Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Last year, the world entered a new phase of protests calling for social justice. It probably existed earlier, that longing for equality in the society, but last summer, the entire world felt it simultaneously. Israel, of course, took a meaningful part in the summer of protests. I am all in favor of the freedom of speech. This is one of the most significant human rights and is an essential component of Democracy. But the thing about freedom of speech is that it should be done right, and by “right” I mean with putting our minds into it. Lately, it seems like people in Israel protest just to protest. Like this is some sort of a fashion trend- everybody do it! Equal rights for the Gay community, recruitment for Haredi, lower real estate prices- they are all very important issues we currently have in Israel, but there is a point when fighting for justice turns to fighting just for a fight. When a country reaches this point- everything worth fighting for loses its value.
Last year’s protest was the biggest Israel’s ever seen. The streets were filled with tents, as people of the middle class gathered to demand social justice. This protest swirled everybody’s heads and got us all carried away. It took a governmental committee that accomplish nothing to realize this protest was unfocused and demanded too big of a change. Ever since, it seemed like the idea of protest really turned on people here. Soon, every subject concerning anyone was accompanied by a protest: subjects such as the prices of chocolate bars. Every struggle seemed to have a need for a protest for decoration. The outcome, I’m afraid, was a really bad Sukkah- too much decoration and no space to breathe.
Now it is summer again, and my Facebook wall is starting to fill with invitations for protests. People are calling me to place a tent in the streets of Tel Aviv and shout important phrases, such as “the people demand social justice.” “Going out to the streets” became a common phrase that no one knows what it means. Is there a concrete plan with an outcome the protests arrangers wish to accomplish? Because let’s face it- social justice is something we all wish to get, but none of us really knows how to get it. This takes deep thought and right usage of freedom of speech.
A couple of weeks ago I found out I was not alone with my thoughts. Protest leaders worldwide landed in Israel for a special convention, where they dealt with issues regarding social protests, and discussed the right way to throw a protest. Stav Shaffir, one of the notable figures during the protests last summer, took part in that convention, along with protest leaders from Russia, Greece, Spain and many more. Some made a difference, some are still waiting, and some saw in the Israeli protest a great inspiration. On one thing they all agreed: the outcomes of a true revolution take time. A meaningful change can be accomplished only by hard, consistent work, guided by a clear agenda. The issues which lead to all those protests were major, profound issues (at least most of them). And this kind of change is important for every democracy. Last week, some protestors started to use violence, as well as some policemen. A protestor was quoted saying: “We learned that setting tents accomplished nothing, so the police better watch out this summer.” Is this how we want to use our freedom of speech? Is violence really the way to make a difference? Some may believe it is, but not me.
This is exactly why we shouldn’t let the true solutions be replaced by a fog of signs and shouts. The struggle for social justice cannot be reached by simply stepping outside. It is an important part of the making of a change, but fighting with the government until one side starts to bleed will get us nowhere. I really hope this summer will be the true “worldwide spring.” I hope lessons from previous mistakes, along with the conclusions from the convention, will show our fierce protest leaders, as well as our governments, the right way. Governments worldwide should try and listen to the voice of the people instead of ignoring their voters, but the people should be willing to sit and talk, instead of shouting. History has proven to us all that great minds think alike, and that leaders work best together. This is our chance. Our time is now.
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July 1, 2012 | 11:57 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
• A German court has ruled that circumcising male infants for religious reasons is a crime. A long debate regarding the subject has ended when a regional court in Cologne said last week that circumcision, which is common both in Judaism and in Islam, inflicts serious bodily harm on those who had not consented to it. “A child’s body is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision,” German media quoted the ruling as saying. “This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later about his own religious affiliation.”
• Anti-Semitism refuses to rest in Europe. After the killing in France, and the violence in Ukraine, Austrian authorities are investigating the desecration of 43 Jewish graves at Vienna’s main cemetery. A police statement on Friday said that tomb stones and slabs were found vandalized and damaged. The police are still investigating.
• Thousands of immigrant students may face cuts in scholarships given to them by Israel’s Student Authority. Due to financial difficulty and many cutbacks faced by the Treasury as well as the Jewish Agency, the Absorption Ministry stated that there is no choice, but to freeze Olim students’ funding of preparatory courses, Hebrew Ulpan and all academic studies. The freeze will take effect starting in July. Later this week, students from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem plan to protest outside of the Knesset building in Jerusalem.
• Now it’s official! After cancelling their concert in Israel at the last minute ten years ago, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are ready to make amends. On September 10th they will land in Israel and rock Tel Aviv for the first time. In their recent official announcement, the band members couldn’t hold their excitement from their upcoming show. They invited their Israeli fans of all ages to come to the concert. They also mentioned their first guitarist, Hilel Slovack, who was an Israeli.
June 29, 2012 | 2:26 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Neomi Shemer was Israel’s greatest poet and composer, and this Tuesday was eight years since she passed away from cancer, at 74. But even though she can no longer walk among us and spread her grace wherever she goes, her spirit still lives through her songs. Many poets have come and gone, some left a couple of memorable creations behind. This is right where Neomi Shemer stands out, and what I believe makes her so special- Her songs accompany Israelis for many years, and will continue to do so. To me, Shemer’s songs are my childhood, my adolescence, and my future. There’s not a day that goes by without me listening to one of her brilliant songs. What I feel about her creation, I believe every single Israeli feels as well, because Shemer’s songs are all of us. They are Israel.
Shemer sang Israel. There’s no other way to put it. She simply sang Israel, but not in the way most people see it. When you live somewhere, there’s no way to avoid thinking about all the bad things. We all tend to get cynical and critical when talking about the place we live in, but not Shemer. She took everything that’s beautiful in our Israel and got it to rhyme in a beautiful melody. She painted everything in bright colors- the scenery, the people, and even the world. When she wrote a song about Israelis, she named it: “Anashim Tovim” (“Good People”- free translation from Hebrew). The song about thr relationship between the nations of the world got the name: “Etzlenoo Bechatzer” (“in our yard”), and told the story of children of the world dancing and singing together. In “Al Kol Ele” (“All of this”), Shemer thanks the lord for all that was granted to her: The honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet. Her most beautiful song, to my opinion, is “Hakol Patuach” (“Everything is Still Open”/ “Anything Can Happen”), and I believe it should be Israel’s new anthem. This songs is one big trip in Israel, from the northern Mount. Hermon, to the southern Eilat. This song describes all of Israel’s finest features in just four minutes, and also reveals Shemer’s attitude towards life in its glory.
Shemer’s contribution to Israel and to Israelis cannot be described with words. To understand, you just have to listen- both to the music and to the lyrics. Shemer captured Israel’s essence and released it for every Israeli- young and old- to enjoy. Her always optimistic songs make me smile, and sometimes even dance, but mainly to be happy. Her songs accompany us for many years, and will continue to do so, because they remind us why we chose to live here. Moreover, they show us that the world can be a bright place, where people are good- if we just open our eyes and look around .
Ofra Haza, the singer with the voice of an angel, performs one of Shemer’s most powerful songs: “Yerushalaim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”): “Jerusalem of Gold, and of copper and of light. To all your songs I am a violin…”
My personal favorite, “Hakol Patuach” (“Everything is still open”): “…And I thought to myself- everything is still possible, as long as we are here, singing”
June 26, 2012 | 10:13 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
My recruitment for the army was simple. When I was 17, I received a letter, calling me for a day of tests, which will help the army find the best type of service for me. After that, I went for several more interviews and tests. Then I received a letter with my recruitment date in it. When that day came, I reported, and after a month-long boot-camp, I served for two years with the best people at the best place, and had a really good time. I was lucky, no doubt, but along the way, no one asked me if I’m having a good time, if I am interested in getting a bigger salary, if I like the people I’m working with, or if I prefer a change of environment. No one asked, and I didn’t expect anyone to ask. It was obvious that when you serve your country, that’s all you do, and you put yourself entirely to it. It wasn’t until I finished my service that the army helped my figuring out my next step by offering a number of conferences and job fairs, providing me tax discounts and giving me a nice grant to help me get started.
It was as obvious as the sunrise to me and my friends that we must serve for the entire period of time required by the IDF, even if it is not to our liking (obviously, I preferred lying on the beach for two years). Just as it was obvious to me, it is obvious most Israeli 18 year old. My question, then, is how come it’s anything but obvious to 18 year old Haredi? How come after 64 years, the government is still trying to figure out a way to recruit them? Are they not as Israeli as I am? It they are, and they are, I don’t understand why should there even be a question regarding their recruitment. If you ask them, they will tell you they can’t serve because they need to learn the Torah/Talmud/ whatever. Others will say they can’t serve in the army because this is an environment not suitable for them and not modest enough. The more extreme answer is that they do not support Israel and don’t want to fight for it. Good thing I found an answer to all of their excuses: want to study? Me, too. Wish I could start university at the early age of 18, but I had to serve my country. Unsuitable environment? Last time I checked, the army keeps kosher like no place else. Other than that, each and every base has a temple, and every task can be delayed in case a soldier wants to join a service. Finally, we all wear uniform, so nothing un-modest here, and the army also has very specific rules regarding any public touching between male and female soldiers. If anyone will ask for a proof, I will present them with the Haredi who do join the army. I had an entire Haredi section at my base, and from what I heard, they felt pretty good serving there. For the last excuse, I have the best solution of them all- don’t want to live here? You are free to leave.
It took my about two seconds to come up with those answers. For some reason, it takes the government forever, and even then, the solutions are merely partial. Earlier this week, the government laid out the 8000 plan to recruit 80% of the Haredi population (the 20% who will be excused are “biblical prodigies”). This program is supposed to either recruit the Haredi to the army or make them do “civil service” (volunteer in hospitals, work with kids, etc.). This plan, like its previous, seems acceptable. The problem is that it’s just a plan, and like the many times before, it probably will remain that way. Why? Because for some reason, their recruitment became Mission Impossible 5. If their lack of recruitment was the only problem, I would probably let it go at some point, knowing they will be punished in some way. The thing is it doesn’t end there. The Haredi receive all the possible financial benefits from the government, which allows them to spend their lives doing nothing for the country, as the country does everything for them. This is fundamentally wrong, and way over “lazy”. This is sitting aside as a way of life, letting everyone else do the job.
The Israeli IDF protects the country and its citizens. Every single day I thank my brother the soldier and his friends for helping me sleep peacefully at night. I grew up knowing that by the age of 18, I will serve. Pay my due to my home. There are many people who, from physical or mental reasons, can’t serve in the IDF. The Heredi who choose to “skip” the army see themselves as a part of that group, the “incapables”, but they are not. They are just as capable as I. The only problem is I was educated to join the army. They were educated to let others do it. Before I finish, I just want to state that this doesn’t go to all Haredi. Only to the group of Haredi who feel like not giving back to their country. The army never asked me about my beliefs, simply because it didn’t matter. I am an Israeli living in Israel, and that’s enough to make me serve in the IDF. No excuses.
June 24, 2012 | 1:27 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
• Recently, the World Zionist Organization founded a special communication center, in order to fight worldwide anti-Semitism which spreads through the internet. The advanced communication center will track anti-Semitic expressions, video clips, articles and other propaganda that have become pretty common online lately. Then, the WZO will address the various publicists in request to remove the drastic expressions. So far, the WZO has recruited tenths of volunteers which speak several languages, to help tracking down the new age of Anti-Semitism.
• More than 1000 Israeli elders participated in the “Israeli Golden Olympics” which took place in a small town called Nordia, next to Netaniya. For two days, the athletic elders competed in various Olympic sports such as swimming, running, and triathlon along with more “easygoing” sports such as bowling and dancing.
• After an Algerian kayaker withdrew from a World Cup last month because of an Israeli participation, the International Olympic Committee decided they wish to prevent similar scenario during the Olympic games, and announced that refusing to compete against a fellow athlete because of nationality or religion would be a ” serious breach” of the Olympic code of ethics. The IOC also said that an athlete or a team unwilling to play in the ” spirit of friendship and fair play”, should “stay at home”.
• Last week, Professor Alean al-Krenawi, a resident of the Bedouin town Rahat, was officially appointed the new president of the Achva Academic College of Education. This is a double honor for Al-Krenawi, for this makes him the very first Bedouin president of an Israeli high-education academy.
• Apparently, Turkey and Israel can still cooperate: A special delegation of Turkish teachers visited Yad Vashem along with 370 educators from 53 different countries for the 8th International Conference for Holocaust Education. Turns out when it comes to education, all disagreements seem minor.
• Guma Aguiar, a Brazilian-born philanthropist who has donated millions of the fortune he amassed in the oil and gas industry to Israeli and Jewish causes, was announced missing last week, after his motorboat washed ashore in Fort Launder, Florida. Aguiar is also known for being the main sponsor of the Israeli soccer team, Beitar- Jerusalem. The Coast Guard searched Aguiar for 70 hours from the sky and on the sea, and eventually decided to call off the searches. The investigation is still going.
June 22, 2012 | 12:51 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Most nations of the world have different opinions and perspectives on pretty much everything, but if there’s something I believe all western countries see eye to eye on, it is politics. Every four years or so, we all gather to choose our delegates to represent us at the decision-making parliaments. After that, we pretty much live off of the dirt as the media picks on them. Politicians are mostly perceived as populists who spread statements but do nothing, and for their entire period of time in office, we wait for them to fall. That is why we are full of appreciation for the few, true, politicians, who still serve for the people they represent and fight to make a difference. Israel lacks this type of politician, which is why we do anything to show our appreciation for the few who pop up every once in a while. The last time we’ve had a truly admired politician, the kind which people look up to and believe in, was the early 90’s. The politician was Prime Minister Izhak Rabin. Many disagreed with his way, but I believe all sides of the political scale would agree he was one in a million.
After that, things got pretty much downhill, and the peak was in 2007, when our respected president- Moshe Katzav, the number one civilian, was accused of rape and put in jail. There have been several cases of dishonesty and fraud, but I believe the case of Katzav was when we said: “no more”. This statement became reality when Shimon Peres was elected president. At a time of progress and constant change, when you count only if you have a Facebook account, we had an 84 year old president, a president who’s been around since Israel’s very first days. When he was elected he said that becoming a president wasn’t his dream growing up. He said his childhood dream was to become a shepherd or a poet, but now that he’s President, he’ll do his part with great honor.
Yes, our president is one of the last Poets, and had a childhood dream of becoming something that was modern during biblical times. But if there’s one thing I can say about Peres, it is that he is no laughing matter. Until elected president, Peres was referred to as “the politician who can’t win.” For years since the beginning of Israeli time, Peres was in politics. He was a Minister in the Knesset for 48 years, and was even Prime Minister for two years in the 80’s and for several months in 1995, after Rabin was murdered. But overall, he was unofficially named “a loser.” It seemed like he had lost elections (for Prime Minister, for the head of the Knesset, etc.) more times than any other politician. He was always old fashioned in comparison to his rivals. I remember the 1996 debate held between the two candidates for Prime Minister: Bibi and Peres. Bibi was a young, persuasive man. He looked straight into the camera and improvised when needed. Peres was having some difficulties understanding this format of television production, which was pretty new back then. He read from a piece of paper, turning to the host rather to the camera .Since charisma also plays a part when electing our delegates in office, it was a sure loss.
It took us and him almost 50 years to realize to what part he plays, where he fits best. It is the most respected part of them all. Peres is not a politician, he is a President. He is the one we all look up to. He is a man with clean hands and good intentions. A Nobel Peace prize winner, he is the one we don’t even think of digging for dirt about. Our grandpa who opened his Facebook page a couple of months ago. The vary first Israeli president to be awarded the American Presidential Medal of Freedom. It took us that long to appreciate the man who never gave up, who kept on struggling to maintain his public role and to realize his agenda. He is the first Israeli politician to ever be admired by the entire nation. Shimon Peres, our most respected President since the dawn of Israeli Politics, is THAT kind of a politician. The rare, hard to find politicians, whom we cannot stop looking up to.
June 21, 2012 | 1:38 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
The seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake. As much as I love Israel, my many visits in the US made me wish some American features were transferred here so that we can enjoy them as well. It took me a while, but I narrowed my “wish list” to five American features you are more than welcome to let us borrow:
When it comes to coffee, we, Israelis, are all Europeans- We don’t settle for beans. Almost every Israeli who ever visits the States will tell you that the thing you call “coffee” shouldn’t be called that. However, there is one large American coffee shop chain which rocked my world- Starbucks. That creamy, ice-cold Frappuccino on a hot summer day is all a girl could ask for. Same goes for a steamy cup of Cappuccino for a writing session inside the store, as the rain pours outside. We actually had Starbucks here for a while, but it didn’t last. The amount of coffee chains we already have didn’t leave room for the best of the best, and poor Israeli Starbucks didn’t stand a chance. Nowadays, when it is scalding hot outside, I like to make home- made Frappuccino, but as you can probably guess- it’s not the same.
The only word that comes to mind when visiting one of the Israeli amusement parks is: “really?!” Especially after visiting the mother of all amusement parks- Disneyworld. . When you enter a Disney Park’s gates, you feel like you went to heaven, at least. The combination of a legendary atmosphere and state of the art rides makes Disney Parks an out of this world experience. They are the kind that you take back home with you as you are filled with pity because it will take a while until you will have enough money to come back. But Disney is not amusement parks only; it is an entire culture which is not developed enough here. We grew up on Disney movies, and we also have some merchandise and the Disney channel, but I must say we lack that Disney “vibe” which cannot be ignored in the States.
Broadway. Wow. I mean, seriously- where else, in the world, is there an endless block of musical theater? In Israel you can find an average of 2.3 musicals a year. Some are original and some, such as Cabaret and The Producers, are adapted from, well, Broadway. My main goal during each stay in New York is to see as many Musicals as possible (considering my usually poor poor budget). Broadway is my chance to unload all my “musical need” which is clearly never satisfied here. But it’s not just Broadway that I want, it’s your entire Musical Theater culture: from musical television series to high-school musicals (not the movie, the actual thing). So if you please, just spread some of your musical theater pixie dust here on your next visit. It would be much appreciated. Thank you.
I was amazed by the variety of sports branches you have there, in the States: Baseball, Football, Tennis, Canoe, Swimming. Everyone has his/her own favorite sport and a favorite team to cheer for. We also have many sports, but when it comes to popular sports, or the kinds that have fans who are not sports geeks, we have, well, Soccer and Basketball. It pretty much ends there. While wishing we had more sports branches here (if we did, it might have made it easier for me to connect to that world), I seriously crave for your Sports Fans. Well, not the actual people, but their American, polite behavior which leaves me speechless. The fans who are okay with losing, who don’t leave garbage behind them when the game is over, who keep their thoughts on the judge to themselves. Polite is the key word. So no need for the actual fans, just that adjective they carry with them.
The things you guys can do with 99 cents are unbelievable. Every visit to Walmart was like a magic trick. Every single time I reached the cashier, carrying an overloaded cart and waiting for the verdict, I had to see the receipt for myself to believe how incredibly low the price is. Same goes for fast food restaurants- I pay almost nothing and get way more than I can eat. During my first vacation I ate so much I actually gained a couple of pounds, and….You know what- you can keep the big meals for small cash. I really don’t want to repeat that diet…
June 19, 2012 | 10:27 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Yesterday was scary. I was just getting out of class when a friend of mine called. She is working as a security guard at an elementary school, and she was stressed out. She told me that militants crossed into Israel from Egypt, and that there was an exchange of fire and that there has been an alert that they might have entered Israel. She was standing alone, expected to keep hundreds of young kids safe, but incapable of actually protecting them. “If they will come, there will be nothing I can do,” she said. I live at the center of Israel, which means the last time I felt that kind of danger was during the second Intifada. I was a kid, barely a teenager, and didn’t quite realize the fear that took over my parents. I was forbidden to ride buses, so I walked. Simple as that. Now, 10 years later, I am a person of my own, capable of realizing a danger. My friend was guarding a school, filled with kids as young as we were, unaware of the danger, not feeling the impotence, the incapability to be truly protected. “If they will come, there will be nothing I can do”…
The militants were caught. The IDF proved itself once again and peace was redeemed. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop thinking about what my friend said. We can never be truly protected, even while having the best army in the world. In case someone will succeed at entering Israel, he/she can do anything he/she wishes. They can stand near an elementary school and blow up. That’s that. “If they will come, there will be nothing I can do”…