the center of a sensational bribery scandal that could bring down embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, The Post has learned.

Millionaire financier Morris Talansky – who runs an investment firm out of his tony home in Woodmere – allegedly passed money to Olmert while the politician was mayor of Jerusalem in the ’90s, sources said.

In a highly unusual move, Israeli authorities have barred the country’s media from publishing Talansky’s name – revealed now in The Post – saying it could hamper their investigation. Israeli media has referred only to the involvement of an “American businessman.”

Talansky is apparently set to sing to Israeli authorities about his alleged role in the scheme, sources said.
“It looks serious, and it looks like they have a state witness” in Talansky, one source said.

Talansky – a philanthropist and political contributor to everyone from Rudy Giuliani to Bill Clinton – is in Jerusalem, where he has an apartment, preparing to head to a closed-door court hearing as early as today, sources said.

The 75-year-old was earlier questioned about the alleged scheme almost immediately after arriving in the country for Passover, and he implicated Olmert, sources have said.

It was unclear what the alleged payments to Olmert were for, but sources said they involved hefty amounts of cash.

Talansky repeatedly appears – sometimes under the nickname “The Laundry Man” – in the logs of financial dealings kept by Olmert’s longtime aide, Shula Zakan, a source said.

Olmert was grilled by investigators Friday. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

The allegations are only the latest in a string of woes for Olmert, who has battled past charges of government corruption and questionable personal business practices.

“But this time seems very serious, and it seems eventually, we don’t know if it will be days, weeks or months, in the end, he may not be able to continue to be prime minister,” one source said.

A man answering the phone at Talansky’s multimillion-dollar mansion in Woodmere yesterday said, “He’s not available.”

Talansky lists himself as CEO of the Global Resources Group, a self-described financial-investment firm.

Ehud Olmert 2008Ehud Olmert , the Israeli Prime Minister, is again suspected of corruption. On Friday, police investigators including the Head of the National Fraud Unit came knocking on Ehud Olmert’s door at his official residence in Jerusalem. Olmert was questioned on suspicion of receiving bribes from an American businessman a few years ago.

The prime minister answered all of the investigators’ questions on the subject, and will continue to cooperate with all legal authorities to the extent he is required to do so,” said the official statement from Olmert’s office.

Another official statement from the Prime Minister’s office said he “is convinced that with the discovery of the truth in the police investigation, the suspicions against him will dissipate.”

The Israeli Prime Minister might be facing serious allegations. Can Olmert politically survive this last high profile interrogation that connects him to severe corruption affair? In the last few years, Olmert has demonstrated fantastic survival skills in the political arena.

A senior source has told the media in response: “Olmert is in a grave situation, it is doubtful whether he will be able to continue to hold his position.” In the meantime, Ehud Olmert denies all allegations.

Israeli ministers certainly make police forces work hard these days. Israeli former finance minister , Avraham Hirchson, also faces criminal investigation , suspected of being involved in the embezzlement of 10 million dollars, partly from a charity fund.

The list does not end here unfortunately.
I guess many MKs will not be celebrating Israel’s Independence Day next week.

Shirly Brener Hits Big Time

Shirly BrenerAnother Israeli actress has landed the lead role in a Hollywood production. According to recent reports, Israeli actress Shirley Brener has nabbed the leading role in a new action film called “Streets of Blood”. She will be starring alongside Sharon Stone, Val Kilmer, and rapper 50 cents.

Brener will portray a drug addict who gets in trouble with the police. “I am excited about the filming, I feel like I am taking an additional step and this time opposite a Hollywood diva like Sharon Stone”, said Brener to the press.

More Israeli actresses are joining Natalie Portman in conquering the big screen. Last month inside sources hinted that Ayelet Zurer would star next to Tom Hanks in Ron Howard’s upcoming film “Angels and Demons”, based on Dan Brown’s bestselling novel. In 2001, Zurer made an unforgettable appearance in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich”, which launched her international career.

I have no doubt that our representatives are extremely talented, but in this business it also demands a lot of luck! Considering this international success, I hope these women are wearing a Hamsa against the envious eye!

Also can be added to this impressive list, singer and songwriter Yael Naim whose hit song “New Soul” has been rocking American charts in the past few months.

Way to go!

This 2008 Passover

Before you read the post below I have a couple of words about the Gorilla. Yes, he is eating Matza. He really doesn’t have that much of a choice. If he is anything like the rest of us though I suggest you stay away from the Ramat Gan Zoo in the next couple of weeks – it’s not going to be pretty…

Hat Tip: Tibor Yagar MSN GALATZ

Israelis have always had a “love-hate” affair when comes to the 7 day holiday known as Pesach (Passover) or Hag HaAviv (Festival of Spring) to secular folk. Pesach is one of Judaism’s most beautiful and important festivals as it commemorates the Jew’s freedom from slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramsis II, more than 3,000 years ago. Like Thanksgiving in America, the Passover Seder is one of the best times for families to be together to enjoy this holiday and eat the foods that God commanded their forbearers to eat as they left Egypt for what turned out to be 40 years of wandering through the wilderness of Sinai.

Gorilla Trying Matza in Ramat Gan ZooFor some Israelis, however, Pesach is not the joyous and meaningful festival that it should be, and many go abroad for the week to escape having to eat matzah or unleavened bread and other foods deemed Kosher for Pesach. Recently, more and more restaurants and stores have begun offering bread products, including pita, pizza, and even baguettes to those who want them. This now includes large supermarkets as well as small convenience stores, many of which are run by non-religious kibbutzim. Enforcing the existing law concerning the selling and eating of “hametz” (leavened bread and other non-kosher for Pesach products) has been difficult, and many businesses, including a large supermarket chain, simply pay fines as a “cost of doing business”.

Enter Pesach 2008. Due to objections in the existing laws by secular Israelis, a Jerusalem court judge issued a decree that in some instances the existing “Passover Law” will not be binding for private establishments who are not considered as “public arenas”. This means that breads and other “hametz” products will now be allowed to be sold in grocery stores, restaurants and pizza parlors, etc., and that beer will flow freely in all the pubs (as if it hasn’t already up to now!). While this has made a lot of secular people happy, religious and traditional Jews feel just the opposite as this edict clearly violates a very old and important tenet of Judaism.

Or does it? Those who intend to keep Kosher for Pesach wouldn’t eat or drink in most of the establishments who will serve “hametz” as many of them are already non-kosher and are open during the year on Shabbat and religious holidays; serving non-kosher foods, including pork and shellfish. This being the case, there’s really no reason for these types of establishments to have to be Kosher for Pesach anyway, since serving non-kosher pepperoni pizzas prepared on matzos instead of normal pizza dough is a bit superfluous.

The bottom line is the personal consciousness of people; and being forced to do something they really don’t care to do is not going to change them. Anyway, it’s been estimated that at least 70% of all Jews in Israel will forsake their pizzas and falafels for a week and be none the worse off for it. In fact they will do this proudly, out of respect for their faith and tradition.

As for the remaining 30%, hopefully some of you will get the message and join your Jewish brethren in observing a truly unique and wonderful religious tradition to celebrate our release from human bondage into freedom.

Chag Pesach Samech!

Enabeling the Shtettle Mentality

It was only until after I came on Aliyah with my family nearly ten years ago and after settling down did I realize that I live in a bubble. A hard concept to imagine, but coming from Kew Gardens Hills, NY, I thought it was there that I dwelled in a happy bubble. Yet, that was not the case. Now being one of the “Anglo’im”, I have come to grips with the fact that we live in a small world of our own. If you are an Anglo and live in Israel, no matter how long you’ve lived here, in all likelihood, you interact, befriend and socialize primarily with other Anglos as well. You may make some Israeli friends here and there, and in more rare instances, you befriend South Americans, French, Russians, Ethiopians as well as other Jews from the Diaspora. But by and large, your circles consist primarily of Anglos. The only exotic Anglos you know (if you are a ‘Yank’ like me) are those from the UK, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand.

Our purpose as olim is to integrate into Israeli society – to become Israelis. Yet, from what I see, people tend to cling onto their native cultures. Language and accent, being the major barrier between Anglos and Israelis, is one of the greatest obstacles which divides our communities to mainstream Israelis. This is true in all sets and subsets of the religious and non-religous oleh communities in the country.

What is striking though, in religious communities throughout the country where many Anglos now call home, English is the common language found throughout these cities. English postings clutter community bulletin boards in shops and libraries; English lectures in public places; English ganei yeladim and now they’re opening up an acreditied Yeshiva High School for boys in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem which is for English speakers only.

Though it defeats the entire purpose of aliyah and klita (immigration and absorption), the purpose of opening this school is to address a need that is great in the Anglo communities where young teenagers have been having a very difficult time adjusting to the Israeli yeshiva system. Most of these youngsters either had difficulties adjusting to the Israeli school system, be it socially or communicatively. However the question arises, how is this going to help them in the long run? Furthermore, many boys ending up at this Yeshiva will attend because they want to be in an English environment and not necessarily because they merely didn’t “fit in”. In the long run, these boys will not really be able to function in Israeli society, (including the IDF) and in essence, they are being taught and bred to live outside of Israel.

Ironic, though many, if not most religious Anglo communities in Israel have come on aliyah because of their religious convictions, the establishment of this Yeshiva can facilitate yeridah (moving from Israel). Though I’m sure that there are students who, plain and simple have a serious problem learning and living in a foriegn language, there are most, who with help, can overcome this obstacle and mainstream into young Israeli society. In the short run, since many of these students socialize exclusively with their fellow Anglos, it even adds a new barrier between themselves and Israeli society.

For those of us who grew up in the diaspora, many of us lived on the other side of an invisible wall that divided us and the Gentile world, as it has been for many centuries. Friendships and social relationships were maintained at an arms-length distance, especially amongst the orthodox communities. Assimilation has been a huge “no-no” and the secular societies were to remain off limits.

How can this be so in Israel when the concept of absorption has a much sweeter taste than assimilation?

Good News – The world hates Iran more than Israel!

Wow, I’m very much relieved! Just when I thought that the country I have chosen to live in for the past 32 years was top on the list of countries that most of the world despises, it’s suddenly been revealed that there is another county out there that is even more unpopular. And that one (you’ve probably guessed it) is none other than the Islamic Republic of Iran.

JeremiahHow this all came about is the result of a recent poll conducted by the BBC, that U.K. based media network that has always been a bit unkind towards the Jewish State. This poll, conducted last week, and involving listeners form all over the globe found that of all the respondents, 54% said that Iran is the country most feared and which has the most unpopular regime. After Iran, Israel came in a close second with an unpopularity rating of 52%. Pakistan came in third at around 51%, larger due to recent events there which included the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the activities of President Pervez Musharraf, whose present popularity rating in his own country may be even lower than that of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The BBC went even deeper into “percentages” and broke down various ratings of popularity and unpopularity for countries that have often been considered as part of an “axis of evil” due to their internal and external policies. Iran was actually perceived more favorably by countries like Egypt (62% positive towards Iran) whose citizens dislike of their Israeli neighbor grew to 94% of those polled, which is up from 85% in a previous poll. Other countries in the same region also increased their dislike of Israel, including Lebanon, whose dislike of Israel increased to 87% of those polled, up form 78%. For Lebanese, this may be understandable due to how their country was pounded by the Israeli Air Force in the 2006 war. Most likely, however, the BBC pollsters failed to asked the Lebanese concerning the Hezbollah’s (who are based in Lebanon) launching of more than 4,000 Katyusha and other missiles at Israel’s population centers, which in itself caused a great deal of personal property to Israelis.

Both European and Asian respondents, including those living in countries like Japan also expressed a higher percentage of disapproval to Israel policies towards the Palestinians and others in the region. And even Americans polled registered increases in negative feelings, which were up from a former 33% to 39%. 43% of polled Americans did express positive feelings towards Israel, however. The U.S.A. in comparison came in fifth in this “most unloved” poll, behind North Korea, with a 47% unfavorable rating; while Germany and Japan received the highest favorable ratings. For those two countries anyway, that’s a 180 degree turnabout from how they were regarded during WWII.

Many people both within Israel and abroad, admit that the Israeli government could do a lot better PR job to present their country’s position in respect to how most of the world views this country. After all, people usually believe what they want to believe, whether it is true or not.

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