Imagine that you plan to take two weeks off work to enjoy a nice, relaxing vacation at Disney World. You make all the arrangements with your boss, you book your flight and hotel reservations, and then the big day arrives. You arrive in Orlando, greeted by a swath of amusement parks, golf courses and attractions for as far as the eye can see. After a few days you're deep into the swing of things… when you come down with a bad case of the flu and are laid up in bed for an entire week.
Here's the question: Should that week of flu count as vacation days (after all, you were on vacation), or should it count as sick days – meaning that you still have a week of "repeat" vacation left.
This week, Europe's highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union, ruled that workers who happen to get sick on vacation are legally entitled to take another vacation.
As the New York Times observes: With much of Europe mired in recession, governments struggling to reduce budget deficits and officials trying to combat high unemployment, this ruling is a reminder of just how hard it is to shake up long-established cultural norms and revive sinking economies.
Amazingly, Europeans typically get 4-6 weeks of guaranteed annual vacation. Not quite as much as my kids get off for summer vacation (which begins tomorrow!) but it does bring to mind an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:
© United Press Syndicate h/t – James Taranto
Last week Hamas fired over 100 rockets at Israeli towns before agreeing to a ceasefire.
On Friday, following some more cross-border action, Reuters posted this headline:
Israeli Air Strike Kills Gaza Militant, Breaks Truce
According to Reuters, Israel broke the truce. That would be correct, if not for two key pieces of information:
1) The militant killed in the air strike was, according to Palestinian sources, preparing to fire a rocket at Israel from Gaza. Doesn't that count as "breaking the truce"?
2) As Reuters reports in the body of the article, the Israeli strike followed the firing of two rockets at Israel earlier in the day from Gaza. If Israel was responding to rocket fire, how exactly does Reuters conclude that Israel "broke the truce"?
Particularly in online news where users get their fix by scanning a list of links, it is imperative that headlines be clear and direct, leaving no confusion over "who did what."
I recall a few years ago when Associated Press issued this headline: "Rockets Hit Lebanon Despite Cease-Fire." Readers would presume that Israel had broken a cease-fire by attacking Lebanon. Only those bothering to read the article, however, discovered that the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah had fired 10 Katyusha rockets that accidentally fell short, landing in southern Lebanon – hence the technically-true-but-wildly-deceptive headline, "Rockets Hit Lebanon Despite Cease-Fire."
Even Israel's basic counter-terrorist measures are blamed for causing hostilities. When Israel stopped Hamas from building tunnels designed to ferry lethal weapons and kidnap IDF soldiers, the New York Times cited this as evidence of Israel breaking the truce and driving "the cycle of violence to a much higher level." ("A Gaza Truce Undone by Flaws May be Revived by Necessity," December 18, 2008)
It's a world turned upside-down, where Israel is blamed in knee-jerk fashion. Sometimes I think the solution is just to ignore the sophomoric condemnations and do whatever is needed to defend the citizens of Israel. Because if we're anyway damned if we do, and damned if we don't... why not "do"?
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Not long ago I picked up a hitchhiker in Israel. I don't usually do so randomly, but this guy had a sincere look about him. He got in and I started the conversation.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"I was born in Yemen," he answered.
I thought that all the Yemenite Jews had come to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet in 1950. He looked about 18 years old, and my brain quickly calculated that something didn't jive here.
"If you were born in Yemen, when did you come to Israel?" I asked.
"Two weeks ago," he said.
I was shocked. He then told me all about life in Yemen, and about his transition to a far more Western culture. (He was wielding a smartphone and seemed to fit right in.)
It turns out there are about 130 Jews still living in Yemen today. The hitchhiker told me that his family had stayed so long because of business reasons; they left because Yemen has seen a rise in radical Islamic fervor (think USS Cole) and threats against Jews. In 2008, a 30-year-old rabbi was killed when a Yemenite air force pilot told him, "Jew, accept Islam's message" and then shot him five times.
Just this month Aharon Zindani, a 49-year-old Yemenite man, was tragically stabbed to death in what is being described as an anti-Semitic incident. He was buried in Israel on Thursday.
Jews have lived in Yemen uninterrupted for nearly 3,000 years. It's incredible to think that may soon come to an end.
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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A recent episode of the Showtime series “Episodes” included a scene in a Jewish cemetery. Notice the Hebrew writing on this tombstone:
At first glance, the Hebrew words appear to be untranslatable gobbledygook. But a blogger by the name of Shahar Golan noticed that the letters were in reverse order: left to right, instead of Hebrew’s right to left. Reading the words backwards, the first line actually makes sense: Baal v’av ahuv means “beloved husband and father.”
But the second part of the tombstone - Hich’mitz b’yoker – translates into Hebrew as “he was pickled at great expense.” So what’s the story here?
If you go to Google translate, and enter the words “Dearly missed,” you get the faulty computerized translation, Hich’mitz b’yoker. Oops.
Yet this still doesn’t explain the bizarre left-to-right reversal of all the letters. Another blogger, Elder of Ziyon, came up with this plausible theory: Whoever did the Google translate emailed the Hebrew text to the designer of the fake tombstone, whose computer software flipped the characters left-to-right.
Perhaps this constitutes proof that Jews do not run Hollywood.
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Sometimes the Jewish and Muslim perspectives appear to be an unbridgeable gap.
That's why I really love this video. It explains, calmly and rationally, the depth of the 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
What makes this video unique is that it comes from a native Arabic speaker. That gives it special credibility, as a direct appeal to Muslims for understanding and respect as the path to peace.
For more background, see Rabbi Ken Spiro's excellent article, "Jerusalem: Jewish and Muslim Claims to the Holy City."
At the bottom of the YouTube player is a 'CC' button – make sure that is clicked to see the subtitles.
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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.
Israel gave up a lot when it signed the 1979 Camp David accords with Egypt: oil fields, a cutting-edge air force base, and a huge security buffer against its southern neighbor.
Israel did get something in return: A solemn promise by the Egyptian government to end its state of belligerence against Israel. This promise was backed up by the United States, and has held – albeit coldly – for three decades.
Now, with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, this all threatens to fall apart. A new survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows that 61 percent of Egyptians favor abandoning the Egypt-Israel peace treaty (up from 54 percent a year ago).
Egypt is now in the midst of presidential elections and the radical Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the dominant political force. One leading candidate and former Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, declared: "I do not and will not recognize Israel." In a presidential debate last month, he said that the peace agreement with Israel was a threat to national security and vowed to amend the Camp David Accords: "Israel is an enemy... The majority of Egyptians are enemies of Israel. The agreement with Israel should be revised and the sections which are against our interests should be removed immediately."
This is not an exclusively "Israel problem." The Pew poll also finds that 61 percent of Egyptians believe that the billions of dollars of U.S. aid to Egypt has a "mostly negative" impact. Among the candidates, Aboul Fotouh denounced the assassination of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. forces as an act of "state terrorism."
Next week, the two top candidates will face a run-off vote in the presidential election. One of the contenders, Mohamed Morsy, is chairman of a political party founded by the Muslim Brotherhood after the 2011 Egyptian revolution. At the launch of Morsy's candidacy last month, Egyptian Cleric Safwat Higazi declared before a huge crowd that Morsy will "liberate Jerusalem" as the new capital of the "United States of the Arabs."
"Our capital shall not be Cairo… it shall be Jerusalem," Higazi declared. "Our cry shall be: Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem." (See video below.)
The world had hoped that the Arab Spring would usher in a new era of calm and civility in the Middle East. Yet Syria is still slaughtering its citizens, Iran is still hurtling toward the Bomb, and if the Egyptian election itself is any indication, we're in for some very stormy weather.
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Mention "Poland" and many people think of the millions of Jews decimated there by the Nazis.
If you're a European soccer fan, you think of Poland as the site of Euro 2012, the European soccer championship currently underway.
One curious side effect is that athletes are taking time off to see the local sites. The national squads of England, Netherlands and Italy are all based in Krakow – and went to visit the Auschwitz death camp.
"Most youngsters today have a glorified image of a ghetto, but the ghettos we have learned about today are not like that," British player Joleon Lescott is quoted in Sports Illustrated. "I did not have a full understanding of what the word means… You see it in films and learn about it in music but to learn the origins of the word ghetto opens your eyes."
While Holocaust education is standard in most of the civilized world, the experience of being at the death camps makes it much more real. As the Talmud says: Aino domeh r'iya l'shmiya – there is no comparison between hearing about something and actually seeing it.
"You see the children's clothes and shoes, it's really sad," British player Wayne Rooney told AP. "You have to see it firsthand. It puts football (soccer) into perspective."
England team manager Roy Hodgson donned a kippah and lit a memorial candle at the site. "There are so many lessons to be learnt and understood from the Holocaust, and we believe football (soccer) can play its part in encouraging society to speak out against intolerance in all its forms," Hodgson told AP.
Those lessons came to the fore for the Holland squad. The day after returning from Auschwitz, at a practice session attended by 25,000 spectators in Krakow, the team's black players were subjected to monkey noises and loud jeers. Unfortunately, hatred and intolerance are still rife today.
This week a Palestinian court in Ramallah sentenced Mohammed Rashid, the shadowy moneyman of Yasser Arafat, to 15 years in prison after convicting him of siphoning off $33.5 million of foreign donations.
In recent years, Palestinians have received billions of dollars of assistance – from the United States, European Union, United Nations (and an occasional token gift from Arab countries). Yet where has all this money gone? Where are all the Palestinian hospitals, schools, roads and bridges??
The answer is that the Palestinian Authority has taken billions of international aid dollars and squandered it on an array of guns, bombs and missiles, while lining the pockets of a successive stream of corrupt officials. Indeed, Yasser Arafat achieved the ignoble distinction of appearing on the Forbes' list of "Wealthiest Kings, Queens and Despots" – having embezzled hundreds of millions of international aid dollars from Palestinian coffers. (Arafat's widow, Suha, still receives a $22 million annual allowance from the PA, guaranteed for lifetime.)
This is not an Arafat-specific problem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is worth an estimated $100 million. Abbas's son Yasser – surprise! – enjoys a monopoly on the sale of U.S.-made cigarettes in the Palestinian areas, and owns an engineering company which got paid $1.89 million in U.S. taxpayer funds to build a sewage system in the West Bank town of Hebron.
Still other American funds go to finance terror activities. According to senior Palestinian security officer Abu Yousuf, American-run programs to train Palestinian security forces have been instrumental in the "success" of terror attacks: "I do not think that the operations of the Palestinian resistance would have been so successful, and would have killed more than one thousand Israelis since 2000, and defeated the Israelis in Gaza without these [American] trainings," he said.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee – has tried to put a hold on $150 million of U.S. aid to Palestinians until some accounting is given as to where the money goes: "The U.S. has given $3 billion in aid to the Palestinians in the last five years alone, and what do we have to show for it?" she said. "Now the administration is sending even more. Where is the accountability for U.S. taxpayer dollars?"
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We could all use a bit more "disengagement" from electronic media in favor of more quality personal time.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg writes about a recent performance of the New York Philharmonic. Toward the end of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, someone's cell phone began ringing… and kept on ringing.
Conductors almost never interrupt a performance, other than for truly exceptional circumstances. But in this case, Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert didn't just pause the performance -- he turned toward where the sound was coming from and refused to continue with the Symphony until the individual verbally acknowledged that his phone was turned off. (The audience cheered and applauded.)
I don't know about you, but I find it hard to speak with someone who is checking email. Time and again, the quality of my one-on-one communication increases significantly when I am face-to-face and there are no electronic devices in play.
To see how this manifests in real life, check out this great short film, "Disconnect and Enjoy."
Finally, what caught my attention in this hilarious-but-true cartoon is that it's actually from 1996. Imagine how much "worse" things are now!
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?
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An old man dies and his curious descendants open the will to see whom he bequeathed his substantial wealth. The text was short and to the point:
"As a believer in reincarnation, I am bequeathing my entire estate to myself."
There are many Jewish sources dealing with what is popularly called "reincarnation." In Hebrew, it is called "gilgul ha'neshamot," literally the recycling or transmigration of souls.
The soul comes into this world in the first place to make a spiritual repair. If that is not fulfilled by the end of one's lifetime, then the soul will be sent down again. The return trip may only be needed for a short time or in a limited way. This in part explains why people are born with handicaps or may live a brief life.
It is the Jewish people’s most unique national symbol, our constant anchor for 3,300 years, the foundation of Jewish tradition, culture and nationhood itself. It is the Torah.
So imagine my dismay every time an Israeli leader acts in an official capacity with seeming disregard for the Torah’s dictates. How I yearn to see an Israeli prime minister stand before heads of state while donning a kippah – as if to simply say: I am representing the Jewish people.
And imagine my pleasure to hear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched a weekly Bible study session at his home, joined by a few dozen rabbis, academics, archeologists and linguists.
Netanyahu knows a thing about Bible study. His father and father-in-law were both noted scholars, and in 2010, Netanyahu's 15-year-old son Avner won Israel's National Bible Quiz, beating out 12,000 other students.
At the start of the first Bible study session, Netanyahu said:
“The Bible is the foundation of our existence. It unites the Jewish people, as it has throughout the generations. It also serves not only as a foundation but also as a map and compass. The Bible is always relevant vis-à-vis today's problems and challenges. It inspires, it is a source of life for our people and it is important to expand Bible study and love of the Bible among all parts of the nation."
When it comes to Israeli Prime Ministers showing regard for the Torah, Netanyahu has good precedent in Menachem Begin. During his tenure from 1977-83, Begin held Torah study sessions at his home every Saturday night. At auspicious occasions Begin would remove a kippah from his pocket and recite Psalms, as he did in March 1979 when signing the Camp David peace accords on the White House lawn.
Apocryphal or not, the story sends a message that certain things are important, like calls from the U.S. president, and other things are even more so.
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Look out, Schottenstein. A Jordanian research center has now published the first-ever Arabic translation of the Babylonian Talmud, the classic repository of Jewish wisdom and law.
The project is the brainchild of Jordan's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Approximately 100 translators and researchers worked for six years to produce the 20-volume Arabic version of Talmud.
The Talmud is written in Aramaic, the common language spoken in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora 1800 years ago.
The new Arabic translation, covering 7,100 pages, retails for $750 a set.
This appears to be a growing trend. In 2009 Egyptian researchers translated Maimonides' magnum opus, Mishneh Torah, entirely into Arabic.
What motivated the Jordanian group to undertake such a mammoth project? Officially, it is "to make the Talmud accessible to the Arab population."
A closer look at the publisher's introduction, however, reveals an ulterior motive:
Another failed attempt by the Arab world to pull itself out of ancient hatreds and into the 21st century.