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August 31, 2016 / 27 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘search’

In Search Of Jewish Identity

Friday, May 13th, 2016

The other day I was having a conversation with a Jewish intellectual and the question came up, as it often does, as to the nature of Jewish identity. What are we? What makes us Jewish? This has been one of the persisting debates about Jewish life ever since the nineteenth century. Until then, people by and large knew who and what Jews were. They were the heirs of an ancient nation who, in the Sinai desert long ago, made a covenant with God and, with greater or lesser success, tried to live by it ever since. They were God’s people.

Needless to say, this upset others. The Greeks thought they were the superior race. They called non-Greeks “barbarians,” a word intended to resemble the sound made by sheep. The Romans likewise thought themselves better than others, Christians and Muslims both held, in their different ways, that they, not the Jews, were the true chosen of God. The result was many centuries of persecution. So when Jews were given the chance to become citizens of the newly secular nation states of Europe, they seized it with open arms. In many cases they abandoned their faith and religious practice. But they were still regarded as Jews.

What, though, did this mean? It could not mean that they were a people dedicated to God, since many of them no longer believed in God or acted as if they did. So it came to mean a race. Benjamin Disraeli, converted to Christianity by his father as a young child, thought of his identity in those terms. He once wrote, “All is race – there is no other truth,” and said about himself, in response to a taunt by the Irish politician Daniel O’Connell, “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

The trouble was that hostility to Jews did not cease despite all that Europe claimed by way of enlightenment, reason, the pursuit of science and emancipation. It could now, though, no longer be defined by religion, since neither Jews nor Europeans used that as the basis of identity. So Jews became hated for their race, and in the 1870s a new word was coined to express this: anti-Semitism. This was dangerous. So long as Jews were defined by religion, Christians could work to convert them. You can change your religion. But you cannot change your race. Anti-Semites could only work, therefore, for the expulsion or extermination of the Jews.

Ever since the Holocaust it has become taboo to use the word “race” in polite society in the West. Yet secular Jewish identity persists, and there seems no other way of referring to it. So a new term has come to be used instead: ethnicity, which means roughly what “race” meant in the nineteenth century. The Wikipedia definition of ethnicity is “a category of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural, or national experiences.”

The trouble is that ethnicity is where we came from, not where we are going to. It involves culture and cuisine, a set of memories meaningful to parents but ever less so to their children. In any case, there is no one Jewish ethnicity: there are ethnicities in the plural. That is what makes Sefardi Jews different from their Ashkenazi cousins, and Sefardi Jews from North Africa and the Middle East different from those whose families originally came from Spain and Portugal.

Besides which, what is often thought of as Jewish ethnicity is often not even Jewish in origin. It is a lingering trace of what Jews absorbed from a local non-Jewish culture: Polish dress, Russian music, North African food, and the German-Jewish dialect known as Yiddish along with its Spanish-Jewish counterpart Ladino. Ethnicity is often a set of borrowings thought of as Jewish because their origins have been forgotten.

Judaism is not an ethnicity and Jews are not an ethnic group. Go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and you will see Jews of every color and culture under the sun, the Beta Israel from Ethiopia, the Bene Israel from India, Bukharan Jews from central Asia, Iraqi, Berber, Egyptian, Kurdish and Libyan Jews, the Temanim from Yemen, alongside American Jews from Russia, South African Jews from Lithuania, and British Jews from German-speaking Poland. Their food, music, dress, customs and conventions are all different. Jewishness is not an ethnicity but a bricolage of multiple ethnicities.

Besides which, ethnicity does not last. If Jews are merely an ethnic group, they will experience the fate of all such groups, which is that they disappear over time. Like the grandchildren of Irish, Polish, German and Norwegian immigrants to America, they merge into the melting pot. Ethnicity lasts for three generations, for as long as children can remember immigrant grandparents and their distinctive ways. Then it begins to fade, for there is no reason for it not to. If Jews had been no more than an ethnicity, they would have died out long ago, along with the Canaanites, Perizzites and Jebusites, known only to students of antiquity and having left no mark on the civilization of the West.

So when, in 2000, a British Jewish research institute proposed that Jews in Britain be defined as an ethnic group and not a religious community, it took a non-Jewish journalist, Andrew Marr, to state the obvious: “All this is shallow water,” he wrote, “and the further in you wade, the shallower it gets.” He continued:

The Jews have always had stories for the rest of us. They have had their Bible, one of the great imaginative works of the human spirit. They have been victim of the worst modernity can do, a mirror for Western madness. Above all they have had the story of their cultural and genetic survival from the Roman Empire to the 2000s, weaving and thriving amid uncomprehending, hostile European tribes.

This story, their post-Bible, their epic of bodies, not words, involved an intense competitive hardening of generations which threw up, in the end, a blaze of individual geniuses in Europe and America. Outside painting, Morris dancing and rap music, it’s hard to think of many areas of Western endeavour where Jews haven’t been disproportionately successful. For non-Jews, who don’t believe in a people being chosen by God, the lesson is that generations of people living on their wits and hard work, outside the more comfortable mainstream certainties, will seed Einsteins and Wittgensteins, Trotskys and Seiffs. Culture matters…. The Jews really have been different; they have enriched the world and challenged it.

Marr himself is neither Jewish nor a religious believer, but his insight points us in the direction of this week’s parsha, which contains one of the most important sentences in Judaism: “Speak to the whole assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Jews were and remain the people summoned to holiness.

What does this mean? Rashi reads it in context. The previous chapter was about forbidden sexual relationships. So is the next chapter. So he understands it as meaning, be careful not to put yourself in the way of temptation to forbidden sex. Ramban reads it more broadly. The Torah forbids certain activities and permits others. When it says “Be holy” it means, according to Ramban, practice self-restraint even in the domain of the permitted. Don’t be a glutton, even if what you are eating is kosher. Don’t be an alcoholic even if what you are drinking is kosher wine. Don’t be, in his famous phrase, a naval bireshut ha-Torah, “a scoundrel with Torah license.”

These are localized interpretations. They are what the verse means in its immediate context. But it clearly means something larger as well, and the chapter itself tells us what this is. To be holy is to love your neighbor and to love the stranger. It means not stealing, lying, or deceiving others. It means not standing idly by when someone else’s life is in danger. It means not cursing the deaf or putting a stumbling block before the blind, that is, insulting or taking advantage of others even when they are completely unaware of it – because God is not unaware of it.

It means not planting your field with different kinds of seed, not crossbreeding your livestock or wearing clothes made of a forbidden mixture of wool and linen – or as we would put it nowadays, respecting the integrity of the environment. It means not conforming with whatever happens to be the idolatry of the time – and every age has its idols. It means being honest in business, doing justice, treating your employees well, and sharing your blessings (in those days, parts of the harvest) with others.

It means not hating people, not bearing a grudge or taking revenge. If someone has done you wrong, don’t hate them. Remonstrate with them. Let them know what they have done and how it has hurt you, give them a chance to apologise and make amends, and then forgive them.

Above all, “Be holy” means “Have the courage to be different.” That is the root meaning of kadosh in Hebrew. It means something distinctive and set apart. “Be holy for I the Lord your God am holy” is one of the most counter-intuitive sentences in the whole of religious literature. How can we be like God? He is infinite, we are finite. He is eternal, we are mortal. He is vaster than the universe, we are a mere speck on its surface. Yet, says the Torah, in one respect we can be.

God is in but not of the world. So we are called on to be in but not of the world. We don’t worship nature. We don’t follow fashion. We don’t behave like everyone else just because everyone else does. We don’t conform. We dance to a different music. We don’t live in the present. We remember our people’s past and help build our people’s future. Not by accident does the word kadosh also have the meaning of marriage, kiddushin, because to marry means to be faithful to one another, as God pledges himself to be faithful to us and we to him, even in the hard times.

To be holy means to bear witness to the presence of God in our, and our people’s, lives. Israel – the Jewish people – is the people who in themselves give testimony to One beyond ourselves. To be Jewish means to live in the conscious presence of the God we can’t see but can sense as the force within ourselves urging us to be more courageous, just and generous than ourselves. That’s what Judaism’s rituals are about: reminding us of the presence of the Divine.

Every individual on earth has an ethnicity. But only one people was ever asked collectively to be holy. That, to me, is what it is to be a Jew.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Signs of Genuine Decency and Humanity at the UN? For Israeli Victims of Terror, a Fruitless Search.

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

{Originally posted to the authors’ website, This Ongoing War}

Remember the murder of Dafna Meir, a Jewish nurse and a young mother of six children?

We wrote about it here [“18-Jan-16: Multiple Arab-on-Israeli attacks and a Jewish mother is murdered at her front door“]. We noted at the time that the BBC had managed to report that savage murder – by a youth who stabbed her to death at the door to her Otniel home in the presence of her children – without mentioning the word “terror” (or any variant of it) even once. A death. Maybe a crime. Perhaps an accident. Next.

Mrs Meir’s husband, at the urging of one of the Israeli terror victim groups, went to the United Nations along with his oldest daughter Ranana, aged 17, on April 19, 2016 to be present at a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East that was scheduled to touch on matters concerning the Arab/Israel conflict. (Background at Israel National News and Jerusalem Post.)

How well do you imagine that went? Our own quite negative experiences at the UN gave us reason to be deeply pessimistic when we read about the Meirs’ impending trip. It turned out to be traumatic and upsetting and they want people to know.

Natan Meir has just sent a brief open letter to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, reflecting on the quite shocking way he and his daughter and their message were treated and making some serious points about how diplomats view real, live, in-the-flesh terror victims when they occupy the same room. It’s searing.

Excerpts from the letter which he has now published via Facebook:

  • “Israel’s UN ambassador introduced me and my daughter and told our story. Not one UN ambassador bothered to come and comfort my 17-year-old daughter. No one came to shake our hands. No one called or met with us before or after. Not one letter.”
  • “Even you, Mr. Secretary General, you were sitting at the front of that meeting and you did not open your mouth nor look in the eyes of someone in who is in anguish and pain.”
  • “In our presence, the Palestinian representative complained that hundreds of Palestinian children are in Israeli prisons. One of the children he talked about murdered my wife! Despite the terrible scandal of misrepresentation, nobody prevented him from continuing his speech…”
  • “How can the United Nations strive to be relevant when there is not a single drop of basic human compassion? How can delegates not look directly in the eyes of a man who has all the right to condemn another person? Where is the honesty? Where is the human aspiration that was the basis of establishing the institution you lead? Can such an organization prevent hatred, animosity and inequality?”
  • “Dear Secretary-General, as the UN celebrates the rights of the Palestinians, they must also remember the Jewish national desire to reclaim their cities, which they have longed for thousands of years. Billions of people worldwide know of the Jews and their deep connection to the Biblical land of Israel. A peaceful solution must also take into account the dream of the Jewish people. “
  • “If you still insist on helping, please help us to build bridges and connections between people without borders and fences.”

We hope Natan Meir and his family take the shattering reality of their close encounter with the very, very ordinary men and women who populate the world’s most important international organization and turn it into additional inspiration to keep speaking out in the name of their loss and their prayers for a better future. What they have to say is far more meaningful than the delegates’ speeches and studied indifference.

Sitting back and waiting for a political or diplomatic process to bring something constructive and sustainable to our side or for that matter to the Arabs is, it has to be said, not only a waste of time but, as we have seen ourselves, deeply humiliating and harmful to the human spirit. This, emphatically, is not how things should be.

We plan to come back to this issue later in the week.

Frimet and Arnold Roth

Dangerous Night for IDF, Border Guard Police: 16 Terror Fugitives Captured

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

IDF and Border Guard Police officers captured 16 Arab wanted suspects overnight in joint operations throughout Judea and Samaria.

Three of the fugitives were arrested in Jenin.

Twelve of those taken into custody were suspected of involvement in terrorism and violence towards civilians and security officers.

In Samaria, a Hamas operative was arrested near Shechem. One fugitive was arrested in the city, and another was arrested in Rafidia, near Shechem.

Two were arrested in al-Bira, one was arrested in Katana and another was arrested in al-Kabiba, all villages around the Palestinian Authority capital city of Ramallah.

In Judea, two fugitives were arrested in the town of Sair, north of Hebron. One fugitive was taken into custody in Ta’amra.

All of the detainees were transferred to security personnel for interrogation.

In addition,IDF soldiers discovered a weapons cache in Beit Kakhil, north of Hebron.

Among the items uncovered were various pieces of equipment, a rifle and a quantity of ammunition, which were in the possession of a member of the Hamas terror organization who was present when the cache was discovered.

The suspect was arrested and transferred to security personnel for interrogation.

Hana Levi Julian

Ammunitions Cache, Gas Grenade Shell Found in Hebron

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

An ammunitions cache was discovered in Hebron during a joint operation carried out by IDF forces and Border Guard Police officers.

A gas grenade shell was among the ordnance found in the home, along with other ammunition and magazines.

“Actually, What they found was a 40mm gas canister that is launched from a M-16 launcher attachment,” a defense industry source told JewishPress.com.

“It’s like a portable mortar launcher on the bottom of the M-16. The M-203 connects to the bottom of the M16. It’s a gas grenade to be launched from an M-203.”

The search was launched in response to a tip received by Israeli intelligence personnel. A number of suspects were arrested at the site.

Hebron has become the regional headquarters for a number of Arab terrorist organizations, including the Gaza-based Hamas terror group and Islamic Jihad.


Hana Levi Julian

Weapons Cache Uncovered in Hebron Raid

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

A large arms cache was uncovered in a raid by Israeli security forces of the Hebron suburb of Yatta late Monday night.

Numerous weapons were discovered during the search of the sprawling suburb, including a pistol, an M-16 assault rifle and ammunition cartridges.

The suspected owner of the arms is a known to police, sources told Ynet, adding that Israeli forces would arrest him “later.”

Yatta is still referred to as a “village” although today it is a town, by geographic area and population.

Hana Levi Julian

IDF Soldiers Arrest 47 Wanted Suspects in Judea, Samaria

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

IDF troops arrested 47 Palestinian Arab fugitives late Tuesday night and into the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

The suspects were detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities, disturbing the peace and violence against civilians, police and soldiers.

All of the suspects were transferred to security personnel for interrogation.

Hana Levi Julian

Yeshiva Student Missing in Jerusalem Forest Since Friday

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Israel Police are asking the public to help search for Aaron Sofer, 23, a yeshiva student who went missing around midday last Friday in the Beit Zayit area of the Jerusalem Forest.

Sofer is described as being 5’9″ (1.75 meters) tall, with a short red beard. He wears glasses, a white shirt, black slacks and a black yarmulka. Sofer is a permanent resident of Lakewood, New Jersey.

“Police units are still carrying out an intensive search for [him] in the Jerusalem Forest area where he disappeared,” Israel Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told JewishPress.com on Sunday evening. “The background [is still] not clear.”

Apparently Sofer disappeared while hiking in the woods with a friend on Friday; the two walked down a steep slope, taking a diverging path, and subsequently he did not reappear as expected.

The second hiker called police to report Sofer missing within six hours — when it became clear that Sofer had not arrived back at yeshiva in time to prepare for Shabbat, at 6 pm.

Police search and rescue units, along with a K-9 unit, were deployed, along with helicopters for an aerial search, and continue to scan from the skies and on the ground below.

The ZAKA emergency response and rescue organization, along with the Israel Hatzolah first responder emergency medical organization were both called by police overnight on Shabbat to assist in the search.

Three Jerusalem neighborhoods are located along the edges of the forest: Bayit V’Gan, Hadassah and Ein Kerem. All three are located above and overlook the forested areas.

Dozens of volunteers went out in force searching for the student after the Sabbath ended on Saturday night, when rabbis and other community leaders announced he was missing.

Thus far, no trace has been found.

Anyone with information that might lead to knowledge of the student’s whereabouts is asked to please call 02-539-1520 or the Israel Police hotline at “100.”

The public is asked to pray for the safe return of Aharon ben Chulda.

Hana Levi Julian

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/yeshiva-student-missing-in-jerusalem-forest-since-friday/2014/08/24/

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