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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘people’

Egypt: This Is Big

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

One way to gauge the import of the conflict erupting in Egypt is by looking at the character of media coverage in America.  Both sides of the political spectrum have been slow to advance narratives of blame.  What’s going on in Egypt doesn’t fit into any pat, off-the-shelf narratives.

There has been a curious absence of “themage” on the left: no unified narrative about this all being the fault of Bush-era failures of good fellowship, or of the plight of the Palestinians, or (my personal favorite) of warmongering arms dealers, oil mavens, or ([insert ROTFLOL here]) international banks.

Meanwhile, blame-fixing criticisms of President Obama are getting little traction on the right.  (I even saw Sean Hannity shouted down by other conservatives the other day, when he was advancing an Obama’s-to-blame theory.)  I have the sense that most on the right see – accurately – that what’s going on is bigger than either Obama’s shortcomings or America’s predicament under his leadership.  While the Arab Spring might well have never happened if the United States had had a different president in January 2011, it is more than overstating the case to say that it happened because of Obama.

It happened because of deep rifts and discontents in the Arab world.  Its progress since the initial trigger event has been shaped to some degree by the defensively triangulating inaction (mainly) of Obama’s America.  But there’s real there there, in terms of political divisions and conflict in the nations of the Middle East.

This is a genuine fight, not a series of mass protests out of which nothing will really change.  If we understand anything, it must be that.  The Western media have been reflexively – if perfunctorily – reporting the bloodshed in Egypt as a “military crack-down” on protesters.  But the truth is that, where military action is concerned, it is a strategy to get out ahead of civil war.  The Muslim Brotherhood has indicated that it intends to make a fight of this.  Its “protest camps” are not a stupid, time-on-their-hands Occupy Cairo escapade; they are bases from which to keep an armed fight going.

The Muslim Brotherhood does not care what happens to the people of Egypt: whether their streets become safe for daily life and commerce again.  It is willing to keep chaos and misery going for as long as necessary to topple the military’s interim government.  That is its present purpose.  The Muslim Brotherhood strategy is to make it impossible for the military to restore enough order and public confidence to move ahead with new democratic arrangements.  The strategy is pure Bolshevism, and we’ve seen it before, dozens of times over the last several centuries.

Reports from Friday’s fighting indicate that plenty of Egyptians are aware of this.  Citizens around the capital set up checkpoints to prevent the movement of Muslim Brotherhood formations:

Armed civilians manned impromptu checkpoints throughout the capital, banning Brotherhood marches from approaching and frisking anyone wanting to pass through. At one, residents barred ambulances and cars carrying wounded from Cairo’s main battleground, Ramses Square, from reaching a hospital.

And much of the fighting was between pro-Morsi supporters and other civilians:

Friday’s violence introduced a combustible new mix, with residents and police in civilian clothing battling those participating in the Brotherhood-led marches.

Few police in uniform were seen as neighborhood watchdogs and pro-Morsi protesters fired at one another for hours on a bridge that crosses over Cairo’s Zamalek district, an upscale island neighborhood where many foreigners and ambassadors reside.

In keeping with the astonishing mass scale of the national revulsion against Morsi’s rule in June and July, the current fight is developing as a popular one.  The anti-Morsi citizens have no intention of waiting around to see their government fall back into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.  They are taking to the streets themselves.

This will have to be remembered in the coming days, when poorly armed civilians inevitably begin dropping out of the fight.  The civil population does care, and care enough to fight with sticks, stones, and fists, if necessary, even though It will take the military to put down the Muslim Brotherhood decisively – if, indeed, the outcome ends up being defined in that manner.

It may not be.  A key organizing factor in the June and July civil protests against Morsi was the “Tamarod” movement, a pastiche of anti-Morsi forces with little to unify them other than their objection to Morsi’s rule.  Some throwing in with Tamarod are Salafists themselves (including a former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad); others bring some element of liberalization or secularism.  They made common cause with the military during the coup in July, but they are hardly a moderate, liberal, pro-Western force; in the days since, they have called for expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, and for Egypt to withdraw from the 1979 treaty with Israel.

Tamarod movements are busting out all over the Arab world (e.g., in Tunisia, Morocco, and Bahrain), portending many more months of instability and a long fight for the futures of these and other nations.  A movement with this much internal division to it will begin to splinter in Egypt: some of its members will want to take the lead in forging a new ruling consensus – specifically, in preempting the people to do so – and my bet for this is on the Salafists.

So there are more than two factions in the overall fight; this won’t come down to just the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Whoever plays the spoiler role could put together some kind of modus vivendi linking the opposing factions.  A little bit of gesturing toward civil protections for the people; a little bit of door left open to shari’a.  It wouldn’t last long, if history is any kind of guide.  But Western observers are likely to put stock in it (and even be hoodwinked by it).

Today’s fight may not go the full fifteen rounds, but if it doesn’t, it will have to be fought again down the road.  Because there is no coexistence for soft despotism – or democracy-lite – and Islamism; there is no coexistence for anything else and Islamism.  And Islamism won’t stop fighting until it is put down decisively.

It is not actually unusual for the governments and media of the West to misread developments like these (or at least to have the “deer in the headlights” look on their faces as they witness them).  The last time there was comparative unity and accuracy of understanding about a Bolshevik moment was – well, the actual Bolshevik moment, in late 1917 and the few years following it, when Western governments sought briefly to support the White anti-Bolshevists.  Whatever the merits of that policy, the understanding on which it was based was perfectly accurate.  Bolshevism was an uncontainable threat.

Within a very few years after that, Western governments, and many in our media, had become invested in misreading or ignoring manifestations from the sanguinary arena of collectivist statism.  We were quite tolerant of Mussolini and Hitler until they declared war on Stalin, and to this day, tendentious narratives of popular support are adduced in our academies to explain the advance of Marxist totalitarianism across the map of the globe through the late 1970s.  There were major movements in the free world to define away the threat of communism incident not only to Stalin’s excesses but to Maoism in China, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, the encroachments of Marxism on Latin America and Africa, and the standoff between East and West in Europe.

Throughout the 20th century, the bloody adventures of collectivism forced Westerners, and Americans in particular, to inspect and crystallize our view of who and what we were.  Through the “progressive,” statist movements in our own nations, we ended up being transformed away from the character we had once sought to honor and cultivate.  Yet for a time, in the late 1970s (with the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK) and 1980s, we achieved a meaningful consensus that our liberal values had not been extinguished yet.  Acting on that consensus turned out to be enough, in that time and place, to overwhelm the failed ideology of Marxist socialism, in its totalitarian-state manifestation.

State-Islamism is doomed to inflict self-destruction and despair on its victims.  But what will we in the still-not-Islamist West do while it is organizing itself and launching its career?  We can’t go out and try to run everyone else’s county for him, after all.  And that said, we need not actively support the infliction of despotic Islamism on foreign populations.

How will we define ourselves during this process?  Will it be Islamism that has the momentum, with us defining ourselves as what we are not, in relation to it?  Or will we retake the public dialogue with our own propositions and language about liberty and limited government?  Our success in that endeavor was intermittent and incomplete, to say the least, during the Cold War.  Will we learn from that era and do better today?

Will we retain the capacity – always under attack, always fighting for its life – to define a totalitarian ideology truthfully, and let that truth be a guide to our policies?  These are questions to which we simply don’t know the answer.  There were days during the Cold War when even the most optimistic political observers would have answered them for us in the negative.

One thing we can be sure of, however – a thing we may see more clearly, I think, because we have the president we have today, and not a president who will act in a more traditional manner, according to the conventions of American statecraft.  The developments in Egypt have importance for the entire world.  They are about an ideological, Bolshevik-style assault on conventional, non-radicalized government.  That is the dynamic in play.  And, as much as they are about Egypt, the Egyptian people, and the fact that they do not want ideological “shari’a” rule, they are also, in an existential way, about us.  They are about who we are, and who we intend to be.  None of us will be the same when this is all over.

Swedes Fume at Comparison of Palestinian Prisoners to Murderer Breivik

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Comments by Israel’s ambassador to Sweden comparing the recently-released Palestinian prisoners to the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik who, on 22 July 2011, bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing 8, then killed 69 on a vacation island, have left relatives of victims of the Utøya massacre seething, Swedish news website The Local reports.

In a Tuesday interview with Svergies Radio (SR), Israeli ambassador Isaac Bachman compared the release of Palestinian prisoners to setting the monster Breivik free.

“The horrors that [the Palestinian prisoners] did, to put it in a Scandinavian understanding, it’s like what happened in Norway with Breivik,” Bachman told SR.

“Imagine if Breivik was released as a gesture of some sort,” he added, and complained that Israel is not getting enough credit for agreeing to the release.

Pointing out the enormous risk Israel was taking with its gesture, Bachman noted that “research has shown that these people will return to crime. It’s not easy to get public support for releasing these people.”

It turns out the good ambassador was completely wrong in his comparison, which seemed completely reasonable to him, but not to the listeners. You see, Breivik – he killed sweet, pink skinned, blond Norwegians, which was a crime against humanity, while the Palestinians only killed Jews. Big difference, apparently, in Scandinavia.

The comments, which came on the eve of Israel’s Wednesday release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, sparked outrage from none other than survivors and family members of victims of Breivik’s 2011 attack, The Local reported.

“I think it is ridiculous to compare this with a mass murderer from Norway,” Trond Blattmann, whose son Torjusdatter was killed when Breivik opened fire on Utøya, told The Local. “There’s no similarity at all. This is a ridiculous way to talk.”

“The comparison does not make sense,” added Bjørn Ihler, who survived the Breivik massacre by hiding on the southern tip of the island. “Breivik was a solo terrorist whose actions were based purely on an unreal situation. The situation in the Middle East is very different. There is a real fight for Palestinian freedom going on.”

You see, when an entire Jewish family, babies and all, is butchered in its own kitchen – that’s freedom fighting. You have to think blond.

Even Middle East expert Per Jönsson with the Swedish Institute for International Affairs (Utrikespolitiska institutets – UI) slammed Bachman’s Breivik comparison.

“The comparison with Brevik is insane in several ways. Breivik is very special. These people that Israel is now releasing are freedom fighters, murderers, and in some cases terrorists, but they are nevertheless rather normal people,” he told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

We have to understand that the reactions from Sweden are an expression of pure, unadulterated Jew hatred, whether those people are aware of it or not. The world is changing around us, and being Jewish is no longer for the faint of heart.

Vacationing Tip: Get Lost

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I’m on vacation this month, so there won’t be a regular column.  Or at least there wasn’t going to be.  The questions keep coming in.

Dear Mordechai,

I keep losing my stuff.  What do I do?

Lost

STEP 1: Check your person.  (Your person is you.  That’s just how people say it.  I don’t think you’re expected to carry around a smaller person and go, “Hi, I’m Mordechai, and this is my person.”  But if you do, you should probably check him as well.)

STEP 2: Make sure to check the same five places 68 times.  Especially if it’s not a likely place for it to be.  For example, if you’re looking for your car keys, make sure to keep checking the fridge.

STEP 3: Call for the item.  Continuously say things like, “I can’t believe this!  Where is it?”  Like the item is finally going to break down and tell you.

STEP 4: Calm Down.  Whenever I lose something, my wife ends up finding it, and whenever my wife loses something, I end up finding it.  Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking we should stop hiding each others’ stuff.  But it really has more to do with panicking.

STEP 5: Buy a new one.  As soon as you open the package, the old one will turn up.  Guaranteed.  For example, if you lose your car in a parking lot, the best way to find it is to buy a new car.  If that doesn’t work, you can use the new car to drive around the parking lot looking for the old one.

On the other hand, maybe the reason we can’t find anything is because we keep buying new things, and everything keeps getting lost under everything else.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Why does everyone around me move so slowly?  Especially when I’m in a rush.

No Time

 

 This is definitely a problem.  These people are everywhere.

For example, there are the people in front of us one the supermarket checkout line, who, even though they’ve been waiting the same 25 minutes you were, don’t even start looking for their supermarket card until they get to the front of the line.  Like it’s a total surprise to them that they need a Shoprite card.  In Shoprite.

Or how about the person directly in front of you who leaves his cart in line and goes off to do his shopping, even though you got in line behind him in the first place because he had a pretty empty cart?  But then he looked back at your cart, and he got some ideas.

“Orange juice!  Where’d you find orange juice?”

“Over by the refrigerated juices.”

“Ooooh!  I’ll be right back.”

There are also a lot of people in your way on the road.  Now I don’t begrudge other people for being on the road.  But sometimes I can’t go because the person in front of me is stopped, and has his window rolled down, and is talking to someone who’s sitting in a car facing the other way, who also has his window rolled down, and I want to yell, “Get a cell phone!”

But you know how your mother always told you, “If you do things quickly, you’ll just mess everything up and have to do it over?”  Everyone else’s mother told them the same thing, and they’ve taken it to heart.

But of course, on the other hand, there’s a pretty big chance that if you do things slowly, you’ll mess them up anyway.  At least if you go faster the first time, you’ll have more time to do it over.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Is it possible I just need a vacation?

Stressed

That depends.  How annoyed do you get by everyday things?  For example, I recently came across a poll of the top 20 irritating pieces of technology, and apparently, the invention that annoys us most is car alarms.  Of course, the main reason this annoys everyone is that no one knows what their own car alarms sounds like, so when it goes off in middle of the night, they’re just as annoyed as everyone else, and instead of going out and turning it off, they spends hours trying to block it out and to fall asleep.  So I’m thinking that maybe we should be able to personalize our car alarms, like ringtones.  For example, I would make mine sound like an ice cream truck, so that as soon as a burglar sets it off, everyone will run outside.

Another item on the list was printers.  Everyone knows how frustrating printers can be.  You have a tray that can hold 100 pieces of paper, but if you put in more than 5, it gets stuck.  And sometimes, for no reason at all, it will tell you that you’re low on ink.

“Proceed?”

Yes, of course proceed!  I spend $85 on that cartridge, and the papers are still coming out fine!

But when the printer breaks down, what do you do?  It has one button.  You press the button, and if that doesn’t work, you press the button again.  There’s no way this button is doing anything.

Another item on the list was alarm clocks.  Those guys take so much abuse.  It’s not their fault it’s 7:00.

But if you’ve gotten to a point where you’re finding technology inconvenient – technology, which is supposed to at least be better than not having technology, — then maybe it’s time for a vacation.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Where do you suggest I go to get away from it all?

Still Here

 

If you’re looking to get away from the irritations of technology and people in your way, the best place to go is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  My wife and I took the kids there recently, and it’s an excellent place to go if you want to get lost.  For example, one thing we did was walk through a gigantic corn maze.  Because getting lost while driving wasn’t enough for us.         

We actually spent a lot of our trip lost, because as it turns out, all farms look exactly the same, and there’s no one to ask directions from but the cows on the side of the road.  And we even did a lot of the steps of what to do if something’s lost: We called around for the place, we calmed down, we went down the same roads 68 times, but nothing.  And the whole time the kids are in the back going, “Look a cow!”  “Look! Another cow!”

Our GPS couldn’t find us either.  In fact, before we left, I had tried, unsuccessfully, to borrow a better GPS just in case this happened.  But then my wife put it in perspective.  “Were going to visit the Amish,” she said.  “We need a GPS?”

Because yeah, we visited the Amish.  The big draw of the Amish, apparently, is that they live without any of the conveniences of modern life, such as cell phones.  Except for one Amish guy that I saw while waiting for a buggy ride (mostly what you do with buggy rides is wait for them) in a town called “Ronks”, which, I have to admit, is a fun name for a town.  Ronks Ronks Ronks.  It sounds like a duck clearing its throat.

I later asked a non-Amish tour guide about it:

TOUR GUIDE: “The Amish don’t use electricity, because they don’t want any wires coming into their house from the outside world.”

ME: “I saw a guy on a cell phone today.”

TOUR GUIDE: “Um… Cell phones don’t have wires.”

But the Amish do have it tough when it comes to parental discipline.

“You kids don’t know how good you have it.  When I was your age, we didn’t even have… Wait.  You don’t have that either.  Well, we had to walk… Well, you have to walk too.  Oh, I got one!  When I was your age, we didn’t even have covered bridges.”

“Whoa, really?”

“Yeah.  All our bridges were uncovered.”

“Wow!  What did you do?”

So where do they take vacations?  Amusement parks, apparently.         I see them at every one.

 

Got a question for “You’re Asking Me?”  Send me a smoke signal.  My cell phone’s still missing.  Or maybe call it, and I’ll listen for the ring.

Rationality, Not Rational

Friday, August 9th, 2013

“V’zeh yihiye mishpat haKohanim me’et ham me’et zivchei hazevach im shor im seh vnatan l’Kohen hazroah zerah v’halechaim v’hakevah.

The most frustrating conversations are with those with whom we have deep fundamental disagreements. If conducted in the right spirit, without personal animus and with sincere dedication to the pursuit of truth, they can be very rewarding. When we surround ourselves only with those who see things exactly as we do, we limit our growth. When we surround ourselves only with those with whom we have fundamental disagreements, we never get past the same discussions. We need a balance between the two.

I have a dear friend, a moral philosopher who is a Torah observant Jew. Our fundamental disagreement, one which we can never get past, concerns the relationship between God’s Law and God’s morality. Because the answers to such momentous questions lie at the heart of one’s hashkafa, we need to explore them periodically, testing the current state of our thinking for validity and coherence.  Parshat Shoftim gives us such an opportunity.

After stipulating that the Kohanim receive Divine gifts in place of a tribal portion of the land, the Torah enumerates the Matnat Kehuna. When the meat is slaughtered for consumption, they receive the right shoulder, the two bones of the lower cheek, and the stomach or gullet. The Ramban contrasts the midrashic reading on the significance of these body parts to that of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. The former identifies each of the body parts with a feature of the zealous act of Pinchas. The right shoulder representing the shoulder with which Pinchas took the spear in his hand, the cheek bones representing the prayers he verbalized, and the stomach representing the organs of his victims, penetrated by his spear. In other words, the Matnat Kehuna are not a sinecure for the Kohanim but a reward for the acts of their ancestor. In Moreh Nevuchuim, however, the Rambam offers a more direct explanation: each of these organs is the most select of the animal’s body parts, the shoulder being the most select of the extremities, the stomach of its innards, etc. The Matnat Kehuna represent then the recognition that the best goes to God, in this case through the Kohanim who have been designated to serve Him.

This is not the only such explanation that the Rambam proposes. In Chelek Gimmel we find a broad selection of other mitzvot for which he offers rational bases. There is no question that the Rambam maintained that the mitzvot each convey a benefit upon Am Yisrael. At the same time, Jewish law retains its positivist basis for observance since these benefits are not the rationale for observance. The Rambam makes an important move that allows him to accommodate within his approach both the inherent rationality of the Law with its positivist basis for observance: the general outline of a particular precept is rational while its details need not be. In Chapter 26 (Pines translation):

“The generalities of the commandments necessarily have a cause and have been given because of a certain utility; their details are that in regard to which it was said of the commandments that they were given merely for the sake of commanding something.”

The Rambam cites shechitah as his prime example. As he elaborates in Chapter 48, the general mitzvah of shechitah is intended to allow the people to have the good food they require while protecting the animals they slaughter from a painful death. The general mitzvah then exhibits a rational purpose intended to benefit the people. The details, however, e.g., the particular simanim which must be cut, are “imposed with a view to purifying the people.” The Rambam is referring to a passage in Berashis Rabbah cited earlier that asks what difference should it make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu if animals are slaughtered by cutting their neck in front or in back? The Midrash answers: Say therefore that the commandments were only given in order to purify the people.”

The diyuk in the Midrash is clear: “What difference do the details make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu? Say therefore that the [details of the] commandments were only given in order to purify the people.” The Rambam can therefore conceive of a functionalist law with a positivist rationale for observance. The generalities of the Law are rational; the details of the Law are positivist in nature. The fact that the Torah exhibits an interior rationality does not preclude an absolute mandate for observance. By asserting that the details serve the purpose of requiring commitment to law independent of rational understanding, the Rambam puts the halachic system firmly on a positivist footing.

When the Rambam declares the Torah a reflection of the rational Mind of God, he does not mean to assert that it has lost its essential character as commandment. Those who interpret Jewish law as a set of social policy prescriptions miss the distinction between rationality and rationale. This confusion plagued the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement, leading those who saw Jewish legal sources as rational responses within a historical context to deny their binding nature. Similarly, those who cast Torah entirely as positivist decree may be victims of the same delusion, denying rationality in order to preserve rationale.

Talmud Takes to Jewish.tv

Friday, August 9th, 2013

A class on Talmudic ethics in Vancouver, B.C., praised by regulars, is going virtual in a new series on Jewish.tv, the multimedia portal of the Judaism website Chabad.org.

In the hour-long class, Rabbi Binyomin Bitton, director of Chabad of Downtown Vancouver and dean of the Jewish Academy there, dissects a complex Talmudic narrative and shows how it remains applicable in day-to-day life.

“The class starts at the literal level, then goes deeper and deeper,” says Susan Katz, a freelance writer and regular attendee of the “Talmud for Beginners” class. The class then discusses everyday situations and learns how to apply the Talmud and the thought processes behind it, says Katz.

Bitton’s calming demeanor and slightly French-accented voice set the tone to delve into daily life scenarios as they were seen by the Talmudic sages thousands of years ago. “Talmudic logic, principles, debates and discussions,” he explains, “help you analyze situations and issues from many angles, to come up with creative logical solutions to complex issues and conflicts, and help you to think ‘out of the box’ and discover that there is always another perspective to the matter.”

The crux of the Talmud is a commentary on the Mishnah. Written around the year 165 of the Common Era, the Mishnah was the first codification of Jewish “oral law” as handed down from generation to generation, from the times of Moses and the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. It took more than 200 years to write the Talmud, beginning around the year 220.

The Talmud, Bitton says to his class, is based on explaining the minute details of the Mishnah and its wording: “The Talmud is telling us that every word of the Mishnah is so precise and is chosen very carefully to tell us something.”

The first in the series of four classes will focus on “Liability for Damage.” It airs on Thursday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. EST, with subsequent lessons airing on Thursdays at the same hour. They also can be viewed afterwards at any time of the day on Jewish.tv.

Diving Into the Nitty-Gritty

“Rabbi Bitton zeroes in on a specific subject and presents it in an easy-to-understand and well-illustrated fashion,” says Rabbi Shmuel Lifshitz, director of Jewish.tv. “He skillfully helps the student to think ‘Talmudically’ and to gain the tools for studying Talmud.”

The first class examines the ramifications of what transpires when an object for sale is included in a certain category of goods. For example, what happens when an object that was purchased turns out to be different than described? What if someone had used the Hebrew word for “barrel,” and the item was indeed more like a “pitcher”?

The class discusses that while most people would, of course, understand it to be a barrel and nothing else, some may believe it to be a pitcher. Is such a sale valid or not? And does one take into account what the seller thought, based on an innate understanding of an item or a difference in terminology?

“The class gives me a way to take a situation with many possibilities and helps me narrow it down to look at a situation,” says Katz.

She explains that in life, multiple people share responsibility for a particular situation. For example, “if someone leaves a piece of pottery on the sidewalk and I break it,” is the fault of the one who placed it there or the one who stepped on it?

“The Talmud gives me the understanding of how to resolve the situation. It goes beyond civil law because there is also a sense of purpose, and it affirms the place of kindness and looking at a person as a person, and the ramifications it will have in their life. It teaches us how to relate to each other and how to take the other person into the equation, too.”

The debate around the table in Vancouver tries to probe the attendees to come up with their own logical responses. Says Bitton: “There is a depth and intellectual level that is unique within the Talmud. It challenges the mind like no other wisdom, and gives the individual a sentiment of intellectual achievement and appreciation that only the Talmud can give.”

Meet a 19-Year-Old Explosives Expert

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Growing up, it was uncommon for students from Corporal Dylan Ostrin’s International school to join the IDF, let alone stay in Israel. However, she had a specific vision for herself: she wanted to be in the Combat Engineering Corps.

Corporal Dylan Ostrin made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from the US at the age of seven with her family. After moving from Texas and California, Cpl. Ostrin spent much of her school years at an international school where the students were children of foreign residents, such as diplomats, who did not have a connection to the land, history or culture and did not plan on making their lives in Israel. Tailoring to this crowd, her school provided an education devoid of Israeli identity, including the idea of joining the IDF. “My school’s point of view was to graduate and go as far away from Israel as possible for college,” said Cpl. Ostrin.

For her, joining the army was not the norm, unlike most people who grow up in Israel. “I see it as a privilege to be able to serve my country and I was not prepared to give that privilege up.”

Today, Cpl. Ostrin is an explosives instructor in the Combat Engineering Corps. She teaches all things explosive: from how to handle the explosives themselves to utilizing them in operations, such as gaining access to buildings. The soldiers she leads are mainly reservists who come back for their annual duty, ranging in age from 22 to 40 and sometimes more. Cpl. Ostrin loves working with reservists because it is satisfying to see reservists relearn things they might not have done in years.

“[Reservists] come out of their everyday life to do this, [leaving] their family, their work,” she explained. “They don’t have anyone to force them to listen. So I really have to show them how much I know in order to keep their attention.”

Though she loves her job, Cpl. Ostrin has dealt with hardships during her service. First, due to a filing error, she was placed in the wrong course for several months. She fought for what she wanted, including writing letters, making phone calls, begging her higher ups and even spending a whole day trying to convince different placement officers. They finally agreed to correct the situation.

After all the stress of trying to get into the right training track, Cpl. Ostrin received some hard news that would affect every aspect of her life. Due to a job promotion, her parents were leaving Israel and moving to the U.K. When her mother presented the situation to her and her brother, Cpl. Ostrin at first told them they should not leave. However, she later realized she is independent enough to thrive on her own, thanks to the new sense of independence she learned from serving in the IDF.

“If my parents would have told me they were leaving before I entered the army, I don’t know how I would have dealt with it. But the army teaches you certain skills that force you to become your own person and be independent,” she said.

Since her parents moved, Cpl. Ostrin has been getting by as a lone soldier, especially thanks to her fellow soldiers. She said have become more like family than just friends. They have invited Cpl. Ostrin and her brother over holidays, weekends, and when she was sick, her fellow soldiers picked her up from to take her to doctor appointments.

Now that things have settled down, Cpl Ostrin is enjoying every minute of her job. She has already begun receiving job offers to work on bomb squads and similar security-related teams both in Israel and abroad, but is focusing on the present. “Serving in the army, in a job I wanted to do, is more rewarding than anything else. I’m doing it for the good of the people around me and the good of the country.”

What Does It Mean to Be Jewish?

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The question “What does it mean to be Jewish?” has often been asked. I suppose you could invoke the old joke “Ask two Jews a question and you’ll get three opinions” to better comprehend how different Jews would respond to this question, so when I weigh in here, I hope readers will forgive me if my opinions don’t always accord with theirs.

But the question is legitimate and should be asked. Jewish people share a common heritage and are affected by many of the same issues today. They face a world in which their religion is part of their identity; no matter how far apart they are on the religious and political spectrums (not to mention any others), they share a common bond that unites them in terms of how they relate to each other and to the outside world.

So what does it mean to be Jewish? To me, it means the following:

● To believe in God. Divine affirmation is the foundation of Judaism. Everything else comes after.

● To observe Shabbat and the various yom tovim. What could be more meaningful, spiritual, and fulfilling – more Jewish – than practicing the religious aspects of Judaism?

● To lead an honorable life. Shouldn’t we all aspire to become tzaddikim, righteous people?

● To keep kosher. Certain things just seem to go together, like lox and bagels, gefilte fish and horseradish – and being Jewish and keeping kosher.

● To do mitzvot. There are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, including the above. Carrying out mitzvot is part of our code.

● To carry on Jewish traditions. There’s life after davening, and it’s called Jewish culture. Chanukah gifts, hamantashen, and singing niggunim on Shabbat are just a few of the wonderful customs that have evolved from the religion and its people.

● To be proud of your Jewish heritage. Wear it on your sleeve – you’re a member of a tribe that has nearly 6,000 years of history.

● To feel an immediate bond with fellow Jews. Have you ever felt like you can be anywhere in the world and if you find a fellow Jew, you feel an immediate kinship?

● To involve yourself in a community of Jews. As birds of a feather flock together, it’s only natural for Jews to be immersed in a Jewish world – having Jewish friends, engaging in Jewish activities, living in Jewish neighborhoods.

● To feel a Jewish identity. Even if you’re not as religious as you could or should be, what could possibly make you more Jewish than feeling Judaism is an indelible part of your soul, or that being Jewish is simply who you are?

● To feel a special connection to Jewish history. Who can feel the pain of Jewish persecutions, expulsions, and genocides more than a Jew? Who can feel the catastrophe of the Holocaust more deeply than a Jew?

● To take great pride in Israel. Do you get the chills when you hear “Hatikvah”? After 2,000 years of Jews living in the Diaspora as a weak, defenseless, persecuted people, what greater modern miracle could there be than the resurrection of the Jewish homeland?

● To place an emphasis on education. Jewish parents may be the original “tiger moms and dads.” Perhaps that is why some professions are disproportionately populated by Jews.

● To feel empathy for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden. You only have to consider how much we’ve suffered as a people to understand how this got into our DNA.

● To have a Jewish funny bone. You can relate to Jewish humor because you’re laughing at yourself and other Jewish people you know – and, nu, do you think there’s any shortage of Jewish foibles?

● To think in “Jewish ways.” How do Jews think? Oy vey iz mir. We think the number 18 brings good luck, so we sometimes give gifts in denominations of 18, like $36 or $180. We try to ward off the evil eye after hearing compliments or wonderful news by saying “kenohora” or mimicking spitting by going “pooh-pooh-pooh.” Oh, and there’s the proverbial Jewish guilt, as well as our inimitable designation of “mishagas” to explain a panoply of crazy behavior with a Jewish edge. Is there such a thing as a Yiddishe kop? Suffice it to say that when you do something stupid, you’re not using it.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/what-does-it-mean-to-be-jewish/2013/08/08/

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