(JTA) — Natan Zaidenweber thought the mohel was kidding. His wife, Linda Raab, thought it was some kind of religious formality and didn’t give it a second thought.
But the mohel, Cantor Philip Sherman, was serious. Though most fathers demur when he invites them to perform the bris on their sons by clipping their foreskin, preferring to delegate the task to someone professionally trained in the procedure, Sherman finds that about 5 or 10 percent of dads agree to do the cut.
“It is the father’s mitzvah to actually perform the bris as Abraham did for his son, Isaac,” Sherman said. “Many fathers have told me what an incredible moment it was for them to do the actual bris and enter their sons into the covenant of Abraham.”
The Mill Valley, Calif., couple realized the cantor wasn’t joking only once the ceremony was underway. Sherman began with a naming ceremony for Jay Hilay and his twin sister, Sivan Rose. Then he again offered Natan the option of making the cut.
The new dad stepped forward, and as his startled wife screamed his name in a tone that she says was intended to say, “Are you crazy?,” a friend reassured her it would be easy.
“I then took a deep breath, surrendered to the faith I had in Phil and motioned that they had my blessing to proceed,” Raab said.
Sherman set up what was needed, gave the baby some sugar water, put a clamp in place and offered Zaidenweber some direction. Making the cut, Zaidenweber said, was a powerful bonding experience.
“I’m glad I did,” he said. “I’m glad I have that connection with my son. Your love is equal for both [twins], but it’s special that we have that bond.”
For Raab, too, the experience was a positive one. Sherman had told the gathering that a baby’s cry during a bris is like the sound of the shofar opening the gates of heaven.
“I closed my eyes, heard Jay’s cry and actually was able to experience it as deeply spiritual and beautiful,” Raab said, noting her pride that her husband took on the role.
“He stepped up, fearlessly, with a faith in himself that I wouldn’t have had in myself,” she said. “I have since been aware of how much his modeling has helped me to muster more courage as I face the tasks of mothering.”
If the couple were to have another son, would Zaidenweber make the snip again? Yes, say mom and dad, without hesitation.
The latest video from the Russian Neo-Nazi group “Occupy Pedophilia” has hit the Russian social media site, VK.com.
The video follows the same format of the gay-bashing torture videos that the group is (in-)famous for: a bully taunts, assaults and humiliates a gay man lured by a fake personal ad. Only this time, the victim is Alexander Bohun, a recent contestant on the Ukrainian version of “X Factor.”
What’s also notable is that, in addition to a rainbow flag painted onto Bohun’s head, the young man’s tormentors drew Jewish stars on his body. It is not known whether Bohun is actually Jewish — though this hasn’t mattered to Russia’s militias and thugs, who have targeted people for appearing Jewish just as it has targeted people for appearing gay. What does matter is that it shows that Jews need not be Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“First they came for the Communists…”) to stand up and take notice of the daily torture of LGBT people in Russia. To “Occupy Pedophilia,” gays are foreigners are pedophiles are Jews. There is no distinction in their feeble minds, and there should be no distinction in ours either.
The chief rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, has so far remained silent on this anti-Semitic aspect of the anti-gay violence sweeping Russia. Will he speak up now? Probably — he’s a staunch Putin ally. But he is also a prominent Chabad-Lubavitch leader. Will Chabad’s American leadership demand an end to this anti-Semitism? Or does the intermingling of Judaism and homosexuality somehow erase the anti-Semitism of these thugs?
How many more people have to be tortured with Jewish stars painted on their chests before the American Jewish community rises up in outrage, and demands that the Chabad organization take a stand in Russia?
A proposed law that would ban all religious attire from the public sector has Jews in Quebec on edge.
One rabbi has found a clever way to fight the dreaded kippah ban: he stamped his head covering with the blue-and-white Fleur-de-lys — the province’s flag.
“I think protests are great,” Rabbi Yisroel Bernath said in an interview with the Forward. “But I thought this would be a great way to make a positive statement. They want to ban the kippah? Let’s put a kippah on our heads!”
Bill 60, named the Charter of Quebec Values and put forward by the nationalist Parti Quebecois, would establish what it has called religious neutrality by banning “conspicuous” and “overt” religious symbols like hijabs, kippahs and turbans, from the public sector.
In Quebec, this includes civil servants, daycare workers, judges, doctors, nurses, and police officers, among others.
Bernath, who works at Chabad in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood, first came up with the idea right after the proposal was announced, when a photoshopped picture of a Fleur-de-lys kippah that he posted on Facebook went viral.
“People kept asking me ‘Are you going to make it?’” Bernath said. Though he had the will, finding the proper fabric was a real challenge.
“I wanted it to be made in Quebec,” he stressed. Ultimately, he found a local kippah-maker and the label reads “Fabrique au Quebec” (made in Quebec).
Bernath’s kippah can be found at qkippah.com for $10. Though the website warns of its limited edition — only 400 have been made so far — the yarmulke has already found a niche of devoted customers. According to Bernath, he sold 100 yesterday, and only has about 80 left.
“I bought 60 and distributed them to my congregation, Rabbi Schachar Orenstein of Montreal’s Spanish and Portuguese synagogue told the Canadian Jewish News. “Many doctors at the Jewish [General Hospital] are wearing them. If I had the budget, I would purchase for the entire hospital staff,” he added. In November, the Montreal Jewish General Hospital said it would defy the Charter, considered “patently discriminatory.”
But for Bernath, the biggest surprise has been the amount of support he has gotten from non-Jews in the community. Because most of the kippahs are purchased online, he is able to keep track of the names of the owners. A lot of them, he said, are not Jewish.
“The uniqueness in Montreal is that everyone lives together,” he said.
To remind Quebec Premier Pauline Marois — who spearheads the push for the Charter — of that legacy, Bernath has sent her a kippah of her own, signed “Happy Hanukkah from the Jewish community!”
The timing is no coincidence. “It’s Hanukkah all over again in a way,” Bernath explained. “In the times of Hanukkah, that’s basically what the Syrian-Greeks said to the Jews. [They were] trying to make everyone into the Syrian-Greeks and that’s what [Marois] is trying to do.”
With Thanksgiving now over, it’s time for the annual battle over the “war on Christmas.” This year, it is playing out on Republican T-shirts.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is offering its supporters a holiday red T-shirt, fit just for the season.
On the front a sneering punch line reads: “’Happy Holidays’ is what liberals say.” On the back: “Merry Christmas”
That was enough to reignite the war.
When her parents escorted 16-year-old Alice, my aunt, to the Vienna train station, her father was crying. Her mother on the other hand, remained strong and optimistic. “She said, ‘We’re going to see each other again,’” Alice, nicknamed Lizzie, remembered. ”And I was like, I’m going to England, and I’ll be able to improve my English.”
Seventy-five years ago today, on December 2, 1938, the first “Kindertransport” arrived from Germany in England. In the nine months that followed, around 10,000 children — including Lizzie — from Nazi-occupied areas travelled to England, and were placed in foster families, schools and shelters. British authorities agreed to grant visas, while private citizens and organizations had to find guarantors for the children up to the age of 17.
When Lizzie arrived, a doctor’s family from Liverpool took her in for half a year. When they moved to a smaller house, she was passed along to another foster family. Meanwhile, her father, a Jewish carpenter, managed to get his hands on a New York phone directory, and reached out to a cousin, who sent an affidavit and tickets for a ship. Once they had arrived in New York, they organized Lizzie’s passage. In June 1940, she arrived in the United States.
“It was incredible, so beautiful,” said Lizzie, who is now 91 and lives in Valley Stream, NY. She has remained in touch with her foster family in Liverpool, who treated her with respect and love, and is grateful to the people who took children they didn’t know into their families.
Lizzie left Vienna with her maternal cousin Fritz, who immigrated to Australia soon after his arrival in England. Ilse, Fritz’s younger sister, had left Vienna a few months earlier, and found refuge at a Quaker boarding school in the south of England.
“I came without knowing a word of English,” Ilse, now 87 and living in London, said. “It was very traumatic.”
Her father had died earlier that year. Her mother remained behind in Vienna. Also trapped were her maternal cousins, Hans and Herbert, as well as their parents. Having lost the family business — a furniture store — they had no money left to flee the country and were unable to get on a Kindertransport of their own.
In the fall of 1942, the remaining family members received a deportation notice. A family friend, a non-Jewish pediatrician, offered to hide Hans and Herbert in his Vienna apartment, risking his own life to help them. Herbert, who was 14, didn’t want to leave his parents, but 16-year-old Hans, my grandfather, agreed.
When the end of the war came, Ilse received a letter from Hans. “I thought ‘That’s the first one.’ I went to the hockey field, because I wanted to be alone to read it,” she said.
“I was shocked. It was the first one, and the last one, because no one else had survived.”
Anna Goldenberg is the Arts and Culture intern at the Forward. She also writes about Jewish issues and science for various Austrian publications. Follow her on Twitter @angoldna.
When you’ve got Kanye and the Coen Brothers, can the Klezmatics be far behind? Not in this week’s news quiz, they can’t. And neither can Jewish children’s books about chickens.
For real. It’s a trend.
The Thanksgiving leftovers are gone by now. The countdown of Hanukkah candles is nearing its triumphant finish. It’s time to start thinking about the new year.
For our first issue of 2014, the Forward will be looking forward, to the people, stories, issues and debates that will and ought to frame the Jewish experience in the coming year. We ask you to be part of this conversation.
What issue should we be talking about, but aren’t? Why? How do we frame that issue in a way that’s different and compelling? Send your ideas to email@example.com by December 13.
At my bar mitzvah, many moons ago, I took the daring step to talk about… I can’t remember. Like most Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids, my remarks were pretty perfunctory.
But not those of Duncan McAlpine Sennett.
In a talk now trending on YouTube, Duncan starts out in straightforward fashion, talking about his Torah portion. But then he notices something strange: that the marriages between Jacob, Rachel, and Leah were arranged, with no consent of the women (or even Jacob himself, in part), and, in Duncan’s words, “Jacob married two sisters, who were both her first cousins!”
Duncan then observes how the definition of marriage has changed dramatically since Biblical times — and makes an impassioned plea to “change it just a little bit more, so that people can marry who they love.” Duncan’s timing is deliberate: same-sex marriage is on the ballot in his home state of Oregon next year, and as he name-checks his family’s gay friends in the audience, you can hear a pin drop.
The injustice and just plain weirdness of “traditional marriage” is something I myself noted in a much wordier, less eloquent article published last year. But this young man says it better, even in (or maybe, particularly in) the very familiar cadences of a bar mitzvah speech. Check it out here:
There are many positive things about social media. Selfies, or photos of themselves, taken by young people at Holocaust sites and memorials are not among them.
The German version of Vice magazine collected and published a bunch of these totally tasteless Instagram posts to drive home the point. Don’t read German? No worries. You just need to know how to read pictures—and, of course, also hashtags—to understand just how offensive this stuff is.
Check out the one of the girl giving two mitten-clad thumbs up at Auschwitz-Birkenau. “Thumbs up if you’re chilly willy #krakow #poland #auschwitz # birkenau #tour #travels #holidays #chilly #willy #ww2 #worldwar2” is how she tagged it.
There’s also the one of the girl who lined up her photo to make it look like a Star of David was growing out of her head. “#juden #arbeitmachtfrei #treblinka #zyklon B #feelgood.” Hey, don’t we all feel good when visiting sites of mass murder?
How about the one of a couple of guys “#chillin in #dachau,” or the one of the girl in a mini-dress posing at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial making sure everyone notices the important stuff—the “#chelseaboots”—she’s wearing.
Which of these other photos taken at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial is more appealing? The one of the girl jumping for joy at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial exclaiming “#holocaustmemorial #berlin #blocks #jump #tourist #happy #girl #weeeee”? Or would it be the picture tagged “#instacaust”? Hmm. It’s a toss up.
Despite how absurd this stuff seems, it really is happening. Samantha French, a 20-year-old New Yorker studying at the University of Sussex in Britain reports that she saw people taking these kinds of photos while visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in October 2012.
“…I saw a few tour groups just for school kids in which they were all taking pictures of themselves smiling in front of just about everything they saw, from the display of artificial limbs that had been recovered in the camp, to the wall in front of which many prisoners had been shot execution-style, to actually inside what remains of the gas chamber (despite a clear sign outside banning photography within the building),” she says. “In my own tour group, we had a couple who I think might have been Scandinavian who again did not put their cameras away throughout the entire tour.”
“In short, I think it’s disgusting,” French said. But, having studied the effects of social media, she isn’t surprised by this disturbing trend. “It is so easy to sway what people think of something just by joining a conversation about it on social media, and I think really that’s why this trend of people Instagramming photos of themselves by Holocaust memorial sites has become okay,” she explains.
“If one 12 year-old sees her friend do it when she goes to visit a memorial, she’ll think it’s acceptable to do that, as well, and so the snowball gets rolling. It’s just unfortunate that the people who know that making light of such serious issues is not okay aren’t as present in social media as kids with poor judgment.”
Jews and Arabs appaerently still can’t work out terms for a mutually acceptable nation for the Palestinian people.
But Saveur, an upscale food magazine, has it all figured out.
Throughout an opulently photographed feature headlined “Heart of Palestine” in Saveur’s December issue, writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins — who’s written cookbooks on the Mediterranean and Italy — matter-of-factly refers to Palestine as a country. By doing so, she’s taking an unusual step into volatile political territory for a magazine which usually stresses over grilling the perfect steak or truffle-hunting.
“Hemmed in on all sides by an opposing state, Palestinians’ small piece of the world consists of two discontinuous areas: The Gaza Strip’s 25 miles of coastline in the southwest and the Delaware-sized West Bank along the River Jordan in the northeast,” she writes. “In both areas, Palestinians continue to struggle to assert their rights to the land. Amid dangerous conflict, people find hope in the rituals of daily life, none more so than the growing and preparing of traditional foods.”
Jenkins spends a few days in a village called Beit Sahour with Fairouz Shomaly, “the best cook in town, according to everyone I’ve asked.” Shomaly instructs Jenkins on making sfiha, the Palestinian flatbread; maqloubeh, “a layered dish of rice, meat, and vegetables” that dates back to 13th-century Baghdad; and the Palestinian couscous called maftoul.
The rapturous prose about food gets punctuated by a pointed (and eminently disputable) history lesson. “Throughout its history, this valuable land has seen its fair share of conquests… but after the British mandate was terminated in 1948, the land was carved up into Israel and Palestine, the boundaries of which remain in dispute,” she writes.
(JTA) President Obama, always up on the latest Jewish internet fads, sent out an official Thanksgivukkah greeting yesterday:
“For the first time since the late 1800s – and for the last time until some 70,000 years from now – the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. It’s an event so rare some have even coined it “Thanksgivukkah.” As we gather with loved ones around the turkey, the menorah, or both, we celebrate some fortunate timing and give thanks for miracles both great and small.”
Very nice. But a sentence in the next paragraph caught my eye:
“In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, [the Maccabees] reclaimed their historic homeland. But the true miracle of Hanukkah was what came after those victories almost 2200 years ago – the Jewish Temple was cleansed and consecrated, and the oil that was sufficient for only one day lasted for eight.”
With this sentence, the White House has — inadvertently, I’m sure — taken a side in an old, latent Israeli debate over what the “Hanukkah miracle” really was.
Like almost every Jewish holiday, Hanukkah has something for both secular and religious Israelis. Secular Israelis see in Hanukkah an epic story that prefigures the birth of the modern state: a small, informal army — facing seemingly insurmountable odds — defeats a more powerful foe and creates an independent Jewish commonwealth. For non-religious Jews who find little to no meaning in the Second Temple and its sacrifices, the miracle of the oil is an afterthought.
But for religious Israelis, the war that liberated the land was just a prerequisite for the holiday’s real miracle: the small jar of oil lasting eight days – enough to reinstate the Temple service. In a similar vein, some modern Orthodox Israelis see the current, secular state as a stepping stone toward a coming messianic era when Jewish religious law will guide Israel.
The debate even emerges in two alternate Hebrew spellings of the word “Maccabee.” One spelling, with the Hebrew letter kuf, means “hammer” — emphasizing the Maccabees’ strength and the military victory. It’s the word’s popular English translation and also the inspiration for this gem of a film.
But the more common Hebrew spelling is with the letter kaf, which makes the word an acronym for the phrase “Who is like you among deities, God?” — stressing the Maccabees’ divine inspiration.
You probably won’t find people fighting in the streets of Jerusalem over the correct interpretation of the Hanukkah miracle. But for those who are counting: score one for the oil.
The santas who sunbathe on Sydney beaches, barbecuing their lunch on December 25th are revelling in the duality of the Christmas holiday. On the one hand it’s a universal holiday, celebrating the birth of the Christian messiah who was born for us all and so it’s perfectly appropriate for Australians (and their tourist visitors) to join in.
On the other hand contemporary Christmas is a consumer-driven winter solstice festival where readily available costumes commingle with the shades of Saturnalia — the Roman festival around Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun). It embodies a specifically northern hemisphere hope for the short dark days of winter to soon get longer and lighter. A somewhat absurd hope on the antipodean sands.
Hanukkah, which normally falls within the orbit of Christmas normally adopts the universalist aspects of its bigger, younger brother. Kislev 25 is usually around December 25 and Jews place the emphasis on being a festival of light, of liberation and of presents. But when paired with the more local, national holiday of Thanksgiving, its parochial side comes out. And, rather than being the Jewish Christmas (swap reindeer and trees for candles and latkes) Hanukkah ends up being, though disguised by a plethora of mutually appropriate foods, the anti-Thanksgiving.
For my American friends: Its hard to describe what is going on today in Tel Aviv and all over Israel. The entire country is in a state of mourning, and even the weather has joined in with grey overcast skies.
Its days like these though, that I love being Israeli. There is an overwhelming feeling of solidarity, grief and unified love for a man who was a cultural icon. Only one voice is on the radio: people on the street are all talking about one thing. These are the days that you can’t imagine happening in America.
Late last night my husband received a text message: Arik Einstein is dead. We turned on Channel Two just as the head of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital appeared. Flustered and sweaty — he looked as though he had just been crying, and as if he might start again at any moment — he explained that Arik had suffered an aortic aneurism and that the doctors had been unable to save him. “There is nobody to sing to us anymore,” he said, before he turned and left.
To borrow a phrase from Don McLean, here in Israel, yesterday was the day the music died.
Just as Buddy Holly, who McLean was singing about, was an American icon, Arik Einstein, who passed away aged 74, was an Israeli icon. He was the man who moved on the ideologically earnest music of the Zionist pioneers to create the modern genre of Hebrew music.
Einstein merged the folksy Hebrew style with mainstream rock and roll, and in so doing created Israel’s soundtrack to the 1960s — and to every decade since.
From the moment that news of his hospitalization broke yesterday afternoon until now, his has been the only music playing on the main radio stations here. DJs and news commentators are struggling to find words to communicate the magnitude of his passing. They are comparing him to every great singer, including Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
But the comparisons are in vain. Yes, he had an echo of all these stars, but he was very much his own man, and a quintessentially Israeli star. In fact, as the quintessentially Israeli musical star, there’s nobody who preceded him to compare him to.
His are the songs that characterized the slightly idealistic and very emotional style of music that became the Israeli mainstream. His “You and I Will Change the World” is the song that countless couples in Israel have dreamed to and got engaged to. His “Fly Away Chick” is the song that hundreds of thousands of kindergarten children have graduated to.
The list goes on. His songs are the soundtrack to Independence Day barbecues, youth group campfires, and long summer evenings in Tel Aviv cafes. They provided solace to the young Israelis who sat in the streets with candles in 1995 after Yitzhak Rabin was shot.
Generations of foreign Jews on summer trips and Birthright programs have heard his music, courtesy of their Israeli guides, on coaches and end-of-holiday parties. Many of them may not even know the name Einstein, but have the music etched on their minds as their own “sound of Israel.”
Israel’s musical scene today is lively. But there isn’t another star of Einstein’s stature.
(JTA) — Amid the grief over the passing of iconic Israeli singer Arik Einstein, the internet has given us a gem: Bibi Netanyahu and Shimon Peres — together, in the nineties — singing one of Einstein’s best-known songs, “Ani v’Ata” (You and I).
The clip starts with Israeli celebrities Ofra Haza and Dan Shilon singing the song on stage, but at about 1:30 they descend to Bibi and Peres, who stand and somewhat awkwardly sing along. Bibi — who wrote not one but two Facebook posts mourning Einstein yesterday — adds his confident baritone to the melody.
Peres, though, doesn’t appear to know the words to one of Israel’s most famous songs. After joining in for the opening line, his mouth hardly moves and we can barely hear his voice. I guess, unlike me, Peres was not forced to sing “Ani v’Ata” over and over at Jewish summer camp as a child.
The video’s description says it was shot in 1995 and calls Bibi the prime minister and Peres former prime minister.
But in 1995, Bibi led the Knesset opposition while Peres served as foreign minister under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. One year later, Bibi would edge Peres out in an upset election victory. Now, of course, Bibi is prime minister and Peres is Israel’s president.
See the video below:
Israel’s High Court of Justice struck down Israel’s practice of indefinitely detaining many non-Jewish African asylum seekers without due process in September. The unanimous court ruled that this detention policy violated Israel’s Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty and ordered the government to assess the individual cases of the 1,750 detained asylum seekers for release by December 15.
High Court Justice Arbel wrote in his court opinion that prolonged detention was inconsistent with Jewish values.
“We cannot deprive people of basic rights, using a heavy hand to impact their freedom and dignity, as part of a solution to a problem that demands a suitable, systemic and national solution,” he wrote. “We cannot forget our basic values, drawn from the Declaration of Independence, as well as our moral duty towards every human being, as inscribed in the country’s basic principles as a Jewish and democratic state.”
The judge even quoted Deuteronomy:
You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your gates which is beneficial for him; you shall not mistreat him.
One would have thought the Israeli government would have read the ruling and taken a different path. Whether one wants Israel to be more Jewish, more democratic, equally Democratic and Jewish, or neither for that matter, Justice Arbel summed up the legal and ethical laws and reasons why the detention policy was wrong and would now be outlawed.
Unfortunately, Israel has ignored the spirit of the ruling.
Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have yet to sell shtreimels. But one fashion commentator — and a whole lot of YouTube viewers — think Hasidic garb is worth another look.
“The Substance of Hasidic Style,” a video posted by fashion platform StyleLikeU (and reposted by Upworthy), has garnered more than 170,000 views after it was picked up by Upworthy.com. The 16-minute mini-documentary is comprised of interviews with several Hasidim and focuses on Hasidic attitudes towards fashion, modesty, community, and belief in God.
Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandlebaum, the mother-daughter team that runs StyleLikeU, could easily have treated the Hasidic community as some sort of oddball curiosity. When I read that they had previously produced short films on the style of monks, nuns, and ballerinas, I was skeptical about how they might portray Hasidim: would they be shown as a freakish “other,” wearing outlandish clothing, stuck in the past?
To the team’s credit, the film treats the Hasidic community quite respectfully and even admiringly. Elisa Goodkind writes that the time she and her team spent among Hasidim in the Catskills was “a 12-hour odyssey that would change us forever.”
“[N]ot only did I begin to identify with some of my own life values, but I found a new group of the coolest people I had met in a long time, who were about to become my new great friends,” writes Goodkind, who describes herself as “a reform and rebellious Jew.” Her film not only depicts Hasidic clothing, but offers a broader looks at the Hasidic way of life. Hasidic views on modesty, community, and femininity are all portrayed sympathetically.
Adam Levine meets Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nazi gold in what SOUNDS like a really bad movie, but is actually this week’s really fun Jewish news quiz. And guess who else is here? King Solomon and Brad Pitt! Ok… so maybe that’s a movie I’d see.
Who will are the change agents of our world? Is it our elected officials and politicians or the ones who march in the streets in order to hold them accountable? These questions were clarified for me in profound ways during my recent trip to the West Bank as part of a delegation of Chicago-area Jews and Palestinian Americans.
The focus of our delegation was the Palestinian popular resistance movement in the West Bank, a phenomenon that is sadly unfamiliar to the majority of Americans and American Jews. In a world far removed from the images reflected in the mainstream media and the postures of political elites, we discovered a decidedly different reality: ordinary men and women struggling to live lives of dignity while actively resisting an inequitable and oppressive military occupation.
During our weeklong stay, we were hosted in Bil’in, a village that is has, along with many other villages throughout the West Bank, long been holding weekly popular demonstrations against the occupation over the past ten years. In Bil’in, as in most villages in this movement, the focus of the protests are Israel’s Separation Wall which cuts into the heart of numerous Palestinian populations centers, devastating these communities by cutting them off from their olive groves and farmland.
These weekly demonstrations have become part of the fabric of West Bank life for the past ten years, though few Americans are even aware of their existence. They have consistently been met with overwhelming military force from the IDF. Scores of Palestinians have been injured or killed in these protests, largely from high velocity tear gas canisters, coated steel bullets and live ammunition fired directly into crowds of unarmed protesters.
As we quickly came to see, the violence faced by Palestinians under occupation is a palpable and all-encompassing aspect of their lives. While the political parameters of this conflict are often characterized by Israel’s demand for Palestinian leaders to renounce and rein in Palestinian violence, the view from the ground reveals a different picture entirely: it is the Palestinians who live within a constant daily context of violence.
This is a difficult concept to grasp for those who have not visited or lived in the Occupied Territories. Every day Palestinian mothers, fathers and children experience physical violence from soldiers and settlers who attack them with impunity. Every day, moment they experience the structural violence of checkpoints, land confiscation, and home demolitions.
Our delegation experienced three violent encounters with the IDF during our short one-week stay. While touring the refugee camp of Aida, we inadvertently walked into the line of fire as the IDF shot tear gas canisters directly at local children. One morning in Bil’in we awoke to the sounds of explosions and gunshots. When we ran outside we found the entire village shrouded in thick, choking tear gas. We later learned that the IDF had chased a suspect in a bus bombing into the area and had killed him in a cave on the edge of Bil’in. Before they left, they bulldozed olive trees, shot up the elementary school and shot tear gas throughout the entire village.
The Israeli military’s emergency mission to the Philippines packed up its field hospital today — but not before leaving giving a new x-ray machine, used only during this mission, to the local hospital.
A week-and-a-half ago the Israel Defense Forces set up the only medical aid facility in the island of Cebu. The 125 medics and technical staff who worked there are returning to Israel today, leaving rescue efforts on the island to a team that has arrived from Europe to relieve them.
Asked by the Forward this today for details on what the IDF was leaving behind, Hadar Marom, head of medical services in the military’s medical branch and part of the Philippines mission, said that in addition to the x-ray machine there is the basic equipment for a delivery room, as well as supplies needed to stock it. There are also various medicines for adults and children.
“It was only 10 days but we made a significant contribution,” she commented of the mission, saying that in total 2,686 patients were treated, including 835 children. Some 52 surgeries were performed.
Last week, a senior doctor spoke to the Forward about the 11 births that had taken place. Since then, there have been dozens more — some 69 babies were born on the island altogether, some 36 of them delivered by the Israeli team. The Israelis performed seven emergency caesarians sections, all of them successful.
The mission’s technical team rebuilt electricity infrastructure, roves and water supplies at four schools.
Marom admitted that there is more to be done, but said that as an immediate relief mission, the IDF team has met its aim. “We got to a point where they can continue this by themselves,” she said.