Miriam Shaviv

  • Attention, European do-gooders

    Sep 21, 2010

    According to Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, this is what happens to European aid to Gaza:

    According to Abu Musab, a top Islamic Jihad commander in the Rafah refugee camp, Hamas has failed at governance and resistance alike. “There’s no government in Gaza,” he said flatly. “We’re under Israeli and Hamas occupation."

    “They are as big harami as Dahlan,” he said, using the Arabic slang for “thieves”. “They used to be mujaheddin, but today they are fat millionaires with nice cars,” he added, pointing to his flat stomach. “Look, you can either be a millionaire or you can lead a resistance. But you if you take the medical aid sent by Europe to help the poor people of Gaza and sell it in your own pharmacies to make money for yourself and the government, you can’t have both.”

    At this point he pulled a packet of antibiotics from his pocket; it is stamped: “A gift of the people of Norway. Not for resale.”

    “I just bought this from a Hamas-run pharmacy here in Rafah for my son,” he said. “I had to go to a Hamas pharmacy to make sure the pills weren’t fake or made from poor materials in Egypt. If you want real medicine, you have to buy the aid Europe sends us.”

    The article, by The National's Beirut correspondent, also includes several comparisons between Hamas rule and Israeli rule, made by residents of Gaza. The Israelis are deemed very very bad, but better than Hamas. Read the whole thing here.

  • A religious model?

    Sep 20, 2010


    On American television, there is hardly a reality show out there which has not featured a religious Jew. The Apprentice, at one stage, had two Shabbat observant contestants at the same time (who had to miss an assignment during the High Holy Days); recently, there was a frum doctor from Florida on Big Brother, who kept Shabbat in the house.

    And now we have Esther Petrack, 18, on the new season of America's Next Top Model. A graduate of Maimonides high school in Boston, her religious identity is already being thrown into confusion by participating in the programme:

    After letting Esther say a bit about herself—namely, that she was born in Jerusalem— [Tyra Banks] asked her about her Orthodox Jewish practice. “Do you honor the Sabbath?”

    “Yes I do,” Esther responded, proceeding to explain the rules regarding the usage of electricity, computers, cell phones, and cars on Friday night and Saturday. Tyra sternly informed her that ANTM contestants work all the time, seven days a week. (I never realized that modeling was so urgent!) Would Esther, Tyra wanted to know, be able to adhere to the ANTM work schedule? Her Jewish identity was all of a sudden squarely on the spot, not unlike that of her Biblical namesake....

    She replied after a momentary hesitation: “Yes, I would do it”... [NOTE - a few sources have claimed that in the uncut version, Esther actually first said that "I will do everything in my power to keep the Sabbath - MS.]

    Even if Esther’s reversal in front of the panel seemed fast—one moment she honors the Sabbath, the next she honors ANTM’s schedule—we got to see her thoughtful side a few moments later. “I’m at a point in my life where I’m figuring things out,” she said directly to the camera. “I’m going to try to do as much as I can religious-wise, but I did kinda draw my line in the sand when I auditioned for this.”

    Of course, comment across the blogosphere seems divided between those lamenting the fact that Esther seems to have ditched religion (to whatever extent) for a shot at fame, and those celebrating her for ditching religion in order to fulfil the American dream. Personally, I am sorry when any Jew stops practising (and if you are going to stop, modelling seems a particularly shallow reason to do so). But I do think that Esther should be taken at her word. She is young, she is not yet solid in her religious identity, and I don't see much difference between her and so many 18-year-olds who behave religiously 'inappropriately' in so many different ways on their gap year in Israel or when they get to university, and later return to lead fully religious lives - except she is conducting her experiments on national television. Just like them, she should be allowed to make her own mistakes and come to her own conclusions without being driven away by the disapproving masses.

    Meanwhile, a whole horde of young Orthodox men will be watching - and waiting....

    (Via Sarah Bronson)

  • Sarah's silence: a completely original reading

    Sep 20, 2010

    I know it's a bit late for Yom Kippur, but this interpretation of the story of the akedah, the binding of Isaac, is just dazzling in its originality and imagination.

    The basic question is why Sarah - not the quiet type - is silent during the story. Dvora Yanow's startling answer (written in 1994, by the way) is that she is not really absent at all: the whole episode is part of a dream by Sarah, following the banquet Abraham made in the previous chapter following Isaac's weaning. In the dream, she is working out her own emotional response to a variety of themes from her own life, including the exile from her own father's home and land, and in particular, the circumcision of her son (represented as the akedah).

    Sarah weaves the two "journeys" together in her dream: her wanderings from her land, her birthplace, her father's house (why have the commentators only noted the meaning of this uprooting for Abraham?); and the 8-day-old son's journey from the bedroom, from the crib, from the arms of his mother, to the sandak in the living room who will hold his legs down, awaiting the mohel's knife. How many mothers, waiting nervously, anxiously, angrily in a back room, have experienced this act as the binding and sacrifice of their sons?! Here she has protected her son from Ishmael's taunting, only to see him placed in mortal danger, and by her husband, his father, no less. Sarah is silent in the dream as she watches the circumcision-sacrifice take place, as many mothers have silently complied with an act which goes against their maternal instincts.

    Yanow goes on to show how this fits in with the text and even solves some of the textual problems, and widens the issue to address the silence of Jewish women, as an ideal, throughout the ages.

    I urge you to read the whole thing here. As a modern midrash, it's superb.

  • Most gruesome Yom Kippur practice, ever

    Sep 17, 2010

    Apologies for lowering the tone around here, especially on the eve of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, but - butt....

    According to the Huff Post:

    On the evening of Yom Kippur, in preparation for the 25 hour fast, Jews the world over will offer charity, request forgiveness from friends and family whom they may have wronged, and immerse themselves in the mikveh (the ritual bath) to be purified. At some point, perhaps post-mikveh and before donning their white garments for the Kol Nidre service, many of them will stick a little something up their tuches.

    I discovered this secret several years ago, here on West 90th Street in the week before Yom Kippur when I was complaining to a neighbor about how not eating or drinking doesn't bother me, but the caffeine withdrawal is brutal. "In Monsey, there's a run on caffeine suppositories the day before Yom Kippur," my in-the-know friend shared with me. I envisioned a hoard of desperate, bearded Jews pounding on a pharmacy door, like heroin addicts begging for a fix.

    No further comment necessary...

  • The pope's Jewish timing

    Sep 16, 2010

    The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, is going to give the response to the Pope at the Pope's main interfaith event, tomorrow - eruv Yom Kippur.

    Finally, someone really will be able to say gut yontiff to the pontiff!


  • Israelis are not allowed to live normal lives, apparently

    Sep 15, 2010

    NYT.com columnist Roger Cohen, never one for original thought, has jumped on the Time magazine bandwagon and written a column questioning Israelis' desire for peace:

    It’s the end of a hot summer. The kids are returning to school. The economy is pretty good. Violence has become rare enough to intrude only lightly. Barriers shield Israelis from the West Bank and Gaza. The beach is beautiful, politicians corrupt. What’s the use of politics, anyway?...

    Well, the basic thesis is pretty much right. Israelis aren't much interested in the peace process - they know better than to put any hopes in it after so many false starts before. But, note to the editors of Time magazine: this does not mean they are not interested in peace. They simply recognise that conditions are not ripe at this current time.

    But here's my larger problem. Over the past few years, I have read story after story about regular Iraqis, Afghans etc. who struggle to continue with their daily lives despite the chaos and violence all around them. In every version, this is construed as something positive: look how brave these people are, for ignoring politics and starting new businesses, sending their children to school, going to the beach! Isn't it wonderful that they plod on regardless!

    Transfer that same scenario to Israel, though, and suddenly the insistance of your average citizen on actually living a little becomes something negative and dirty - in Roger Cohen's world, evidence that the culture is "cynical" and "blase". Increasing numbers of citizens of Western cultures tune out of politics, voting in ever decreasing numbers, because politics seems to have less and less relevance to their lives, and it is politics which is deemed to be broken. But the same process in Israel is somehow evidence of the population's moral degeneracy. 

    Yet again, Israelis are judged by entirely different standards.

    RELATED: Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren has written a rebuttal to the multiplying accusations that Israelis do not care about peace in the LA Times

  • Now, Jewish MEN wear burkas

    Sep 13, 2010

    Great news for Charedi women. Ladies, from now on, you can do your shopping in mini-skirts, tank tops, bikinis - whatever. There is no issue of modesty. Your men can't see you anyway!

    Because as of last week, the latest meshugaas to emerge out of the Charedi world is the burka-wearing men. Actually, they're not exactly burkas: they are even more extreme. Not only do these pieces of cloth leave no slit for the eyes, that's their whole point: to stop the men from seeing.

    Yes, yes. You read that correctly. The Jews are famously innovative and now we have become the first in the world to cover up our menfolk's faces and eyes rather than our women's. On the journey to Uman before Rosh Hashanah this year, some of the pilgrims covered their faces with black cloths to stop their eyes being defiled with any "threatening" sights:

    "Support for flights without movies" is the name of a small group that several years ago encouraged Haredi travelers not to take regular flights unless they had cardboard that could cover the movie screens on the airplane seats in front of them.

    This year the idea caught on that immodest sights may also be a threat outside the airplane - in the airport terminal, for example. So pilgrims are being encouraged to bring scarves along.

    "In any cloth shop, ask for a thin lycra cloth 70 cm wide (blue, brown or black ) costing about 20 NIS," reads one instruction. "It needs to be about 1.5 meters long ... which is necessary so it will sit well and not flow in the wind."

    The leaflet notes that even if people laugh at someone wearing the scarf on his face, those covering their eyes "will be rewarded a thousand fold."

    In a telephone interview from Uman, one pilgrim named Avinoam added: "It may sound ridiculous to you, but it has been more successful than expected. I recommend that you try it."

    And if you don't believe it, the pictorial evidence is here.

    Now, personally I am sorry for these men who are apparently so weak-willed that they are incapable of even walking through an airport terminal without succumbing to terrible temptations. But given the choice between the men covering up and the women covering up? These men have finally come to realise that if they do not wish to see certain parts of women's bodies that in normal society are uncovered, the onus is on them to stop looking rather than on the women to hide themselves.  Now, that's the kind of burka I can get behind......

    UPDATE: Some more pictures here.

  • The rape of "B" and the media lynch that followed

    Sep 7, 2010

    This summer, both the Israeli media and the international media went beserk covering a case in which an Arab man was convicted of "rape by deception" - in this case, having sex with a woman after masquerading as a Jew (two men were previously convicted of the same crime, however they had misrepresented their socioeconomic status). The Israeli legal system, concluded pretty much everyone, was racist.

    Well, you probably haven't noticed that the real version of events was somewhat different to the one presented by the media last month. You wouldn't have noticed because, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no mainstream media outlet that has covered the new evidence that has emerged in the last few days; even in Israel, Ha'aretz, which broke the development, has only run its report in Hebrew (a bizarre editorial decision, considering how much attention the case received overseas).

    Last week, in short, the testimony of the victim was finally released, following a petition by a local Tel Aviv paper, and with it, a fuller version of events has emerged.

    The victim, "B", was a highly vulnerable woman, who had been repeatedly raped by her father, and forced by him into prostitution. At the time of the rape episode, she was staying in a women's shelter following another rape by her father.

    According to her testimony, this was not consensual sex which she only got upset about once she realised her partner, Sabbar Kashur, was an Arab (as was claimed across the world); it was a real rape. Here is the full excerpt from Ha'aretz, which you should read in full (translation courtesy of Elizabeth):

    On that morning, September 3, 2008, B. left with the director of the shelter, a social worker and another friend who stayed at the shelter to a meeting in Galgal, a crisis center for homeless youth. After the meeting the three left to another location. B. recounts: “I walked toward Zion Square and then sat by a Cellcom store at 13 Ben Hillel street… I sat on the rocks under a tree and listened to (music; LG) on my MP4.” Then, B. says, a guy she didn’t know appeared, riding a moped. In the interviews conducted with him later, Kashur said that he arrived there to shop at a near-by store. “He drove behind my back toward me”, continued B. in a broken language that characterized her whole testimony... “and he stopped few meters from me, like only a little far from me. He called me, like, to come to him, and I told him that he should come to me… we talked for about seven, ten minutes before the incident happened”.

    At this point occurred the dialogue that was later used as the basis for the charge of deception against Kashur. “At first he told me his name was Daniel (and not Dudu, the nickname his friends use, as Kashur claimed in interviews; LG)… he didn’t want to tell me his last name… after a few minutes he like said ‘Cohen’”. B. also said that “he asked me if I have a boyfriend and I said no, and then he asked me if I want to be his girlfriend. I asked him if he’s married, and he said no, and then I asked him if he has children and he told me he doesn’t have children.” Later in that conversation, according to the testimony, Kashur asked B. for a kiss. “He wanted me to give him a kiss on the cheek and then he gave one back”. According to B., they also exchanged phone number.

    At this point, according to the testimony, Kashur invited B. to see where he works, supposedly in the building at 13 Ben Hillel Street, outside of which they were standing. “He said he wanted to invite me for coffee and show me his workplace there”, said B. The reason she gave for agreeing to leave with an almost complete stranger was “I looked for someone to put my trust in… I know that strangers, you even don’t contact them… but because I was like, as you know, when I told you that I came from a place where there’s no, I lived on the streets for a while too… I thought that if I am with him, I’ll feel safe, and I’ll have, I’ll be financially secured. I really like trusted him.”

    Right after they entered the building, B. claims, Kashur began forcing himself on her. “We were in the staircase, like in the first stairs of the building, where we entered and then he asked for a hug… so I hugged him because he said that he wants a hug for warmth and love because he didn’t have a relationship in a while, like a girlfriend… and when I felt that he was too clingy, I tried pushing him away, so he used force a little like, got a little aggressive.” According to B., Kashur wouldn’t let go. “He lifted my shirt and the bra and kissed my chest”, she said. But then, a blond woman entered the stairwell, and Kashur stopped. He decided to move from the stairs to the elevator. “When I was with him in the elevator he also touched me and started acting like some psychopath. I was so scared of him… I started sensing that something strange was happening, because I noticed that I wasn’t going to any workplace and I don’t see any coffee cups, and I don’t, then I began to panic and started like, I also screamed when it started happening.”

    When they left the elevator on the top floor of the building, according to B., Kashur took her to the stairwell that led to the attic. There, according to her, he raped her. “We took off my pants and underwear”, described B., “and all of this was done with force, I didn’t agree to anything… I was left in just my shirt. Then he took off his clothes… then he put saliva on his penis and then, it was like full penetration, like, it wasn’t with consent as he claims. He laid me on the floor… and asked to kiss my chest too and then like when I asked that he stops and tried to push him away, he started pressuring me with his arms forcefully on me… when I tried to push him with my hand in his stomach, this happened in a more advanced stage, when he was already inside of me, then he said that if I don’t stay silent and I don’t resist, then it would like end faster and it wouldn’t be like, he wouldn’t use force. I still resisted him and it was forced.”

    According to the testimony, after Kashur climaxed, he stayed lying on top of B. for a while. After that, he got up and left, leaving her half naked. “Then (Kashur; LG) just disappeared and took my MP4…”, she claimed, “and I ask that he return it to me because it is in his house.” Left alone in the stairwell, B. began to weep. “I was really hysterical”, she said. At this point she also noticed that she was bleeding out of her vagina and panicked even more. After a few minutes her brother happened to call and she asked him to call her caregiver. The caregiver quickly contacted B. who told her about what happened. “She told me not to freak out and call MADA [an ambulance – E]”, B. recounted the conversation following which Yasam [Special Patrol Unit – E] policemen arrived at the scene and found B. up the stairwell. “The Yasam (arrived; LG) before MADA”, says B., “when they arrived I was… I wasn’t wearing pants, like stayed this way, because I was in shock. The floor was dirty with blood and I was really afraid of touching myself to see if I’m alright, I was really frightened.” After this the MADA crews arrived as well. According to her testimony, in the examination in the Shaarei Tzedek Hospital scratch marks were found on her body, which were documented in the Prosecution’s file.

    Following this incident, "B" was hospitalised in a mental hospital which has a section for women victims of sexual crimes. She was apparently not even aware that the man was an Arab until police proceedings had already begun.

    Kashur was originally charged with rape and sexual assault - nothing to do with deception. However, in order to prevent a long cross-examination of the clearly traumatised "B" on the stand, the prosecution eventually negotiated a plea deal with the defence, who agreed that the charge would be changed to "rape by deception". While this carried a less severe penalty, it ensured that Kashur was convicted and reduced the trauma for "B".

    By using this plea, in other words, Kashur got a lighter sentence than he would have otherwise. However, it allowed him to present himself as the victim of the justice system - as an Arab being punished for having sex with a Jew, rather than as a man being punished for raping a woman. And the media - completely ignoring the (admittedly technical and dry) protestations from the court system - swallowed the story whole.

    So what do we learn from this? That some cliches are true.

    First of all, a lie can get halfway round the world before the truth gets its boots on. It has taken months for the real story to emerge, although it sounded bizarre right from the beginning, and now it has no chance.

    Second, as far as most of the media is concerned, why ruin a good story with the facts? The disgrace is that none of the international outlets which blasted Israel for its "racist" court system have bothered revisiting this story now that additional evidence is out. No one is interested in the truth. They were only interested in scandal, particularly where Israel was concerned; everyone was willing to believe that the Israeli justice system was unjust, because it fitted into an established and popular narrative.

    The local Israeli media gets even less credit. They were in a better position than the international media to properly investigate this shocking story, but the tale of a loose, racist Israeli Jewess was too good for them to pass up as well. Now they are, on the whole, also ignoring the truth, allowing even the Israeli public to believe the worst about their own justice system.

    It will be really instructive to see, over the coming week or so, how many media outlets do take their journalistic responsibilities seriously and correct their original stories.

  • To learn Hebrew, just have fun

    Aug 26, 2010

    My column this week is on my ongoing attempts to get my kids to speak Hebrew, and on my summer holiday in Israel:

    Parallel universes exist mostly in the realm of science fiction. But this summer, I was privileged to enter my own alternative reality. For four weeks, I got to see a life I could have lived but don't, a child I could have had, but don't. I got as close as I will probably ever get to bringing up Israeli children.

    It all began about a year ago, when I became determined to teach my two daughters Hebrew. This was, admittedly, partially about me - I grew up in Israel and speak the language fluently, and cannot imagine my children not sharing something so integral to my identity. But it was, far more so, about what I desire for them.

    Hebrew is the key to Jewish texts and liturgy, and I do not want my children to be able to tackle them only one step removed, in translation.

    I also want them to be able to talk to their Israeli cousins; and to forge a connection to the Israeli state, its culture and its people. While good Hebrew is not a prerequisite for a strong bond with Israel, surely those who overcome the language barrier can understand Israeli society far more deeply, and navigate it with greater ease.

    At first, I concentrated on speaking Hebrew at home, but while my four-year-old seemed to understand most of what I was saying, she was always more comfortable answering me in English. Gradually, I hatched a plan. We were going to enrol her in a summer camp in Jerusalem, where she would be immersed in the Hebrew language, be exposed to vocabulary I would never give her, and mix with Israeli children.

    Read the rest here, and come back here to comment...