Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I thought he'd live forever

"The Jews' greatest contribution to history is dissatisfaction! We're a nation born to be discontented. Whatever exists we believe can be changed for the better."
Shimon Peres

I'm not going to lie and say I agreed with everything Shimon Peres said or did. In fact, I would more often than not shake my head, roll my eyes, let out a sigh, and say:  WHAT is he thinking??

And despite decisions that I think have hurt Israel, I also know that there are few people who have contributed so much to the security of the State of Israel than he.

But there's something about the man himself that always resonated with me, because he was truly a giant of Israel, a giant of the Jewish history, and really... a giant of the world. For Americans, I'd imagine it would be as if one of the founding fathers was walking among us today.

There are few people in this world who have had so much impact over so much time on so many people. Shimon Peres was one of those rare breeds who not only walked with history, but plunged his hands into it and molded it. And he never stopped molding it and changing it and crafting it to always always shape it - and try to make it better. He believed in making a better world, and never stopped believing. He was powered by dreams - dreams that never died.

Many friends came and many friends went. Many enemies rose and many enemies fell, but Shimon Peres - he was always there.

I thought he'd live forever.

The world is more empty today without him. He was a true shepherd of the Jewish people, someone who guided our young state into the world of modernity and into the world of nations.

So rest easy Shimon, your work on our little, flawed, troublesome earth is done. Lie back and take your place among the giants of Jewish history.

You deserve it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

John Williams – the soundtrack of our lives

John Williams, the music composer, received the American Film Institute lifetime award the other day, but it was an award that did not meet the criteria required.  For the criteria states that "the recipient should be one whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art.”  

But John Williams simply didn’t do that.  He didn’t change the movie world – he changed the entire world.

Like many people, I grew up enthralled by the movies of my youth.  I watched aliens visit our planet.  I watched impossible space battles that took place in galaxies far far away.  I watched a man in a fedora and a bullwhip unearth the greatest treasures in history.  I watched a boy wizard find his true calling.  I watched as a man, once selfish end up giving everything he owned to bestow the greatest gift of life to 1200 desperate souls.

And at each one of those experiences, John Williams was there breathing life into my turbulent feelings.  He gave sound to my silent tears, a heart-stopping beat to my nerves, a tender harmony to my quiet moments of reflection, a rousing crescendo to my triumphs, and a quiet sensitivity to my sadness.  He gave voice to my emotions.

I don’t know much about music, but whether I listen to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter or Schindler’s List, I’m not listening to the music – I’m feeling it in the deepness in my soul.   The ability of John Williams is that he doesn’t provide sound to pictures – he provides sound to feelings.  You don’t actually listen to a John Williams soundtrack – you experience it.  And you feel it on levels that you didn’t know existed.  He touches you emotionally.

From every interview I’ve ever seen with John Williams he comes across as a humble person whose joy of making music carries through to his compositions.  He’s not a superman, and yet he makes everyone feel like they can be.

Movies can truly be a phenomenal delight as they take you on impossible journeys to places far from where you are, across time and across space and across dimensions.  They thrill the mind and tease the senses of your eyes and ears, and with music they also take you on that emotional journey too.
John Williams has provided the soundtrack to our lives, because in his music the little boy you once were who sought adventure lives on. The old man reflecting on his life will continue to stare out into the distance.

But more important than anything else, he does something that society will tell you can’t be done.  He makes the impossible possible. He makes the dreams of youth live on. He makes the hope that is all too easily extinguished burn forever.

Buildings may rise stretching into the heavens before falling down to earth in piles of dust and decay. Countries may grow powerful and strong…then slowly fall away to become small and weak.  Wealth may come in waves of abundance and just as easily disappear in trickles of sparseness. But music… music lives on, because as long as people have the ability to feel with their hearts and with the souls, it will remain immortal.

John Williams, the man, may pass on one day, but his gift will live on forever inside us.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Jerusalem – where the stones talk to you

The first time I entered the Old City of Jerusalem, I truly felt like I was taking a step back in time.  It is an awe inspiring feeling knowing that each step you take connects you with your ancestors from thousands of years ago.  It’s as if the walls are whispering to you in hushed and hallowed tones.  You are somewhere special now.  

The smooth cobbled stones beneath your feet seem to carry you automatically, almost as if you are merely a passenger, being guided by forces far more powerful than yourself, drawing you further and further inside a world so different to your own.    The intoxicating smells of the Armenian restaurants danced and tickled my nostrils as I passed them, weaving my way down small, narrow roads, where you have to push yourself tightly against walls whenever a car passes.

The Tower of David stands proudly on your right, as if it’s guarding and watching over those who pass it.  As I made my way along the roads that twisted and turned, it felt as if I was in a maze, not quite knowing where I was going, yet never feeling lost.  I passed ancient Christian churches.   I passed markets where the Romans once ruled.  I passed yeshivas where Jewish students learnt.  I passed small shops selling their wares.  I passed eateries.  I passed peoples’ homes, hidden within the beautiful stones.  It felt as if I was drifting between the present and the past – yet being in both places at once. 

But among all the charms that were appearing around me, there was one that was pulling me ever closer, one that was drawing me in, one that was beckoning to me.  As I rounded one last corner, I saw it appear before me – one of the holiest place of the Jewish people – the Western Wall.  It is a special moment in one’s life when you look deep into the heart and soul of your nation, yet that’s how it felt to me.  Staring at that wall that glistened so beautifully in the sunlight, the same way it had for thousands of years, reminded me of how special that place was.  And I did feel special.  And lucky.  And honoured.  Because it was as if I was honouring the millions of Jews who had passed before me, throughout the ages and throughout the lands, who always faced Jerusalem in their prayers.  Who beat their chests, eyes closed with angst, praying for the peace of Jerusalem.  Who, in their darkest days on earth, dreamt of walking among these ancient and holy stones.  Who always concluded each seder with the eternal words “Next year in Jerusalem”. 

And yet here I was, standing there, representing all those who dreamt before but were unable to make it come true.

Jerusalem is truly the heart that beats for the Jewish people.  Its roads and paths and laneways are the vessels that pump the blood that makes it beat.  It has always been this way, from the moment King David first made Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish people 3000 years ago until now.  Since then, it has never been the capital of any other people.

And yet there are those who believe that tearing this city in half will lead to peace.  I don’t see it like that.  I don’t see how taking a dagger and driving it deep in the heart of the Jewish people can ever bring peace.  History has already proven that.

Between 1948 and 1967, Jordan controlled all of this area I walked through.  And in Article VIII of the Israel Jordan Armistice agreement, it called for “free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives.”  But that didn’t happen.  Despite requests and pleas from Israeli officials and Jewish groups to the UN, the US and others to try to get them to enforce the agreement Jordan signed, Jews were denied access to the Western Wall, the Jewish cemetery and all religious sites in Jerusalem.  But that was only part of it.  Because when the Jordanians captured the Old City, they destroyed the Jewish Quarter and expelled its residents.  They destroyed fifty eight synagogues, looted their contents and desecrated them.  They turned Jewish religious sites into chicken coops and animal stalls.  They ransacked the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where Jews had been buried for thousands of years.  They desecrated the graves and smashed the tombstones, using them as building material.  They turned this holy Jewish site into a slum.

The Temple Mount, on which the Dome of the Rock now stands is a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.  It has always been Judaism's holliest site, while for Muslims it only become holy in far more recent history.  But it is also the focal point of violence which the world is currently watching.  But in 1967, when Israel succeeded in capturing the Old City, I believe they made one fatal judgement.  Instead of asserting their full sovereignty, or at the very least allowing some kind of joint control of the area by Jews and Muslims, they decided to give control of access to the Islamic Waqf.  And ever since then, Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.  That intolerance by the Muslim and Arab authorities, who continue to fan the flames of hatred, is what fuels the violence that we are witnessing. 

When I look at this beautiful city – this city full of memories, of history, of pain, of triumph and of tragedy, I see more than just the pale limestones lingering in the last fading rays of sunset.  I see a city of life, where people breathe and laugh and love together respectful of each other and their ways of life. 

Perhaps it is a pipe dream, but as Theodor Herzl once said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”

See original article here

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Why I can wholeheartedly celebrate Israel’s Independence Day

NOTE:  This post was written in response to a facebook post located here.  The style was mimicked on purpose in order to make a point by giving an alternative view of what was presented by using a similar structure. It is not meant to copy the author's words - it's simply using a time honoured tradition of parody - but more for alternative effect than comic. 

It doesn’t matter where I am.  At my children’s Hebrew classes, in the middle of Ahuza street in Ra’anana, or sitting in a hall in faraway Australia.

It doesn’t matter if Israel is at war or not.  It doesn’t matter if the Israeli government has done something that has caused me to shout in exasperation, or if they’ve done something that makes my eyes well up with tears.

It doesn’t matter if I’m feeling patriotic towards my people, wanting to embrace them all, or running away from them, wanting to hide.  But every time I hear the haunting tones of Hatikva, the passion in me stirs.

I get a chill down my spine.

And I feel it – a tingling sensation that pulls at my heart strings, causes my soul to rise up, and makes my spirit fly.

And a gratitude… a true gratitude knowing how lucky both I and my people are to be alive at this moment in time along history’s continuous journey.

And yet, there are Israeli Arabs who do not share my joy.  And I get that – I do.  But I also know there are plenty who do.  Plenty who celebrate the uniqueness of Israel and serve in its Army and its police force fighting to protect this special place on earth.

I’m not immune to those who hate the country.  I hear the shouts.  I hear the chants.  But I also know that unlike the Jewish citizens of Israel, the Arab citizens are hardly alone in this world.  22 Arab countries surround Israel with similar cultures.  Over 50 countries with a majority population of Muslims. 22% of the world’s population is Muslim and just 0.2% is Jewish. 1.5 billion Muslims and just 14 million Jews.  That’s not what’s called being alone in this world.

And in the many countries Jews are dispersed across the globe, they are not demanding their own separate country.  Many are singing the anthems of their countries with pride. And they are singing the anthem of their Jewish homeland with pride too. And many are singing anthems under flags that might not represent them, but they’re singing it anyway.  They are good citizens who do not want to destroy the countries they are in – they just want to live their lives according to the customs.

But history is a cruel teacher and despite the comfort and the warmth of their hosts, the chasm between acceptance and rejection is never far.  Loving the Jews and hating them is just one small step.  Jews were reasonably comfortable in Europe too once upon a time with thriving cultures and strong traditions.  But powerless.  And in a few short years, all of that was decimated, ripped out of this world along with 6 million Jewish souls.

And where was their narrative?  Where was the world rushing to help?  Where were the international committees driven by a sense of justice, trying to save this people of so few? They were quiet, not prepared to get involved in something that did not rate highly on their radar of morality.  And so my people were ignored, left to a cruel fate.

So now today Israel has the strongest military in the Middle East – an army that does not simply exist to hold parades for soldiers who died in conflicts that many people in the world today haven’t even heard of.  They exist, because if they didn’t then Israel wouldn’t exist.
But what of this flag – this flag with the Jewish Star of David smack dab in the centre.  It is a symbol of Jewish sovereignty – that never again will we be at the mercy of a world that does not care. Never again will we depend on empty promises and rhetoric by a world that ignores us in our hour of need.  Never again will our shouts of anguish be met with a wall of silence.

God, I love this country.  This country that gives me hope and pride and honour and… life!  Because I know that should the winds of change turn, and the darkness that is trickling through the world now becomes an avalanche, my cries of desperation will not go unanswered.

Unlike my neighbours who wanted and many still do to destroy this country and snuff out the Jewish presence in the Middle East, Israel didn’t.  It just wanted to live and allows its citizens to live too, to raise children who can live and play, breathing fresh air as free people in a free land – their land.

And for the Arab citizens who mourn the existence of a Jewish country, I do not mourn with you.  I do not celebrate your history and I do not lament your lack of Arab glory in pushing the Jews into the sea in a holy war for Arab honour.

And for the Arab citizens who do celebrate the existence of this Jewish country, then I celebrate with you.  Yes, you’re a minority, but a minority with the same rights to breathe the same fresh air in the same free land.  And if being a minority is not acceptable, then you have the choice to join many countries in which you can become a part of the majority – just as Jews around the world have done when they’ve made Aliyah to Israel – the only country in which they are a majority.

It is wonderful to be a Jew today – a Jew who after 2000 years has a country of their own.  It is wonderful to know that our long history that contains much sadness will be the opposite of our future that contains much hope. And from generation to generation our history will not be ignored, but celebrated.  From Abraham to Joseph to Moses to Samuel to David all the way through to David Ben Gurion to Golda Meir to Binyamin Netanyahu to whoever comes next.

And that’s not wrong.  It is the complete opposite of wrong.  It is just so incredibly right.

We have a homeland – and we are lucky to have that homeland.  That’s something to celebrate, just as the hundreds of millions of Arabs around the Middle East should celebrate their homelands too, rather than be obsessed with destroying mine.

Israel is a Jewish country that should have its Jewish history celebrated too.  And its non Jewish citizens should always be made to feel welcome, because they are part of this country too.  How different that is to the Arab world who rather than allow their minorities to live in peace, decided to expel its Jewish citizens – and wipe out over 2500 years of Jewish presence in their midst.

Arab countries can mourn not being able to destroy Israel.  And Arab citizens can choose to mourn that too.

But we don’t need to mourn our survival.  We don’t need to mourn our stubbornness.  We don’t need to mourn our strength. We don’t need to mourn the return of the indigenous Jewish people to their homeland.  We don’t need to mourn that we have a turned a 2000 year ancient dream into a modern day reality.

Instead we only need to celebrate.

For we are free – a free people living in our free land – the Jewish State of Israel.