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March 27, 2015 / 7 Nisan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘China’

Walking Up 45 Flights On Shabbat: Being a Jew in Hong Kong

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Last summer I went to Hong Kong for three months – for me that’s home. Although I was born in Belgium and lived in Lexington, Massachusetts while in high school, Hong Kong is my home base.  Now Hong Kong may seem exotic to you, but when it comes to observing kashrut and keeping Shabbat after a climb to the 45th floor, it becomes more difficult than exotic. My parents live there for business, along with my married sister and British brother-in-law. (We accepted him into the family because he made us seem more international.)

I was raised in a very traditional and cultural Jewish home in Asia. My parents were proud Israelis who made sure that we always had a connection to the Land of Israel and to being Jews no matter where we lived. While others may have had their Bar/Bat Mitzvah at the Western Wall, we merged these two cultures with our Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations at the Great Wall of China.  My twin brother Orrel and me had our first exposure to Torah observant Judaism at Lexington High School, where the OU’s Jewish Student Union offered free pizza on Monday afternoons.  (Jewish Student Union is a program that enhances Jewish culture at public high schools.)

Initially, Orrel and I were attending for two slices of pizza a week; but eventually, we became interested and started attending NCSY Shabbatons in our senior year. As a result, we spent a year learning in Eretz Yisrael. We now attend Yeshiva University; Orrel is at Yeshiva College and I am at Stern College. As upcoming seniors, we cannot wait for another amazing year!

Since we became shomer Shabbat, we had not been home to Hong Kong for more than a few days at a time and during those occasions, I always had my brother with me for support. This all changed in the summer of 2012 when I had to be in Hong Kong for personal reasons, while my brother was in Israel learning in yeshiva and doing medical research.  I felt that I was being left to fend for myself in Hong Kong.

On one hand, I was really excited to be with my family, but on the other hand I was scared. I was scared because since I became religious I had been immersed in Jewish communities – at seminary in Israel then in Stern College.  In addition, I had a strong support comprised of New England NCSY rabbis and my seminary Aim Bayit to answer my questions and to further my growth as a Torah observant Jew. When acquaintances from high school were placing bets on how long I would stay “religious” after NCSY, my support group was instrumental in keeping me on the “derech.”

In Hong Kong, I was entering three months in which my only social chevra would be myself. My connection to my Judaism would be up to me, and I feared I would lose everything that I had worked so hard to build in the past two years. This was not a dramatic exaggeration but a heartfelt declaration.

Within the first weeks, I felt myself losing my desire to daven and to learn Torah.  Recorded shiurim that used to excite me seemed no longer applicable to the struggles I was facing. I remember calling a friend from Stern College and telling her, “There is no way I am coming out religious after this summer.” But through phone calls of guidance from my support groups in America and in Israel, I slowly learned that the key to surviving the summer would not be the growth I had planned for myself; I had to modify my plans.

Initially, I had strongly believed that just as my twin brother was growing every day in Israel, I had to be growing and firming my roots as an Orthodox Jew.  Instead, I had to learn to tread water in order not to drown. I couldn’t simply focus on listening to shiurim; instead my focus had to be just making it day-by-day. For example, I would try and have one meaningful davening – Shacharit or Minchah  – in Hong Kong. I couldn’t hold myself to the high religious standards that I had set for myself at Stern.

Obama on Syria: Low-Quality ‘Jaw-Jaw’

Monday, August 26th, 2013

It being the silly season in Washington, there had to be a rumor of war.  Well, a rumor of a cruise missile strike.  Well, OK, a rumor that U.S. Navy warships were ordered to “close their ranges” with Syria in case Obama gets permission from the UN to mount an attack, if there’s clear evidence that the Syrian regime gassed its people.

That last point is actually an exact characterization of Obama’s posture, which he expressed in the interview with CNN aired on Friday:

“There are rules of international law,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work, and, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.”

So cool your jets, people.  All we’re doing right now is talking about naval force.  Suddenly we’re talking about it a lot, but it’s not clear there’s any big point to it.

A few discussion items.  One, the deepest point of Syria is about 380 statute miles (600km) from the coast, but almost everything we might want to attack, to affect the Assad regime’s prosecution of the war, is less than 100 miles (160km) from the coast.  The Tomahawk cruise missile, in the variant likely to be used (TLAM-C Block III), has a range of 1000 statute miles (1,600km).  The less-likely TLAM-D has a range of 800 statute miles (1,250km).  So U.S. Navy warships don’t have to get closer to Syria than the open waters of the central or east-central Mediterranean Sea.

This, in turn, means that no public explanations would ever be necessary – our warships are often in the central Mediterranean – and that the explanations are therefore being given, as verbosely as possible, for a reason.  Presumably, it is to highlight, with fanfare, the fact that Obama is contemplating using cruise missiles against Assad.  And that, presumably, is meant to warn and/or deter Assad.

Assuming Assad has the means to view clips from the CNN interview, or read transcripts like the bit from Politico excerpted above, he will of course be clear that action by Obama is contingent on permission from the UN.  (If his power blinks out, the Iranians or Russians can keep him updated on matters of this kind.)  Assad has good reason to assume Obama won’t get that permission.  Russia and China have blocked UN Security Council resolutions against Syria on multiple occasions, and continue to defang or veto them.

Of course, making transparently worthless threats to long-time despots has been a pattern with Team Obama.

I’m skeptical that we have any intention of taking action against Syria – even punitive action, with no view to an outcome or end-state.  Maybe Team Obama imagines itself to be in a “dialogue” with Assad; i.e., the ball is now in Assad’s court, to send some signal that he’d rather not be hit with cruise missiles, and maybe we can work something out here.

Or perhaps the verbal gambit is intended for Russia, which has way more warships sitting off Syria’s coast than we do.  (Note: from the count at the unofficial Turkish Navy website, Bosphorus Naval News, it appears that there are currently 5-6 Russian navy ships in or near Syria, with one of those being an intelligence collector.)   Hey, Russkiy dudes, we might just think even harder about hitting your boy, if you don’t take some order to him.  Don’t make us escalate this gradually.

That would be the 1960s-era, Robert S. McNamara/Brain Trust frame of reference.  All we need is some evidence-of-our-determination patrols off the coast by intelligence ships – if we still had any – to complete the retro picture.

But there is every possibility I’m overthinking this, and the only thing that’s going on is that the Obama administration is making tough-sounding noises to get the media off its back about Syria.

In other naval notes:

1.  USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75), which finally deployed from Norfolk in July, nearly six months after her originally scheduled departure date, has been in the Central Command area of responsibility since 18 August, when she went through the Suez Canal (video).  So there is no carrier or carrier air wing positioning itself off Syria.  Speculation about using Truman in a strike on Syria is invalid.

Archaeologists Find Israel Was Land of Milk, Honey – and Cinnamon

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Cinnamon, once thought to have been carried on trade routes in ancient Israel, may have been made along the northern Israeli coast and not just in Africa and India, as previously thought, Israeli researchers told LiveScience.

They analyzed 27 flasks from archaeological sites in Israel dating back 3,000 years and found that the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor was in 10 of the containers.

Cinnamon bark is found in southern India, and another form of the spice is found in China and southeast Asia. It is now yet known the source of the cinnamon in the flasks found in Israel, but the discovery that it probably was made in Israel “raises the intriguing possibility that long-range spice trade from the Far East westward may have taken place some 3,000 years ago,” the Tel Aviv University and Weizmann Institute researchers wrote in a paper to be published in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry.

“We don’t think they sailed directly [to the Far East]; it was a very hard task even in the 16th century A.D.” Dvory Namdar, a researcher with the Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University, told LiveScience in an interview.

Namdar and research colleague Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa said the flasks, which at that time were in area that was part of ancient Phoenicia, feature a narrow opening with thick walls, indicating their contents were highly prized. Flasks with similar shapes previously have been found in temple storerooms and treasuries of ancient kingdoms, the researches added.

They think that the cinnamon bark was brought from the Far East to ancient Israel and mixed with liquids before it was placed in the flasks prior to shipping the spice elsewhere.

Namdar and Gilboa speculate that people of the time mixed the cinnamon in with wine. “If you mix it with a bigger [container of wine], then you get flavored wine,” they said.

Latin American Trading Moving Up on Israeli Agenda

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to improve economic ties with politically friendly Latin American countries in order to compensate for the crippled economy of Israel’s main trading continent, Europe.

The new effort to increase Latin American trading, particularly with Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, will compliment Netanyahu’s simultaneous effort to increase economic ties with China and other East Asian countries. These four Latin American countries formed the free-trade Pacific Alliance last year and account for about 36 percent of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP). They all trade significantly with North America.

Currently in Latin America, Brazil is Israel’s main trading partner, taking in Israeli exports at about $1.1 billion per year and importing to Israel at about $400 million per year. In June, Israeli President Shimon Peres signed a free-trade agreement with Colombia.

Chinese-Israeli Cultural Relations Blossoming

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

According to China’s Ambassador to Israel, Gao Yanping, “Culture goes beyond borders. Cultural exchanges constitute an important and dynamic part of China-Israel relations. Now the momentum is set. I am convinced that with our joint efforts the China-Israel cultural cooperation is bound to blossom.” To this end, the efforts of Israeli Barry Swersky are helping Chinese-Israeli cultural ties bud into fruition. In partnership with the Chinese Embassy and the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in China, Swersky is arranging an exhibition in Israel exploring the future of Chinese art through the eyes of young artists. Swersky is also fostering a collaborative relationship between CAFA and Israel’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design.

Swersky explains, “I have felt that Israeli cultural organizations, whether artists or orchestras, are seeking more ways to go to China. They went to China and started to look for contacts. They have been successful.” He added, “As the cultural organizations become more interested in China, they have found their way into China. People are discovering each other, so there is a greater flow. There are museums in China presenting Israeli artists.”

Since 2008 Swersky has been promoting Chinese-Israeli cultural exchange. Among Swersky’s many projects is a TAO Beijing Dance Company performance with noted Israeli oud player Yair Dalal, joint master classes for gifted young Chinese and Israeli pianists, and construction of sculptures in Haifa and Haifa’s twin city, Shanghai, in a project proposed by Israeli artist Peter Jacob Maltz.

Swersky is not the only Israeli to be active in Israeli-Chinese cultural relations, as Israeli singer David D’Or has developed a solid audience in China and Israel Sinfonietta Be’ersheva has performed there twice. According to Swersky, “Already in May 1993, Israel and China signed a cultural agreement. In 2011, the governments agreed on a program for the years 2011 to 2015, a program which in general terms covers subjects such as culture and art, cultural events, museums and exhibitions, cinema and television, publication and literature.”

“Governments place great emphasis on ‘soft power,’” Swersky explained. “The identification with some elements of culture always helps Israel have a strong image in dance and music. It’s part of a country’s image.”

Eitan Press contributed to this report.

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Egypt, What are The Odds? My Prediction

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
Diplomats, politicians, media, political pundits all over the world are trying to make some sort of sense out of the current balagan, violent anarchy, revolution, riots in Egypt.
Egypt is Egypt.  It’s not Canada, nor France, nor Brazil, China, Australia, Russia, Korea or even South Africa.
Every culture, society, has its own culture/character and it’s totally ridiculous and unrealistic to expect all people to be the same.  Most of us tend to project our own morals, values etc. on others and blind ourselves to the truth.
Egypt is not a European country, even though many people are confused by the Egyptian elite who can be extremely western and sophisticated.  They are “the Egypt” the diplomats and intellectuals meet, when shopping and vacationing in Europe, or when visiting their children in American universities.
The Egyptian population is growing rapidly, unlike the western world.
“Egypt’s population is officially set to reach 84.743 million by World Population Day this Thursday, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics told state-run news agency MENA on Tuesday.
This reflects an increase from 2006’s figure of 72.8  million, and 2009’s figure of 76.1 million. Total population reached 83.7 million by the beginning of 2013, representing a 10.9 million person increase since 2006.”
You can’t understand what’s really happening on the streets and government offices in Egypt without understanding its society.  It’s like trying to play chess against a grandmaster without knowing the rules.
Western democracy just won’t work in Egypt.  The only stable governments that Egyptians have known were dictatorships. It takes a strong military dictator to control the volatile Egyptian population.  Mohammed Morsi failed; remember that he was elected democratically, as democratically as the Egyptians could manage.  Now they are being ruled by the street.
“The military’s early-morning assault that left at least 54 people dead might have been expected to unite Egyptians in grief and anger. Instead, Egypt’s bloodiest day in more than two years of unrest appeared to intensify the scarring arguments about who should be ruling the country and who is responsible for its plunge into turmoil.
Egyptians who not long ago were protesting side by side, even members of the same family, now rely on different sources of information, offer widely divergent accounts of what caused Monday’s carnage and argue that they are the true defenders of the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Rival camps both claim that the United States is offering concrete support to their opponents.”
No doubt there are powerful members of the military pulling those strings, getting the people out to riot.
And what’s my prediction?  At some point a new military dictator will take charge.  He may conduct some sort of  “elections” to give a fig leaf to his dictatorship and get more international aid.  It’s only a strong military dictatorship that can control a country like Egypt.

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Bennett Says China to Study Free Trade Proposal

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett announced during his visit to China that Beijing officials have agreed to carry out a survey to determine the value of a free trade policy.

China previously has rejected approaches from Israel that it conduct a study, and this week’s agreement, a pre-condition for a trade agreement,  was unexpected.

It probably will take one to two years to complete the survey, which will be the basis for a free-trade agreement with Israel if the results are positive.

Bennett told Globes, “Trade between Israel and China totals about $8 billion annually, and forecasts are that such an agreement would considerably increase the amount so that more and more small and medium Israeli companies could become involved in bilateral economic activities with China.”

Israel’s exports to China in 2012 rose 0.9% to $2.74 billion, with a large part attributed to  exports from Intel and Israel Chemicals.

“The Chinese pay major attention to Israel. The Chinese government has taken a strategic decision to strengthen economic relations with Israel and good things are happening between the two countries in this sphere” an official accompanying Bennett told Globes.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/bennett-says-china-to-study-free-trade-proposal/2013/07/09/

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