Having just recently enjoyed a full “Holy Land” tour a few years ago, I returned to Israel this time to simply experience “life” there. I had grown quite fond of Tel Aviv after my last visit…it’s become such a cosmopolitan, secular city. So after months of heavy touring and site-seeing, I took an apartment for a week, across the street from the Mediterranean Sea, and settled in to do some writing, relaxing, laundry, and just “being”. I was lucky to catch some unusually warm December weather, and was able to enjoy a couple of afternoons at the beach, and watch some exciting kite boarding from my balcony. I also lucked into a nostalgic evening at a Bryan Adams concert while I was in town.
Another reason I returned to Israel was because I wanted to visit friends who are living there. One family, my best friend’s nephew, his wife and 6 children, are living in an Orthodox community, Beit Shemesh. This is a surprisingly large and picturesque area, with a variety of Orthodox sects, many of them ex-pats, mostly Americans. Their eldest (16-year-old) son was away at pre-military training school, so I didn’t get to meet him; but I was so charmed by their 5 other children. I always thought that children in a large family would just blend together and maybe even get a little lost. Not the case with this bright, fun, beautiful bunch of kids, ranging from age 2 to 14. Each of them has their own unique personality and character, and they individually captured my heart over the span of a single evening shared together.
It was a lovely visit, after which I drove on to Jerusalem for the night. At my friend’s behest, I made a stop at the Western Wall before checking into my hotel. It was 11pm. The Wall is always brightly lit, so time of day has no meaning. But it was noticeably more peaceful and calm there, and I enjoyed a short session of prayer at this most holy place.
The next morning –Friday morning – I visited the Mehane Yehuda Jerusalem Market. This place is always bustling in anticipation of Shabbat with people buying their food, fruit and various other necessities for the weekend. I picked up some “pitzuchim” (assorted dried fruit and nuts) to bring with me to my friend’s home, where I was going to spend an observant Shabbat.
My bat mitzvah partner, Chaia has been living an Orthodox lifestyle in Shiloh, in the West Bank. Shiloh is an ancient city in Samaria, and the religious capital of Israel, according to the Old Testament. It is now one of those “settlements” you hear about, that has been occupied for years, and is an active archeological and tourist site, where Chaia’s husband works. Nevertheless, it is in the West Bank, and following the controversial announcement about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, I thought better of driving myself up there alone. Instead I took a regularly scheduled ARMORED bus from downtown Jerusalem, and was there safely in less than an hour.
Chaia’s family is huge, and loving and welcoming. She has 7 children: the youngest is her 18-year-old daughter, and then one older daughter and 5 sons. There are already 8 grandchildren. My challenge was to know everyone’s (unique, Hebrew) name by the end of the weekend. The house was teeming with kids playing, laughter, lots of food, and great conversation, along with beautiful traditions that welcomed Shabbat at sunset on Friday night, and through the day on Saturday. Saturday night some friends stopped by and the conversations were politically interesting and very enlightening. It was a great honor and very special to share this warm slice-of-life experience with an old childhood friend. (There are no photos because all phones, electronics, etc. are turned off through Shabbat.)
On Sunday morning, I got back on the armored bus and headed to Jerusalem, got into my car and then embarked on a scenic 4-hour drive through the Negev Desert down to Eilat, on the southern tip of Israel, on the Red Sea. I love Eilat. Just the geography alone is staggering. To the right is Egypt. To the left is Jordan and Saudi Arabia. And I could see them all in one eye-full from my hotel room balcony. It wasn’t exactly beach weather while I was there, but I did catch a few hours of beach and pool time, and some more RnR before heading back to the cold of continental Europe in December.
EDITORIAL: ISRAEL…Why They Support Trump
It is no secret that I am not a fan of the current US President. I have had a hard time understanding how Israel and Israelis can stand by him, when he has repeatedly shown himself to be racist…and most pointedly, when he failed to condemn Neo-Nazis marching and chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us.”
They hate Obama for abstaining from the UN vote that sanctioned Israel for West Bank occupation. They hate Obama for his perceived lack of support, although under his presidency, there were several arms sales that didn’t make the news. They hate Obama for the Iran deal, even though the fact remains that since that deal, Iran has not directly attacked anyone, and all of our European allies concur that it has been successful. Making the argument about giving them money, they neglect to remember that it was Iran’s own frozen assets; and they were about to begin what would have been embarrassing proceedings against the US at The Hague to get their funds released. Making the argument of Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism…one can hardly make an argument that our allies, Saudi Arabia don’t do the same.
On December 6, while I was in Tel Aviv, in an apartment across the street from the US Embassy, Trump controversially declared that the US was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would be moving our embassy there. Against the advice of many world leaders, and over the objection of leaders of Muslim countries, this US President did something that many of his predecessors had promised, and never fulfilled. The fact is that Israel’s capital has always been Jerusalem. The Knesset is there. All government officials and offices are there. Trump’s pronouncement didn’t suddenly make it so. But it managed to stir up controversy.
In making this announcement, the media told us that we would see violence. Palestinian leaders called for 3 Days Of Rage, some warned of a renewed intifada, most said that it was the death-nell for the peace process…and at minimum, the US could no longer be seen as the impartial mediator of peace talks.
My American-born Orthodox friends in Israel were thrilled by this announcement from Trump, and were completely unfazed by the Palestinian threats of rage and retribution. They live with it on a regular basis. One friend presented to me a point of view that there is no real “rage”, but wherever there are TV cameras, the protestors will happily provide footage…arguing the point that if there were no cameras there would be little-to-no violence.
But there were no cameras at all of the other non-Arab Muslim leaders’ offices when they condemned Trump’s actions. And there was plenty of rage. The announcement did inflame the region, and there were riots in the West Bank, Gaza, and even in Jordan. Missiles were launched from Gaza, which allowed for Israel to retaliate enough to destroy weapons depots and the tunnel in Gaza. The cynic in me wondered if my Zionist friends relish these outbursts as opportunities for Israel to flex its muscles. Palestinians revolt, and Israel shows its might with surgical strikes that depletes Palestinian munitions. I think Israel feels cocky with their superior weaponry, especially with the US putting the wind at their back. I can’t help wondering and worrying if they would be that brash if they were facing the collective military power of the Muslim world. Perhaps they feel confident that the “Muslim world” is itself in such turmoil and disarray that they wouldn’t be able to form an effective military coalition against Israel.
Further supporting that thought, Netanyahu seized this moment to declare “Jerusalem has always been our capital and the sooner you Palestinians accept that, the sooner we will have peace”. So, the final determination of Jerusalem, long believed to be an item for the negotiation table, has summarily been negated. He is now taking that chip off the table, and with a show of power as his exclamation point.
Perhaps Israel has in fact ceded enough and will cede no more. After wars where they were attacked (and defeated the enemy), in an effort for peace, they’ve returned the Sinai to Egypt. They’ve left Gaza for the Palestinians. They have also given them the West Bank, although the Israeli settlements are still controversial…but people were living there (having been encouraged to set up residence there after the war that annexed that land) at the time the agreement was made. Since there’s been no advancement of the peace agreement; and there has been further escalation of strife, including Gaza’s “election” of Hamas* to run their government (*Hamas is sworn to the destruction of Israel), the Israelis have not left the West Bank, and have, in fact, grown their settlements. And because there are Israelis living there, there is still an Israeli military presence in the West Bank. But, there is also infrastructure, services, roads, power, and water, provided by Israel. And although the people all live in their own gated communities, the Israeli and Palestinian residents of the West Bank have lived together and peacefully coexisted for many years.
So now, some time has passed. Tensions have eased. The Arab leadership seems to have tacitly accepted that this is how it is going to be, also recognizing their own instability and internal issues. So it would seem that playing it tough might have been effective after all. This is how Netanyahu has been running things in recent years. And his people love him for it.
And now I feel I better understand the thinking of my Orthodox Israeli friends. These Israeli ex-pats are ZIONIST JEWS. They see the entire political world, first and foremost, as to how it effects Israel and Jews. To the exclusion of anything and everything else. “People vote their own interests”, I was told. And their interests are Israel and Jews. Given the long history of Israel’s battle for recognition and a peaceful homeland, Israelis and American ex-pats there, are pledged to the safety, security and advancement of Jews and Israel. And that’s it. Apart from that, the rest of it (i.e. Trump) is America’s problem.
And I think I mostly get that…except the last sentence. I think Trump is extremely dangerous and that’s everyone in the world’s problem. But I, too have been a single-issue voter over the years. My candidates had to be pro-choice to get my vote. However, I never had to put a moral test to the rest of my candidates’ issues…they were also mostly in alignment with mine…and generally weren’t despicable. In the case of Trump, I fear that in favor of their one big issue (Israel), they conveniently remain blind to the rest of the package that comes with him which is doing damage to many other things that matter…like the Christianization of education, or the bankrupting of the middle class, or nuclear war in Korea, or sexual misconduct, or the destruction of our planet. I know God created it once, but I don’t believe he will deem us worthy of a do-over if we don’t pay attention. Just my small take on one piece of the most complex issues in the world.