Thursday, January 19, 2006

Does it make it any better?

As I was skimmin the morning headlines, I found this:

Uri Binamo prevented two suicide bombings, not one

Uri was a 21 year old soldier who was killed on December 29th while at a checkpoint specifically set up to apprehend a suicide bomber the army had received intelligence on. As Uri approached a taxi cab and requested ID, the bomber dentonated himself, killing Uri and the other three people inside the cab. The papers had reported that the others in the cab were unaware that their fellow passenger had an explosives belt strapped to him, and I remember feeling a moment of sadness for people who had innocently gotten into a cab to get to work, family, whatever.

Ahhhh, the naivety of youth....

There is a term in Judaism called Dan Lekaf Zechut, which means giving others the benefit of the doubt. I have tried (and often failed) to remember that not all Palestinians want to destroy Israel or support suicide bombings. My faith is then shaken when I read polls that say 75% of Palestinians support suicide bombings, and after a course in statistics last year (yech) I realize the number is, in most probability, much higher. However, I try to think of those who just want to get through the day, make some money and have a normal life. Perhaps one day, they'll be the majority. I applied those thoughts when I read of the taxi passengers who were killed.

We learn mercy for others in so many ways in Judaism, especially from the Passover seder. At various parts of the seder, we spill some wine out of our glasses, lessening our joy, to remember the Egyptians who were killed in the 10 plagues and the Red Sea. This is a lesson to remind us that we are all God's creations, even our enemies, and values like this are but one of the reasons why I love my religion.

But woe to ye who breaks my trust. Granted, there are those of you who are probably snorting at this point, thinking "Hasn't she learned anything?!" I know, I know, but I still felt my stomach twist when I read that the other passengers in the car were suicide bombers and the driver was the one to take them to their mission. How am I supposed to stay open minded, give the benefit of the doubt, try to remember the "good guys" when this sort of thing confronts me? Am I really to believe that there is a "partner for peace" or that there ever was?

And my last question - as someone with a brother in the army for the last three years, and my younger brother going in for the next three years - Do Uri's family and friends feel any sort of change in their perception and emotions surrounding his death because they discovered that stopped not one but two suicide bombings? Confronted with the knowledge that there might have been two separate suicide bombings in the same period, my heartfelt thanks goes out to Uri, along with a prayer for him and his family, and my hope for some sort of agreement with the Palestinians dies a little bit more.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all

The above, written by Emily Dickinson, has always been a favorite of mine. But as time passes, the headlines and news are slowly defeathering my hope, until it will no longer be able to fly, but sink to the ground, and my attempt at trust and hope in my neighbors crippled as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Skewed View

I admit it - I'm an award show junkie. Tonys, Grammys and especially the Oscars. I've been faithful to the Oscars since I was 8, only missing 2 of the shows (but watching the tape the next day) in 14 years. The one show I really never got into was the Golden Globes. It all seemed like a bit much, trying to shmoosh television and cinema into one evening. This morning, I logged onto the website to see the results, and was saddened, disappointed but not altogether suprised to see the award for best foreign film went to Paradise Now, a film which attempts to give a humane perspective to Palestiniane suicide bombers. I was further suprised to see that the entry was from Palestine, despite being filmed by a director who is currently a Dutch resident and by the fact that there is currently not a country named Palestine.

I then came upon a fantastic op-ed in the Jpost. The gist of it is that any film trying to give a humane perspective to other suicide bombers, from 9/11 or Madrid or London, would have been lambasted by the international community and not received so much as a nomination. Within this terrible conflict that Israel and the Palestinians have been embroiled, stereotypes and generalizations have been propgated on either side. It is important to view Israelis not just as soldiers and settlers, and Palestinians not just as terrorists and suicide bombers. However, a film such as this gives a tacit permission to identify with and pity a murderer who explodes himself amongst innocent men, women and children. People who are guilty for nothing more than wanting to get a slice of pizza with friends or trying to get to school on time to hand in a piece of homework.

The importance of not overly demonizing the other side must be emphasised, but at what cost?

When it rains. . .

The last week has been a difficult one. My uncle passed away early Monday morning after a long battle with colon cancer. While we have been waiting for the call, it still came as a shock. My mother had flown into America during a scare in November, but realized that she would miss the funeral and prefered to sit shiva at home with family and friends. My father hasn't been able to take time off of work to be at home with my mom because he's flying out to America on Sunday morning to be with my grandmother, who is having intensive back surgery next week. I'm the only child (out of 4) with the flexibility to be with my mom as much as possible, especially in the early afternoon when it gets very quiet, and there aren't many visitors.

This morning, I called my mom to say good morning and to let her know what time I would be arriving. She asked me if I had seen the paper that morning. When I asked why, she said, "Your brother and his unit are in the paper." My twin brother has three weeks left in the army, but has been in Jenin for the last few weeks, involved in a fairly intense offensive operation against the various terrorist groups. Thank G-d, my brother is ok, but the group commander was badly hurt, the details are here.

My brother is finishing up 3 years of army service, which has been far from uneventful, but he's been ok. My little brother is going into the army shortly after my twin is getting out, and it's an emotional whirlwind. I've discovered that if I push it to the back of my mind, I can function, I can't imagine how parents and spouses can supress the panic, keep it from bubbling over the top. I remember when my husband (whom we'll call sweetie for purposes of anonymity) was doing miluim (reserve duty) and how nervous I got if I didn't get an sms each night saying he was safely back in his base, and going to sleep.

But that's part of living in Israel. This wonderful country presents such a paradox - I love that I live here, yet my heart is constantly perched on edge. I have such pride in being an Israeli, yet it is so difficult to live in a place which makes my heart ache and causes my nails to be bitten to the quick. But at the end of the day, I swell with pride when I tell people that my brother is fighting in the army, that I study at an Hebrew University, that I live in Jerusalem. At the end of every Yad Vashem tour that I give, I leave with my convictions and beliefs in my counry renewed and strengthened.

Stay safe, my brothers, come home in one piece and may we know a time of peace.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Only in Israel. . .

I spent the morning in the office at one of the dormitory blocks of Hebrew U, helping register students who were arriving for the winter ulpan and spring semester. The dorms officer, "Sarah", and I were shmoozing until students began arriving, and began asking about each other's background. Sarah is Ethiopian, a beautiful, petit woman with chocolate colored skin and absolutely huge eyes, while I encompass your general American stereotypes (blonde hair, blue eyes). Sarah mentioned that she was learning English by reading the subtitles on what I first heard to be "opera". I began enthusiastically expanding upon the topic of musical theater, which is my passion, until a confused Sarah interjected with, "But she's on every day" and I realized that Oprah was the true topic of discussion. Sarah then confessed that she was, oh shall we say, slightly obsessed, and to make a long story short, I helped her realize a dream by aiding her in properly registering on and then helping her write a letter to Oprah.

It must have been a sight, the two of us smushed together in front of the computer, Sarah's eyes glittering and my fingers attempting to translate all that was pouring out of her mouth.

Oprah, if you ever read this, please reply to Sarah!!!

A Fresh Perspective

One of the many hats I wear is that of Yad Vashem freelance tour guide. I took the course in April '05 when I randomely stumbled onto the fact that there was a need for foreign language guides whilst speaking with an Israeli friend from uni. I really love what I do, which sounds a bit morbid, but working there is something which utilizes so many of my talents. I've always said one of the things I love about acting is taking words and directions off of a page, giving them feeling and emotion, then conveying that to an audience, giving them an experience. Giving tours at Yad Vashem encompasses much of that - I need to utilize the knowledge I have in order to create an intellectual and emotionally stirring experience for the group I'm leading, many of whom are in Israel for the first time.

I usually judge my success by how many people I've made cry, but the group I took last Friday demanded a whole new set of standards. Since December, Israel has been invaded by birthright
which brings college students who have never been to Israel for a 10 day trip during their semester break. A mandatory part of the tour, for every single group, is a trip to Yad Vashem. No exceptions are made, even when the museum might not be particularly appropriate for the group.

A few weeks ago, my boss booked me for a Friday tour, and then casually mentioned the group had special needs, but told me that it wouldn't be a problem. The day before the tour, the term was expanded upon and I learned that the group was a birthrigh Yachad group, comprised of young adults with a variety of emotional and developmental issues. I was fairly nervous as I've never really had any special ed experience, nor worked in any of the summer camps dealing with special needs. Friday morning, my fellow guide and I approached the group, and my stomach dropped. The group was comprised of individuals in their late teens through early thirties and for the most part, their physical features categorized them. There was a large number with Down's Syndrome, and many who looked just a little "off". The counselors divided the group into two smaller groups and I was told not to speak for over 2 minutes, and to constantly engage the group, ask questions, involve them. So, I started by taking the group over to a great view of the museum and asking them why they were here. I received a whole variety of answers, for the most part on the ball, excluding the one individual who told me that we were here to remember those who "...passed away in 1987". One member of the group (let's call him Joe) contained an impressive knowledge of the Holocaust, including dates and locations. However, as soon as Joe mentioned the word Germany, a voice from the middle shouted out, "I dated a Nazi, my boyfriend was from Germany!". After a slight ruckus, and some group reshuffling, we were ready to proceed.

As we entered the museum, I explained that we would be watching a film compsed of clips taken of Jewish communities in Poland between WWI and WWII, in order to have an idea of what life was like before the Holocaust. Joe spoke up again, and I suddenly heard

"The Holocaust is like the AIDS virus."

Not wanting to discourage, but fairly sure that my training hadn't include any analogys like this, I asked Joe to expand upon this statemtent.

"Well, AIDS starts off with the HIV virus, and when Hitler began making laws and ghettos, that was HIV. But when he opened up concentration and death camps, that was AIDS."

For one of the very rare moments in my life, I was speechless. The analogy was on the ball, not one that I would have used, but accurate and incredibly sharp. This was the beginning of an hour which brought me a number of suprises and lessons. It is often noted that children are incredibly honest individuals, and dealing with a group of adults whose emotional and often intellecutal level was that of children gave me a completely unique experience. The groups I usually take are teens or young adults, and are fairly jaded and involved in maintaining a cool facade, more than being open to exposing themselves to what the museum imparts. Every question I asked elicited refreshingly honest answers and results. I had to be very careful with my language and what sorts of terminology I used, but when I spoke about hatred, and people being made to wear a yellow star, the group reacted with anger and true hurt, not understanding how people could be so cruel. It drove home a point which I try to make, and was taught to me by the group - no matter how you perceive it, no matter how educated or mature you are, the sheer senslessness of it eludes you, and leaves you with the question of "why?"

After exiting the museum in the middle, as it was deemed inappropriate to take the group through parts of the museum detailing mass murder, we went to the childrens memorial. Many of the group began to cry as I spoke about children not having a childhood, and at one point, one of the women suggested that I give some hugs. I usually am careful to maintain a physical distance from the groups I guide, even when people are crying, but by giving hugs, I was also able to remind the group that crying is ok. People are often so afraid of visible emotion, and are told to control themselves, and that point was driven home with this group whose emotions are so often on the surface, but who were so worried when their companions began to cry. The worry could have been a product of genuine caring for their friends, or of being told to control themselves in public, but it was incredibly emotional to watch this group, whose attention span was so short, who wouldn't remember the details or know the extent of the horrible facts, cry for the children who had lost their lives, for people they perceived to be their peers, for they had truly grasped, even for a moment, the enormity and sadness of the event.

When it was over, I was exhausted but gratified. We ended the tour by singing Hatikva and then singing and dancing. It was amazing to see a group that embodied not one, but two of the traits which Hitler had wished to eradicate - Judaism and mental handicaps- singing and dancing in a memorial to their slain brethern in the hills of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Heeeeere's Aliza!

I've done it. I said that I didn't have time, that I wouldn't be able to keep it up. I swore that I wouldn't engage in yet another activity which would take up more of the little free time I had. I even teased my hubby for his blogging habits in the beginning. Yet here I am, writing my maiden posting as I journey into the stormy seas of blogging. Ahhh, I can see how having a venue for my writings is bringing out the poet in me...

I've always liked to write, and for those of you who know me, I'm definately open to various forms of expression. This allows me to comment on and express my opinion on events in Israel and the world, on my life in general, and will be a place for me to blabber on where I know I'll always have an audience.

Alright blog world - Here I come!!!