Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Happy Passover! Or is it Merry Easter? Eastover? After spending some time in the States, I can confidently claim that at any given moment during the month of the best holiday ever, there are more Easter eggs than Haggadahs in most states. Spending the last summer in the states made me see a different kind of Judaism: The kind that fights for its existence every single day. The kind that needs to be shown.
Here, in Israel, we can smell the Matzo from the beginning of March. Schools are on two weeks long holiday, shops’ display windows are decorated with “Happy Passover” signs, it is illegal to sell Chametz, and holiday songs are sung everywhere. Passover is all over the place, and it takes a great deal of effort to find a Christmas tree here, in Israel. Israel is a democratic and Jewish state by definition. There is no way to escape it. Even those of us who define ourselves as completely secular can’t ride a bus on Sabbath (the bus companies don’t work on Saturdays), and can’t ignore a Jewish holiday.
I never had the need to go to a synagogue. It never seemed like something worth doing for me, especially due to the fact that women must sit in the back, and that is something I’m simply not willing to do. My visit to the states this past summer introduced me to the Reform Judaism, which nearly doesn’t exist in Israel. This was the first time I found myself getting closer to Judaism. This was also the first time I felt the need to pray, to keep kosher and to wear white on Saturdays. This past summer I found myself, for the first time, in a situation where Judaism wasn’t all around me. I had to create it for myself. American Jews need to bring out Passover characteristics - otherwise there will be no Passover. In Israel- there is no way to ignore it. But get this: We throw Christmas parties, and celebrate the Christian New Year’s Eve. It is never official, and we don’t get days off work, but we still do. For fun.
I guess it’s because we have such confident in our Judaism, that we “allow” ourselves to push the limits. We will always maintain a Jewish lifestyle. It surrounds us. As long as we live in Israel, the Jew’s Homeland, there will be no escape from being Jewish.
We don’t believe in Christian Holidays, but there is something alluring about things that are out of reach. This is our way of connecting to the outside world, and to be international. There is also a downside about living in a Jewish country: we are isolated. We see Christmas specials in our favorite T.V series, and want to be a part of it. Part of your world. I mean, everybody wants to be an American. We want to live in the land of endless possibilities. To make all of our dreams come true.
Whatever the reason is behind this, one thing is for sure: We all want what we can’t have. I bet you are a bit jealous of us, for us not having the need to put an effort into living a Jewish lifestyle. We are jealous of you for having every single possibility at reach. We want to see Santa Claus, you want an Easter Bunny-free Passover environment. I suppose the obvious conclusion, is to be happy for what we have. But this will never happen. This is simply against human nature. So have a happy Passover, whichever way you celebrate it, and remember: Somewhere else, people are doing it better…
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April 8, 2012 | 4:46 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
• An Israeli Hockey team that went abroad for training landed in Austria to discover Swastikas scrawled on a player’s luggage. The team flew to Vienna for training, while several team members took a later flight from Canada on a connection that passed through Düsseldorf. When they landed, one of the players was shocked to find Nazi symbols drawn on his duffle bag. The Swastikas were reportedly drawn around the words “Israeli National Hockey Team”. The team member chose to refrain from making a scene and left the airport without pressing any charges.
• A fire that occurred about a month ago at a family house in Rosh Ha’Ayin, took the life of the family’s youngest member and their entire property. The fire reportedly started due to a short circuit. When the parents realized it was spreading, the mother ran outside with the two older children, while the father tried to rescue the two-year-old from the flames. The rescue failed, the father nearly lost his life, and the remaining family members were left with nothing. Last week, a former Israeli resident who lives in the States, donated a new apartment for the family to live in, until they are able to get back on their feet. The donor chose to remain unknown. The family thanked him for the generous donation, saying: “nothing can really make us happy now, but there is some comfort in this.”
• The former S.S. member and Nobel Prize winner poet, Günter Grass, published a new poem last week, in which he accused Israel of being a threat to the world. He wrote about his concerns about Israel’s intention to “wipe out the Iranian people,” and mentioned Israel as a threat to the world. Some commentaries referred to this poem as a blood libel, or a “European tradition of accusing Jews of committing violent rituals before Passover.” “Many years ago, it was the libel that claimed Jews are using Christian children’s blood to make Matzzo, now it’s the accusation that Israel wants to ‘erase’ Iran” said a delegate of the Israeli Embassy in Berlin. Today, the papers published Grass’ clarification, saying that he meant to criticize the current Israeli government, and not the entire Israeli people, or the state of Israel.
• As the fence which is being built as a border between Israel and Egypt is in its final stages before completion, Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority is on a new mission: “persuading” the ibex to stay on the Israeli side of the fence. The placement of more reachable water sources in Egypt and more wheat and food here in Israel makes the ibex wander between the two countries. As the border closes, however, Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority wishes them to remain in Israel, due to the fear that they will be exterminated by hunters if they stay on the other side of the border. Nowadays, the NPA puts a line of feeding spots on the Israeli side of the border, in hope that the ibex will choose to stay here.
• Nathan Cook received his Masters degree in Math from the renowned Cambridge University in England. Not much long after, he surprised his loved ones by deciding to pass up on a dreamy paycheck for sleeping in a tent. Cook, a 26 year old British Jew, told the Israeli papers that even with having everything he could possibly dream of, something was still missing. Eight months ago, Cook came to Israel, all by himself, and voluntarily joined the IDF. After going through a three-week Hebrew course, he is now on his way to boot-camp. Later on, Cook will expect 18 months of service. Such stories, of young people feeling such a powerful connection to Israel and the IDF, are pretty common here, but still manage to touch the hearts of us all.
April 5, 2012 | 10:06 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Last night, missiles were fired from somewhere near Sinai to Eilat. I checked yesterday’s news and saw nothing of an IDF mission or of a wanted terrorist being mysteriously killed. Nothing could have been the trigger for this attack. It just happened.
It is pretty ironic to read about an attack from the south, just a day before reading the Haggadah. It seems like we live in some vicious circle, where we are constantly being chased after. No organization is yet to take responsibility for the attack, but for now, it appears to have come from Sinai and was probably done by a terror link operating there.
The mayor of Eilat was interviewed, saying this event, where luckily no one got hurt, didn’t cause any cancellations of hotel reservations in the most tourist-friendly city in Israel. Of course no one cancelled; missiles became a part of the South’s daily routine in the past couple of months. I said it before and I’ll say it again - we will never let anything ruin our Israeli joy. Some missiles won’t stop my friends and me from vacationing in Eilat during the Passover holiday.
The one thing that gets in my way to not letting this event ruin my holiday is the fact it reminds me of the second Intifada, a low point, maybe the lowest point of the Israeli-Palestinian argument. The similarity to the current event has nothing to do with the characteristics or the causes of the two, but to the atmosphere amongst the people. I was barely a teenager when buses and restaurants exploded. I remember the fear to go outside and have a proper meal. I remember my parents forbade me to take the bus. No one could predict when and where the next hit will come, and the newspapers were covered in black.
At some point people stopped being afraid. They took the buses, and hung out in public places. We didn’t let anybody bring us down and stop us from living a normal life. Luckily, this missile-mania didn’t take any lives, but the danger is always out there.
Nowadays, it is easier to predict the fall, or at least give two minutes warning, but since we are not fighting against a country, it is much harder to stop the attack or to complain to the UN about undiplomatic behavior. But with that being said, once again, we don’t let threats take over our lives. We have spirit like no one else, and with that, we will win. After all, we spent 40 years wondering in the desert just so we can enjoy our freedom…
April 4, 2012 | 12:18 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Hana Shalabi, a member of the Islamic Jihad, was one of the 1027 prisoners who were released for the return of Gilad Shalit. On February 16th, she was arrested again, for being recognized as a potential threat to the safety of Israel. Following her arrest, she went on a fast for what she claimed to be her unjustified arrest. This hunger strike got her released and deported back to Gaza, and was the opening fire for a new trend amongst Palestinians prisoners.
Although these hunger strikes are getting Israel into a very complicated conflict around the question of the striking prisoners - and possibly the future release of more criminals - I would like to talk about something else on the matter. A Philosophy professor in Tel-Aviv University, where I study nowadays for my B.A., teaches a few of my close friends, who have announced many times she is the best professor in the world.
On March 22nd, this professor participated in a protest which was held on campus. The protesters called for the release of Hana Shalabi. This protest was declared to be illegal, for its support of a member of the Islamic Jihad movement, which stands behind numerous assassinations of Israelis and Jews all over the world. The protesters were also reported to have called the IDF soldiers “murderers.” This protest shocked many students who were on campus at the time. For some, this protest was the final straw, for there is a rich list of anti-Israeli activities in which she had an active role. My friends’ admiration towards her turned into confusion. She was still a great professor and teacher, but how should former IDF solders feel when the person they listen to every week expresses her opinion against them and their friends?
Last semester I had an Israeli-Arabic professor teaching a class about aspects of Israeli politics. I noticed the anti-Israeli atmosphere since day one, but waited several weeks before I stopped showing up to class. This professor used his stage to speak against the Jews who live in Israel, and are the Israeli majority. Almost all mandatory articles talked about the brutal treatment by the western, “white” Jewish Israelis towards the Israeli-Arabs, since the “violent takeover” in 1948. There were references to our grandparents as “immigrants” and to the Arabs as “settlers”, who built this country with their bare hands, while we ruthlessly took it from them. There were also several saying how our purpose is to strip from them all their rights and make it impossible for them to live here. This comes from a person who makes more money than both my parents together, and is a respected professor.
When my friends and I complained to fellow pupils, we got a shower of insults of being “unwilling to hear other people’s opinions” and, yes, some called us racist, because we hate the professor “just for being Arabic.” Well, I find it a bit difficult to agree with, for in my life I’ve had Arabic teachers and acquaintances. It makes sense because, after all, we share the same small piece of land. My problem is not with Arabs or Orthodox or with people who have a slightly different opinion than mine. On the contrary, I live off of debates and arguments. In fact, I might go on and admit that I don’t see myself as someone with a certain opinion on everything. I am very open to hearing others’ opinions on political matters. I don’t relate to a certain political party, and do not always agree with out leaders’ policies.
It is not just on campus. Last Friday, Neturei Karta, an extreme orthodox stream who live in Israel, but opposed to its current existing ( due to a belief that Jews are forbidden to have their own state until the coming of the Messiah), joined the Palestinian Earth Day march, protesting against the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israelis.
I’ll be the first one to admit that in a democracy, everyone may and should be able to express his/her opinion aloud. My problem begins when Israelis who live in Israel, enjoy its resources and many rights, speak against it. And I don’t talk about expressing an opinion against a certain governmental move, or political group or a certain policy. I am referring to Israelis who speak out against Israel and people who publicly despise the place they call “home” and participate in activities targeted to hurt this place, either by making bad PR towards the rest of the world or by joining violent activities. I try to imagine how you would feel if you read an interview by an Israeli who speaks badly of Israel, how you would feel If you hear Israelis saying this is the worst place in the world. How do world leaders feel when people speak badly of their home? What impact does it have on international relations regarding Israel?
I am afraid that even though this is a poor situation, Israel is still a democracy, and those Anti-Israel Israelis will keep living here, working and influencing others. However, those people are “playing dirty”, running over their neighbors, who put a lot of effort in making our country be the amazing place it is. I honestly believe one can’t be active against his home, and keep living in it, enjoying what people who love it have worked for. Jewish, Arabic, left wing, right wing, male, female - it doesn’t really matter, as long as you appreciate your home.
April 2, 2012 | 11:50 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
• It is no secret that the Israeli mind is something else. After growing a successful High-Tech industry, and winning ten Nobel prizes, I was not surprised to hear due to a strategic decision made by the U.S Government, Israeli students will receive scholarships to come and be a part of American higher education. Hundreds of academic facilities and universities in the U.S, including very prestigious facilities such as University of Michigan, Berkley, and NYU, will offer yearly scholarships to Israelis, starting next year.
• Israel is building temporary residencies in Turkey for people whose houses were wrecked during the earthquake that took place a year ago, and took the lives of many. After sending a special delegation to Turkey last year, as a part of a humanitarian project, the Israeli Defense Office sponsored a temporary neighborhood. This allows people who lost their houses to have a temporary place to live until getting back on their feet.
• In the beginning of March, President Obama announced, during his speech before the AIPAC policy conference, that he would award Israeli President Shimon Peres, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Peres is very respected both in Israel and in the United States, and this announcement didn’t leave a dry eye here in Israel. A couple of days after the announcement, a group fighting for the release of Jonathan Pollard created a petition, calling on Peres to condition his acceptance of the medal on the release of Pollard. It was signed by more than 15,000 people from all over the world. The word spread amongst Israelis, and caused many discussions and arguments regarding this request. Peres responded to the petition, saying: “We are all united in the call to release him immediately. In all my meetings with president Obama and top American government leaders I raised the request to release Pollard and I will continue to do so when I meet with Obama in June. My office is in touch with the campaign for Pollard’s release and we will work hand in hand in any way possible to bring Jonathan Pollard home.”
• Israel has highly developed agriculture. Israeli minds are behind some of the most advanced agricultural innovations and developments. It is no wonder, then, that a group of Nepalese farmers, who were foreign workers here in Israel, used their acquired knowledge to build a farm in Katmandu. This farm, which is based on Israeli technology and accompanied by the Israeli Embassy, celebrated a year of success this past weekend. The prime minister of Nepal even ordered duplicates of the farm in 50 other locations scattered all over Nepal.
March 31, 2012 | 11:03 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
News flash! This was a news flesh a year ago!
When I have days off, I enjoy watching the Ellen DeGeneres show. An hour of tons of fun and zero worries. Several weeks ago I had a day off, so I turned on the T.V. for some DeGeneres time. It was one of the 12 Days of giveaway shows in December, 2010. At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but they weren’t: turns out I’ve been watching this show for months, in a delay of more than a year! I guess someone out there, in the big fancy world of television, underestimated Israeli television viewers by thinking we won’t notice or won’t mind that delay. Well, I mind, especially when the same thing happens, though with just a couple of months of delay, with E! news and several other television shows. I may be a bit overreacting, but isn’t it a complete waste? Who in the world, thinks it is okay, in the year of 2012, to air shows with such a noticeable delay? The thing is that unless a Christmas/new year’s/some other holiday show is aired, it is almost impossible for us to notice the delay, unless we are frequent followers of American websites.
If you thought that maybe there is some fundamental problem in purchasing these shows from American networks on time, let me tell you this: American Award shows, for example, are aired live (in times such as 3 am, Israel time).Israeli Networks and cable/satellite companies are competing for who airs new episodes as close to the USA air time. But while shows like Glee or Mad Men are aired here two days after they air in the States, other shows like Two Broke Girls, are “all new” here, while you wait for the second season…
Despite the fact that these are “just” entertainment shows, this makes Israel Pop- culturally behind. And this doesn’t happen on television only, but also in cinema andmusic. This I noticed clearly when I got back from my summer in the States. I kept singing the thrilling song by the respected poet, Rebecca Black: “it’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday…”, while noticing the question marks in my friends’ eyes and slowly fading out in embarrassment. About a month after I came back, my friend asked me if I want to see the new movie: Horrible Bosses, which I watched two months earlier. Not to mention Will Farrel movies, which for some reason don’t show in Israel at all. Once again, all of this happens while movies such as Harry Potter premiered in Israel the very same day they premiered in England (which, at some point, was even before they premiered in the States).
I don’t even know who’s to blame. Is this the Israeli entertainment industry’s poorly made decisions? Is it the American entertainment industry, which holds back the movies, songs and television series? Who makes us watch American television by doing illegal downloads or by spending hundreds of dollars on ITunes, which is also possible only for Israelis who purchased gift cards while vacationing in the States? I am guessing the former is more to blame, but this will probably never occupy great scientific minds, and I guess there are Israelis out there who still have no idea they are watching shows months after the original airing time. The only thing for me to do, and the greatest Jewish virtue of all, is to complain. I mean, come on! After all the Jewish people have been through, why does the world have to be so cruel?! We were wandering all over the world for 2000 years, with no place to call home, and by the time we finally win the state of Israel, we are doomed to be pop-culturally delayed. Haven’t the Jewish people suffered enough?!
But in a more serious note, I sometimes wonder if the people of the world know that in this small country, who hits front pages in all 50 states when it comes to security issues or international politics, has people who run normal lives. Israel is more than an international issues magnet. This entertainment delay makes me see why some people think we ride camels and culturally old fashioned. I guess both Israeli and American decision-makers don’t see this delay as an actual problem, considering our problematic relations with our neighbors. If one of them is reading this: let us blend in the pop-culture, and catch up with the rest of the world. It may seem like a small, not-important issue, but sometimes it’s the small things that count…
March 28, 2012 | 2:31 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Israel is a very small country, yet somehow has the same amount of reality shows as there are in the USA. This reality-country size ratio makes those shows the center of the public eye. EVERYBODY watches at least two reality shows, and every Israeli knows at least one reality contestant personally. It is obvious that almost every season, a reality incident reaches the headlines and stays there until the next one comes along. As I write these words, the newsrooms and news websites are having major discussions about one big reality incident that rocked the holy land, and unlike usually, I am not being sarcastic.
It’s Saturday night. The semi-finals of the Israeli “The Voice” airs. About half the country stares at the screen as one of the live performances ends, and the mentor is about to hand out the verdict. It is a sure fact that Yuval Dayan will win not only the semi-finals, but the entire season. She was marked as the favorite from her first audition. Just when the mentor, Shlomi Shabat, was about to open his mouth, the 17 year-old announces that she has had enough. She said she was missing school and her friends, and that she is simply not ready to handle this pressure. At that moment - at least for every Israeli who has been watching T.V at the time – the world stopped spinning.
The following day, all the major newspapers had her face all over the center section. The eight o’clock news had special panels discussing the dramatic moment. News and entertainment websites were packed with surfers’ comments, not to mention almost all Israeli Facebook status.
I guess you could laugh to yourself, thinking how ridiculous this is. I mean, reality drama happens all the time, and that’s what E! is for. At first, I reacted the same way. As a person who (pretends to) never watch reality television, I found it absurd that while missiles are being shot, and the U.N is having trouble in finding its way, the last thing that matters is a teenager who got tired of the sudden fame, as if she didn’t know what to expect when auditioning for a reality show…A day later, when I noticed the Israeli media insisted on keeping discussing the event of that night, I had a realization. Israel is all about real life drama. We are under constant threat, and we live up each other’s behinds, so there is nowhere to hide. We need to deal with serious issues and are all a part of every single event that has something to do with us, and occurs either in or out of our small territory. We are connected by an infusion from the daily paper, having stress wrinkles added to our morning routine. With all that being said, we somehow succeed in being constantly happy.
We have many ways of making this joy possible. One of them is by making a big deal out of a minor reality drama. Sometimes we have to put the real life drama aside, and discuss passionately a teenager’s discussion; we are Israelis, after all. We have to use our superhero ability of being nosy and argue about whether this person, who most of us know nearly nothing about, made the right decision or not. We need to come up with a conspiracy which claims it was a clever PR move towards the finals, and that the production was prepared for this farewell speech. We have to admire that girl for challenging the reality industry by saying “enough.” We have to look up to her, for she is a true Israeli, who does whatever she wants, and no one can stop her.
We must hate and love reality shows at the same time, because despite our constant criticism for the low intellectual level, it provides us a great escape…
March 25, 2012 | 11:52 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Dear members of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council,
Let me start by saying how important it is, to me, that there is someone out there who’s job is to protect the most valuable thing in the world: human rights. You are here to make the world a safe place for those who can’t find security in their own home.
I read about your recent resolution, ordering a first probe into how Israel’s West Bank settlements may be infringing on Palestinians’ rights. Right on! You really nailed it this time! I mean, nowadays there is nothing more important than inspecting how settlements that exist for years, influence the lives of people whose legal position in this state has been unclear for years. This everlasting conflict, which has been going on for years, is the most important thing for you to do, no doubt.
There is something about your ability to recognize the burning issues of the world that leaves me speechless, and even makes my heart skip a beat. On your blind journey to justice, you probably missed that fact that Israel is a civilized, modern country. There is a big discussion on wheather Israel is treating Palestinians the “right way,” but it has never hurt their basic human rights. So if that’s okay with you, allow me to address some other places in the world, just once. It’s not that far from here, several hundred kilometers from Gaza. There is something going on there too, but don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret.
Currently, there is a major human rights violation in Syria. This one, as opposed to the current events in Israel, is real, so get ready to handle this in some other way other than condemning politely. I don’t know if you heard, but about a year ago, the people of the Arabian dictatorships of the Middle East, decided that they had enough, and began to fight for freedom. In some countries, Libya, for instance, the struggle ended with the joy of freedom. Syria was an example of a place where the ruler refused to surrender and let Democracy win. For months now there is genocide over there. Blood floods the street, the guns roar, and no one is safe. It is a bit hard to believe, but behind the cute little mustache and the shy smile, Bashar El- Assad is a ruthless killer. Innocent men, women, and children are being butchered every single day, while the president and his wife are sitting at their palace, enjoying the latest Harry Potter movie.
Shocking, right?! I was surprised, too. The only explanation that comes to mind as for why the UN did nothing in the matter so far, is that you’ve been so busy flipping stones at Israel, searching for something to accuse us for, that you didn’t have the time to watch the news. It’s okay, I only blame you a little bit. But now that we put the cards on the table, this is your chance to prove the world wrong, and do something worth doing. Stop the real violation of human rights, the most basic ones, actually: life and freedom. And please, don’t even dare comparing the situation in Syria to the one in Israel, because that will be the proof of your being anything but a neutral organization.
I wish I had the guts to send you this letter as is, but knowing myself, I would probably write a polite Email instead, wishing the UN wouldl put politics aside and deal with the true pain, the suffering and the constant fear the people of Syria deal with daily.