Posts on the topic of "Israeli Society"
Students of Geography 101 know that Mt. Everest is the highest place on Earth, and the Dead Sea is the lowest. And now, these two "extreme" spots have joined together in a gorgeous new postage stamp, simultaneously issued by the governments of Israel and Nepal.
Nepal was among the first Asian countries to establish relations with Israel. Over the years, the two countries have cooperated closely in areas of health, agriculture and security. This marks the first time that Nepal has issued a joint stamp with another country.
The Dead Sea, at 422 meters below sea level, is the largest spa in the world. Its hypersalinity (about 10 times more salty than the ocean) provides unparalleled health benefits in the form of minerals found in its water and mud.
Mt. Everest, at 8,848 meters above sea level, is located in the Himalaya Mountains, on the border between Nepal and China. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary became the first climber to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, a feat that ever since come to symbolize extraordinary achievement.
The stamps are valued at 5 Shekels in Israel and at NPR 35 in Nepal.
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Last Thursday night, some Jewish teens were hanging out in Jerusalem looking for trouble. Emotions escalated and they viciously beat some Arab boys, leaving one in critical condition.
I, as well as the entire State of Israel, am outraged. Rabbis, educators and politicians across the spectrum have denounced this vile act. A special police committee is investigating, arrests have been made, and those responsible will assuredly be punished to the full extent of the law.
The Jewish people pride ourselves in being different. Violence is not the Jewish way – especially not targeting someone due to their nationality. This troubling incident indicates that we are not doing a sufficient job educating our children in the ways of tolerance.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forcefully declared:
"This is something that we cannot accept – not as Jews, not as Israelis. This is not our way; this goes against our way, and we condemn it in word and deed. We will quickly bring to justice those responsible for this reprehensible incident.
"We say as clearly as possible: The State of Israel is a democratic and enlightened state in which when we come across acts such as these, the entire state and all of its leaders come out together against such phenomena, and we will continue to do so. This is what makes us unique in the environment around us and this will continue to make us unique. I hope that one day our environment will change as well. But we will be persistent in our complete opposition to racism and violence."
On the flip side, the fact that all sectors of Israeli society have so strongly condemned this outrageous act shows that even in our errant moments, our moral compass remains acute.
As Ruthie Blum writes in Israel Hayom, a society is not judged by immorality in its midst, but rather by the response of its leaders, educators and the general public to it.
Blum compares the current crime to another lynch that took place in October 2000, when two Israelis took a wrong turn and ended up in Ramallah by accident. A mob of 1,000 Palestinians attacked – choking, stabbing, disemboweling, and setting the Israelis on fire. One of the murderers proudly stood at an open window and displayed his bloody hands to the cheering crowd. In the aftermath of the lynch, the Palestinian Authority made no arrests, and uttered no condemnations. (Indeed, Palestinian police helped facilitate in the lynching, and the Palestinian Authority's primary concern was to prevent video footage of the atrocity from getting into the hands of Western media outlets.)
This is no way justifies or excuses Jewish acts of violence. Yet can we see the difference?
Palestinian society today is rife with rhetoric that vilifies Jews and encourages murderous violence against them. Suicide bombers are elevated to the pinnacle of Palestinian society – lionized with poems and immortalized with dozens of schools, roads and sporting events named in the bombers' honor. In a popular Palestinian children's program, a Mickey Mouse look-alike calls on children to "annihilate the Jews" and "commit martyrdom." Ahlam Tamimi, the woman who helped carry out the gruesome Sbarro Pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem that killed 15 civilians and wounded 130, is treated like a rock star in the Arab world.
These are just a few of the thousands of examples.
To make matters worse, the Western media downplays it all: The New York Times characterized Palestinian calls to genocide as merely an "insult to Jews" ("Hamas's Insults to Jews Complicate Peace Effort," April 1, 2008). And the Christian Science Monitor quoted a Palestinian TV director that encouraging kids to jihad "isn't for teaching hate. It's for teaching children to think in the right way, to socialize them in our culture's way of life." ("Hamas's Approach to Jihad: Start 'em Young," August 20, 2007)
For peace to exist, all parties need to accept the idea of tolerant, peaceful coexistence. A sincere condemnation of violence is a crucial first step.
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I've been closely watching the start-up curve of Better Place, the first nationwide network of 100% electric vehicles. It began with a concept – removable batteries that switch (i.e. "fill up") just like a gas station. Then it was the funding – nearly a billion in venture capital to date. Next was adapting a traditional automobile – in this case, the Renault Fluence. And finally, putting the entire infrastructure into place.
It took about five years, but now the dream has become reality: Yesterday, company founder Shai Agassi drove the entire length and breadth of Israel in a single day.
In the morning, he left his home near Tel Aviv, driving north to the border with Lebanon, then onto Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in Israel near the Syrian border. At noon he headed south, and by 7:30 p.m. had covered the entire length of Israel, arriving in the resort town of Eilat. Then for good measure, Agassi drove home to Tel Aviv, arriving just after midnight.
Total: 1,150 km (715 miles). "Range anxiety" no more!
Keep your eyes on this. I predict that within 10 years, you too will own a Better Place car.
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A few months ago, Israeli President Shimon Peres got some backlash when he launched his own Facebook page under the banner:
"We used to be the people of the Book. Now we're the people of the Facebook."
This cartoon is a good rejoinder:
For years, Israel was looked upon as American Jewry's "poor sister," a backwater community in the turbulent Middle East, with a poor economy and tenuous connection to the modern world.
Now, with the American economy slumping and the Israeli economy growing steady, things have taken a dramatic about-face. Suddenly, young American Jews are moving to Israel for – believe it or not – economic opportunity. With an unemployment rate of just 6%, Israel is a sanctuary where engineers, medical professionals, writers and managers are all finding success in the fields of hi-tech, academia and business.
For those not bold enough to make the move independently, many are taking advantage of the Masa program, which offers career training along with free housing and Hebrew classes.
There's another reason young American Jews are coming to Israel: to join the Israeli army. This summer, 350 adventure seekers are "making aliyah," hoping to join one of the elite IDF air force, paratrooper or intelligence units.
The idea of Jews from around the world serving in the IDF is not a new one. The Machal volunteers of 1948, many of them World War II veterans, supplied much-needed combat expertise to the fledgling army. Mickey Marcus was a U.S. Army Colonel who stepped in to help Israel in 1947 and became its first "General"; the story was immortalized in the Kirk Douglas film, "Cast a Giant Shadow."
The notion of young men coming to serve is gaining traction. Over 3,000 "lone soldiers" (i.e. immigrants without family in Israel) currently serve in the IDF.
In terms of long-term stays in Israel, perhaps the biggest group of all are those American Jews who come to Israel each year for a year-long "post-high school" yeshiva experience. Thousands of young men and women come to study, tour and bond with the land. A large percentage stay afterwards, get married and settle permanently in Israel.
Aish Jerusalem offers a wide range of study-and-touring programs, for everyone from beginner to advanced.
This is the new Israel, where the stereotype of picking oranges on a kibbutz has given way to new options: sharpening one's hi-tech skills in Tel Aviv, pouring over the Talmud in Jerusalem, or toting an M-16 in the West Bank. The opportunities are varied and waiting to welcome you.
United With Israel is an enormous pro-Israel network with nearly 1.2 million Facebook subscribers.
Over 12,000 Kassam rockets have been fired into southern Israel in recent years, deliberately targeting Israeli civilians, causing chaos, destruction and death. Nearly one million Israeli citizens are within striking range of Gaza. An entire generation of children has been traumatized by the terror of ongoing rocket attacks.
These state-of-the-art, free-standing shelters provide safety for Israeli citizens as they go about their daily lives. They are built to prevent the penetration of bullets, shrapnel and missile fragments and can withstand direct hits. While building underground shelters can take months, these prefab units take only a few weeks to build and can be delivered and deployed immediately.
Imagine hearing a frightening siren and having 15 seconds to run for cover. Although these shelters cannot provide Israeli communities with peace, they provide both safety and peace of mind.
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One of my favorite themes is the unique Jewish character of the State of Israel. We should take pride in the fact that most public transportation takes a break on Shabbat, that the Army keeps kosher, and that all government offices have a mezuzah on the doorpost.
On the other hand, I wish there were more individual displays of classical Jewish (as opposed to "Israeli") pride by the country's political leaders.
So imagine my thrill at the news that Israeli President Shimon Peres will be skipping the festive opening ceremonies of the London Olympics – because they extend past sundown on Friday night (July 27).
Peres had sought to avoid the conflict by sleeping overnight in the Olympic Village. Yet despite numerous appeals to the Olympic Committee, his request was rejected on the grounds that only "athletes" are allowed to overnight in the village.
I guess organizers consider the 88-year-old too big a security risk.
Though Peres is not personally observant, he does not travel publicly on Shabbat out of respect for millennia-old Jewish tradition and in deference to his role as representative of the Jewish State.
It appears to me that Peres' decision to forgo the opening ceremonies will have a far more positive impact on the Israel public than anything he could have gained by attending them.
Interesting to note a historical precedent: When the original Greek Olympics were featuring athletes running and jumping stark naked, the Jews were teaching the importance of looking past physical externalities and into the deeper spiritual values.
In this instance, Shimon Peres has sent that same message again. Kudos!
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There's so much happening in Israel this week. Yes, the headlines are filled with terrible news of Gaza rockets hitting southern Israeli towns. Of the terrorist infiltration from Egypt that killed a young Israeli-Arab father of four. And of the ever-present specter of Iran speeding toward the Bomb, while stalling world powers at the “nuclear talks.”
But that's only one aspect of life in Israel. In the realm of technology, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was in town this week, praising Google's development centers in Israel as the world's most efficient.
Also this week, tech giant Facebook bought Israeli startup Face.com, which provides facial-recognition technology to help identify and tag photos. Facebook paid an estimated $100 million for this tiny 11-person company, founded just three years ago.
Meanwhile, Abby Joseph Cohen, a senior strategist at Goldman Sachs, gave her estimate of the world's top techno-powers: "China and India manufacture products requiring relatively simple technology, and a cheap workforce, and not products with high added value. Within the context of advanced technology, the U.S. and Israel are top of the table and that's an excellent reason for optimism."
To top it off, this week Shimon Peres is hosting the fourth "Israel Presidential Conference: 'Facing Tomorrow'." The conference brings together top thinkers from around the world for discussions aimed at fostering a better tomorrow for Israel and the world.
The energy here in Israel is spiraling upward. We are living in truly incredible times. Join us!
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Israelis have won an astounding 10 Nobel prizes. Can you guess which categories?
What probably first comes to mind are the peace prizes: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
Next obvious is in economics and the sciences - another six Israeli winners.
But the first Israeli to win a Nobel Prize was author Shai Agnon, who received the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature.
This month marks the 100th year anniversary of the 1912 publication of Agnon's first book, "And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight." Agnon House in Jerusalem is commemorating this landmark during the coming months with lectures and study sessions for students and tourists. Agnon House is open to the general public where visitors can learn more about the life and works of Agnon as well as visit his library of over 8,000 books, some of which date back to the 16th century.
Agnon was born in Ukraine, the son of an ordained rabbi. At age 20 he moved to Israel and adopted a secular way of life. Shortly afterwards, he returned to Jewish tradition and remained an observant Jew for the rest of his life. His writings deal with the conflict between Jewish tradition and the modern world. His books range from rabbinic lore and chassidic tales, to gothic romances and psychological dramas.
It is remarkable that Agnon was awarded a Nobel Prize for literature in Hebrew, given that much of his writing career was prior to the State of Israel, when Hebrew was primarily still a language of prayer and Torah study.
In his speech at the Nobel award ceremony, Agnon introduced himself in Hebrew: "As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem."
For anyone who's been to Israel, you will recognize Agnon as the person featured on the 50-shekel bill. The design includes an excerpt from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
The big news in Israel last Thursday was the Madonna concert attended by 40,000 fans in metropolitan Tel Aviv. Because this was the opening gig of her new world tour, media coverage was vast and global.
Welcome to Israel 2012.
Nineteen years ago I authored an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post entitled, "Madonna: Do We Really Wanna-Be?" It coincided with the pop star's first-ever concert in Israel.
At the time, Madonna was pushing the limits of public lewdness: promoting her album "Erotica" and a book entitled simply, "Sex."
My article bemoaned how Madonna's very un-Jewish values were being imported into Israel.
Jewish communities throughout the ages have always stood against such behavior. The Jewish people are the inventors and leading exporters of core human values such as dignity, modesty and discretion.
Israel in particular is a living workshop where lofty Jewish ideals can become reality. We have built our land so beautifully and have achieved so much. But to chase after the lowly elements of Western society? Is this the expression of "light unto the nations?" Is this the culmination of 2,000 years of struggle and suffering? Is this what IDF soldiers died for? Is this being "free in our land?"
Not so long ago Israeli society still held itself to a higher standard. In the 1960s when British rock legend Cliff Richard performed in Israel, parents protested the negative effects of the raucous atmosphere. No, I’m not a prude. But the point is that Israel – the model of morality for world Jewry, and the model for all humanity – had drawn a line.
Achad HaAm called Israel "the historic center of a roving spiritual idea." When Madonna kicks off her world tour and the world watches so closely, we have to wonder: Is this really what we want them to see?