Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Response to David Harris Gershon's "For a Moral World to exist, Israel must kill innocent Palestinians"

David, I just wanted to include this in the comments section, but the comments section of your article was closed.  I encourage everyone to read the article. It's very thoughtful and well written. David makes excellent points. My takeaway from it is that there is really never a moral war when civilians are killed. 

But there are details of your article that I just couldn't get on board with 100 percent. I'm having trouble getting on board with anything, honestly. I find myself responding emotionally to everything and very stressed about teaching my course "Middle East History" to Jews, Muslims, Bahai, Christians, Hindus from all over the world first semester. 

So, I turned to my Israeli husband, who I would describe as amazingly smart, thoughtful, liberal and perhaps most importantly, reasonable. I interviewed him about your article. He had read it before I did, not knowing it was you who wrote it.

This is written in the spirit of conversation and friendship, not as an attack on your ideas. I also don't agree with everything my husband says in this interview, but he makes good points. My thoughts are in red. 

I hope one day that we can all get together and watch The Daily Show. We've watched the clip from yesterday 10 times.
Air Strike after Unity Government was Announced

They objected to the unity government between Hamas and Fatah, but my husband doesn’t believe that the air strike you are referring to was because of that. “The Air Force attacks all the time in response to terrorist movements or retaliation to rocket fire. We hear about two rockets fired at S'derot and no one even thinks about it, but the military responds to it or movements of arms on the ground.”

Me: I'm not so sure. I just don't know. 

The Kidnapping and the West Bank Search

They suspected they were dead; they didn’t know. Was it a wide scope operation at least in part to behead Hamas in the West Bank? Yes, but that’s because they kidnapped children. Rogue criminals is NOT TRUE. The two suspects are known Hamas activists who have served time in Israeli jails.

They weren’t pillaging and raping, they were getting intelligence. 

Me: Arresting people without due process is problematic....I also don't think they knew for sure that they were dead, but I think they probably assumed that they were dead. Dead or alive, the bodies are deemed sacred, and their recovery was also important. Also, Netanyahu should know how sacred words are given the role of words and the assassination of Rabin. His language before and after the funeral was inflammatory. 


The blockade of Gaza isn’t a collective punishment. it's to punish Hamas. In 2007 Hamas had a coup d'état where they murdered and expelled the Fatah officials and formed another party, essentially seceding from the PA which is the elected head of the Palestinians (who Israel negotiates with). The head of the PA is the president. Israel started blockading because Hamas is a terrorist organization. If there is no blockade you will have more rockets from Iran and Syria, and more tunnels. How do you ensure no arms shipments if there is no blockade? 

Me: I agree with him, but I think they should ease it as much as possible, to the fullest extent, so that there are no restrictions on civilian supplies. 

Death of Civilians

Civilian people die in Gaza. How many civilians died in WWII, Afghanistan and Iraq? War has civilian casualties. As an IDF soldier, we don’t try to kill civilians, we try to minimize civilian casualties. 

Me: I agree with him, but I don't think when so many civilians are killed, that Israel has the moral high ground. I just don't think war and morality are usually ever synonymous. Israel's justification, if there is any, is based on sovereignty, not morality.

Goals of the Operation

I don’t know if the best policy is to keep the operation going, because it would be seen as a giveaway to Hamas to stop now. If they objectives are to deal with the tunnels, deal with the tunnels and get out. 

Me: This ground operation will do little except reset the cycle of violence and buy, maybe at most, another five years. 

Peace with Hamas?

I don’t believe in conquering Gaza and overthrowing Hamas. I hope the unity government would provide a return to a peace process. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Hamas is a Islamic, Jihadist movement that wants every piece of land that we live on. I doubt all of the sudden Hamas will say that the land is not Waqf (as to article 11 of the Hamas charter) and that Jews can live on it.

My hope is that the Palestinians will relegate Hamas to an organization like the Klan.

I and a lot of other Israelis don’t think the Palestinians are always wrong and Israel is always right. But Hamas is not dissimilar from the same people who run Isis or Al Quaeda or all these other Sunni Jihadist organizations. Once they decided in 2007 (Hamas) to take Gaza by force, they have to take responsibility for the people there and how their actions affect them.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Educational Resources on Arab-Israeli Conflict, Middle East

If you are looking for resources on the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Middle East in general, please see below.

1. This is a very recent poll of Palestinians and their views on politics, religion and economy.  

2. This is a very recent poll asking people from different countries what they think the likelihood is of a two-state solution.
Mounting Pessimism about Two-State Israeli-Palestinian Solution
3. Another poll
How support in Muslim countries for suicide bombing against civilians has changed over time

4. Another poll
Hamas viewed negatively in countries with big Muslim populations, even Palestinian territories

5. Another poll
Concerns about Islamic extremism on the rise in the Middle East

6. Good, cogent explanation of history of Sunni-Shia split 

7. Forty maps that explain the Middle East 

The resources below are on the longer side. 

7. Have you ever heard that the Oslo Accords are to blame for everything? This is a nuanced explanation of the failures of Oslo that isn't filled with vitriolic rhetoric. I used this in my International Relations Class. (PDF)
Liberalism and the Collapse of the Oslo Peace Process in the Middle East by Jonathan Rynhold

8. I wish every single person in the world would read this book. It is read as part of our Middle East Studies Curriculum. It is the Palestinian and Jewish narratives of Israel/Palestine written by Israelis and Palestinians respectively. (BOOK)
 Side by Side: Parallel Histories of the Arab-Israeli conflict 

9. The following book is the best resource on the Middle East out there. I've been using it with students of all ages for 12 years. (BOOK)
The Middle East published by Congressional Quarterly

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Selfies and Death Camps

Good evening!

I've had an article published in eJewish Philanthropy about the role of the educator on trips to Poland.

Click here to read it. Let me know what you think!

I've published a few articles there. Take a look if you are interested. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Bamba Challenge

It is 90 minutes before I will go pick up my almost 18-month-old from day care and I’m a bit stressed.  Or maybe stressed is too strong of a word, but a little tense. Every day after day care I take her to a park. I bring with me a sippy cup of water, a couple of rice cakes, and a cut-up apple, in case she gets hungry

At 5 p.m., almost every kid in Israel is at the park. It’s one good thing about living here: children rule the world and out-door play spaces are a priority. Within a half-mile radius, there are at least four huge parks, one in front of my building. But the best park is by her day care. It has the perfect playground equipment for her age and it also has some items that challenge her.

Here is what I am anticipating:

I will take her out of the stroller, she will run to go play, and this all goes well until I hear a pop and the smell of peanut butter. I will look at Maya, she will be looking at the bag of Bamba, and she will run to it, because she wants some.

Bamba, for those unfamiliar, is Israeli Cheetos but peanut butter flavored. It has been the staple of Israel children since ancient times, okay not ancient times, but the feeling among many Israeli parents is “Take away my Bamba, take away my freedom.”
My nemesis: the Bamba baby.

The eating of Bamba is seen even to represent the differences in Israeli and American society. The educational organization where I used to work used to say: When an American opens a bag of chips, they only open it to take one chip at a time and then to save some for later. When an Israeli opens a bag of chips or Bamba, they open it widely so everyone can have some.  Hence, Israelis are more communal.

And although for kids and teenagers, that is totally true, but for toddlers, it’s a bit different. First of all, I don’t know anyone else at the park. The second they hear me speak English to Maya, I am a foreigner to them. So, I’m not really comfortable with Maya grabbing Bamba from some other kid’s bag that she doesn’t know. Does the kid’s parent want Maya taking one? And let’s face it, who can just have one Cheeto? In the end, Maya will want more than one piece of Bamba and she doesn’t understand why that’s impolite, and one is all that she can have.  

And then all hell breaks loose. Yesterday, after moving her away from the Bamba, she had the mother of all tantrums. I ended up carrying her home from the park for a half-mile. Worse, she was hysterical and threw up the healthy snack I had given her.

So the obvious solution would be to just say screw it, and bring Bamba to the park today or not take her to the park.

I don’t want to not take her to the park. She goes to bed at 8:15, and if we come home at 5:15, she won’t have very much activity for three hours.  She needs the park. 

And about the Bamba. Bamba does have some nutritional value, but its ingredients are really not healthy and it has a lot of the "bad" fat in it. I’m not a crazy person about what my daughter eats. I know she eats Bamba sometimes at daycare, and I don’t flip out about it. Often times, I pick her up from day care and she has a cookie hanging from her mouth. I just choose to give her healthy snacks and meals, which by the way, she likes.

Because of my own difficult, lifetime struggles with food, I read a book called Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter. It has really helped me figure out how to feed Maya nutritionally without being obsessive or overly indulgent.

Dinner tonight; chicken breast, carrots, squash and sweet potatoes.

I just want her to be healthy.  

I just want her to be happy.  

We’ll see what today brings.

Hopefully it will not be Bambastic.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Disgusting coverage of L'Wren Scott suicide

 The media’s sensationalistic coverage of the suicide of L’Wren Scott , girlfriend of Rolling Stone front Mick Jagger, is simply irresponsible.
To suggest that Scott committed suicide because of business woes is beyond speculative and misrepresents the serious mental health issues she must have had to commit such a drastic act.

First of all, the theory is stupid because if Mick Jagger is your boyfriend, don’t you think she could have asked him for a bail out? Also, she could have declared bankruptcy. It’s not pretty, but it’s possible.  Her bankruptcy may have been a big deal in her world, but in 2013, there were over a million bankruptcy filings in the US (  Not all of those people committed suicide.

Mental health problems leading to suicide are extraordinarily complex,  mysterious and not understandable to friends, family or even mental health professionals. In the end, we will probably know what happened with flight MH370. There will be a conclusion to analyze in the Ukrainian-Russia crisis. But with suicide, you just don’t know exactly what caused or triggered such a desperate act.

And for the media to give credence to the speculation is damaging and sensational. Do you remember Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death? There wasn’t a lot of speculation as to why he turned to Heroin again. Why? Because he didn’t have ex-wives giving interviews so that they can have the attention that they once had when they were on the arm of a Rolling Stone.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spending Five days in a Foreign Hospital with my Baby

A few months ago I wrote about a negative experience we had at an Israeli hospital. Writing negatively is often easier for me. I’m more impassioned about negative experiences. I don’t know if this is true for all writers, or if it’s just my personality.  I feel an inordinate amount of outrage oftentimes. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned out to deal with these feelings, and not be so controlled by them. I also have a partner in life who balances me out, and doesn’t get ruffled by much.

(Actually this positive story has a negative back story, but I’m not going to go into that, although I really, really want to).

On the day of my daughter’s first birthday, Friday, she came down with a cold. The cold did not improve and on Monday, she was sent home from day care with a fever.  I stayed with her on Tuesday. My husband stayed with her on Wednesday, and when I came home from work, we noticed she was breathing rapidly. She wasn’t wheezing, she wasn’t having trouble breathing, she was breathing rapidly.

It was already after hours for my doctor – cue negative story, which I’m not going to write about – and so I called my friend in the US of 20+ years, Dr. Jennifer Miller

Jennifer is not just a friend. She is a good friend. The best, really. She is always there if you need her, really always.  And she has always been there for me, amazingly, since high school. So I called her, crying I believe, and I asked her how many rates should Maya be breathing per minute.

She told me the number and Maya was almost double that.  So we took her to the ER. Where to go? Our last ER visit nearest to our apartment wasn’t good. We had taken her to Tel Aviv with an eye infection, that ER was pretty good. But we decided to go to Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petah Tikva.  The hospital has an amazing reputation, and we decided to go.

Being in any ER isn’t usually glamorous, but this ER was very chaotic and very busy with a lot of yelling.  We were put in a mini room fairly quickly, but getting her seen just took a long time. When she was seen, we wouldn’t hear from nurses or doctors for very long periods of time, even after she spiked 105 degree fever.

My husband kept reminding me that we were in a public hospital. If I wanted to go to a private hospital, it would be different. But we were in a public hospital. After 12 hours in the ER, I called my own doctor here and asked him if we were in a good place. He said, the best. So we stayed.

After 16 hours we were admitted.  My daughter was preliminarily diagnosed with RSV, a common respiratory infection that in a small percentage of 0-2 year olds that can be deadly.  Maya wasn’t getting enough oxygen, and she would need to either wear a mask or be under something that looks like a dog house – official medical term. 

By the way, there is an RSV preventative medicine (not exactly a vaccine, but vaccine like), but it's extremely costly and not offered, unless you ask for it. And then, you have to pay a lot of money (unless your baby is very premature).  Although the $25,000 our insurance shelled out for her hospital bill, probably cost them more.

I talked to my older brother, also a doctor,  also while we were at the hospital, and he said my niece had had this. She wasn’t hospitalized, but it was a bit of a long haul and wouldn’t be something that would go away overnight.  My parents said my other brother had this.

We went up to the seventh floor and she was examined by the chief resident.  A nurse led us to our room, and I was shocked. We would be sharing a very small room with two other parents and two other babies.  Maya and I would be sleeping with two strangers.

This is where I have to admit to being spoiled. I’m a spoiled person. I’m not a brat and I’m not a snob, but I am spoiled. I thought to myself, how am I going to do this?

There would be more. We were in charge of Maya’s vitals. We had to take her temperature in the hospital. We had to notify the nurse if her oxygen levels went down. There was no central command center per say receiving this data or reacting to it.  If she needed a bottle, we’d have to get it for her. If she needed Tylenol, we’d have to go ask for it.  If she wet her sheet, we’d have to go get a new one and change it.  Oh, and there was no t.v.

(For people who are not spoiled, this is not totally normal from where I’m from in the US. You may have to advocate, but you don’t really have to do anything, typically. And there are t.v.s)

After her first 24 hours in the hospital room, Maya was doing great. We wanted to take her home. The next chief resident and the attending doctor said, “no.” She needed a full 24 hours oxygen free, no exceptions.

So I went to the chief resident and said, “Do you really think she needs to stay?”

He said, “She is borderline for sure, but you should know this disease can work very fast and she can get very sick, very quickly. But you are not a prisoner, you can leave if you want.”

We decided hesitantly that she should stay.  I didn’t want to take a chance and knew that some of my desire to return home was based on my own discomfort with the language and the nurses. (Also, my husband offered to be there with her all of the time, but I refused to leave, and needed him to run errands and sleep at home.)

Most people in Israel speak English, but at the hospital most of the nurses didn’t. I am also really uncoordinated and was very nervous. I wasn’t doing things the right way, or the way that they wanted me to.  I was also very tired, and my Hebrew just wasn’t working. The nurse would say, “Ima,” and then all I could hear was blah blah blah blah blah.

And then there were my roommates: One family was Orthodox, one family was Ultra Orthodox. Also, I didn’t know who would be staying overnight, the mother or the father, so I wasn’t comfortable sleeping in a room with strange men, no matter how religious they were. But clearly, I didn’t have a say on whose mom or dad stayed.  I also was dreading Shabbat. I wanted to be on my computer or talk on the phone. I didn’t know if they’d say something or ask me not to.

However, Friday, Maya took a turn for the worse. She was totally lethargic, feverish and needed constant oxygen. Had we gone home, we would have come right back. My in laws came with food.

We got along with our roommates very well. Their babies also had RSV, as did three other babies on the floor. One of the babies had stopped breathing and had come to the hospital by ambulance. They were both about 6 months old. Maya was a little on the old side to be hospitalized with RSV, and it’s unclear why she reacted that way. I spoke with the other mothers in my broken Hebrew. They were very nice and our religious differences never mattered. On Shabbat, I’d answer the phone, but leave the room. They never asked me to do this, but I did. I used my computer and they never said a word.  One time, I needed to change Maya’s sheets and couldn’t manage holding her and changing the sheet at the same time – although they had no problem doing it with it with their kids. They helped me and told me to ask them for help anytime. It was religious pluralism so lacking here and in the U.S., thriving in a small hospital room.

After being there a few days, the nurse realized I hadn’t bathed Maya. I was reluctant to bathe her in the sink there. It just seemed gross. The nurse told me it wasn’t her job to help me bathe my daughter, but she would help me. She cleaned the sink and then spent the next long five minutes yelling at me about this or that. “Ima blah blah blah blah blah” I apologized for not understanding what she wanted, and she said it was okay.

By the way, nurses in Israel are extremely overworked and underpaid, more so than the US.  Starting nurses make about $19,000 here. There is also a significant nursing shortage, embarassingly so for a first-world country. The nursing care we received, with the exception of one nurse, was excellent. Also, the nurses do every thing, you don’t see a doctor very often, really only once a day.

On Sunday, Maya was doing better, and we were released by about 5 p.m. As I walked around the floor with her, I kept thinking how lucky we were, and thought of all of the parents and kids where the hospital was basically their home away from home, because their children were born with severe defects or had cancer or liver failure. All I could feel was gratitude, especially for the resident who convinced us to stay after the first 24 hours and the attending physician who demanded it. 

The resident was beginning his shift right as we were being released. I found him and thanked him.

He said, “You know, the next day at home I looked you up in the computer to see what had happened.”

 “I sort of figured you would,” I said.

So, it wasn’t the US, but Maya received excellent medical care. It wasn’t fancy, but they got her better.  And in the end, that’s all that matters.

And maybe, just maybe, I’m a little less spoiled.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Jewish Organizations are making terrible decisions re David Harris-Gershon

I’m very disheartened, dismayed and pretty much disgusted over the recent cancellations by Jewish communal organizations that had previously reserved my friend David Harris-Gershon to speak about his book.

David’s book is about a process of reconciliation that he went through with the family of the terrorist who tried to kill his wife.

To make a really long story short, the reason that they have cancelled his speaking events is because in July 2012 he wrote an article in Tikkun entitled: Today, I’m coming out in Favor of BDS (Boycott,Divestment, & Sanctions against Israel.)

Some of you might jump up and say, “Great, ban his ass.”

But I’m going to tell you why that’s not the right answer.

David has over and over and over and over clarified his position on the issue. He has most recently written in Haaretz after being banned by the DCJCC that he “views economic sanctions as a legitimate form of nonviolent protest for Palestinians to use, despite my opposition to some tactics used by the BDS movement and its implicit goal of a bi-national state.”

I don’t see why any Jewish organization or Jewish leader would not be okay with that statement, especially given the fact that when Palestinians used a violent form of protest, his wife paid a high price and their friends were murdered.  He is saying, “Go ahead, use a non violent form of protest to make your point” and I am adding, rather than setting off bombs and killing innocent civilians.

Why David felt the need to write that article in the first place, I really don’t know. But find me a politician who hasn’t changed his or her mind about something, or clarified a position, since July 2012.  Remember Barack Obama’s red line? Remember Netanyahu’s not-so-subtle support of Mitt Romney?  It happens all of the time, and I don’t know why executive directors or donors feel the need to ban someone like David from speaking about his book – which has nothing to do with BDS.

As David keeps reminding us, he is a Zionist and he is a Jewish studies teacher. I knew David and his wife during a period when they were becoming more observant. I hung out with David while he was at the West Bank Yeshiva. I went to their hippy Jewish wedding. I visited them a few months after the bombing in Jerusalem. I saw them when they lived in DC. David stayed at my place in Chicago a couple of times, once to visit a sick relative and the other to attend a conference on teaching Israel in the classroom. His wife came to my wedding reception 18 months ago. I can tell you with absolutely no hesitation that David has no inclination to destroy the state of Israel or the Jewish people. He will not convince the college students at Hillel to boycott Israel or Federation donors to stop giving their dollars to campaigns.  He will not make JCC members not want to attend a Yom Haatzmaut celebration.

He will tell the story of his book, sign a few copies, and offer a unique, tragic and hopeful perspective to the Israeli-Palestinian narrative.

I am finding it hard to swallow the bitter pill that the power players in the American Jewish community, a community in which I worked for 12 years as a Jewish educator sending thousands of people to Israel, can be acting so reprehensibly to one of its own.  It’s also just a big mistake. Every Jewish communal organization talks about “engagement, engagement, engagement.” No one, especially not Millenials, wants to be engaged by organizations resembling dictatorships with 501(c) (3) designations.

And the excuse of “unwavering for support for Israel” or “campuses are under attack” just doesn’t cut it when you are essentially ostracizing someone based on your own ignorance, rhetoric bulimia and lack of nuance rather than a true threat.

David is not harming Israel. Just ask the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion who said the following: The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.