Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
I have recently encountered several comments condemning and disrespecting some ways of religious beliefs. Some were aimed at me, some aimed at others. Surprisingly enough, in "some ways of religious beliefs" I don't mean other religions, I mean different ways of Judaism. It is something we all do-judge. Judgment is impossible to ignore and does not skip any of us. However, when it comes to a fellow Jew choosing to express his Judaism in a different way than another, judgment should take a step back. I am not a saint, either. In fact, from time to time I used to make remarks on fellow Jews who don't fast on Yom Kippur or mix meat and dairy. This was simply something I did, without even noticing. That is until I heard myself talk.
Right before Yom Kippur, all of the fast/no fast discussions take place. With them, come the Mitzvahs arguments, and with them come condescending comments about those who don't see some of the Mitzvahs as something worth keeping. When I rolled my eyes to a friend after stating she doesn't give a damn about Yom Kippur, it suddenly hit me: why do I do that? Why do I judge somebody else's perspective on Judaism? After all, when religious friends of mine make such comments on my way of Jewish life, I get all Big Hulk on them, firmly saying: "live and let live." If this is how I see my relations with them, the relations between me and the even less religious should not be any different. Judaism is a wide rainbow, with many paths to choose. There is not one path better than another, and there's not just one path leading to a good and healthy life. "More religious" is not better than "less religious," it's just a different path.
Yom Kippur is, to me, the realization that God respects all beliefs, even of those who don't believe in God. We sometimes tend to forget we are all in the same boat. We are all Jewish, just different types of Jewish. When the gates to heaven open as the sun goes down on Yom Kippur, God doesn't measure our Mitzvahs , so I believe. He measures our obligation to Judaism, all paths considered. But more than that, he measures our behavior as people. He measures our humanity and compassion for each other, the ability to look behind skin color, sexual preferences, or ways of beliefs. Last night, when I looked at the sky that night, after "Kol Nidrei", I knew deep in my heart that what I have to say or ask for is worth just as much as the heart-wishes of an Orthodox person or the ones of my non-fasting friend. You may agree with me, and may completely dismiss my entire statement, and that's okay. But I can only hope every single one of us will remember, especially in this time of the year, that all people are equal, and that none of us is better than the others, or entitled to more rights- in front of God or in front of the people of the world. I would like to use this stage to call you to do your best in thinking twice before passing a judgment on someone else. I sure will. חתימה טובה וצום קל!
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September 24, 2012 | 10:10 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
In the past week, Muslims from all over the world lost it because of a movie. Since I haven't seen it, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say it is, in fact, more offensive than any artistic protest ever made before. Does this justify violent behavior on such scale? Does this justify murder? Of course not, nothing does. But it happened anyway. Islamists all over the world were so offended, they didn't set in for the civil reaction which is a legit protest and a request to ban this film. Instead they shook up the world, causing damage on an unbelievable scale because of somebody's opinion on Muhammad. Being extreme is never a good thing, and unfortunately with every religion comes an extreme group which causes all the negative opinion on that religion. That extreme group is usually easily offended and is willing to use all means to protect its honor. Judaism has it and Christianity has it, but the extreme Islamists are by far the worst. First of all, there are more extreme Islamists than extreme Jews or Christians (simply because there are more Islamists in the world, but also in relation to the total number of the religion followers). Secondly, they act more often and tend to shake the world into listening to what they have to say.
Remember I said before I am willing to pretend this to be the most offensive artistic protest ever made? I changed my mind. Why? Because it is not possible. Us, Jews, encounter offensive movies, opinion columns, an caricatures on a daily basis. We handle with "The Jew" image for centuries. We are forced to encounter dark beliefs that people still trust, even in the 21st century. In fact, those beliefs, as we all sadly remember, caused the nearly destruction of our people in the 40's of the last century. So no, this movie could not have been that offensive. And I'm sure that there were Jews over the years who reacted in a rather extreme way, but if I recall correctly, we mostly sat quiet and "swallowed the bitter pill" rather than going to the streets and giving the world quite a shake. The not-so-funny part is, however, that most of the offensive behavior towards Judaism comes from the extreme Islamists. We reluctantly watch the Israeli flag, with the Star of David and the colors of the Talis, being burned on a daily basis. We also witness countless hurtful caricatured of "the Jew" being drawn by extreme Islamists, and are forced to hear more "death to the Jews" or "death to Israelis" call than calls for peace. This gives them NO RIGHT to kill people because one filmmaker expressed his hurtful opinion, which, if you had the chance to forget, was soon accused (by them) of being a "filthy Jew". Because why not leverage their chance for yet another riot to hurt us even more in the eyes of the world.
Bottom line is the world was on fire, literally, for a week. It wasn't justified by any other than those who lit it, and people were lost their lives over an overemotional reaction. This led me to my next and probably worst problem with last week's events: The western world's reactions. I browsed online, trying to find a proper reactions from the world leader's to the riots. I found none. The U.S government, which is led by the person with the obligating title: Leader of the Free World, only said the violence was not justified. So basically, Obama nicely asked them to stop what they're doing and threatened he would not give them candy after dinner tomorrow if they won't stop their destructive behavior. No angry reaction, no formal condemnation, not even a frown. I don't know what was the reason for him to react that way. Could have been a personal reason, could be a result of a careful consideration, could be an attempt to get more voters. I don't know, and frankly I don't care. The only thing I can safely say is that this reaction was absurd, and moreover unfair in comparison to how easily Obama condemns Israel for things not even half as bad as this. This reaction is yet another link in the chain of poor foreign policies, which I don't understand. As for the U.N, I must sadly say I knew I wasn't going to find anything official from the Human Rights Council, or even from the General Assembly. After all, this is the same organization that chose to investigate the inconvenience in the Palestinian territories while the government in Syria butchered its civilians. Since I already jumped to accusations, I will point out that it is possible that I missed the U.N condemnation on my Google search and while reading the paper, but I doubt it.
On the same matter, there's also the whole "freedom of speech in any cause" discussion. As an Israeli Jew, who encounters offensive material whenever she logs on, I say that fighting this is a losing game. People have some very hurtful things to say. Some remain "in doors," some is being translated into any form of art. Blocking this would be blocking the freedom of speech, and this is a decision every country should make to itself. China has already made this decision, and its citizens are forced to be detached from the Global world. Islam countries may join China, if they wish. But preventing freedom of speech worldwide would be a step backwards. Because no matter how hurtful it is to read "you stinky Jew" as a comment to a post, a world without freedom of speech is a dark world. I know most offensive comments online are being blocked, and that's more than okay, but since we cannot track every single offensive line, it's better to leave them online than to block the entire net. Sometimes, so I believe, writing such a comment online is a satisfaction for someone who otherwise would act outside of the World Wide Web.
Parts from "Innocence of Muslims" can be found here on Youtube
September 21, 2012 | 1:00 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
There is not a single Israeli who doesn't know Eskimo Limon (Lemon Popsicle), when about 20% of Israelis know it by heart. This 1978 cult film directed by Boaz Davidson became an essential part of the Israeli culture, and is being quoted on various opportunities since then. The plot is not much of a sophisticated one, and the acting is far from being Oscar worthy, but none of those came its way to become the Israeli, ahead of its time American Pie.
Eskimo Limon focuses on three male high-school students growing up in Tel Aviv and deals with each other, their peers, girls (older women as well) and adolescence. In spite of it being your typical teen flick, Eskimo Limon also tackles the more serious matters of adolescence, such as unwanted pregnancy and betrayal. Highly recommended if you want to feel like an Israeli, and simply if you're looking for some good time.
September 19, 2012 | 10:30 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Rosh Hashana is my favorite holiday. But more than the food and the family-time, what makes this holiday my favorite is the atmosphere. It's this something I feel inside of me, in my house, in my town and nationwide. It is a one of a kind holiday spirit. As I said before, a Jewish holiday in Israel is not like the ones in the States: it is felt e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. The stores are decorated, the people are smiling, and holiday songs are played on the radio. In Israel, every holiday carries the entire nation on a swirl of a joyful spirit. But Rosh Hashana's swirl is the best of them all. From the moment I wake up to the second I fall asleep, I feel like I'm in heaven. Ask anyone that knows me well enough and they'll tell you- in Rosh Hashana I am less cynical than ever. In the name of the holiday spirit, I will make an attempt to show you what it is that I see in the beginning of the Hebrew year…
First of all, I want to point out I am not religious, and so when I talk about a "spiritual experience", I am not referring to anything God-ish. My spiritual holiday experience does exist, but in a different way. It's that something in the air that gives me the feeling life is too good to be true, and I have every reason to celebrate it. Here are the three things I love about Rosh Hashana:
The first thing I love about Rosh Hashana is the radio. Every Rosh Hashana eve, from noon to 4pm, the biggest radio station, Galgalatz, ranks the best Hebrew songs of the year, and hands out awards for the best female singer, best male singer, best musical group and the "breakthrough" of the year. It's just like Billboard, only it happens once a year on such a scale. During those four hours, I am wearing my headphones. I usually work out during the first hour, and do some holiday shopping for my family at the mall at the second hour. In the next hour I walk down the streets, soaking in the holiday atmosphere as I greet my neighbors with a "happy holiday" greeting, and watch the people get ready for their big family dinners. The fourth hour is my quality time with my mother. Every year, we rank the songs together, and then listen to the top ten songs (the last hour) together, while cooking for the holiday dinner. This is most definitely my favorite time of the day, and my favorite type of mother-daughter time.
The second thing I love about Rosh Hashana is the optimism. In every holiday people feel slightly elevated, but Rosh Hashana makes everyone fly high in the sky. First of all, for three days, there is almost no bad news. The newspapers are filled with special interviews and very optimistic summaries of the year. Almost as if all that's wrong in the world faded away. Moreover, the people themselves seem to be less angry and anxious. It's almost as if we live in a Disney movie for the three days of holiday. The usually rude, easily triggered Israelis seem to forget their stereotypes, and appreciate their friends, family, neighbors and strangers more than the usual. I love that nationwide optimism. It's nice to know the world is not only crime, nuclear weapons and diplomatic issues. In a "regular" day, we sometimes tend to forget the good, and make more room for the bad. We take our loved ones for granted, we pay no attention to our attitude towards strangers, and we read mostly negative stories in the papers. One of the outcomes of this bursting optimism, and another thing that makes me love holidays, is the fact that this is the only time of year I almost enjoy traffic. During Rosh Hashana eve, the roads of Israel are packed with families trying to get to their dinner in time. I may not know this for a fact, but I have a pretty solid feeling every single car plays the same station, and in that way, all of Israel shares a moment. The songs playing on the radio, along with the atmosphere in the air, makes the record-breaking traffic bearable and almost nice. So bearable that it's the only time you hear almost no honks and curse words. Rosh Hashana is also a time of giving. It is the time when we put our own problems aside and open our wallets and our hearts for the ones in need, in order for them to have a decent holiday dinner as well. This, to me, is simply beautiful, and Israel at its best. The fact Rosh Hashana is ten days prior to Yom Kippur, along with it being the first holiday to open the longest holiday period of the year after five months of drought- makes our thoughts and interactions extra positive.
The third thing I love about Rosh Hashana is the family-time. During this holiday, I almost never leave the house, and neither do my brothers. The result is the best family time you could ever think of. Unlike the average Friday dinner, where we are all anxious to meet up with our friends, the Rosh Hashana dinner always takes longer. Everyone seems to have all the time in the world, so we sit together in the living room and sing as my father and brother play the guitar. Our Rosh Hashana dinners are also in a very big scale. Usually, there are about 80 of us staying at my aunt's, which makes this holiday dinner extra special for all of us. During the two days of holiday, the family-time continues, as we go for lunch at another aunt's house, and spend some time at home together, sometimes watching old family videos.
I hope you all find what you love most about this special holiday, and may you have the best of times during the upcoming Hebrew Year. חג שמח!
September 17, 2012 | 11:00 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
* Warren Weinstein, an American Jew, was captured by Al Qaeda a year ago. After turning to Obama for help, he now asks Netanyahu to give his captors all they want and release him back to his home. The leader of Al Qaeda demanded the release of all Al Qaeda and Taliban members which are held in the US. In addition, he demanded that the United States and its allies would cease from air-bombing Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza. Last May, Al Qaeda published a video of Weinstein where he turned to President Obama, asking him to answer their demands and have him released. After he refused, another video was published, this time with Weinstein addressing Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has yet to reply.
* Eli Zborowski, Chairman of the American Society for Yad Vashem, passed away last week in New York at the age of 87. Zborowski survived the Holocaust as a teenager, and after his father was murdered by the Nazis, helped save his family members, and many other Jews. Zborowski dedicated his life to the memory of the Holocaust and to helping the survivors from his residence in New York. In 1974, he founded Martyrdom & Resistance, a periodical devoted to the Holocaust. That same year, the Zborowskis endowed the United States’ first academic chair in Holocaust Studies, at Yeshiva University, New York. He was appointed to the US Holocaust Memorial Council by President Jimmy Carter and reappointed by President Reagan. He was also appointed to the NY permanent Commission on the Holocaust by Mayor Edward Koch. In 1981 Zborowski founded the American Society for Yad Vashem and served as its Chairman until his death on September 10th.
* Rosh Hashana is a time of giving. It is the time when we put aside our own problems and open our hearts and wallets in order to help needy families make it through the holidays. We all give a few Shekels to at least one organization, but there are always those who give a little bit more: Last week it has been published that a 7 year old girl and a 13 year old boy gave an extra special donation to the "Pitchon Lev" organization, helping families under financial stress. The seven year old girl decided to donate all of her savings (about 150 Dollars), telling the volunteers she wants children her age to have something to eat this holiday. Later on that day, a 13 year old boy came in, and donated some of his Bar-Mitzvah money saying he won't be able to enjoy the holiday while knowing there are people who have nothing to eat at that time.
* Last week, a very exciting and tearful gathering took place in Tel Aviv: 60 survivors of Buchenwald and Dora Mittelbau concentration camps met together for the first time. The meeting was organized by the International Buchenwald Committee, and there the survivors met with some of the people in charge of maintaining the memory of the concentration camps.
* Turns out there are musicians who believe boycotting Israel is not a solution for anything. After experiencing many disappointments from musicians who caved in to politics and cancelled their scheduled concerts in Israel, it was really pleasing to hear this "trend" did not catch on with all foreign musicians. In fact, turns out some actually cleared their busy schedules in order to discuss this issue. At the 2012 Jerusalem Music Conference, a group of musicians from all around the globe rejected the idea of boycotting Israel in one of the panels held there.
September 14, 2012 | 1:00 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
For this weekend, I would like to recommend a newbie in the Israeli music industry. Her name is Maya Unger, she is 26 years old, and she is not yet famous, but soon to be. For sure. After encountering one of her songs, I fell in love with her fun, catchy music, and decided I had to share. Who knows, maybe in a few years when she is as famous as Justin Bieber (at least!) you would be able to say you spotted that talent before everyone else…
Here are her first two singles. Enjoy and have a wonderful weekend and happy Rosh Hashana!
Lasim Hakol Me'achor (putitng everything behind)
Kmo Halom (Like a Dream)
September 13, 2012 | 11:32 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
When the lights in the theater turned on, after a screening of Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love ended, I started visualizing my boyfriend and me wandering the streets of Rome, breathing romance. Just as if I was struck by magic, I couldn’t get Rome out of my head. About a month later, we were on a plane to one of the world’s most beautiful cities. The beauty of Rome is not only in its romantic atmosphere or magnificent buildings. It’s much, much more. Rome holds a combination of old and new, of ancient and modern, which makes it almost unbelievable, even when standing in the middle of it all.
Rome is a different kind of experience, which stimulates all five senses. In just six days, I got to see, touch, taste and smell like never before. I saw buildings that changed the face of architecture, and creations that changed the world of art. For Rome was not only a millenarian empire, it was an artistic empire, an architectural empire, and a religious empire as well. Its impact on the world we now know is indescribable, and to witness all of the above in 2012 is unbelievable no less. When walking the streets of Rome, you can never know what Piazza, fountain or an ancient Roman pole would reveal to you. The combination of architecture, history, art, food and love, managed to make the heat of August all forgotten, and make this vacation simply the best. In fact, even after describing Rome in two whole paragraphs, I still feel I didn’t really describe everything that’s Rome…
Besides the Italian experiences, this vacation, like any other, had a separate Jewish/Israeli experience. The first rule when going abroad is very simple: don’t pack anything that has Hebrew letters on it. It seems a bit strange at first, but we all know that wearing clothing or an accessory with Hebrew letters will simply draw more attention to our Israeli identity, and it is something we wish to hide abroad. Same goes for any Jewish outer identification, such as jewelry with Star of David, or a Yakama (some wear a hat to cover it). When I write it down right now, I must admit it looks weird, unnatural almost. I mean, why would anyone want to hide his or her identity? But bottom line is, it is a natural part of our packing process. The proof to that is that just now, after God knows how many flights, I notice how strange it is.
Perhaps those of you who’ve ever been abroad went through the same process. Perhaps you haven’t. I am still not sure if it’s a Jewish thing or just an Israeli thing. If it’s the fear of bombing or the fear of Anti-Semitism I get every time I land in Europe. For some reason I didn’t feel it as much when I was in the States. It could be because it is a safer place, but maybe it’s because I was usually amongst a Jewish community there. Both types of fear, the Israeli and the Jewish, is a common feeling amongst Israelis who travel abroad. It’s very rational and most certainly didn’t pop out of nowhere: as you all know, there had been many incidents aimed both for Jews and Israelis. The latest occurring in Burgas, almost a month ago, and took the lives of five Israelis. Six months ago, there was that murder in Toulouse, which dragged other crimes of hate towards Jews in the area. These are merely a few examples of attacks towards Jews and Israelis in Europe, and the realization and actualization of that fear.
In spite of that fear, we don’t walk with our heads down, hiding in the shadows of the European streets. We don’t think about that fear every minute of every day, and we most certainly enjoy our vacations. For most of my vacation days in Rome, I had a blast, thinking of my Judaism only when trying to fight the Ham attack that took over every single menu. I almost didn’t think of what happened and what could happen. That is until I came across a swastika, painted on a wall in one of the side-streets. This brought everything back to my attention. From this point on, I was grateful for being able to enjoy my vacation as much as I did, and landing back in Israel, safe and sound. This swastika reminded me, more than any article, that outside of my home in Israel, I am never completely safe from hate. And I am not referring to any type of hate, because wherever we are, hate exists. I am talking about the scariest type of hate. The one that nearly destroyed us as Jews, and the one that is threatening us as Israelis today.
That trip reminded me that it is important to appreciate what you have and who you are. That after 2000 years of depression and disasters, we managed to stay united under the warm hug of Judaism, and that there’s anything we cannot survive. But this trip also brought back to my attention something a little girl with red shoes once said: there’s no place like home.
September 11, 2012 | 12:50 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
I was only 11 at the time, but 9/11 is a date I'll never forget. I was at home alone, busy with my homework, when the phone rang. I picked it up, and on the other side was my aunt, and she sounded hysterical: "Noga! Where is your father?" –"Abroad", I replied. "Somewhere In the States. New-York, I think". –"Oh my God, do you know if he is okay?" I replied I didn't hear from him that day, but I guess he is just fine, and she hung up. I had no idea what was the conversation about, so I decided to wait for my mother to return home and ask her then. Meanwhile, I turned on the television, and looked for something interesting to see. When I reached one of the news channels, I couldn't look away. In front of me, on the screen, were images too rough to see. People screaming and crying to the sight of the twin towers slowly collapse. The reporter analyzed the situation, but I wasn't listening. I was captured by the unbelievable pictures, of one of the darkest days of the 21st century. It wasn't long until I realized my aunt's panic. My father is there, god knows how close to the smoke and flames. I called my mother, and she hurried to calm me down. My father was safe and sound and in Florida. It wasn't until a few days later when he told me he was supposed to be in New-York, at that time, having a meeting in one of the towers, but eventually experienced some change in plans.
It could be faith, a higher power, or merely luck, but the bottom line is that my father was saved and got to live a happy life in the next 11 years (and counting). Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the thousands of people who woke up that day without knowing it will be their last. Ever since that day, 9/11 became a day of both memory and salutation. On that day, for 11 years, we bow our head in memory of the ones who were lost forever, and salute to the heroes who saved lives, and helped preventing a maybe bigger attack. But the most admirable aspect of the post 9/11 US, is the fact that in it is not just one day a year. 9/11 is everywhere, every day to everyone: from memorial sites, to special programs, to unity with those whose world collapsed and never restructured- you are all united in this memory for 11 years.
At this point, I just want to let you know we remember 9/11 too. We also bow our heads in memory of this unforgettable day and wish it didn't exist. We hold your hands and embrace you all, in hope to never witness such a disaster ever again. But in order to never letting this repeat itself, we all must stand together in the battle against terror. In the past several years, it continues to grow and the threat for all countries of the world is getting more and more solid. Terror continues to grow, and the only way to stop it is to stand together. Together we are a wall, stronger than any brick or metal. The fight against terror may sometimes seem like an impossible fight, but things are always better once you know you're not alone out there. Together we will make a better world, where our children will spend a lifetime not knowing what terror is, remembering the 21st century as the day the world said: "enough". May you all be strong, and may 9/11 always refer only to the year 2001.