I recently returned from Detroit, Mich., where I was the Team Vancouver-Galil Delegation Head at the JCC Maccabi Games (shameless plug: www.jccmaccabigames.org).
While there with my 22 teen athletes and artist, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was growing momentum faster than a rumored Robert Downey Jr. sighting at Comic Con.
To clarify for those living in the dark ages, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge asks nominees to chose between donating $100 to ALS research or dump a bucket of ice water over their head. Each participant then nominates someone(people) else to accept the same challenge – with 24 hours to act.
The more dumping I saw around Maccabi Land – and the more I saw posted online – the more criticism I began to hear that challenged the validity and purpose of dumping ice on one’s head in the name of a good deed.
I admit, when I first came across the challenge on Facebook I commented, “It is great to see exactly what lengths folks will go to avoid donating money to charity.”
However, as I saw it pop up again and again, growing in epidemic numbers, I started to see the value in the endeavor. Awareness was growing and ALSA.org was receiving more donations in a week than they had previously collected in a year.
By the time the JCC Maccabi Games came along it was rampant. Everyone and their dog (literally) was being challenged and the kitchen at the JCC in West Bloomfield was struggling to make ice fast enough.
By the time I returned home Facebook became flooded with articles like THIS ONE by Scott Gilmore in Maclean’s Magazine suggesting that the cute marketing gimmick (which actually didn’t get initiated for that purpose) was a “horrible reason to donate.”
Gilmore presents a several valid points about ALS research not meeting the top standards of the three factors one should consider when choosing where to send their limited charitable dollars. It is argued ALS doesn’t present the largest need – it is classified a rare disease, ALS research wont offer your dollars the greatest influence and ALS is hardly the most urgent problem in the world today.
Another post on iflscience.com provides an info-graphic on which diseases cause the most deaths in the USA vs where Americans focus their donations. These posts are no-doubt littered with wise words and offer a valid sense of awareness on their own.
However, this is nothing new. iflscience.com‘s info-graphic is not based on facts that have come out just since the Ice Bucket Challenge kicked off. For various reasons – the largest of which is simply due to marketing successes and failures – rare and unique diseases have pulled in a larger piece of the philanthropic pie than the actual leading causes of death, like heart disease or diabetes.
What frustrated me with the timing of these articles is that, at least in the case of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, it is about much more than just targeting American donor dollars. Watching people all over the world connect, bond, laugh and share in the name of something good was a blessing that, quite frankly, we don’t see enough of. Watching my kids – and all of my friends’ kids – get in on the action felt like humanity took a deep breath of fresh air amid a time in which the globe has been filled with muck and tragedy.
Maybe ALS research got lucky that a clever gimmick came along and helped their cause. And maybe ALS isn’t the charity most in need today. But in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge humanity got a win! Stop finding ways to take that away from us.
In British Columbia, this summer has been among the finest in living memory. Yet, for Jewish British Columbians and for all those watching events around the world right now, the summer has brought a very dark cloud.
It has not only been the terrible violence between Israel and Gaza, but violence elsewhere in the Middle East that is claiming exponentially more lives and causing horrific hardship and inhumanity.
The advance of the so-called Islamic caliphate from Iraq into parts of Syria opens the potential for additional Western military involvement in the region. The horrors that are taking place under the extremist ISIS dictatorship are almost beyond human imagination. In Syria, meanwhile, the death toll from the now two-year-old civil war has reached 190,000.
Despite all this, global attention remains focused on Israel. At the United Nations, Israel is singled out for condemnation, while Hamas is given a pass. Marches in the streets around the world declare Israel a pariah. Violence against Jews and attacks on Jewish institutions worldwide are legitimately striking fear that a generation or more of Diaspora Jews have never experienced.
There really is no silver lining. But, if there were, perhaps it would be that several fictions have been debunked.
Time was, even Zionists accepted the position that “anti-Zionism does not equal antisemitism.” This has been almost a required disclaimer at the beginning of any conversation on the subject for at least the last 15 years. This needs to be revised, however, to recognize that anti-Zionism at least sometimes equals antisemitism. As we have seen in recent weeks, there are those in the anti-Zionist movement who are motivated by anti-Jewish animus, and then there are those who refuse to condemn them. When it comes down to it, the moral difference between the two groups is minimal.
There is also the position that, by definition, anti-Zionism should legitimately be considered a form of antisemitism. After all, Zionism is simply the national representation of the Jewish people. If one is opposed to that, especially while supporting self-determination for every other national identity in the world, it must stem from some intellectual or emotional process that views Jews differently from other people.
There are certainly reasons why a conflict in a place that is holy to several religions should draw an outsized interest from people around the world. Yet, when the global reaction is so extraordinarily imbalanced, something is clearly beyond reason.
We know what motivates at least a significant part of the anti-Israel movement. More words have been spilled on this subject in the past two months than perhaps ever in human history, given the ability of everybody to broadcast their positions via social media. We have been able to see in greater detail the narrative subscribed to by many of Israel’s critics, from well-known commentators to elected officials to ordinary Facebook friends. Overwhelmingly, it is a simple one: Israel is just plain evil and, because its legitimacy and right to exist are explicitly or implicitly denied, its right to defend itself is likewise repudiated.
These are not words that generally come out of the mouths of anti-Israel activists, because they are not palatable to those who would otherwise consider themselves progressive, well-intentioned people. But push has come to shove and, all over the internet and in face-to-face conversations – yes, those still take place sometimes – we have been able to learn more about what a lot of “ordinary” people think about Israel. It has been painful. The conversations have been difficult. Many of us have lost friends.
But it is always better to know than to proceed in ignorance. We have a new understanding of what we are up against. We also have discovered many new friends, and new ways of engaging with those who don’t share our views.
Others in our community have no doubt had similar experiences. Many of us have felt challenged to present our positions with clear heads and hearts, and we invite all readers to contribute to the discussion by sharing their suggestions for continuing this dialogue constructively.
Some of the violence in the Middle East has inflamed tensions closer to home. Online, there is a recent interview conducted by the University of British Columbia with its resident expert Prof. Robert Daum, who offered his thoughts on navigating these frictions. Daum is a faculty associate with the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, a faculty member of Green College, project lead in UBC Transcultural Leaders, a Reconciliation ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and a dialogue associate at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue.
UBC: How do conflicts afar, like the Israel-Gaza situation, spark local tensions?
RD: Sadly, some conflicts push people into rigid positions rooted in insufficiently rigorous, self-critical and nuanced analysis. Simplistic narratives about historical and contemporary events resulting in loss of life raise tensions. Inadequate media coverage heightens tensions, and people tend to gather in narrowly circumscribed assemblies of like-minded thinkers. Conflicts such as these are teachable moments, but learning and teaching require an attitude of openness to authentic inquiry on the part of everyone.
Imagine what we can do in addressing any number of complex conflicts and challenges if we can cultivate a culture of evidence-based, authentic inquiry and dialogue. I have seen this approach in action in my work with UBC’s Transcultural Leaders 2014 Conversation Series, SFU’s Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation Canada.
UBC: Have you been surprised by the tensions arising locally and across Canada?
RD: No. In the context of genuine human suffering, we encounter hateful slogans, racist images, one-sided narratives, vicious social media comments and self-righteous oversimplifications. This does not honor the dead. Inflammatory rhetoric gets most of the headlines. Research shows that anxiety and clear thinking tend not to be compatible. Our discourse has to be as levelheaded, sober and reasonable as possible. People need to feel that they can learn in an environment of safety, civility and mutual respect. I consider myself to be a principled pragmatist. It is precisely when we feel angriest about world events that we need to take a deep breath. Imagine if the Supreme Court had to reach decisions under fire. If we cannot learn how to share narrative space – that is, how to reconcile competing, deeply held, national narratives, in a way that does not require the annihilation or complete negation of the other’s position – then how can we expect geographical space to be shared at one of the most fraught intersections of regional and global politics?
I have participated in forums on antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, the Indian residential schools and many other issues. Two years ago, I co-sponsored with the Vancity Office of Community Engagement a three-hour public forum downtown on Islamophobia, featuring a critical media analyst, three Muslim speakers from very diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and three equally diverse non-Muslim speakers, including myself. A mixed audience of more than 250 listened to stories of prejudice experienced and prejudice confronted. It was a thoughtful, nuanced and multi-layered conversation over the course of three hours. And we were just getting started.
UBC: What are some healthy ways in which people can deal with tensions that may arise between themselves and others?
RD: Seek to engage in a dialogue, rather than a debate. Ask genuine questions: “What did you mean by that? What are you trying to say? Have you considered different perspectives on this? Have you tried to understand why others hold positions different than yours? On what can we agree? Is there another way to understand the phenomenon, whereby our positions might be reconciled, even partially?” Try building on ideas and making connections between ideas. Don’t reduce multi-faceted conflicts to a single variable such as religion or oil, for example.
Politics, history and ethics are not reducible to simple equations. Complex questions can rarely be reduced to the logic of black and white, right and wrong. I may see the world very differently than you, but that does not necessarily make you (or me) wrong. Of course, moral assessment matters, and I believe that some behaviors, like the intentional murder of civilian non-combatants as prohibited in the Geneva Conventions, are abhorrent. But, as any first-year law student knows, such an assertion is the beginning, not the end of the inquiry. If such matters were simple enough to be reduced to trial by megaphone, we would not need faculties of law or courts, let alone courses in ethics, history, politics, religion, gender, media or much else.
The Six Day War may have been history’s most illustrative example of the limitations of a weekly newspaper. Reviewing this newspaper’s archives from 1967 shows one week’s paper filled with ominous foreboding and the next issue, triumphal jubilation.
Every year, we take a short publishing break in the usually quiet news period that is the summer doldrums. Unlike in 1967, though, we now have a spiffy new website that has allowed readers to follow some local events and commentary from abroad during these especially tumultuous few weeks.
The news has not been pleasant. Israel has somewhat successfully stanched some of the infrastructure of the Gazan terrorist regime. The cost has been tragic and the worldwide reverberations deeply disturbing.
“Victory” is difficult to discern. In the biggest picture, victory for all civilians would be peace in the region, but even the most optimistic among us see that as a long way off – the stated objective of Hamas remains the destruction of Israel. For Israel, victory has historically meant a few months or a couple of years of relative peace. By beating back the immediate threat (whether the combined Arab armies in 1948-49, 1967 and 1973, or the PLO in the 1970s and ’80s, and the assorted terrorist entities since), Israel has managed to buy a few periods of comparative peace. And, as a result of Operation Protective Edge, Israel has undermined the strength of Hamas and so that may result in a period of relative peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
There has been another battle: the battle of words around the world. It’s not all words, of course – some of the battle has been violent, with anti-Jewish attacks in Europe and elsewhere – but the discourse about Israel globally, even when largely non-violent, has been unprecedentedly grotesque and incendiary. The United Nations, reinforcing its long failure to live up to the promise of its founding charter, has made a mockery of justice and peace by condemning only Israel. Armchair commentators have declared themselves military authorities to parse Israeli actions. Cartoonists have exhumed Nazi-era imagery to employ against Israel. Street rallies around the world, while accusing Israel of bloodlust, have themselves turned into bloody and violent displays of hatred.
Even some of the more thoughtful contributors to the “debate” have exhibited assumptions that seem to rely on old familiar stereotypes. And people who have never uttered a word of concern in the past nine years while the repressive Hamas regime has tightened its grip on the people in Gaza suddenly, when Israel becomes involved, declare, “I don’t support Hamas. I support the people of Gaza.” Would that they actually did.
In Canada, things are somewhat brighter. All major federal political parties have rightly stood with Israel in its fight against terrorism. (The exception being the Green Party of Canada, but then, it isn’t “major.”) We have a fairly balanced media that has generally not succumbed to the extremism or misrepresentation we have seen in Europe. Still, Canadian opponents of Israel purvey the idea that they can denounce Israel in the most horrible terms without that level of rhetoric having an impact on Jewish Canadians or our country’s multicultural harmony.
Explaining why this type of anti-Israel action affects us as Canadian Jews is not simple. Most Diaspora Jews have a deep and passionate connection with Israel. In part, this has to do with the Holocaust. The Holocaust did not happen because of Hitler and Nazism. It happened, at least in the magnitude it did, because there was not a country on the planet (save the Dominican Republic) that was willing to welcome the imperiled Jews of Europe. The need for Israel as a nation where Jews control the immigration policy is not due to the Holocaust per se, but the world’s nonchalance toward it.
More than this, after the magnitude of the Holocaust became known to the survivors and to the entire world, the unfathomable disaster might reasonably have sunk the Jewish people into a collective depression of hopelessness and fatalism. Instead, the rebirth of the Jewish homeland in Eretz Israel allowed a people seeking some light from a catastrophic darkness to find hope and optimism. Those Jews who made aliyah – and, to no small extent, those who remained in the Diaspora – threw themselves into building the state of Israel, a task that has proven successful beyond any dreams and allowed an optimistic future to salve the horrors of the immediate past.
When street mobs, politicians, UN resolutions, cartoonists and Facebook authorities heap loathing on Israel, despite all their feeble assurances that it is Israel, not Jews, they target, the words and the hatred behind them hurt. There are other historical, cultural, familial and political reasons why Jewish Canadians and others in the Diaspora feel deeply a part of Israel. It might help our neighbors understand us if we told our personal and collective stories better.
The JI’s Pat Johnson spoke with David Berner about the Israel-Hamas conflict, global antisemitism and other issues on Aug. 7 2014:
I’m home when my phone buzzes with a text from my son. Playing for the school basketball team in a city an hour away, his five words carry disappointment, sadness. “I’m just a benchwarmer, mom.”
I’m not one of those parents who cheers on sports games from the sidelines. Perhaps I’m still scarred from high school athletics, when my best friend and I were consistently the last members picked for any team during PE classes, a painful memory to this day. It sounds callous but, for me, sports has never held even a glimmer of interest, not even when my own children are playing.
But something changed when I learned my son had spent most of that game on the bench, watching instead of playing. What upset me was the injustice of his exclusion. He’d attended practices dutifully and loved being part of the team – until that game. “I’m not a bad player,” he insisted. “I don’t know why they didn’t give me a turn.”
The indignation of having been left out hung around the house like a damp cloud for a few days. I felt hurt on his behalf, compelled to try and make things right. So, I did what most writer-parents would do – I penned a letter to the principal. It wasn’t fair, I declared. I was under the impression that in team sports everyone gets a turn. How could the coach exclude certain players and justify that exclusion by the team’s victory? Wasn’t the victory hollow when only the best players had performed?
We don’t guarantee that every player will get to play, the principal responded. Sure, they can get a place on the team, but it’s the coach’s decision about who plays the games – and we play to win.
A friend explained it in a gentler way to me a few days later. In elementary school, the games are all about playing fair, giving everyone a turn and learning to be a good sport. Not so in high school, where the emphasis shifts to winning. “The weaker players sit on the bench so the team can have its best shot at victory,” she said. “That’s just the way it is, regardless which sport we’re talking about.”
I was astonished, but enlightened, too. As parents, we want desperately to defend our kids from insult, bruised egos and perceived injustice. Their hurt becomes our hurt, and we feel compelled, angered even, to speak out on their behalf.
But sitting on the bench might offer some important life lessons. The humility to admit you’re not the strongest player. The insight that you need to work harder to be chosen for the next game. The understanding that, as unifying as the word “team” appears to be, it’s composed of members who are not equally competent: you either shine, or are outshone.
It’s going to be the same scenario at every job interview a few years down the line. The strongest candidates will be selected while the rest will warm the bench on the sidelines until they improve their game.
So, maybe warming a bench a few times is a crucial part of the game, in that it deftly illustrates the distance between where you are and where you want to be. It’s what you do with that knowledge that makes all the difference, on the basketball court and off.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Last Sunday, I took my two daughters to the Vancouver Pride Parade.
Though I was certain my four- and seven-year-olds would enjoy every ounce of the many colors and sounds, and the energy of the parade itself (few events produce the same level of spirit as a Pride Parade) a day of fun wasn’t my prime motivator.
I had seen a posting on Facebook from Yad b’Yad, a community-based group that rallies local members of all sexual preferences each year to represent the Jews of Vancouver in the parade.
I decided that with everything going on in Israel at the time, combined with the dramatic presence of antisemitism spreading across the globe, never was there a better time for me to teach my children about tolerance, acceptance, diversity and pride.
Yes, there were a few questions I had to be prepared to answer – like when one of the participants handing out freebies to the crowd placed a couple packs of Trojans in my seven-year-old’s hands. I responded to the expected, “What’s this, Daddy?” with an abbreviated version of how she wouldn’t be enjoying this parade if Daddy had those eight years ago. A quick shrug of the shoulders and she was back to watching “princesses” roller skate down the street to roaring cheers.
The value gained in that experience, led by the conversations I had explaining the importance of the parade, was what made me most proud. That’s because one of the scariest things I see when I look closely at Israel’s Middle East problem is the amount of education-themed hatred being passed on to children in the region. Cartoon characters who preach killing Jews and manipulated curricula that offer false truths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict all but guarantee this crisis is not likely to end until well beyond my days.
Outside of the Middle East, the Hamas propaganda machine – which has clearly become their most powerful weapon – has helped spread hatred and bigotry around the world and, in some cases, just down the street from our own homes.
Like many other people I know, I have found myself walking around my country, my city, wondering how many people around me would like to shame me and my family because of something they once saw on TV or read on Facebook.
I’ll always do all that I can debating with and educating folks via various social media outlets. But the most important thing I can do for the future is teach my kids. Teach them to love. Teach them to accept. Teach them to continuously open their minds to the many choices free people have in this world.
It’s entirely possible that watching half-naked men and women prancing up Robson Street is not for everyone (say, what!?). But I encourage parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends everywhere to do something unique, outside of the box, and, especially, meaningful to provide your youth every chance to identify the difference between right and wrong. They will see it all on Facebook one day. Better they are prepared to figure it out for themselves when they do.
Gaza, July 28, 2014: An Israel Defence Forces soldier examines a newly revealed tunnel in the Gaza strip. (photo by IDF via Ashernet)
It’s been awhile since I’ve written. There’s a story I’ve been meaning to share but, unfortunately, circumstances have led me to write a different story entirely, about “the matzav.”
“The matzav” means, literally, “the situation,” but it’s used to refer euphemistically to a current bad security situation in Israel. You say it in a half whisper, the way our parents used to say, “cancer.”
“How’s business going now, with – the matzav?”
“We’re going up north for a few days because of – the matzav.”
“My mother-in-law has been with us for two weeks, thanks to – the matzav.”
It’s definitely not an easy time to be in Israel, though now, more than ever, there is no place I would rather be.
I didn’t grow up in a particularly Zionist household. Most of what I know about Judaism and Israel I learned in college. People used to say to me that being in Israel is like being with family, and making aliyah is like coming home. My family never shoved in front of me to get on buses or overcharged me for souvenirs, so I guess I just couldn’t relate.
I got a little taste of the family thing when I was visiting Israel 12 years ago on a mission during the Second Intifada, when tourism was at an all-time low. I went to the falafel stand in the Old City by the Cardo with my 10-month-old son. There were no other tourists to be found. The owner, who was usually just interested in taking orders and keeping the line moving, insisted on holding the baby while I ate. This was like my family – not always warm and fuzzy, but there for you in hard times.
These are hard times. There’s been a constant barrage of rockets in southern Israel for weeks, keeping the population within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter. As I wrote these words, four people were killed by a rocket fired from a playground in Gaza. This morning, a man on the radio was saying that he’s terrified to shower or even go to the bathroom for fear a siren will go off.
Another woman was asleep and didn’t hear a siren. She only heard the rocket hit her house. She is being treated in the hospital for wounds to the head, legs and knees, but no treatment will cure the fear you can hear in her voice, unable to speak in full sentences.
On the other side of the border, the suffering in indescribable and the media images haunting. I feel torn apart by my pain for the Palestinian losses on the one hand and the need for us to defend ourselves on the other. Then there’s the sadness for the soldiers who are trained to minimize civilian casualties, but who find themselves hurting innocent civilians, behind whom the cowardly terrorists hide.
Our “adopted” lone soldier Danna tells us stories of what her friends see who are serving in Gaza – hospitals and UN schools hiding weapons and terrorists; gunmen literally hiding behind families; terrorists shooting with a gun in one hand and a baby in the other.
As Golda Meir said to Anwar Sadat just before the peace talks with Egypt, “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.”
Before the war started, I got a call one Friday afternoon.
“Hi, Emily. We’re thinking of cancelling the partnership minyan this week, but I just want to check with you, because I know you worked hard on your speech.”
“Oh, well, sure … but why?”
“We just thought it would be better for the whole community to pray together tonight because of, you know – the matzav.” (Pause) “Did you not here what happened?”
That’s how I heard about the three kidnapped soldiers.
You would think all three of them were from our kibbutz, the way people spoke of them and cried and prayed for them and organized around helping their families. The whole country was suddenly one big family. One big, sad family.
At school, the teachers held special meetings with their pupils to help them digest the news and share their feelings. They had a meeting in the evening to help parents with how to talk to their kids. All this despite the fact that the three boys were from a different part of the country and not at all connected to our school or our region, except that here everyone is connected. At these times, we’re all cousins, brothers, sons.
The news a few weeks later – that the boys were killed – hit hard. I was out for the day to Beit Shean with my son Abaye to get braces on his teeth. Abaye is very sensitive to “the matzav” and I try to keep him away from the news most of the time so we can share things with him in our own way, but there was no escape. The news was on in the dentist’s office, and staff and patients were openly crying. Afterwards, we went for ice cream and the ice cream shop was playing the tape over and over again. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the screen.
“You’re an ice cream shop!” I wanted to yell at them, but it wouldn’t have mattered. The whole country was in mourning.
Then the rockets started in the south. Everyone’s hearts turned to the families under fire. Our kibbutz Google group filled up with suggestions of where you could bring food and supplies, requests to run programs, and even invitations to drive down south into the fire to help entertain kids in bomb shelters. There were so many projects being run out of so many places that volunteers had to quickly set up a committee to manage them all.
Our area happens to be one of the safest parts of the country. We haven’t heard any sirens. We haven’t even unlocked our bomb shelters. So, everyone is opening their homes.
Several families have come to our kibbutz for a break, and our youth group organized a camp for a week with peers from a kibbutz in the south. I heard on the radio about a resort nearby that has opened its doors to another kibbutz (200 people!), feeding and housing them and running programs for the kids. And these are just a few tiny examples. Every community is doing something.
Then there are the troops fighting in Gaza.
Soldiers were sent to the border to defend our country from rocket attacks. Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to stave off a ground incursion, but the rockets kept falling and, it seems, there was work that could only be done on the ground.
When the army finally went in, they discovered a complex underground tunnel network that Hamas had built to infiltrate Israel. It seems they were planning a massive operation for the upcoming Rosh Hashanah – hundreds of terrorists were scheduled to appear from nowhere in kibbutzim and villages across the south, dressed in Israeli uniforms, for a mega terrorist attack. It’s chilling to think about what they might have done.
Several of the fatalities of this war, including the three kidnapped boys, have resulted from terrorists coming through these tunnels. They lead from private homes in Gaza right into Israeli neighborhoods, one ending directly beneath the dining hall of a kibbutz. It was reported that children on the kibbutz had been complaining they could hear someone digging under them, but adults hadn’t taken them seriously, because how could that possibly be?
So, now we are at war in Gaza until we get rid of the tunnels, of which 30 have been discovered so far, and many destroyed. Meanwhile, the number of fallen and wounded soldiers continues to rise, as well as, of course, the massive toll on both terrorist and innocent Gazans.
But I wanted to tell you about the efforts to support our troops.
Being the army of the Jewish people, the aid started with, of course, food. Fresh meals, cakes and treats – you name them. A renowned chef opened shop to provide gourmet cuisine for the soldiers.
At one point, we got the message that it’s enough food, and now could we please send personal hygiene products (soaps, deodorants, etc.) and “fresh towels with the scent of home”? In addition, children sent so many letters of love and support that the soldiers use them to wallpaper their tanks and living spaces. At the camp for Adin, my nine-year-old son, they changed the program this week so that every day was a different activity to support the soldiers – making gifts, preparing food and raising money.
And, of course, it’s difficult for soldiers to communicate with their families, so the radio has taken to running extra programs in which they can send personal messages.
“Hi Mom, Dad and, of course, my girlfriend Tal. I’m here to protect you and I’m fine, so you can sleep without worrying. I love you.”
And I’m sure Mom, Dad, Tal and half the country are crying with me.
Among the first losses of the war, we heard about the falling of two lone soldiers – people like our “adopted” daughter, who moved to Israel voluntarily to protect our country, who are here with no family. It made me sad to think these people would be buried alone, but what could anyone do? Their whole family is overseas.
A photo of one of these fallen boys, Sean Carmeli from Texas, appeared on the news in a Maccabee-Haifa soccer T-shirt. They were his favorite team. The team apparently shared my concern and made an appeal for people to attend his funeral. Twenty thousand people showed up!
You could call it a social media ploy, but I don’t think so. The next day, there was a funeral for the other lone soldier, Max Steinberg from California. I was afraid his funeral would pale in comparison to Sean’s, seeing as he wasn’t a major sports fan. But my fear was baseless. Thirty thousand people were in attendance. Those who were interviewed about why they came simply said that he made the ultimate sacrifice for them when he didn’t need to, and it was the least they could do.
Max’s family had never been to Israel before. I thought about my own mother, who did not want us to make aliyah, and who would never forgive me if, God forbid, anything happened to any of my kids. Max’s parents and siblings were overwhelmed by the turnout.
His mother Evie told the mourners, “We now know why Max fell in love with Israel. It was all because of its people. He was embraced with open arms and treated like family,” she said, “and, for that, we are eternally grateful.”
When his sister began, “We come from a very small family,” I held my breath expecting to hear her anger or sadness at having lost her brother. Instead, she continued, “But that seemed to quickly change after meeting people in Israel, who made it feel like one big family.”
This morning, I was out walking in the forest around the kibbutz when a new song came on the radio by Ariel Horowitz, son of one of Israel’s greatest singers, Naomi Shemer. The song is about the lone soldier Sean Carmeli. The writer had attended the funeral and was deeply moved. The chorus goes something like this:
20,000 people and you’re at the front. 20,00 people are behind you, Sean. Marching in silence with flowers, Two sisters and 20,000 brothers.
Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli and Sgt. Max Steinberg, and all our fallen soldiers will never be forgotten, because we don’t forget family.
Emily Singeris a teacher, social worker and freelance writer. Singer and her husband, Ross, were rebbetzin and rabbi of Vancouver’s Shaarey Tefilah congregation until 2004. The Singers spent two years in Jerusalem and then moved to Baltimore, Md., where Ross was rabbi at Congregation Beth Tfiloh and Emily taught Judaic studies at Beth Tfiloh High School, until they moved to Israel in 2010. They have four children, and live on Kibbutz Maale Gilboa.
My new friends! A mixed group of Arab and Jewish kids playing hockey together in Israel.
I have to admit that it has been tough to concentrate on much these days with everything going on in Israel this month.
The country and people that I love – along with every Jew around the world – has been fighting a war of epic proportions. Both in Gaza and in the media.
As I have struggled to come to terms with the reality of how deeply rooted antisemitism currently is around the world and how gleefully willing many people are to remain ignorant and naive, I consider what I can do to contribute.
Sure, there are rallies and gatherings to attend, letters to be written to MPs, Facebook posts to share, all with hopes of spreading intelligent information and support for Israel. But I feel myself needing something more tangible to contribute to.
Those feelings and thoughts almost always take me to a program – or mission – I have already embraced the past few years I have visited Israel.
In the very northern tip of Israel, in Etzpah Hagalil – Vancouver’s P2G Partnership region, there is the lone full-sized (actually, Olympic-sized) hockey rink at Mercaz Canada (Canada Centre) in Metula. I have visited it the past three years to participate in the Israel Recreational Hockey Association Tournament (amazing event!) along with several local friends.
In 2013, while visiting, an Israeli friend told me about a new, growing program at the Canada Centre called the Canada-Israel Hockey School (CIHS). Merely 3 years old, CIHS already featured approximately 400 Israeli kids of all ages, wearing a mish-mosh of donated gear and Jerseys, learning to play Canada’s game.
Just watching these kids had already blown my mind. I was beyond enlightened when Coach Mike Mazeika, a non-Jewish Torontonian who has embraced Israeli culture in more ways than one, informed me that among those skaters was a complete mix of Jewish and Arab children. Hockey had brought Jewish teens who had never once spoken to an Arab teen, and vice-versa, together as teammates. Line mates. Eternal friends. And it was working!
Adding to that, I took a look around the stands and saw the parents of all these children cheering together. Ignoring, at least within this small group, decades of religious and political conflict since Israel had been born.
Hockey, Canada’s game, was doing this!
As I watched in awe I declared, “Someone has to document this!” To which Mazeika replied, “Actually, TSN was here a couple of weeks ago.” (see link below)
I was invited to come back and skate with the school before leaving Israel – an opportunity I called the coolest thing I had done on the ice. I returned home from that trip with a few new friends (Jewish, Christian and Druze) and a new commitment to use my role as the JCCGV’s sports coordinator to develop our community’s connection with the Canada-Israel Hockey School.
Team Vancouver returned this past February to an even larger hockey school as founder Levav Weinberg told me of their plans to reach out to even more communities around Israel.
We are currently working with Weinberg on plans to bring a group from CIHS on a Canadian tour with a key stop in Vancouver in the spring of 2015.
In the mean time, I will be returning in February, with whoever wants to join me, to represent Team Vancouver in the tournament (amazing experience as well!) and continue to develop our relationship with CIHS.
If you are hockey inclined and would like to join us to be part of something truly special in such a desperate time, there are always spots on our team!
I was 15 during the summer of 1962 when a visiting Lubavitcher rabbi named Zalman Schachter came to Camp Ramah. He sang his soft and expressive melody for the first blessing of the Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals), which I remember to this day. It was the first time this yeshivah boy had experienced a different way of giving thanks for the gift of nourishing food, one that focused on the Source of the food. In a sense, I became his chassid that summer, although I didn’t know it at the time.
Six years later, while visiting a friend in Boston, we attended Shabbat services at Havurat Shalom and I moved closer to knowing that I was his chassid when I heard him sing “Eyl Adon,” the Shabbat poem in praise of the many realms of light, to the Yiddish folksong “Donna Donna.” And, four years after that, searching for a spiritual practice that affirmed the first 25 years of my life, and immersion in Jewish practice and study, I wrote him from the B.C. Interior and asked to learn with him, consciously becoming his chassid.
Reb Zalman always said that a chassid must have a rebbe and one becomes a rebbe only when one has a chassid. When he asked me if I would accept semichah (ordination) from him, we created new possibilities for others with what has become the movement for the spiritual renewal of Judaism and a current ordination program of 80 students. He offered me a semichah that I could accept and, as he put it, I gave him permission to begin a lineage which is both new and old.
On July, 3, 2014, I was teaching at our Semichah Week summer gathering at a retreat centre outside of Portland, when one of our students opened the door to my classroom. After waiting politely for a break in the conversation, he said that he had the sad duty of informing us that our beloved rebbe had peacefully passed into the next world that morning. Supported by my students and dear friends, together we affirmed Reb Zalman’s death with the traditional words, “Baruch Dayan HaEmet (Blessed be the True Judge).”
Memories and images passed before me, arising from the years of learning and friendship that we had shared. In the summer of 1971, my life partner, Hanna Tiferet, and I immigrated to British Columbia and settled in the Kootenays. It was a year of living in harmony with the earth and seeking spiritual meaning. Our first son, Noah, was born the following summer, after our house burned down. I had written Zalman for spiritual guidance. He was living in Winnipeg at the time and teaching at the University of Manitoba. He invited me to come to Winnipeg. After Hanna and Noah were settled, I hitchhiked 1,500 miles there and back to officially meet and begin my studies with my rebbe.
In 1976-77, Hanna and I lived in Philadelphia with Reb Zalman, learning how the rebbe “tied his shoelaces.” Mordecai and Hana Wosk visited him that year and they encouraged me to apply for both the University of British Columbia Hillel director position and to become Congregation Beth Tikvah’s first rabbi. This provided the opportunity for us to bring this new-old form of Judaism to a place we loved in a country where I, as the son of a Toronto-born Jewish pioneer, felt at home.
Inspired by the havurah movement and Reb Zalman’s mystical teachings, we slowly gathered people to form the Hillel Minyan, which became “The Minyan,” then Havurat Sim Shalom, which is now Or Shalom. I served the Vancouver Jewish community for 10 years and then went back to the United States to work as the rabbi at Dartmouth College. After another 10 years, we settled in Boston, where I became the director of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and, eventually, a teacher in the rabbinic program. Reb Zalman’s teachings became my life’s work and I worked closely with him to translate and transcribe his thought in several books and manuals, including Credo of a Modern Kabbalist, The Kabbalah of Tikkun Olam, Renewal Is Judaism Now, and Integral Halachah.
Reb Zalman revealed to us a Judaism that is open and inclusive. He said that, once we were witness to the profound image of the earth from outer space, we could begin to comprehend the oneness of all life beyond the limitations of national borders. How could we then separate the fate of the Jewish people from that of all people, or the fate of humanity from the condition of all of life on this planet? He taught about deep ecumenism and showed us how to relate to Christians, Muslims, Hindus and First Nations people, embracing and respecting the holiness in each tradition. His mission was to maintain the integrity of Klal Yisrael while also embracing the shared truth in all the spiritual and ethical paths present in our world. Inspired by him, we opened spiritual leadership to women, created services that others could help lead as they developed their skills, designed tallitot that were colorful and beautiful, included gays and lesbians and then all the wonderful and various expressions of identity in our growing communities.
Reb Zalman, together with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, had a spiritual assignment to redeem the Jewish people after the Holocaust. These two shlichim (messengers) from Chabad revitalized Judaism and sparked the renewal of spirituality in every facet of Jewish life.
When I received and accepted semichah from Reb Zalman in 1974 in the Winnipeg home of Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose, I was the first and only member of this new lineage. Now, there are more than 100 ordained as a Renewal rabbi, chazzan or rabbinic pastor, and students keep arriving, though we don’t advertise or recruit. Meditation, retreats, ecstatic prayer, new music, poetry, art and movement are now available options everywhere that Jews gather to pray. So much of this results from the vision, intelligence and spiritual depth of this one man, whose life we celebrate and whose presence on this earth plane we will miss so deeply.
With gratitude for the blessing of his presence in my own life these past 52 years, I say my own Kaddish for my rebbe and spiritual father, Meshullam Zalman Chiyya ben Chayah Gittel v’Shlomo haKohen, z”l. May his memory be a blessing and awaken in us the deep desire to live in peace and harmony with all of creation.
As the conflict rages in Israel and Gaza, so it does, in a different way, worldwide. As is always the case when Israel is involved in a conflict, the rage level escalates swiftly among commentators, social media, street activists, politicians and diplomats. While both sides are engaging in heated and contentious “debate” – we should take nothing away from Zionists’ ability to engage in slapfests on social media – something darker is emerging.
Protests in France and Germany have been especially grisly. In Paris, one synagogue was firebombed while, at another, Jews were forced to barricade themselves inside the shul as a mob attacked with bats and chairs. Jewish-run businesses were ransacked in a Paris suburb. In Germany, overt neo-Nazis are marching daily, some chanting, “Gas the Jews.” “Anti-Israel” rallies worldwide are rife with anti-Jewish imagery and messaging. Individual Jews have been assaulted around the world. One man in Australia, badly beaten, told media that the antisemitic onslaught he experienced after going public was worse than the assault itself.
There are certainly examples of anti-Jewish prejudice amid the public discourse in Canada, though we have seen nothing near to what is happening elsewhere. In fact, the brightest spot in the whole sad global discourse around the conflict comes from right here in Canada. For the better part of a decade, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been an unequivocal voice of reason and support for Israel’s right – obligation, he said – to defend its citizens from terrorism. Our foreign policy has been steadfast in defending our closest ally in the region, and the only democracy there, amid a cacophony of vitriol and hatred.
Significantly, what was a few years ago considered a surprising and unusually unambiguous position has become the dominant Canadian political consensus. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has issued a statement echoing the Conservatives’ strong support for Israel.
More remarkable has been Thomas Mulcair’s extraordinary success at turning his New Democratic Party from what was once a nest of Canada’s most vocal anti-Israel zealots into a moderate party in line with the other two mainstream parties. He has done this in the face of a small but venomous clutch of extreme Israel-haters. A writer on the website Rabble recently referred to “Mulcair’s abhorrence of Palestinian rights.” (We have been known to employ some extravagant semantics in this space, but for a really eccentric level of rhetoric almost unknown since the fall of the Berlin Wall, head over to Rabble for a nostalgic walk down memory lane.)
Mulcair’s accomplishment, of course, is derided by Israel’s enemies as proof that the craven Zionists have finally got their talons into the last of the major parties’ platforms. In reality, it is an acknowledgement that Canada’s body politic has recognized, alas, that morality and pragmatism demand that we stand with our allies and against those who seek to slaughter them. There is nothing novel in this – what was novel was the years when we went off the rails trying to play an “honest broker” role between a democratic, peace-seeking, pluralist Israel and the genocidal terrorists determined to destroy the country and kill its citizens.
There is a place for extreme views in a democracy – in extreme, fringe parties. Which may explain why Green party leader Elizabeth May is right now taking up an anti-Israel cudgel just as the rest of the civilized political spectrum is affirming the only position mainstream, moderate parties can justify.
There are tactical reasons, too. Israel-bashers insist that Harper’s Israel policy (and now that of the Liberals and NDP) is a sop to win Jewish votes, which suggests they are as bad at math as they are telling terrorists from allies. The “Jewish vote” in Canada is miniscule and shrinking, while the number of new Canadians coming from places where hatred of Israel is something akin to a birthright is growing.
While the three main parties are doing the right thing, the Greens seem ready to welcome those who have been left out in the cold by a consensus that our country should stand with democracies when they are under assault from terrorists. It may be a political strategy for a tiny party seeking a foothold, but it doesn’t seem like a moral one.