- Jul 23, 2009
One of the beauties of the blogosphere is that it gives easy access to quirky and original material.
Jerusalem Headgear is one of the most original blogs I've come across in a while. Its anonymous author has collected hundreds of pictures of the hats, kippot, scarves etc. worn by Jerusalemites. In the latest installments, she visited the Old City on Eastern Orthodox Holy Saturday and included pictures of worshippers on the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
It's a brilliant portrait of a very eclectic and diverse city. Enjoy!
- Jul 22, 2009
A stunning story in the NYT about the prosperity of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank - stunning because it contradicts the narrative we usually read, that the Palestinians are drowning in a sea of misery, and stunning because of the political implications.
The International Monetary Fund is about to issue its first upbeat report in years for the West Bank, forecasting a 7 percent growth rate for 2009. Car sales in 2008 were double those of 2007. Construction on the first new Palestinian town in decades, for 40,000, will begin early next year north of Ramallah. In Jenin, a seven-story store called Herbawi Home Furnishings has opened, containing the latest espresso machines. Two weeks ago, the Israeli military shut its obtrusive nine-year-old checkpoint at the entrance to this city, part of a series of reductions in security measures....
Asked to explain why the West Bank’s fortunes were shifting, a top Israeli general began his narrative with a chart showing 410 Israelis killed by Palestinians in 2002, and 4 in 2008.
“We destroyed the terrorist groups through three things — intelligence, the barrier and freedom of action by our men,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with military rules. “We sent our troops into every marketplace and every house, staying tightly focused on getting the bad guys.”
But he added that the 2006 legislative electoral victory by Hamas, followed by its violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, led Mr. Abbas to fight Hamas. Palestinian troops have been training in Jordan under American sponsorship.
There are now several thousand men trained in that way, and their skills, along with those of the European-trained police force here, have made a huge difference...
Speaking of the seriousness of the Palestinians, he added, “Twice in recent months we have been amazed.” The first time was during Israel’s military invasion of Gaza when Palestinian police officers kept the West Bank calm during protests. The second was in June when the security forces clashed twice with Hamas men in the city of Qalqilya, fighting to the death.
Read the whole thing here.
- Jul 22, 2009
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that
that the U.S. has a plan to prevent Iranian domination in the Middle East if it gets the nuclear bomb.
"We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment: that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to develop the military capacity of those (allies) in the Gulf, it is unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer," Clinton said during a visit to Bangkok.
Somehow I don't find this reassuring. Reassuring would be, "We will not let Iran get the bomb".
UPDATE: I see Dan Meridor agrees with me.
- Jul 21, 2009
Yediot Achronot's weekend magazine included a fascinating interview (no link) with
Yaffa Benizri, whose husband, Shlomo, a former Shas minister, is due to enter prison in September for (amongst a long list of things)
Two things stand out in the interview.
First, the description of their apartment in Sanhedria in Jerusalem, which is, according to the article, dirty, falling apart and neglected. This does not mean he didn't take the bribes - she as much as admits he did, though she insists they weren't bribes - but it is unusual to read of a minister living in such conditions.
Second, Yaffa's weird relationship with her husband. (Translation mine.)
"She is careful to call her husband 'Rabbi Benizri', not only when she is being interviewed for the paper but also when she is alone with him, and that is 'because of the respect, love and appreciation which I feel towards him,' she explains. 'Sometimes he calls be 'the rebbetzin', and I think he does it so that I will carry on calling him 'Rabbi Benizri'.
"She also says that her husband has never seen her without a head covering. Even at night, in the shared bedroom, she covers her hair, and does not allow even one hair to stick out."
Since when is it forbidden in Judaism for a wife to show her husband her hair when they are alone? Sorry, but this does not make Mrs Benizri any more pious than any other woman. We can only speculate what might make a woman decide never to reveal her hair to her husband, or call him by his first name, but halachah has nothing to do with it.
- Jul 20, 2009
Ever lived or stayed in Israel? Now you can visit again - without leaving your seat.
Zoomap.co.il has been photographing every street and every building in the country. Security risk, I hear you say? Who cares! You can look up all your former haunts and see what has become of them.
Here, for example, is the first flat my parents rented in Jerusalem, after several months in a centre for new immigrants - nearly 30 years ago. There was no fence back then.
It's addictive. Enjoy!
- Jul 20, 2009
Kolech, the influential (if left-leaning) religious women's forum in Israel, took a vote last week and decided that women who were ordained as a rabbi by an Orthodox institution would, henceforth, carry the title of "Rabba".
For such an active forum to even discuss this is another stop towards the acceptance of Orthodox women rabbis in Orthodox society.
But as for the title itself... "Rabba" is certainly an improvement on "maharat" - the cumbersome title given to Sara Horwitz a couple of months back - but the Israeli women clearly gave little thought to how it would sound in English or other languages.
With most British accents, "Rabba" would be "Rubba" or "Rubber" - just awful.
- Jul 20, 2009
This has to be good for the gene pool.
Ivanka Trump has just converted to Judaism, through an Orthodox rabbi, the highly regarded Haskel Lookstein. She will now marry long-time boyfriend, Jared Kushner, who comes from an Orthodox family.
According to New York Magazine,
This spring, for instance, Ivanka attended a benefit for the Mikvah, the traditional Jewish bath, in Jared's hometown of Livingston, New Jersey, with his mom, Seryl, and his two sisters, Nicole and Dara. One attendee reported that Seryl introduced Ivanka to friends solely as "Ivanka," and not as Jared's girlfriend...
One of their favorite activities is to group friends together for dinner parties. "I've learned how to cook," Ivanka said. "Once a week, we have a night in and I cook for just the two of us."
That's Friday night, I hope.
On a serious note, I do wonder what would have happened had she tried to convert in London - it seems more than likely it would never have happened.
Meanwhile, Mazal tov.
- Jul 17, 2009
Let this headline, from this week's Jewish Tribune, be a warning to all copy-editors out there.
It should have read "Minister welcomes Anti-Semitism report", of course.
It's only topped by the student magazine I used to edit in Canada, Dateline:Middle East, which in 1991, around the time of the Madrid peace conference - and before I was on board - published a huge headline: "Peace breaks out in the Middle".
"East" had dropped off.
- Jul 17, 2009
One of my favourite blogs is up and running again for the summer. Roving Rabbis is the group-blog of all the young Lubavitcher men sent every summer to all corners of the world, to meet estranged Jews and give them a chance to put on tefillin or light Shabbat candles, possible for the first time ever.
The blog really brings home just how dispersed we are, and how there so often turns out to be a Jew in the most unexpected of places.
Take Reuven in Puerto Rico:
We made the trek up windy roads and dangerous cliffs, and at long last, arrived at the beautiful home which he had built. The house is decorated with classic judaica, including a menorah, and Jewish art. He was overjoyed to be able to offer us produce from his garden. The emotion was palpable as Reuben showed us the tefillin which he wears every morning.
Talk about isolation, Reuben tells us that he is the only Jew for an hour's drive in every direction. Can you imagine? When he lights his menorah, there is probably not another one within a hundred miles. Quite a far cry from the Midwestern suburbs where we grew up among kosher butcheries and bagel shops!
It's a real Wild West city with rough looking guys sporting rifles and 10-gallon-Stetsons. We had heard that there was a Jewish section in the old cemetery so we decided to visit and recite some Psalms—after all, the town was not named Tombstone for nothing!
We asked a cowboy if he knew where it was. He told us that he did and that he was (gasp) Jewish. He divides his time between doing real cowboy things and standing around town looking nonchalant. He offered us free tickets to his shooting exhibition (which we declined) and we offered him the opportunity to put on tefillin (which he accepted). He told us that it wasn't his first time: some Chabad guys in an RV in New York had done the same thing with him when he was there a few years back…
When we got to the cemetery we discovered a startling fact. Nobody in these parts ever died: They were all killed by Indians or their fellow cowboys.
It's great stuff. Kol hakavod, Lubavitch.
- Jul 17, 2009
For the past couple of nights, a group of Charedim has been rioting in Jerusalem, protesting the arrest of a Neturei Karta woman who has been accused of starving one of her children almost to death. She apparently suffers from Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy and refuses psychiatric evalution.
The boy, who is three-years-old, weighs just 7 kg - less than my nine-month-old - a shocking picture can be seen here. Now that he has been seperated from his mother, he is apparently gaining weight. A hearing for the mother is underway as I write.
The husband, incidentally, is London-born, though the family name has not been released.
The Jerusalem Post has contacted various experts to try to explain how the Charedi activists can take the mother's side when the evidence against her seems so conclusive. They say that the fight is being led by a small sect, with a history of tension with the state and its institutions; that once they begin a fight, it is very hard for other Charedim to come out against them, as they will be seen as less keen to "defend Judaism"; and that many Charedim see the arrest of the woman as an attack on the reputation of their community.
I will add:
1. The fight is directed at two audiences. Yes, there is the external one - though how anyone thinks that they will be able to defend their community's image as 'wholesome' by erupting into violence is unclear. But there is also an internal audience. Many of the rioters may genuinely believe that this woman is being victimised, badly treated etc etc etc, but surely those behind the riots know full well that one of its functions is to maintain and create the tension with the state - not just reflect it.
2. It is clear that the Police and Jerusalem municipality have no idea how to handle these Charedi extremists, who have been rioting on various pretexts throughout the summer (this is not new - I remember as a child growing up in the 1980s similar riots every summer).
3. It is clear that the Charedi leaders also do not know how to handle these extremists, who are inflaming the street often to the great consernation of much of the rest of the Charedi world. But no one is prepared to say or act, and in some cases, they actively encourage, for fear of looking 'soft'.
4. Given 2&3, it is going to be a long, violent summer, at least until the yeshivahs start up again in the beginning of elul.
5. Expect further secular flight from Jerusalem, which is perhaps the greatest loser in all of this mayhem.