web analytics
September 23, 2014 / 28 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘society’

With a Pocketful of Democracy

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

The age of the encyclopedia salesman and the vacuum cleaner salesman peddling heavy bundles of books and snakelike cables door to door is done. But the age of the democracy salesman has taken its place.

No longer do bright young lads tote along everything there is to know about the letter E in one omnibus volume or demonstrate how the latest Suck-O-Zoom can get stains out of any carpet as an introduction to the wonders of free enterprise. Instead, if they haven’t been sidetracked by the siren lure of the dot com or the minimum wage job, they, like the late Christopher Stevens, jet off to foreign climes with FDR’s Four Freedoms under one arm and a local dictionary under the other to convince the natives that their lives will be freer, brighter and shinier with the Demo-O-Vote as the arbiter of their holy wars.

Like a lot of salesmen, the democracy salesman has never really stopped to wonder why any of his prospective customers should want to buy democracy for only twelve easy payments of bloody civil war? Born in a society where democracy has been idolized for the last century, where cleanliness and godliness may have gone by the wayside, but democracy is still one of those faded old virtues that the arbiters of the Living Constitution haven’t taken out back and put a bullet in its head in between elections and commercial breaks, they have never thought to consider that anyone might not want their democracy.

In an amoral society, democracy is one of the few things left to us by dead white men that is held to be a virtue, rather than a vice. It goes unquestioned because to most people it represents the power of the common man over his rulers, even if the common man no more rules his rulers than he did some two-hundred years ago. But democracy for the grandfathers of the salesmen goes deeper than fact. It represents a classless society where one man is as good as another and there are no lords or kings.

This however is not the effect of American democracy, it is rather the cause of American democracy, particularly in its Jacksonian flavor. And that old Scots-Irish flavor can be served locally, but it can’t be exported. The ballot box is not a society of rugged individualists, it is not a classless society where no one bends a knee before lords or the ascension of the common man. Those are features you can see in the showroom, but they don’t come with the device.

In our democracy salesmanship we never really troubled to ask ourselves why the Muslim world would want democracy and what it would do with it. Saddam Hussein bought 4000 Playstation game consoles, not because he was trying to train suicide bombers on copies of Sonic the Hedgehog, but because some of its components could be used in weapons. Those Muslim groups most interested in democracy were looking to weaponize it as well.

To the Muslim world, democracy did not mean individualism, it meant majority rule. Our democracy salesmen conceived of the Muslim world divided between the rule of its dictators and the will of its people.

The innate assumption in that use of “the people” as applied to people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds is very American. When used by the left, “the People” carries it with the ominous resonance of a collectivization that transcends all individual attributes. But when used by that old fashioned creature, the pre-post-America ‘American’  it throbs with the assumption that the people of a free society will unite around their freedoms, rather than around their identities. That assumption may be outdated, but it is still what we expected Iraqis and Egyptians to do. And our salesmen never really got around to asking what being a people meant to Iraqis and Egyptians, rather than Americans.

The Muslim world is not divided between the dictators and, that construct, the people. It is divided between the possible dictators that different groups within it champion.

There is no conflict between Assad and the Syrian People, because there is no Syrian people. There are Neo-Shiite Alawites and Sunni Salafists battling it out in the ruins of major cities, over the bodies of Christians, to decide who will rule Syria. The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood might win an election, but that election would not elevate it as the choice of the people, but as the choice of a sectarian coalition whose religious affiliates happen to be in the majority. Peoplehood is an illusion in places where there are too many peoples, too many guns and the government is the way that one group forces its will on another.

Democracy, under such circumstances, is a way for the majority to assert its identity as the defining national identity. And once that’s done, future elections become optional. Egypt’s election was no more about the ascension of the common man or individual freedom than Saddam Hussein was busy playing with his Playstation in the hole while waiting for the Americans to come and get him. Like the American elections of 2012, it was about entitled groups elevating a totemic figure on a pole that represented their identity. And when group identity is asserted as national identity, then elections come down to demographic contests where group power, not ideas or policies, is the true prize.

Group votes don’t lead to human rights, they lead to group privileges. They lead to rights for some and no rights for others. They lead to a group state where group membership is citizenship and lack of group membership is treason. And that is exactly what the Arab Spring has given us;an Egypt where religion defines citizenship and a Syria where religion determines who you’ll be shooting at. This is Muslim democracy and it’s a foolproof recipe for civil war and tyranny, in any order.

Dictatorship is democracy and democracy is dictatorship. Elections don’t lead to a marketplace of ideas and smooth transitions, but to populist power grabs that eventually end in new revolutions. When no one group emerges as the winner, then there is a transitional period of chaos that some mistakenly assume are the birth pangs of democracy, but actually act as the prelude to the rise of a new tyranny. Where the population is do divided and the military is so inept that no such tyranny is possible; you end up with Lebanon. Perpetual civil war.

There might be a way out of this conundrum, but parachuting elections into the region is not the answer. Nor is getting rid of the dictators only to replace them with new dictators. And really why should we expect Egyptians or Iraqis to be able to do what millions of our own citizens cannot? When our country is ruled by a man who commands demographic bloc votes, then who are we to tell Egyptian Muslims not to act like them?

And that raises the final question. Who are we really selling democracy to and why? The Arab Spring stampeded otherwise sensible people into believing that they had to buy into an inevitable trend or be left behind. But there was no inevitable trend. Not even Islamism is truly inevitable. The inevitable progress of history is a progressive myth. History is not the inevitable outcome of a philosophy, but the accumulated interpretations of past events.

History did not arrive in the Arab Spring, it was manufactured, shipped and uncrated in Tahrir Square by legions of hardworking activists and reporters. And the history isn’t going where they expected it to. And it won’t even go where the Islamists expect it to. Because there are two kinds of democracy. One is the tame democracy of the ballot box where people vote in a fixed pattern. And then there is the wild democracy of crowds, of the chaotic interactions between popular needs and patterns of power. The overgrown territories of that wild democracy is where inevitable history goes off to die.

We were told that the end of the era of dictators had arrived. And here is Morsi squatting on a brand new throne while the mobs cry for his head in Tahrir Square. The inevitable history has become caught in its own circularity in a region where events have a way of repeating themselves, even more so than they do on the outside. The era of dictators has neither begun nor ended. It merely goes on existing for as long as people go on crying for freedom when they really mean power.

The United States sought to end the cycle of violence by replacing dictators with elections, but it was a doomed course of action considering how close the United States has been drifting to electing dictators. American politics has had its ups and downs, but it has been relentlessly polarized for the last twenty years with no end in sight.

All the efforts invested into promoting democracy abroad might have been better employed by working safeguard the character of a nation that is capable of choosing its representatives through elections, rather than using those same elections to ratify its tyrants. Egypt will be Egypt and Iraq will be Iraq. It is up to their people to find a way out of their cycle of violence and tyranny. Our task is to make certain that America remains America and that we do not find ourselves in the same cycle as the protesters challenging tyranny in Tahrir Square.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Our Friend, Adversity

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

It is painfully difficult to start and end the hectic day seeing my daughter wander, almost lifelessly, from room to room and sibling to sibling with no desire to venture out into the scary world of society. With her bundle of strengths and weaknesses, and despite my countless pep talks, our 27-year-old daughter chooses to spend most of her time in the comfort and safety of our home. That is until recently, when terrible loneliness finally pushed her out the door.

With many children in the family, our daughter could always manage to find a sibling, at one point or another, throughout the day to hang out with indoors. Her minor attempts in childcare employment were sporadic, as hurtful memories of jobs gone sour haunted her. She felt paralyzed and refused to take another risk at entering the workforce.

I decided to seek help from a kind community social worker who gave freely of her time away from her busy schedule to help improve our daughter’s quality of life. Meanwhile, during the summer months, two younger daughters traveled to Los Angeles and a younger son went away to overnight camp – leaving our older daughter painfully lonely.

Over and over again she called me at work and I would urge her to at least volunteer at the Center for Special Children, where she had once worked part-time in the afternoon so she would not have to be alone. Finally, one morning it happened. With the quiet at home too much to bear, my daughter called me to say that she was taking a taxi to the Center. I was overjoyed. The only thing worse for her than the challenge of being around other people was being absolutely alone at home.

The following days were filled with trepidation for all of us. Would she give up or would she forge ahead? Would the memories and fears destroy her desire and courage, or would she be able to take the risk and continue to show up at the Center? Would she be able to function despite the pains in her chest and the fear in her heart? I spoke to the directors at the Center a few times, encouraging them to make sure our daughter knew how much she was valued and liked. I bought her new clothes and coffee drinks to encourage her. She even went out to dinner with my husband and me on our wedding anniversary so we could help build on her success.

Baruch Hashem, a wonderful thing happened! She thought of bringing her keyboard and offered to play and sing for the children. They loved it. She was an instant success. Seeing my daughter smile and hearing her happy voice report the experiences at the Center are more nachas than I could have ever hoped for. It is a new life for us.

Adversity forced our daughter to confront the absurdity of doing almost nothing all day and relying too much on others for her own satisfaction. Hardship can lead to growth and change. Not everything should always be pleasant and easy. If we are to reach our potential we must be prepared to take adversity by the hand and see what is being asked of us. This is also help from Above, sometimes the best help of all.

I daven that my daughter will continue to play her many self-taught songs on the keyboard, which will give her the wonderful satisfaction that she has something worthwhile to contribute. Her joy lifts our family higher. May Hashem continue to guide us and help us achieve what we have been uniquely created to accomplish.

Hooligans?!

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

They keep saying that they are working to change things. But I don’t believe a word of it. According to the Jerusalem Post The Meah Shearim crowd is working with Charedi volunteers in the fire fighting establishment to prevent such occurrences in the future.

What kind of occurrences? These:

Haredim physically assaulted a female firefighter in the Mea She’arim neighborhood of Jerusalem, Israel Radio reported Thursday. The woman was working in a group of firefighters to put out garbage fires when the haredim threw objects at her, hitting her back and very lightly injuring her.

I’ve heard it all before. I know all about it. “These are hooligans no less than any society’s hooligans.” That is the cry of the apologists among us. I do not buy that argument. Never will. These people may be hooligans in the sense that they perpetrate violence against innocent outsiders whereas most of their society would never do that. But they are not hooligans like any other society’s hooligans. Certainly not in their Hashkafos which is what motivate their actions. These people were raised to believe that certain behavior is unacceptable. One cannot allow mingling of the sexes for any reason. Female firefighters working with male firefighters is therefore a violation of Halacha as they understand it.

That most of these people would not necessarily act this way on those beliefs is beside the point. There are some among them who believe they have an obligation to act on it. One can call them misguided. One can call them hooligans. But one cannot deny their motives. They do not just attack random people. They attack only people whom they feel violate their community rules. Rules which the rest of civilization does not have. Including the vast majority of Orthodox Jews. Including most normal Charedim.

Hooligans of the type that apologists compare these people to do not attack others based on the ideals learned from their religious leaders. The hooligans of a Chicago street gang are an orders of magnitude different from the Shomer Shabbos Charedim who threw objects at a female firefighter. The hooligans of Meah Shearim are meticulous about a great many Mitzvos – including going beyond the letter of Halacha in their observance of them.

They have beards, They have Peyos. They wear Chasidic type garb so as to differentiate from the secular world. They take pride in their isolationism for purposes of not being influenced by it. In short they are Frum to the point of being “Lifnim MeShuras HaDin” (beyond the letter of the law) in many aspects of their lives! I doubt for example that any of those hooligans have ever eating anything that did not have an Eida haCharedis Hechsher. To compare these people with the street gangs of Chicago or New York is completely disingenuous.

I realize of course that these people are probably dysfunctional. I also realize that they do not have the approval to do what they do from their rabbinic leadership. They do all this pretty much on their own. But they also know that their gender separation goals are very much appreciated by that very same leadership.

That is the core issue. It is the issue now with respect to that innocent firefighter and it was the issue last year with Naama Margolis, the 8 year old who was severely harassed on her way to school by the “hooligans” of Bet Shemesh. I’m sure those people too eat only from the Eida Hacharedis Hechsher.

In other words, they are all coming form the same place, Hashkaficly.

I have absolutely no confidence on things changing in those communities. The Charedi hooligans of Meah Shearim (and Bet Shemesh; and where ever else they can be found) who have lots of time on their hands will continue doing this type of thing unless their leadership cracks down on them. That means that they would have to violate their concepts of Mesira (informing on – or testifying against one of their own to the secular authorities). The Israeli government is not only a secular authority, they are considered a virtual enemy!

The bottom line is that this community can “Shrei Chai V’Kayom” – they scream until they are blue in the face about stopping this from happening again. They can say it is only the hooligans and that every society has hooligans. They can say all day long that they will work to change things. I don’t believe them. Until their leadership (like the Toldos Avraham Yitzchok Rebbe – pictured above) recognize that the problem starts with them – nothing is going to change.

What can we do about it? Not sure. But at the very least we ought to know the truth about what the real problem is.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Writer’s Profile: An Interview With Erica Lyons

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Erica, where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up in Edison, New Jersey and lived in the same house until I left for college. My parent had moved in several years before I was born. I had the same rabbi for my baby naming, my bat mitzvah and my wedding (this was a first for him). My husband and I even brought our daughter back to my old ­synagogue for her naming.

After law school graduation, I got married and my husband and I moved to New York City where I assumed I would live for many years. Who would ever have predicted that shortly after we would move to Hong Kong? We have lived here since 2002.

What do you do for a living?

After a brief stint as a lawyer for a large insurance company, I began to write. In addition to founding and running Asian Jewish Life- a journal of spirit, society and culture, I freelance as a writer (including a column for The Magazine) and edit for a number of publications, usually writing about Jewish Asia but also about culture, identity, travel, history and parenting. I am currently working on my first novel (fiction, middle grade-young adult). I also do consulting work and serve a regional consultant for the JDC.

How did you get started in writing?

I left my law job when we moved to Hong Kong for my husband’s work in 2002. My intention was to return in two years. Since we were moving with a 7 week old and a 19 month old, we decided that it didn’t make sense for me to work while we were there. It would take a long time for me to settle the children and find a place to live. Two years rolled into three and when we started to discuss staying long term, I was eager to work again. I told my husband I would contact my company in New York and ask them to find me a position in their Hong Kong office.

My husband’s response: “You are a NY qualified attorney from a top law school who has a great reputation within the company. If you make that call, you will likely be working by the end of the week. If your greatest passion in life is to be lawyer for a large insurance company, go for it. If not, you have a window of opportunity to figure out what you are most passionate about.”

I had always wanted to be a writer. I had studied English Literature and Judaic Studies in SUNY Albany’s Honors Program. My thesis was a creative piece. I would frustratingly search the New York Times and announce, “Oh surprise. No job adverts for Jewish poets today,” close the paper and put it down. Now I had the chance to do what I always wanted.

What types of readers do you hope to reach?

I hope that Asian Jewish Life will reach the broadest set of readers possible. The Jewish communities of the Far East (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, India, Korea, Nepal, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand) are unbelievably diverse in terms of background, nationality, denomination, Jewish learning, etc. We try to provide something for everyone. Additionally, our online readers tend to live outside the Far East (the majority are in the US and Israel but with growing readership in Australia, the UK and France), this also requires us to broaden the scope of the magazine.

What about your column in The Magazine?

For The Jewish Press, I tend to write memoir-type pieces that offer a glimpse of Jewish life in the region and what it is like to raise a Jewish family off the major arteries and in a third culture. My pieces are usually personal and weave in stories about my children, with quotes from them as well. Memoir, like biography and autobiography, has always appealed to me. I thrive on personal narratives. Everyone has a story to share.

Since I was a child, I was a natural storyteller, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I had a writer friend tell me to start putting down on paper (or computer) any story I find myself repeating three times. This was invaluable advice.

Must Have More Babies

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

This is the babies room at the Bikur Holim hospital in Jerusalem.

It’s a picture of the future. It’s a picture of a well functioning society aware of the fact that even after every single of its living members is dead and buried, it will continue to live and even thrive – because of the assortment of cute munchkins lying helplessly in their mobile cribs.

It’s a very serious picture, with unimaginably crucial consequences.

Nothing is more important than babies, not national security, not the economy, nothing, because without them there IS nothing.

So what are you doing reading this website instead of populating the planet? Come on, get married and get busy!

‘Setting Limits’

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

“Isn’t it ironic that kids whose parents fail to set and enforce limits feel unloved and angry? Although they tend to test and protest, we have learned over and over again that limits are what kids really want. Invariably, when we talk with out-of-control teenagers or adults who were juvenile delinquents and lucky enough to survive, we ask them, ‘If you could go back to when you were a child, what would you change?’ Most of them say something like, ‘I wish my parents had reeled me in when I was a kid. Why didn’t they make me behave?’

“A counselor we know sat down with a teenager we know who led a pretty rough life. She had been promiscuous… and was in trouble with the law. She went on to describe how she had smoked pot and guzzled beer with her dad as a ten-year old. When the counselor asked her what she thought about it, her eyes lit up with rage and she said, ‘I hate him!’ Surprised, the counselor said, ‘You had so much freedom. Why do you hate your father?’ Even more surprised, the teen responded, ‘I hate him ‘cause he let me do anything I wanted. He never made me behave. Look at me now!’

“If you want your children to have internal controls and inner freedom, you must first provide them with external controls. A child who is given boundaries, and choices within those boundaries, is actually freer to be creative, inventive, active, and insightful. How you expose your kids to the life around them – how you encourage them to use their creativity within limits, by using yours – is key to developing their personal identity and freedom. Setting limits does not discourage inventiveness. The world is full of limits within which we must all live. Give your children a gift. Teach them how to be creative within these limits.” (Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood, by Jim Fay & Charles Fay)

“In the beginning of G-d’s creating…G-d saw that the light was good…And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

“…And the earth brought forth vegetation… And G-d saw that it was good… And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

“…Let there be luminaries in the firmament of the heaven… And G-d saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

“…Let the waters teem with living creatures, and fowl that fly… And G-d saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

“…Let the earth bring forth living creatures…And G-d saw that it was good…Let us make man…And G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.”

The Medrash in Bereishis Rabba (9:6) discusses the difference between what the Torah deems “good” (throughout the six days of creation) and what the Torah deems “very good” (after the creation of man). The Medrash offers a few explanations: “Very good” refers to sleep, because when one sleeps a little he is able to toil exceedingly in Torah study. “Good” refers to when things are going well; “very good” refers to affliction. “Good” refers to the Garden of Eden; “very good” refers to purgatory. “Good” refers to the Angel of Life; “very good” refers to the Angel of Death.”

This Medrash is unquestionably enigmatic and perplexing. How can all of the pleasantries of life be referred to as “good” while all of the dreaded facets of life be referred to as “very good”?

The idea that this Medrash is espousing contains the basis for the implosion and unraveling of Western Society that we are privy to. When a society does not know how to set limits and “Just Say No” then it is doomed to disaster and destruction. The mighty empire of Rome, which ruled the ancient world for centuries, eventually succumbed not so much to external forces as it did to internal hedonism. The insatiable drive for narcissistic gratification and indulgence destroyed the fabric of its society until it was no longer able to maintain itself. The surrounding invading forces were simply the final blow to an already decrepit society.

Technology, Yom Kippur, Ahmadinejad

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

As we Jews know, there are no coincidences, no random happenings. As a matter of fact, in lashon hakodesh, the holy tongue, the very word “mikreh,” translated as “it happened,” actually means “kara mei Hashem” – “it happened from G-d.”

The concept of hashgachah pratis – guidance from above – is part of our Jewish faith. Everything is orchestrated, even if we are not aware of G-d’s Guiding Hand.

Every morning when we recite our berachos, we say, ““Blessed be the L-rd our G-d who arranges the footsteps of man.” Sadly, in our contemporary society we run so fast that the still small voice, the message from above –is no longer audible. We do not hear, we do not see. We keep “running” – even if we don’t know where.

Just ask someone, “Why are you running?” and he will look at you in disbelief. He believes he is living a “normal” life, and that answers it all. The insanity has become normal and, most tragically, we are unaware of anything being amiss.

The other day I asked our computer technician if he had seen the new iPhone, for which people stood on line the entire night and longer.

“Yes,” he answered.

“So what is so special about it?” I inquired.

“Well, it’s faster than the previous one” he told me.

I tried to digest it all. Faster than the previous one. Where are people running? They stand on line for hours and hours, and spend money that very often they can ill afford, for a few minutes of “faster.” It’s madness – but we have become so addicted that we do not recognize it.

Was it only yesterday that people said a new world was dawning, a world in which gadgets would liberate man to pursue more worthwhile and meaningful goals? There were so many promises: the microwave, the fax machine, and of course the computer, which would revolutionize the world. It would free us from labor, our businesses would become more efficient, and the entire world would become one small village. Nations would become friendly neighbors. Yes, the hopes were endless.

Has it happened? Oh yes, call anywhere and a computerized voice will answer, instructing you to push this or that button, but a human voice that could help and guide you is never there. Yes, nations have become neighbors – but neighbors still bent upon destroying one another. Yes, the computer has liberated us – we need only push a button, Google, and it is all there. But in the process we have forgotten how to read and research a subject.

By every law of logic we should have so much more time on our hands, but we are busier than ever. Why? Who is robbing us of our time? That very same computer! We sit glued to the screen, and there are those who visit disgusting sites. We get into ridiculous, seductive, foul conversations with strangers who become our new friends. In the not-too-distant past parents could feel confident in the knowledge their children were in their rooms, safe and secure, but now, with the click of a mouse, those children can find themselves in the most corrupt and degenerate places that will scar them for life.

And he computer has become the fastest, most convenient means to spread lashon hara. You need only send out an e-mail or post something on a blog and in seconds you can destroy lives.

That which Hitler did over years, the computer does instantaneously, and all kinds of crazies learn how to kill, make bombs, blow up buildings. Their targets can be schools, movie theaters, shopping malls – the more people involved, the better.

I need not tell you the tragic and destructive consequences of our computerized, technology-dominated society. Every segment of society is affected.

An entire generation has grown up without learning how to talk. Children no longer call their parents or grandparents – they text! And they are not the only ones – husbands and wives, friends, relatives and business associates have stopped talking. The reason for it is simple: No one wants to hear the voice of the other.

I recall my dear, revered father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, advising people in Yiddish: “Kein mohl, nisht ofen telephone” – “For important conversations, never on the phone!” And he proceeded to explain: “It is important to have eye contact and a warm loving expression on the face. It makes all the difference, especially when words of criticism are imparted.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/technology-yom-kippur-ahmadinejad/2012/10/04/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: