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May 25, 2016 / 17 Iyar, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘identity’

The Soul of the Stranger

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Israel faces a genuine dilemma about the best way to handle the influx of African refugees and migrants. Many people are already debating the policy decisions that will need to be made in this regard.

Of greater concern to me than the specific arguments in this debate, is the shocking naked racism and hatred for Africans that it has exposed across all levels and sectors of Israeli society. From elected officials to people in the street, from the highly educated secular upper class to yeshiva students to the working poor, numerous Israelis seem to share a lexicon and intellectual framework which denigrates and dehumanizes Africans, belittles their suffering, and trivialized their plight. This in and of itself should sound an alarm for all of us that something is seriously amiss in the core of our culture and society. When the tone set by such speech boils over into outright acts of physical brutality, how can we fail to realize that we must, as a society, engage in introspection and self-evaluation?

I hesitate to write the following lines because I believe everything I have to say should be self-evident. There is something inappropriate about writing a formal religious discourse about a matter of values that should be so elementary as to require no explanation. In light of the apparent need for this article I have elected to compose it; I do so with a heavy heart. I also regret that I have little novel to write. Most of what can be said on this subject should be familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with Jewish texts.

The Torah tells us that God chose Abraham because he was confident that he would instruct his descendants to follow a path of righteousness and kindness (Genesis 18:19). The midrash (Devarim Rabba 3:4) takes this further, and says that there are three distinctive characteristics of the Jewish people: they are meek, merciful, and perform acts of kindness.

The Torah reiterates on many occasions that Jews should be especially sensitive and caring towards the stranger in their midst, for we ourselves were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Rashi (Exodus 22:20) understands that the salient feature of a “stranger” is that he is displaced from his homeland. That is why he is deserving of special compassion, and that is the basis of the comparison between strangers in Israel and the Jews’ status in Egypt. Other rabbinic interpretations focus this message on the convert to Judaism, but Rashi’s simple reading of the verse stands: in a majority Jewish country, we must be especially sensitive to the rights and feelings of minority groups, because of our own unique history of oppression in alien societies.

Performing acts of kindness in a discriminatory manner is seen as a sign of corruption. The chasida (commonly translated as stork) is singled out as a non-kosher bird, even though its name means “the kind one,” because, according to our rabbis, it is kind only to its own species. The kindness for one’s own species is transformed into a perverse act when it is part of a pattern of abuse towards outsiders.

Above and beyond imploring us to perfect our actions, our rabbis were concerned with the nature of our speech. They repeatedly implored us to speak respectfully to, and of, every person. In tractate Avot, they reminded us to greet every person first and with a welcoming face, and that the most honored person is the one who accords others honor. The right path that a person should choose, they instructed there, is one which engenders the respect of God by those who observe it.

In tractate Yoma (86a) they went much further, singling out the public disgrace of God’s name as one transgression that cannot be atoned for, even through repentance on the Day of Atonement. What constitutes such a transgression? A person known to be devout and pious, who does not speak gently with others and conduct his affairs with integrity. Outrageous racist statements, parroted from the most disgraceful historical antecedents, certainly run afoul of this teaching.

Building Israel as a utopian Jewish nation should not entail inflicting suffering on others. Rambam (Hil. Melachim 12:4) writes that the sages and prophets did not desire the messianic era of Israel “in order to conquer the entire world, or to oppress the gentiles…,” rather only “to be free to study the Torah and its wisdom without persecution and interruption, and thus merit the world to come.”

Rabbi Aharon Frazer

Why The Newsroom is Good News for Republicans

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/why-newsroom-is-good-news-for.html

The last time Aaron Sorkin had a high-profile political television show, liberals used it to cope with the decline and fall of the Clinton Presidency and the long winter of the Bush Years. The West Wing was a coping mechanism for the death of a liberal dream, and so is The Newsroom. Both are an escape into fantasy to avoid dealing with the harsh reality.

On an episode of Seinfeld, George is stung by an insult but is unable to think of a retort, so he spends days trying to come up with the perfect comeback, until he finally thinks of it and travels around the country to get the chance to deliver it. The Newsroom, set in the past, and jumping in right before the political balance tilted toward the Republicans in the mid-term elections, is the same thing.

The Newsroom is Sorkin’s sad attempt to win an argument by rewriting history and coming up with all the comebacks that his side couldn’t think of two years ago. It’s the sad and pathetic spectacle of an ideology creating its own fantasy version of its reality in which it won the argument.

Unlike The West Wing, The Newsroom isn’t set in an alternate world in which the universe innately favors liberals. Instead it’s set in an alternate version of the past, in which liberals were smarter and won all the arguments that they ended up losing here. And the existence of The Newsroom is the greatest possible concession that the argument was lost.

There’s no reason for Republicans to look down on The Newsroom. It’s a safer outlet for liberal anger than Occupy Wall Street. It’s a miniature universe in which they are smarter, nobler and better than everyone else. Children have fantasy worlds like that. There’s no reason that liberals shouldn’t. Not only does it give them the security of believing that they really were superior, but it prevents them from learning any useful lessons from their defeat.

It’s never a bad thing when your enemies escape into a delusional state, to a world of their making in which they are in complete control of everything. It makes it more likely that they will cede at least some control over the real world. And it’s not only an admission of defeat, but of emotional and mental fragility. Adults don’t need to build fantasy worlds to escape the effects of their failures on their precious self-esteem. That’s for overgrown children who are used to getting trophies for just showing up.

The Newsroom is the kid that everyone hated losing his race for class president and creating a fantasy world in which he won the election and everyone cheered his obnoxious tantrums. It may not be good for him, but it’s good for us because it means he hasn’t learned to win. All that he’s learned to do is manage the emotional experience of defeat through delusional tantrums of superiority.

Propaganda that tells you that you won, when you actually lost, is corrosive; it inhibits any serious self-evaluation. And without some soul-searching and error-checking, the same mistakes are bound to be repeated over and over again. Seventeen years after the Clinton Presidency was nearly torpedoed by universal health care, his party’s successor, who defeated the woman who shaped the initiative, went down the same road, but with much less caution.

That kind of stupidity would not have been possible if the winners had learned any lessons from the past. But the winners had been living on The West Wing, in which liberal speeches and principles are all it takes to win. Where the good guys never lose, because the scripts are written that way. Rather than living in the real Clinton Years, many of them had been living in the imaginary version. Now, rather than remembering the actual Obama Years, they will remember The Newsroom‘s fictional version of them. And they will make the same mistakes all over again.

HBO, which has invested big in liberal propaganda, knows exactly what it’s doing. At a time when customers are dropping cable, particularly the high-priced packages, it is insulating itself with a built-in audience. Forget MSNBC or Comedy Central with their tantrums against real-life Republicans, on HBO, liberal audiences can go on safe safaris to see experienced liberal great hunters taking potshots at imaginary Republicans.

Daniel Greenfield

The Great Identity Crisis

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/great-identity-crisis.html

A moral crisis tends to go hand in hand with an identity crisis. It’s when you don’t know who you are that you’re most likely to take refuge in a political or ethical identity that provides you with the comfort of a false sense of superiority. When all other identities fall apart, you can always rely on being the better man, the better nation and the empty space with the moral high ground.

Societies that go multicultural tend to experience identity drift and take refuge in a self-definition based on values. Who are Americans? As generations of presidents on the left and right have told us, they are people who believe in American values. What are American values? They’re the values that Americans are told they need to believe in, in order to be Americans. Like tolerance, immigration, free trade, and respecting the right of anyone to be a member of the Communist Party or the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a time of crisis, nations and peoples have to choose to survive. But what is survival? Proponents of a values-based identity have argued that survival means the survival of our values. If we take Measure X against an enemy, whether it’s outlawing the Communist Party or waterboarding Islamic terrorists, then we have “killed our values” and we are no longer Americans. It doesn’t matter then whether an act saves millions of American lives, if it means we destroy our values, then we have killed the only worthwhile thing about us.

Physical identity and values-based identity are in conflict in a time of crisis when the question is asked, do we want to survive or do we want to be morally pure. A values-based identity appears to be superior, but it is actually the product of an identity crisis. And a nation or a people with an identity crisis is vulnerable because they no longer know who they are. Their identity has been replaced with an identity based on their superior values, values that require them to die rather than give up those values. And if they have forgotten who they are, then they are too afraid to risk their values-based identity by fighting back.

The problem is not a unique one. For example, Jewish assimilation dropped the ‘peoplehood’ aspect leaving behind a values-based identity. When liberal Jews express their identity, it is values-based, built around “Tikkun Olam”, or “Social Justice”. That opens up a hole for someone like Peter Beinart to crawl in with a crisis of Liberal Zionism, a conflict between values-based identity and Jewish survival.

Would you rather live as Jews or die as liberals? The determining factor here is whether you have a Jewish identity. Without a Jewish identity, there is only the posturing of values-based identity, and giving up the high “ethics” of bending over backward for the bad guys seems a lot like the death of the only identity such miserable people have. If all that matters about Jews is their “ethical values”, then to step down from the moral high ground by bombing a terrorist stronghold is suicide.

The first question is; “Who are you?” That’s a question that is asked to individuals and to nations. It’s asked directly in the form of a national dialogue, and it’s asked indirectly in the choices that are made in a time of crisis.

The second question is; “What do you live for?” The answer to this question is determined by the first question. What we live for derives from who we are. Self-knowledge gives purpose, and purpose gives self-knowledge. A lack of identity is also a lack of purpose. And a lack of purpose betrays a lack of identity. A nation adrift has lost its identity; it lacks direction because it has no starting point.

A thing that does not exist for its own sake has no existence. It has no existence, because it is not survival-based. It is well and good to dedicate yourself to higher causes and beliefs, but if they do not begin with your own existence, then they have no more substance than you do. You can volunteer for a thousand causes, but if you don’t care whether you live or die– then you have nothing to contribute to them.

Daniel Greenfield

Guard Our Freedom

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Cutting-edge technology is a double-edged sword. Under the mantle of progress, and with increasing ease, we are losing greater and greater slices of our freedom. Opponents of the proposed Biometric Law say they worry about how secure a database housing the biometric information of all of Israel’s citizens will be. That fear was recently confirmed when a Saudi Arabian hacker succeeded in breaking into supposedly secure Israeli websites. If the Foreign Ministry’s database, along with the Israeli credit card base, were broken into, it is safe to assume that the biometric database will also be compromised.

The possibility of breaking into the database is simply too strong of a temptation for powerful interest groups and tycoons, who are sure to find a way to get to this data. The same is true for the crazy idea to computerize the elections. If there is a stage in the vote-counting process during which a candidate or his representative cannot physically check the voter slip, it is exactly at that stage that the election will be compromised. There is no way around the fact that when election results are transferred in electronic files, election fraud becomes a simple task. In the U.S., the idea of digital voting has become so controversial that it is no longer a political debate – but rather a legal issue.

But my opposition to the Biometric Law goes a lot deeper than that.

Many years before the invention of computers and the unraveling of the genetic code, an argument developed in the U.S. around the question of identity cards. America’s Founding Fathers did all they could to ensure that the American Constitution would protect individual liberties at any price.

For the Founding Fathers, liberty superseded all other values. They engraved it on their flag and fought for it. It is liberty that gave them the most important thing of all: a goal and sense of national purpose that fueled the creation of the American nation. The founding fathers understood how easy it is to slide down a slippery slope whereby liberty slips away step by step, without anyone noticing.

Distrust of governmental authority is a value that the Founding Fathers engraved through every line of the Constitution and American culture. It is for this reason that the simple question of requiring citizens to carry identity cards became a judicial matter in the United States. Americans said, “No way am I going to let the state treat me as a number on its list, and require me to identify according to this number. My identity is exactly that – my identity – and it does not belong to anyone else.” For the Israeli citizen, this sounds absurd, for we grew up in a culture far removed from this type of liberty consciousness.

Does all this seem irrelevant? Let us do a little test, so that you can see how easy it is to lose your liberty:

If the Biometric Law proponent, Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit, pushed through a law requiring every one of you to go to a certified tattoo center and ink in a number on your shoulder, would you agree to that? Of course not. Even thinking about this brings up horrifying memories.

But if the tattoo centers used invisible ink, would you then agree? In that case, I think many people would agree. The law is the law, right?

If they were to tattoo you with invisible ink and offer you some perks in return – cutting lines, property tax breaks, and more –would you agree? In my opinion, more than half would agree to that – and maybe even more.

Now for the final question: If instead of ink they use a biometric technique that marks you without touching you, and on top of that they give you the perks previously mentioned – are you then willing? I’m confident that the overwhelming majority of people would agree to that.

Look at how, with amazing ease, they have shut off all of our warning lights and closed our eyes. The master of the house has chiseled our ear into the doorpost like a biblical slave, and just like that we’ve made a soft landing into a life of servitude.

The Saudi hacker is not the real issue. The real issue is how easy it is to lose your liberty without feeling a thing. So guard it with the greatest vigilance, and do not give anyone your biometric information. As for the Saudi hacker, if his attack has at least awakened us to understand this danger, he has done us a great service.

Moshe Feiglin

Police: Arab Attack on IDF Soldiers – Case of Mistaken Identity

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

There has been a dramatic development in the investigation of the violent assault on two soldiers on Shabbat in Haifa. Channel 2 News reports that Police believe the attack was not carried out for nationalist reasons – as they had originally assumed – but resulted instead from mistaken identity.

Two youths were arrested overnight, and another four have been behind bars since yesterday. In interrogating the six suspects, police found that minutes before the violent attack, rocks had been thrown at the homes of the assailants, near Rambam Hospital in Haifa, and they went out into the street to take revenge. The two soldiers just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Still, the account of the attack that was given by the two victims, both IDF soldiers in civilian clothing, was rife with descriptions of anti-Semitic slurs. Thus, whether those Arab assailants were out for Jewish blood or were merely looking to murder whomever dared throw rocks at their homes, the outcome is still extremely worrisome.

National Union Chairman MK Jacob “Ketzale” Katz this morning referred to the Haifa incident with strong language . “The Likud government headed by Netanyahu and Barak  failed,” he told Arutz 7. “If after 62 years of independence, anti-Semitic lynching takes place in downtown Haifa, it is clear to all that the Jewish people’s ability to deter such attacks has collapsed.”

Yori Yanover

Jews, Mormons, Happiest, Atheists Grumpiest: Gallup

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

First, for the record, UPI is reporting that Jews and Mormons experience a higher degree of well-being than other U.S. faith groups, while Americans with no religious identity had the lowest well-being, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

But how, you’re probably wondering, did the nice people at Gallup, who said FDR would win in 1936 while the Literary Digest insisted it had to be Alf Landon, how did they decide who’s happier? We found out, because we knew you’d ask. So, here goes…

Try to answer the following two questions truthfully:

1. How important is religion to you, on a scale of 1 to 10?

2. How important is shul attendance to you, also on a scale of 1 to 10?

If you scored near 20 on both questions, we have news for you: you should be a very happy man or woman. Because, as it turns out, the response to these two questions has led the Gallup folks to conclude that, based on an analysis of more than 676,000 interviews of U.S. adults, conducted from Jan. 2, 2010, to Dec. 30, 2011, highly religious Americans of all major faiths have higher overall feelings of well-being than do Americans who are moderately religious or not religious at all.

But wait, it gets a little more complicated:

The survey found that Mormons were the most religious of all the groups, with 73.4 percent categorizing themselves as very religious. Protestants, Muslims and Roman Catholics were next in order of religiousness, although less than half of the latter two of these groups were classified as very religious.

Now hear this: Jews and other non-Christian religious Americans, and Jews with no formal religious identity, were labeled the least religious of any of the faith groups. Bummer…

And Jews, other non-Christians and Mormons who say they are not religious or only moderately religious, have essentially the same well-being, lower than those who are very religious.

But here’s one question the galloping Gallupers didn’t ask, because they probably took the answer for granted: Who says everybody wants to be happy?

Yori Yanover

Youth Overcoming Challenges

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

A few weeks ago in these pages you were introduced to Menifa – Leverage for Life, a nonprofit organization based in Israel that works with youth at risk who have dropped out of high school. There are 25,000 teens who live on the street and Menifa’s goal is to help them complete high school and reintegrate into society. Menifa has a high success rate, with 95% of teens in its programs returning to normative educational and social institutions.

Menifa provides a holistic program that addresses the academic, social and emotional needs of teens at risk. An important component is the outdoor therapy workshop. Outdoor therapy involves the use of challenges found in nature – rock climbing, white water rafting and hiking. The encounter with these challenges helps instill in the participant a sense of responsibility and belief in his or her ability to succeed in difficult conditions.

Each workshop is unique and tailored to the needs of a specific group of teens. Activities include climbing Masada, hiking parts of the Israel Trail, rappelling and ropes courses, desert survival and more. The kids sleep outdoors and are introduced to experiences which they have never before faced.

On the one hand the purpose of the workshop is therapeutic – to provide metaphoric obstacles that symbolize daily hardships. The workshop also emphasizes different topics relating to the Land and Zionism. This provides the teens with an opportunity to discover new things about their country and about themselves as part of the Jewish nation. The workshop also introduces environmental and ecological issues, making the kids more aware of their surroundings.

The outdoor therapy workshop has helped lead to fundamental changes in the lives of the teens who participate in them. They develop life skills including responsibility, leadership and the ability to get along in a group setting and they gain self-confidence from their accomplishments.

Fifteen year old Sara* is one of the teenagers who participated in the outdoor therapy workshop. Her favorite activity was the drum circle because, “Everybody danced and sang and we really let our energies out,” she explains. The social aspect of the outdoor therapy workshop is very important. “We learned to see the teachers from a different angle, different from what we see in school,” another teenager named Shelly* explained. “They are having fun with us.” Participants leave the retreat feeling closer to each other and to their teachers and staff. The social aspect of the workshop also teaches the teenagers about the importance of group responsibility. They take part in communal cooking and obstacle courses that show them the importance of each individual in the group. When one drops out, the entire group suffers.

Sara describes the biggest challenge she faced on the retreat. “It was very cold. We were freezing but we overcame it and saw that it is possible to live in the conditions of the desert if you are with your friends or with people that you like to be with. Then you can be in any condition”.

Before Sara came to Menifa, she was kicked out of her high school and had tried multiple schools. “I did not get along in any school. I looked for a while and I came to Menifa and they right away accepted me.”

When asked what her goal is, Sara says with a smile, “To succeed.”

*Names changed to conceal identity

The cost of operating a workshop for a group of up to 20 teenagers is $1,800. For further information please visit our website www.menifa.org.il or call (201) 203-2937.

Jewish Press Staff

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/youth-overcoming-challenges/2012/02/07/

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