Monthly Archives: June 2012

Revisiting Israel: 20 Years Later

Twenty years ago today, I embarked on a trip that would change my life…my first journey to Israel.

People who are passionate about Israel can talk until they are blue in the face. They can write powerful prose extolling the virtues of the magnificent Pariah nation wedged among its most dangerous enemies on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. They can share beautiful, awe-inspiring photos of a lush oasis amid the stark deserts and barren lands that surround it.

I do not disregard any of that, and appreciate their efforts. (In fact, I recently wrote my own Israeli passion piece…please click here to read it)

But this I can say with certainty, a guarantee I can make regarding very few things: Visiting Israel is a game changer; setting foot on the sacred ground depicted in the five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, and experiencing the juxtaposition of some of the most jaw-dropping, mind-boggling spiritual, traditional and cultural remnants of our ancestors (all of them: Jewish, Catholic and Muslim, alike), with majestic geographical and topographical marvels as well as an injection of inexplicable, mystifying modernity, technological advances and a population determined to defy all odds, will affect you in ways that are difficult to articulate.

Bottom line: Until you land at Ben Gurion airport and immerse yourself in the “Promised Land,” until you walk the ancient streets of Jerusalem , or listen as the waves lap upon the magnificent beaches of Tel Aviv; until you watch the sunrise from atop Masada, or lend a hand on a Kibbutz; until you dive into the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea or float in a chair in the heavily salted Dead Sea; until you catch fresh St. Peter’s fish from the Kinneret or rappel into a waterfall in the desert oasis of Ein Gedi; until you stroll the beautiful streets of Haifa or sample fresh produce in any of the wonderful markets throughout the country; and until you see the scars and devastation marking the constant rocket fire and terror attacks that have plagued the nation since 1948, you cannot truly appreciate how incredible Israel is in every way.

For those who made the trek with me twenty years ago, please find a list (in no particular order) below of some of the amazing memories of our eight week adventure:

1)      The Shoresh…and those Swiss Chalet-like huts;

2)      Bob Marley’s bus soundtrack;

3)      MSP3 Turquoise t-shirts;

4)      The Underground;

5)      Shady deals in the Arab market;

6)      Tevas;

7)      Dodging rocks in Mea Shearim;

8)      Our guards, packing Uzis;

9)      The Druze village;

10)   Planting Trees;

11)   The Mickey Mouse pool at our Kibbutz;

12)   Our group photos in the glow of sunrise atop Masada;

13)   Riding camels in the Bedouin camp in the Negev;

14)   Kayaking on the Jordan;

15)   Shawarma;

16)   Ben Yehuda Street;

17)   The Samples;

18)   TURKEY CHICKEN;

19)   Booze Cruise in Eilat;

20)   Watching Animal House in Ein Gedi;

21)   Michael’s Midwest (Wisconsin?) accent – get your byack pyacks;

22)   Craig’s letters from Sharmi (sp?);

23)   Our lost journal;

24)   Yardena Strahan;

25)   Archeological dig;

26)   Palestinian lectures;

27)   Mr. T’s;

28)   Israeli Salad, Hummus and Nutella breakfasts;

29)   Ari’s big trade – his boom box for a camping pack?

30)   Final night roast, and John’s comment about flying a plane through the gap in Yardena’s teeth;

31)   Boomer tearing the bathroom door off its hinges on our flight home;

32)   Ain’t No Crickets in Brooklyn…

Hope everyone is well. It’s been a wild 20 years.

If any of you have any others you would like to add to the list, feel free to do so in the comments area below. Also, if any of you have the email addresses or are friends with any of our other MSP3ers on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or MySpace or Friendster or whatever…please forward this link along.

Thanks,

IDROS

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Happy Father’s Day

This is a test post (technical difficulties), but the sentiment is real

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This Israel: For those who bleed blue and white, and more so for those who don’t

As the London Olympics 2012 approach, and the 40th anniversary of yet another monumental and horrifying chapter in Jewish world history is more or less swept under the international community’s proverbial rug, I wanted to write a blog entry focused on Israel.

It is difficult to articulate what Israel means to me. I know I get just as emotional and animated when I read or watch news stories involving Israel as I do for similar coverage regarding my own home nation. Maybe even more so at times.  Leave it to celebrities to drive this point home.

In an era where everyone has a soapbox, I can sometimes appreciate when the Hollywood elite and other famous personalities rally around a pressing issue or criticize our US government (think The Dixie Chicks, Sean Penn, George Clooney, etc.); other times I downright loathe celebrities using their fame as a platform to demonstrate just how vapid and ignorant and truly awful they really are beyond their stage personae (think Hank Williams Jr., Ted Nugent, David Tyree and of course, Mel Gibson). Sure, my own personal politics determine, to some extent, which celebrity opinions are relevant and which are complete rubbish. But the point is, I care enough about my own country, its policies and its leadership (questionable as the latter two may be) to give a rat’s ass what people say about them…especially famous people. (Sadly, I actually do care what celebrities say because of the rise of the Kardashian empire, Jersey Shore and other similar blights on society that catapult brain-dead nobodies into our homes and lives each day and the terrifying fact that so many people watch and listen to every word some of these reality troglodytes have to say…and I fear that these naïve people, who have the same right to vote that I do, will actually heed or adapt some of the scarier political and societal “ideals” espoused by tabloid fodder that couldn’t name one Supreme Court justice, their own State Governor or the last president etched on Mount Rushmore if you spotted them the first three).

Oddly, I am even more sensitive to what celebrities say (and do) regarding Israel, its government and its policies than what they say about the United States. So in the spirit of the coming London Olympics, two recent examples come from celebrities living in none other than Jolly old England. First, the Material Girl opened her most recent MDNA tour in Israel and created quite a stir. (Yes, she is American…never accused her of being anything else. But Madge does live in England, and she has conducted most interviews and speaking engagements since she moved across the pond with an inexplicable British accent). Two noteworthy nuggets made headlines and dominated YouTube following her tour opener:

1)      Before playing her first song, she greeted the crowd with an eloquent, heartfelt, non-partisan speech that basically was a prayer for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I loved what she had to say (watch it here).

2)      During one of her new songs “Nobody Knows Me,” the video screen on stage showed French politician Marine Le Pen with a swastika emblazoned over her face for a millisecond..subliminal stuff. Known to be a vocal anti-Semite, Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen was convicted of condoning Nazi war crimes earlier this year. Seriously, Jean-Marie, the French equivalent of Mel Gibson’s father, came very close to winning the French Presidential election in 2002…that’s right, a friggin’ Nazi-sympathizer came unacceptably close to attaining the highest office of a nation with a SECURITY COUNCIL VOTE in the UN! WTF? No wonder France rolled out the red carpet for Adolf 70 years ago, and anti-Semitism continues to run rampant between the Alps and the Pyrenees. And now, 10 years after her fascist father won, Marine garnered nearly 20% of the popular vote in the wake of Sarkozy’s scandal-ridden term, setting the stage for the daughter of a Nazi to muster votes for her party’s parliament hopefuls.

*The best part of Madonna’s clever and opinionated “photoshopped” commentary was the reaction it received from France, whose right-wing party (Marine’s party) warned the pop icon that if she tried any of that bullsh$t in France they would sue the crap out of her highness. (Read this for more)

On the other end of the spectrum, Emma Thompson and her recent infantile attempt to grab headlines reeked of putrescence. I have no problem if a celebrity (or anyone, really) has a well-reasoned, educated argument against Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians (there are very few…and I mean both acceptable arguments and people who have voiced them over the years). I don’t agree with everything Israel’s government, army and citizens do when it comes to that difficult and tension-filled situation. However, I have a serious problem with snaggle-tooth Thompson’s take on the matter. You see, Israel’s premier theater company, Habima, was set to participate in a Shakespeare festival at London’s Globe Theater last month. But Ninny McPhee vocally joined and spearheaded a list of debatably impressive theatrical stars in boycotting Habima’s participation. And why? She and her lackeys claim it was because Habima failed to participate in a boycott of a “controversial” cultural center opened in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, in 2010. So, in other words, a boycott of a group that failed to boycott. In actuality, Kenneth Branagh’s cuckqueaned ex-wife and others simply do not like Israel or the Jews. There really can’t be any other explanation. Chinese theater groups were not boycotted, and China’s long tradition of stellar human rights policies was never questioned. And adding insult to injury, a Palestinian theater company, Ashtar, was invited to participate and met no similar resistance.  Ironically, Habima was slated to perform Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” a work notable for its anti-Semitic undertones, at the festival. (Another irate voice)

But I digress….

So what does Israel mean to me?

Here are seven words that immediately come to mind:

Pride: You know when you walk down a street full of run-down properties, where tall grass and weeds dominate the yards, the driveways are cracked, litter is strewn all over and the houses are all dilapidated…save for one. One home that stands proudly in spite of those that surround it; one home whose owners consider it a sacred, meaningful source of personal pride?

Appreciation:  You know when you see true heroes acknowledged, whether in person or in books, movies or the news? Like Captain Sully, or Oscar Schindler, or all of the fire and police men on 9-11. People whose bravery and courage are undeniable and inexplicable in the face of grave danger; people who you want to hug and tell them “thank you,” even if their acts do not directly affect your own life. And the kicker is, you don’t really understand these people, how they can be so incredibly selfless and unflappable in the face of evil and unimaginable events. And yet, you are eternally grateful that people like that exist, your faith in humanity is restored or confirmed, and you know the world is a better place because of them.

Admiration: Who doesn’t like a great underdog story? Ever since David slew Goliath (and likely even before that), the thrilling prospects of an upset have tantalized our sensibilities as humans; we sympathize with and even favor those with fewer assets and resources, facing monumental and improbable tasks, to somehow prevail against all odds. What if there was an outcast in your high school, someone who few people liked (or at least were willing to admit they liked publicly); someone with limited strength, intellect and charisma? And what if this person worked tirelessly, in the library, in the gym and with a life coach, and humbly rose to achieve impressive accolades in numerous areas of his or her high school’s (and community’s) academic, social and athletic arenas? This person probably wouldn’t realistically hijack an 80s movie and become captain of the football or cheerleading team, valedictorian of his or her class, king or queen of the prom and class president; but what if this person graduated in the top five percent of his or her class, earned varsity letters as a meaningful contributor to three athletic teams, won top honors at the science fair, was elected to class office, secured a leading role in the school musical, had a part time job helping his or her school district clean up its parks and playgrounds and also volunteered at the local hospital, improving the lives of cancer patients?  (“Student’s” full resume here)

Sanctuary: Have you ever played Musical Chairs? What if, for millennia, in a global version of the game, whenever the music stopped, it was always one specific group of people who were left without a seat? Then, one sad but hopeful day, what if a plush seat was proffered, a comfortable old easy chair that had historical and traditional significance? Providing the unconditional love of a family, the security and comfort of a home and the acceptance and understanding of an old friend, said seat opens its arms and footrest (read: heart) to an often persecuted and much maligned and misunderstood group of people, regardless of  geography, economic strata and dedication to and observance of religious scripture and tradition. Best of all, this “chair” remains eternally open, unlocked and unchained to a road-weary people who have wandered with nowhere to rest for too many years.

Hope: You know when you’re watching a sporting event…any sport…and the team or player you are rooting for has been getting crushed for the entire game, but suddenly there is a spark, or a noticeable change in momentum? You almost turned off the television, or left the stadium, but you didn’t. There is a lot of ground to make up, but the possibility for something remarkable, something special begins to seep into your consciousness.

Frustration: Does it bother you when you hear negative rumors about someone, something or somewhere you care about? What about when you know the rumors are vicious, nasty lies spread by stubborn, ignorant or just plain stupid people? What if seemingly everyone that hears or reads these rumors believes them? What if the victim of said rumors has been abused, bullied, libeled and slandered since the day he or she had been born? What if the vast majority of those around the victim simply ignore the constant injustices being promulgated? Furthermore, what if most people, and worse, the global media, even piled on with undue rhetoric and even tacit praise and assistance of the bullying and terrorizing? What if the verbal abuse and rumors lead to violence? And most mind-boggling of all, what if the most virulent and hate-filled rhetoric and abuse is hurled by parties with access to game-changing technology that could literally destroy the victim and anyone close to him or her?

Fear: Imagine sending a beloved child away to school, or camp or any other activity away from home. Now imagine you receive word that your child is being mistreated, bullied, tortured or abused. What if any attempts you make to talk sense into the school or camp directors, to negotiate a non-violent, peaceful experience for your son or daughter are met with resistance, general refusal to negotiate or worse still, the directors casting all blame upon your child? You would pull your child out of said camp or school, obviously…but what if you couldn’t? And what if the legal team or security detail you hire to help to protect your child is the only friend or ally your child will ever truly have? And what if even that “ally” becomes corrupted by new leadership that is more interested in appeasing the camp or school directors and the other campers and students than in the safety and well-being of your child?

Happy Flag Day,

IDROS

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