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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Far East’

Go East

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

The anniversary of the Yom Kipur War always reminds one of Israeli fallibility, arrogance, and overconfidence, yet at the same time of its capacity to defy the odds and come back from the brink. It was another example of our bringing disaster upon ourselves and then fighting back to survive. After all, that is what the name “Israel” means in the Bible: “to struggle with man and God and survive”.

If I were to listen to the voices, Jewish and non-Jewish, that I hear in such examples as The New York Times, in The New York Review of Books, the intellectual and leftwing talking heads of Europe and the USA, or indeed popular left wing opinion, I would have a depressing sense of impending catastrophe. This week Peter Beinart, in The New York Review of Books, tells us that we Jews neither know, nor understand, nor feel the suffering of the Palestinians, whether under Hamas or the PLO. Ian S. Lustick goes on at length in a one-sided peroration typical of The New York Times that the lays the blame on Israel for making the Two State Solution irrelevant. They are not entirely wrong. But I tell you I am bloody fed up with people lumping all Israelis, all Jews together in their simplistic apportioning of blame, seeing things in black and white rather than in greys. Palestinians are good victims. Israelis are bad oppressors. In fact, both are both. That’s what humans are, a mixture of good and bad.

Some Israelis, some Jews are indeed intolerable racists. It is as true as is the fact that in South Africa under Apartheid there were Jews who acquiesced, who remained silent and failed their moral duty. But it is equally true that many Jews fought long and hard and at great cost to themselves, to oppose Apartheid and to promote freedom for the black population. That the ANC finally triumphed has not replaced immorality with morality, discrimination with equality. Sadly, too often those who suffer respond not by continuing the drive towards greater freedom but by grabbing all they can for themselves. This is the usual consequence of most struggles for freedom. Similarly, in Zimbabwe the relatively benign but overtly racial regime of Ian Smith was replaced by the much more evil and murderous regime of black Mugabe. Good fighters for freedom turn into very bad governors of countries. But that is the price of the struggle. And politics is dirty and messy everywhere.

The role of government is to protect its citizens and the vision of its founders. Israel was created as a state with a Jewish heritage, just as much as Muslim states were established to preserve and propagate Muslim heritage. Most of us would like to see both as tolerant and democratic societies. Israel is imperfect indeed, but it is our homeland. If we care for it we should fight to protect it and to improve it, not to undermine it. We should focus just as much on those who are working hard on reconciliation, on doing good, not just on the bad, on Syrians treated in Israeli hospitals, on Israel providing for Gaza what Egypt is not. But don’t expect this from the anti-Israel amen chorus.

So how are we expected to relate to a dysfunctional Middle East that is constantly stirred up against us by a distorted Western mentality? Surely not by capitulating to its mental diseases. I suggest we try to ignore its pathologies as best we can. But I must stress, I do not advocate cutting ourselves off from the Muslim world. The Middle East is not the only Muslim location. I do not think the divide between Judaism and Islam is either inevitable or healthy. We have far more in common with each other than we do with Western religions. To both of us, religion is not a series of theological propositions but a way of life. However if we want to heal the breach we must look further east.

It always surprises Jews to learn that the Muslims of the Far East, from India to Indonesia, from Cambodia to China, see the Arab jihadis of the Middle East in much the same way that non-Orthodox Jews view Charedim. They regard the Salafists and the Wahhabis as over the top extremists. It’s true in both cases that guilt often leads them to support the pious at arm’s length. The Far East also has its extreme and violent Islamic movements and terrorists, but the general mood of Islam is far more benign the further you get from the Middle East. It is more tolerant, less anti-West, and less fixated on blaming everyone else, especially the Jews, for their own ills. Yes, you can quote me that nasty former Malayan premier Mahathir bin Mohamad, who blamed the Jews for everything. But, thank goodness, he was not typical. I believe Israel should reduce its links with Europe with is ghastly legacy and history. It should be cultivating relations and economic involvements with India, China, Korea, and other emerging powers out in the Far East.

Daniel Goldhagen, the controversial and outspoken American historian who wrote Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, has stirred things up with his latest book about Western anti-Semitism, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism. Anthony Julius wrote a dismissive review in the Wall Street Journal accusing Goldhagen of sloppy research and unreliable statistics, even if he agrees with the core of his thesis. But even if Goldhagen exaggerates when he says 200 million Europeans compare Israelis to Nazis, let us reduce it by half. The fact is that huge swathes of opinion in Europe and the USA are venomously opposed to Israel’s existence on principle. So who is Israel to rely on? We knew Europe would never go to war to defend the Jews. Now we have seen all too clearly that the USA cannot be relied upon to fight. It is war weary. Israel must defend it itself as best it can, both socially and militarily. It is time to look for friends elsewhere.

In addition, I believe Judaism has more in common with and is more appreciated by the religion and mysticism of the East than of the West. The West is fixated on pain, suffering, guilt, and negativity. The East has much more positive religious energy. We have been identified with the Western religious tradition for too long. We have adopted too much of this guilt and pain. We could well redress the balance. It is time to think about a new alliance, a new love affair, with the Far East for Israel and Jews in general. I only hope our present leaders, secular and religious, will not be as myopic as those of the past.

Chinese Lanterns In The Sukkah

Friday, November 16th, 2012

A Hong Kong symphony of sounds fills the air as local laborers shout across the shul courtyard in Cantonese while tossing bamboo in a pile for the sukkah: Filipino maids chatter in Tagalog hovering over the children in their charge, the radio of the Nepalese gurkhas, the Synagogue security, crackles and jackhammers provide the background music. The thick air and humidity within the walls of the partially constructed bamboo sukkah sharply contrasts with the crisp fall air of Sukkot in the northeastern corridor of the United States, where the sukkahs of my childhood were laden with dried fruit and autumn color. Dozens of colorful miniature Chinese paper lanterns dangle from the sukkah and here replace the burnt orange and golden gourds of autumn.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Lantern Festival or the Mooncake Festival, falls on the 15th day of the eighth Chinese month, which not coincidentally coincides with Sukkot every year. The Chinese calendar, also being lunar, has a familiar rhythm. Side by side, we celebrate our Jewish festivals with our local Chinese hosts. While they gaze up at the moon, we speak of seeing the night stars through the s’chach. Both of our festivals are reminiscent of the harvest, though we have both journeyed seemingly far from our agricultural roots living here beneath the shadows of Hong Kong’s glittering skyscrapers

Despite the exoticism that life in the Far East might evoke, our children and those of our friends certainly still sit on the floor and color, cut and paste to decorate the sukkah, just as they would had they still been living in New York, London or Melbourne. That being said though, our themes here do tend to combine more pop culture and modernity with the tradition that I remember. And while Sukkot brings about the sense of impermanence and wandering, for me it is somehow about everything but that. It is a time to reflect on the meaning of home. And to emphasize my point, this year’s Wizard of Oz themed sukkah at the Ohel Leah Synagogue features a giant banner bearing the words, “There’s no place like home.”

And for most of us, being high-rise city dwellers, the community sukkah is in fact our only sukkah. While empty it seems cavernous, but it will quickly fill with friends who are our family and congregants who are our community. As a result, we all have a sense of ownership over our synagogue’s sukkah.

And for all the talk of what my children miss by living in the Far East and in a large Asian city, I counter with all they have gained. While it is true that they will never have a sukkah in their backyard, nor will they ever have a backyard (which the British have influenced them into believing is called a garden), they live in a world where by age nine it is safe to wander around on your own and by 11 taking public transport and a taxi alone is the norm. They live in a place where they are immersed in a foreign culture, free from the dominance of Christian culture and holidays, void of anti-Semitism and where they are exposed to multiple languages on a daily basis.

They can also actually sleep in a sukkah, without freezing, so long as they remember the mosquito spray. They have an understanding of diversity and culture and don’t fear things they don’t understand. They are born travelers and adventurers and see possibilities as limitless. Living within five minutes from their Synagogue and school, and most of our closest friends, in many ways they live in a small town but with little risk of developing a small town mentality.

And Sukkot, for them, while it will certainly never conjure up a nostalgia for dried fruits and cranberries on strings, dried gourds and Indian corn, cool weather or fluttering crisp leaves painted with brilliant autumn colors, they won’t think of themselves as rootless as some think the expat experience suggests.

Sukkot, while maybe framed in memories of Chinese lanterns and bamboo, perhaps takes on a greater meaning for them. Aware that China is our adopted home, a “temporary” dwelling for them is in some ways played out here on a daily basis. Home for my children is not a solitary image. It is bigger than that. It will likely always remain somewhat fluid, not fixed to a singular place but a feeling they can carry with them. It will be connected to synagogue and Sukkot, Israel, China and the US; to the places where they can find common language and ground, where welcomed and where they are loved.

Naval Response in Syria, Christian Alliances with Shia, and Border Conflict in the Far East

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

(((CLICK BELOW TO HEAR AUDIO)))

Yishai is off to reserve duty in the Israel Defense Forces and presents audio clips compiled from media outlets including news and perspective regarding the revolution and potential international naval response in Syria, the alliance between Christians and Shia Muslims throughout the Middle East, and ends the segment with a discussion about land conflict between China and Japan.

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

Survey Finds Opening for Israeli Advocacy in Non-Western Countries

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

A BBC Sponsored Public Opinion Survey by the Globespan group has found openings for Israeli PR in the non-Western World.

The survey, conducted annually for the BBC, asked 24,090 people from 16 countries to rate countries from “mostly negative” to “mostly positive” on a scale. While Israel itself was rated, no one from the state of Israel was asked to rate other countries. Interviews were conducted either by phone or in person, depending on country.

While Israel’s favorability was rated most positive in the United States with 50% of participants viewing Israel very favourably, strong neutral or positive opinions were found in Nigeria (54% favourable), Kenya (49% favourable), India (54% neutral), Japan (52%) and Russia (49%).

As expected, The Islamic world viewed Israel in negative terms, led by Egypt (85% negative) and Indonesia (63%). The view was followed by Europe and Western Countries, with Canada (59%), France (65%), Great Britain (68%), Germany (69%) and Spain (71%) portraying negative viewpoints. The only countries with worse ratings then Israel were Iran, North Korea and Pakistan.

When asked to justify the ratings, citizens around the world viewed Israeli foreign policy (45% of participants) as a controversial factor. In contrast, Jewish traditions and culture were cited as the lead positive factor by participants.

The survey challenges Israel’s traditional Western-centric foreign policy, and finds openings for development of relations with other countries. In 2011, Israel’s main trade partners were with the United States and European countries, followed distantly by the Far East. In addition, Israel traditionally considers the Western bloc to be its closest ally, often relying on the block’s political power for support in bodies such as the United Nations. This survey finds an opening for Israeli advocacy in non-Western countries where Israel is viewed more favourably.

Israelis Risk Flying Through Enemy Countries To Save a Buck

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

In recent years, Israelis have been choosing to fly to the Far East through Arab states which do not recognize the State of Israel, according to Israel Channel 2 News. Israel’s Foreign Office says that those enemy countries prohibit the entry of Israelis – but Israeli passengers report no special problem at those stops, and they get to save as much as $500 per ticket.

Israeli passengers arrive—on a plane or by car—at Amman Airport in Jordan, and then fly through the Gulf states – Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates – to the Far East.

An Israeli travel agency named Flyeast brokers these flights for Gulf Air, the principal flag carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Headquartered in Muharraq, near Bahrain International Airport, GA operates scheduled services to 45 destinations in 28 countries across Africa, Asia and Europe. Its hub is, of course, Bahrain International Airport, connecting to London, Paris, Dubai, Karachi, and Mumbai.

GA operates two daily flights from Amman to Bahrain and Muscat. Israelis enjoy a tremendous advantage flying with GA, because companies who take off from Ben Gurion International, in Israel, charge more for the Tel-Aviv to the Far East leg.

Some Israelis fly with the Qatari national airline, through the capital city Doha, also saving between $200 and $500.

But according to Channel 2 News, Israel’s Foreign Office is much less enthusiastic than those passengers (and travel agents). “The passengers should realize that they are in countries where there is no Israeli representative who can help them if something happens,” a Foreign  Ministry spokesman cautioned. “There is no difference between the UAE and Qatar, and Syria and Iran on this matter. They’re all defined enemy states, and we instruct Israeli citizens not to enter them.”

It is also worth mentioning that Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, a reserve IDF colonel, was kidnapped in 2000 and held for more than three years by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, after being lured into Dubai and the UAE.

Israeli insurance companies refuse to insure passengers for their stay in enemy countries.

Moshe Rabbeinu Lego: A Hong Kong Pesach Special

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

In Hong Kong, there are certainly some inconveniences involved in finding every last product necessary to recreate the Pesach we had in New York. But, we have found it is merely a matter of mastering logistics and advance planning. Sometimes it involves finding shlepers coming in from the States willing to take a few bulky boxes of tasteless Crispy O’s and Streits Brownie Mix in an extra suitcase. This is all part of the Hong Kong festival ritual.

Communal Sedarim here are not cold, lonely events for a few lone wanders. We are all strangers in a strange land and participation in communal Sedarim are part of our new Easterly landscape. Living far from our extended family, counter-intuitively we find that our Seder tables do not get smaller here, but exponentially grow and expand with friends from around the world with unique foods and tunes of their own to share. Around the table reading the Haggadah there are Americans, British, French, Yemenites, Israelis, Swiss, Belgians and Indians. It is a time to create original family traditions that blend the old with the new, the West with the East.

For our family, it is also time to take out the Moshe Rabbeinu Lego. This is not part of the latest Adventurers Egypt Set. It is an entirely original product of our own “wandering” through the Far East for eight years. One of the incidental advantages of raising Jewish children in the Far East is the relative absence of Christian culture and symbolism. A couple of years back, my father-in-law brought us a mixed box of old Legos that his neighbor had given him. My children eagerly poured through it, sifting though random bits of Lego past when my then six-year old daughter exclaimed that she had found the most special piece of Lego ever, a Moshe Rabbeinu. She clutched it in her hand and ran into her room to hide her precious find from her brothers. For days, she would barricade her door and only take Moshe Rabbeinu out when she was certain it was safe. All we heard about was this Moshe Rabbeinu figurine.

My pragmatic seven-year old, a naysayer from the start, was insistent that there was no such thing as a Moshe Rabbeinu Lego piece. To backup his declaration, he did a Google search followed by a detailed study of the Lego website. He needed final proof and he burst into her room, tackling her to the ground, prying the figure from her hands.

Quickly responding to break up the fight and to finally see said Moshe Rabbeinu for myself, I find my son on the floor in a fit of hysterics that has brought him to tears. For a moment, I am uncertain whether he is actually crying or laughing. Barely able to catch his breath and speak through his hysterics, he yells out, “It’s not Moshe Rabbeinu. It’s Santa Claus!”

In tears, my daughter cries out, “Santa Claus? I don’t even know who that is. It is Moshe Rabbeinu! Right Mommy? See. He’s got the long white beard.” She recovers the red suited, wide black-belted, white bearded figure and holds him up for my inspection.

She is six and has never heard of Santa Claus! The Easter Bunny doesn’t exist in her consciousness. A Christmas tree or a red wreath in a shopping mall would most likely go unnoticed or be summarily categorized as early Chinese New Year decorations in her head.

I carefully examine the figure and respond to her, “Without the packaging, I can’t be 100% certain. You could be right.”

My sev en-year old, now frustrated, cries out, “This is ridiculous. Why would Moshe Rabbeinu wear a red snow suit?”

With uninhibited faith she immediately responds, “Duh. The desert is very cold at night.”

I know that soon, even here, without the Charlie Brown specials, colorful televised parades and watered-down quasi-religious public school classroom “holiday” celebrations, she will learn what the Easter Bunny is and know what a Christmas tree is. But for now, I can continue to raise her in a Jewish bubble, eating kosher l’Pesach egg noodles with chopsticks.

Erica Lyons, a Hong Kong-based freelance writer and editor, is the founder of Asian Jewish Life- a journal of spirit, society and culture for and about Jews in the Far East. She welcomes comments at erica@asianjewishlife.org

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/moshe-rabbeinu-lego-a-hong-kong-pesach-special/2011/04/21/

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