My Mother

My Mother

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday evening I lit a 24-hour candle for my mother’s Yahrzeit, the sixteenth anniversary of her death. She passed away on this day in 2001. My daughter, Rachel, had stayed in her room over her last few days reading to her. Yesterday evening I went to synagogue to say kaddish. I will repeat the process this morning at the 7:30 am service.

In my first memory of my mother – well, not really a memory; more of a dream that seemed real – I was in her arms at the bottom of a stairs in my mother’s parental home. We were living with my grandparents at the time. My mother was looking up the stairs and sobbing. I had not seen my grandmother die. I do not even remember knowing her. I was just over a year old when the first of my grandparents passed away. In that dream/memory, however, my mother was not holding me; I was holding her – an impossibility since, according to family lore, I was a very fat baby who never learned to walk until I was 18 months old. It is also a very odd dream that I had many times, odd not simply because I was so young at the time. My mother was a very proud and independent woman. It is impossible to imagine my holding my mother and comforting her when I was just over a year old.

In another real memory, we were living in my father’s father’s house behind his chicken store in the Kensington Market. I was alone downstairs. I have no idea where my brother, who was a year older, was. He was not part of the memory. Nor was my father. However, my mother was. So was my younger brother, who was almost five years younger. The memory is one of sounds rather than of any presence. My brother was a very young baby. He kept coughing and coughing and coughing. My mother was not with me but upstairs soothing him, holding him wrapped in damp hot steamy towels. I knew that he too was going to die. But he did not. Shortly after, we moved out of that drafty and cold house around the corner to an apartment on the second floor, again in Kensington Market. My mother blamed that house for my brother’s whooping cough.

When we were living in that new place, my mother sent me to the chicken store to pay for chickens she had ordered and to bring them back. It was not my grandfather’s store. He had just died the year before, the last of my grandparents to die. All four had passed away when I was between the ages of one and six. They were very old people, worn out by life’s burdens. They were all between the ages of 52 and 55 when they died.

My mother had given me a $5 dollar bill. I held it in my hand and had not put it my pocket. When I was a half block from my house and a half block from the chicken store, a teenager grabbed me and stole the $5. I sobbed and sobbed when I returned home empty-handed. Though the $5 represented 40% of my mother’s weekly wage at the time, she did not reprimand me. She held me in her arms and comforted me, cursing herself for subjecting me to such a trauma.

We moved once again – finally out of the Kensington Market. My mother rented a whole house and we sublet the rooms on the second and third floors, except for one room on the second floor where my older bother and I slept. The other half of that semi-detached house was a grocery. I lived there in fear every night. For the rats took over the hallway. I learned to keep my bladder very full because I did not dare go down the hall to the bathroom. My brother and I even stuffed a towel under the door so that the rats would not come in. We never told my mother how frightened we were at night. We had both inherited my mother’s independence and pride.

One time, my mother surrendered that pride. She used to wash our clothes by hand in an old washtub. My aunt Doris who lived in Buffalo, New York and who had no children, once visited us and saw my mother scrubbing our clothes. She was infuriated. She went out there and then and bought my mother a washing machine with rollers to wring out the water from the clothes before they were hung up to dry. My mother cried in gratitude. But she would not let my aunt buy her a refrigerator. We still used an icebox.

The second half of my first dozen years was spent in that house. My father came and went. He once set up a business and cleared out the living room of furniture. He was a cutter of women’s clothes. But mostly he was not present. By the time we had moved once again when I was twelve, he disappeared from our lives during our teenage years. I never saw him until I was in university and passed him on the street. Only after I had gone by did I run back and say, “Dad!” He, of course, did not recognize who I was, for his little kid had turned into a long skinny and stringy stranger.

However, in spite of the rats, in spite of the intermittent and rising tension between my father and mother, my memories of the house when I was between 6 and 12 were of very happy times – not because my parents were together – they often were not. I have very fond memories of going for long walks with my mother along College Street, which was then like a promenade crowded with people. She loved when people stopped her to admire the cute child whom they almost always took to be her young brother. My mother was very youthful looking even though she worked every day and then came home to cook, clean and wash our clothes.

I do not remember my older brother walking with us. I do not recall a pram being pushed in front of us. In my deformed memory, my mother and I were boyfriend and girlfriend strutting down College Street. Just this past week when I was packing up my library, I read a story that my second youngest son had written when he was still in elementary school. The story had been included in a book of children’s writings. It was a tale that I clearly had told him of my mother and I going for such a walk and I tripped. I continued to walk for another block until the pain became too great. My mother took me to Sick Children’s Hospital on College Street and they put a cast on my foot. I had fractured my ankle.

On another occasion, I had been teasing my older brother about all the homework he had to do. He threw a pencil at me. It was a Thursday. By Monday morning, my eye was watering continually. My mother took me to the school nurse. She immediately sent us to Sick Children’s Hospital. I never came home for three weeks. They operated on me the next morning and removed a piece of pencil lead that had become lodged in my pupil. I had never caused so much distress for my mother. I was never able to see objects out of my left eye until I was in my fifties and suddenly the scar tissue had cleared up enough that I could see again out of the eye – not very clearly, but clear enough.

There were two occasions – and the only two that I remember – when my mother scolded me. In the first I was eight years old. My mother had left my older brother and I in charge of my younger brother. It was winter. We took him on a sleigh down Brunswick Avenue. For some reason, he bolted and ran across the street. A car was coming. It literally ran over him. Distraught, perhaps more about how my mother would feel at the death of her youngest son than at what had happened to my brother, we waited until the driver got out and pulled my brother out from under the car. My younger brother only had a bleeding nose. The car had not hit him. Stan had slipped on the ice in front of the car as the automobile went over him. We thanked the driver profusely and insisted my brother was alright.

The driver was not convinced. Though we did not see him, he followed us home. We were inside when he rang the bell and asked about how my young brother was. He insisted on driving him and my mother to the hospital to have him checked. I do not remember whether they went or not. I only remember the terrible scolding I and my older brother got from my mother afterwards. It was so unusual to have her get so angry at us – really irate and not pretend-angry.

In the second case, I was 10 years old. My brother and our friend were both eleven. Al and I convinced our friend to go to an early evening movie after dinner. We did not tell either his mother or my mother. We went off to the theatre on the north side of College just west of Spadina Avenue. We saw The Hunchback of Note Dame. The movie starring Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda was unforgettable. The fury with which my mother and my friend’s mother greeted us when they found us after the movie and after they had been pacing the streets for two hours in search of us was even more unforgettable. My friend can recall that evening today in great detail almost seventy years later.

My memories of my mother are not just from the early years of my life. All my six children have very fond recollections of their bubbie. Except once. She took care of my youngest two when my wife and I went on holiday. When we returned, they were very upset about the way their bubbie had treated them on one occasion. They were having hamburgers and they went to the fridge and got cheese to put on their burgers. Their bubbie became very distraught and insisted that cheese did not go with burgers. They were totally perplexed, both at the injunction not to eat cheese with burgers and at my mother’s betrayal of her general cheerfulness. It was the first thing they told us about when we returned. We then told them about keeping kosher; it was not an occasion that warmed them up to idea of the dietary laws of Orthodox Judaism.

My mother would come to our house often. She lived about five miles away and would take the Bathurst Street bus down to spend a day or evening with us. She strictly forbad us from picking her up or dropping her off at home afterwards. If we insisted, she insisted in return that she would not come. She was very stubborn. The bus, she claimed, dropped her off right in front of her door. Besides, after every trip she would tell us about the new friend she had made on the bus down – usually a Filipino nanny. She absolutely loved her Filipino nannies.

The most hilarious tale about my mother’s stubborn character took place when I was an established professor. A friend of my mother’s contacted me and asked if I would give a talk to my mother’s Hadassah chapter. It was intended to be a surprise for my mother. Besides, she had never heard me speak in public. Normally, it was not the type of occasion at which I would lecture. Philosophy and political theory were not the most pressing issues of any of her friends in their seventies and eighties. However, since it was a surprise for my mother, I agreed to the invitation.

My wife and I showed up just before noon on a Sunday where I would give the talk after a luncheon. My mother was nowhere to be seen. I asked her friend who had invited me where she was. Her friend confessed that my mother had learned of the planned surprise three days earlier and had become angry that she had not been told of what was supposed to have been an unexpected delight, quite oblivious to the contradiction. My mother said she would not come. I phoned  to try to persuade her; we would immediately drive to her house and pick her up. She was adamant. She was still furious that she had not been told. I gave the talk anyway as I watched one after the other of her friends drop off for a nap. And my mother missed the experience.

Perhaps she knew and I was lucky that she never heard me speak.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Israel-Diaspora Relations Part III Palestinians

Israel-Diaspora Relations Part III Palestinians

by

Howard Adelman

In addition to her TV interview last Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) also addressed the Knesset on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that recently passed a resolution declaring Hevron and the Cave of the patriarchs (Mearat Hamachpelah) as “endangered Palestinian heritage sites.” UNESCO is an esteemed international agency based in Paris. Its declared objectives are “to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law and human rights.” Was the resolution, widely considered in Israel to be so, an anti-Israel motion? If so, why is UNESCO engaged in such activities?

This was not the only resolution of this type passed by UNESCO. In the same week, in Kraków, Poland, of all places, where the scene of the Nazis ruthlessly clearing out the ghetto of Jews and shipping most residents to the gas chambers in Belzec, were portrayed in Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (remember the girl in the red coat), the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (UNESCO-WHC) voted to have the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Old City of Hevron inscribed as a Palestinian world heritage site. The Committee also determined that the site was also “in danger.” From what and why?

The latter motion establishing the tomb as an endangered heritage site was passed by the 21 countries [Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Croatia, Cuba, Finland, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zimbabwe] 12-3 (those 12 are easily picked out of the list since they regularly support anti-Israel motions) with 6 countries abstaining. Though the vote usually takes place by a show of hands, Poland, Croatia and Jamaica requested a secret ballot. Israeli Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen stormed the chair, accusing the Polish diplomat in charge of failing to conduct a truly secret ballot. The vote was not held behind a curtain; ballots were placed in an envelope in full view of the delegates. The chair called in security.

The issue was NOT declaring Hevron, the Cave and the Tomb heritage sites. Hevron was declared to be an Islamic city. It was the third site recognized by UNESCO as located in the “State of Palestine.” Whatever the history being recognized or not recognized, the resolutions were clearly political rather than educational and cultural in nature. Israel was deliberately disassociated from a site widely recognized, certainly in the Torah, as the burial grounds of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel. Israeli diplomats called it “an ugly display of discrimination, and an act of aggression against the Jewish people.”

Upon passage of the resolution, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki hailed a Palestinian diplomatic victory. “Despite the aggressive Israeli campaign, spreading lies, distorting and falsifying facts about the Palestinian right, the world recognized our right to register Hevron and the Ibrahimi Mosque under Palestinian sovereignty and on the World Heritage List.” For Maliki, the issue was about Palestinian sovereignty and NOT about the location of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs.

The issue was also about sovereignty when the same committee earlier in the week explicitly denied Israel’s claim to the Old City of Jerusalem. In May, UNESCO’s executive board ratified a 2016 resolution denying Israel, not only legal, but also any historical link to Jerusalem. Israel was deemed an “occupying power,” a designation never applied to Jordan when that country overran the Old City in the 1948 war. UNESCO regularly criticizes Israel for its archaeological work and excavations in Jerusalem and Hevron.

However, the Committee did not explicitly deny the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. The Jerusalem resolution recognized the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” Further, the Temple Mount compound was not referred to solely as “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif” as in a 2016 resolution that called the Temple Mount “a Muslim holy site of worship.” Hevron, Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem were all defined that way.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry decried the decisions and insisted that Jerusalem remained the capital of the Jewish people. “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and no decision by UNESCO can change that reality. It is sad, unnecessary and pathetic.” For Palestinians, UNESCO votes offered additional proof that in the minds of the international community, Jerusalem was “the capital of the occupation.”

Did it matter that Avraham and Sarah, Yitzhak and Rivka, Yaakov and Leah, and even Adam and Eve, were allegedly buried in the cave, or that Avraham bought the Cave from Ephron the Hittite long before Islam existed? One has no sense from the debate that this belief and cultural identification was relevant let alone crucial to the decision. Recognition of Palestinian sovereignty was at stake.

However, whatever the myth or historical reality, the debate upped the ante in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Reuven Rivlin of Israel may have tweeted: “UNESCO seems intent on sprouting anti-Jewish lies, while it remains silent as the region’s heritage is destroyed by brutal extremists,” but Palestinians could boast of another significant political victory in an important international forum piled on top of winning membership in UNESCO in 2011. The cost, however, has been another repeated gesture politicizing a cultural and historical issue. When debates over memory, history and culture are brought into the centre of a conflict, the stakes are raised enormously. With regard to the sites mentioned above, unlike any other one recognized as a heritage site (Aztec sites in Mexico City are but one example; Cordoba in Spain is another), there was never any attempt to deny the historic connection to the site. In all three cases in Israel/Palestine, the Jewish connections to the sites were omitted. The Ibrahimi mosque in Hevron, known as the Sanctuary of Abraham, built in the 14th century, however, is identified.

In UNESCO commemorating sites, Battir, called Beitar in the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome and even in Arabic dubbed “Khurbel al-Yahud (the Jewish ruin), is recognized to be “representative of many centuries of culture and human interaction with the environment.” Cultural genocide is the systematic destruction of traditions, values, language, and other elements which make a one group of people distinct from other groups. It is both the height of irony that an organization like UNESCO, in order to advance a Palestinian political position, finds it fit to extinguish Jewish historical and cultural links to sites in Israel and Palestine. Why would even Jews who defend the right of Palestinians to have their own state be complicit in cultural genocide? There are also political repercussions. The more Israelis and other Jews alienated from around the world, the less likely they are to support a Palestinian state alongside Israel if cultural genocide is a consequence. Are any of these sites “culturally endangered” as Palmyra has been in Syria?

UNESCO does recognize many other sites in Israel as having a Jewish connection and as heritage sites – Tel Aviv as the White City and foremost representative of the Bauhaus or International style, Masada, the Necropolis of Beit Shean, and six others, but none on the other side of the Green Line. When the fight becomes a cultural and historical one and not simply political, the very purpose of UNESCO is threatened. But perhaps that is inherent in UNESCO. In its charter, culture, science and education are viewed as ways to advance political objectives, even as those objectives are spelled out in the lofty language of freedom, rights and the rule of law.  UNESCO memorialized Ernesto Che Guevera in the World International Documentary Collection even though he has been widely accused of committing massacres by the Cuban community in Miami. On the other hand, it was Israel which could be said to have instigated the process by designating the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hevron, Rachel’s Tomb and Bethlehem, as “national” heritage sites in 2010.

Ever since that date, UNESCO and Israel have been engaged in a cultural war, but one in which UNESCO has engaged in fostering cultural genocide. In January 2014, UNESCO escalated the conflict beyond Israel and swept all Jews into the maelstrom when Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, initially and indefinitely postponed a Paris exhibit promoted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center on the 3,500 year relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. On the basis of this totally obvious bias, indeed official endorsement of cultural genocide, last month both Israel and the US announced that each would be withdrawing from UNESCO, the US for the second time – it had rejoined in 2002 after an absence of 18 years. Even Christians have become upset with UNESCO when it named the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a “Palestinian” heritage site, ignoring the fact that Jesus was a Jew.

It is against this background that the venom Tzipi Hotovely spewed against UNESCO should be viewed as well as Princeton University Hillel’s cancellation of Hotovely’s speech on the day it was to be given at Hillel’s Center for Jewish Life. The speech was cancelled under pressure from the Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP). Hotovely belongs to the Israeli hard-right. She is opposed to creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. She does not disregard any Palestinian sovereignty claims to the land as AJP stated; she strongly opposes such claims. She was in Princeton to explicitly make the case that settlements are not an obstacle to peace. (Even though I oppose the settlements, I would even insist that they are not the prime obstacle to peace.)

The effort to deny Hotovely the right to speak (she did speak, but under the auspices of Chabad) blackens the reputation of progressives at the same time as it deepens the chasm between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. AJP claimed that Hotovely’s stance damages the prospect of peace, something on which I would agree. Nevertheless, I defend her right to advance her position just as I defend the right of Palestinians to advocate their own One State solution. I do not have to attend, I do not have to participate in such occasions. But they do not foster violence or cultural genocide. Both sides offer fundamental differences over sovereignty.

However much I disagree with Hotovely, however much I oppose the government’s claims on behalf of the settlements, however much I declaim her contention that peace has not yet been achieved between Israelis and Palestinians because of incitement and a generation of young Palestinians who were not educated for hope, I have not read any evidence that she practices cultural genocide and denied any Islamic connection to the Haram al-Sharif in her address in the Knesset directly aimed at Palestinian MKs. Was it not enough to disagree with her over giving priority to Jewish claims to the site?  Even if one radically disagreed with her, she was not being uncivil as she claimed that Palestinians are “thieves of history” and accused them of attempting to Islamicize Jewish history. I go further than her. I claim that the Palestinian efforts are part of a campaign of cultural genocide. I strongly support a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Should I be silenced if I characterize the efforts in UNESCO as advancing a program of cultural genocide even it if is for what I regard as a worthy political purpose?

AJP in its open letter in The Princetonian expressed its shame that the Committee on Jewish Life (CJL) at Princeton misrepresented “our Jewish community’s politics and values. We will not sit by quietly as the Israeli government continues to entrench its control over Palestinians. We will not be silent as members of our Princeton community further these hateful and racist policies.” Subsequently, AJP claimed that it was not its intention either to censor MK Tzipi Hotovely or to cancel the event, but “to highlight the CJL’s systematic silencing of leftist voices on campus through uneven application of its ostensibly neutral Israel policy.” There was no evidence that I found that they supported Hotovely’s right to speak.

Further, no one said that AJP should be silent. No one said they should not oppose the Israeli government efforts to control Palestinian land or to even deny that it is Palestinian land. But that does not make the opposing position racist. Even more importantly, no group, absolutely no group, can claim to speak for the Jewish community as a whole, especially for its values.

Nothing so exacerbates the Israeli-Diaspora divide than the claim that Jews should speak with a singular voice, that Jews should be united. Hotovely to her credit, however disagreeable I find her views, has not insisted on a unified Jewish voice but a clearer opportunity to have the hard-right voice heard. In my view, nothing is more divisive among Jews than the argument about Jewish unity and who is most responsible for promoting that disunity and who is in the best position to defend that unity. The reality is that Jews have never been united.

Nor should nor need they be. The quest for unity is a chimera and itself a very divisive issue.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Israel-Diaspora Relations: Part II Security American Jewish Military Service

Israel-Diaspora Relations: Part II Security

American Jewish Military Service

by

Howard Adelman

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, accused his own Deputy Foreign Minister and fellow Likud member, Tzipi Hotovely, for admonishing American Jews for not “fighting for their country.” “There is no place for such attacks, and her remarks do not reflect the position of the State of Israel.” A government statement was issued stating, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns Tzipi Hotovely’s offensive remarks regarding the American Jewish community.” Netanyahu himself said, in response to her comments that, “To reject them (the Jews of the Diaspora) is a very big mistake… They are not obliged to adopt our exact way of seeing and interpreting Jewish identity.”

Hotovely claimed that the tension arose because of a failure of American Jews to understand the complexities of the geopolitical situation and to adequately empathize with the plight of Israelis threatened by rocket attacks and terrorists. Progressive Jews urged the Prime Minister to fire her for “offensive comments” against American Jews. They claim that she said that American Jews were “too comfortable” to understand Israel. The heat of the responses grew so high that Hotovely was forced to apologize. “I salute every American Jew who joined the IDF, or who fought during World War II. I didn’t mean to offend anyone, and I apologize.” She added that she “was cognizant of the great contributions American Jews have made to the State of Israel.”

She clearly misspoke when she said American Jews never serve in the military. However, in the context, it is clear that she meant “most American Jews”. What had she originally said? “Maybe they’re too young to remember how it feels to be a Jewish person without a Jewish homeland, without a Jewish state.” US Jewry “never send their children to fight for their country.” “Most [American] Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having [sic] quite comfortable lives. They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel deals with on a daily basis…This is the reason for the distancing between US Jews and Israel. American Jews contribute a great deal to Israel, but they cannot condition their connection to Israel on the government’s policies. We need to remember that the past few years have seen stormy discussions about Judaism and identity. These arguments are a healthy part of democracy.”

Were these remarks offensive? Did Hotovely attack American Jews? Did she admonish American Jews for not fighting for their country whether “their” referred to the US or Israel or both? In my reading of her remarks, they were intended to be more descriptive than judgmental. If so, was her description accurate? Is it accurate that most American Jews do not serve in the military?

It is interesting to note that, in addition to Jews on the right, especially in Israel who came to Tzipi’s support, they were joined by neo-Nazis. A neo-Nazi internet site thanked the Deputy Foreign Minister for “admitting” that Jews don’t serve. The Daily Stormer columnist, Lee Rogers, wrote that Hotovely “exposed an ‘inconvenient fact’ that Israelis and American Jews don’t want to talk about.” According to those antisemites, Jews do not want to talk about their antipathy to American military service at the same time as Jews are among the most vociferous voices on the right in American politics. Jews do not fight in wars; they just promote them, so the propaganda goes. Paul Wolfowitz, a neo-con architect of the Iraq War, is the one at whom they aim most of these barbs. Further, the pro-Israeli Jewish lobby is accused of promoting wars in the Middle East that directly benefit Israel.

Was Hotevely right or wrong on facts? Was the seemingly disproportionate response to her remarks stimulated because her statement could be used to reinforce a stereotype propagated by the extreme Right? Or because it exacerbated already existing Israeli-US Jewry relations? Or both?

What are the facts? Of course, Jews have served in the American military, some in very prominent positions. This has been the case since the War of Independence. Look at the role of Solomon Bush in that war. Francis Salvador was revered as the “Paul Revere of the South.” In the War of 1812, which Canada won, though the US won in the peace agreement, Uriah P. Levy as the first Jewish Commodore was a real war hero. In the Civil War, Jews served on both sides, Moses Jacob Ezekiel was a Confederate soldier. Benjamin Levy was a Yankee soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honour. And Lewis Morrison, a Black Jew, was an officer on both sides, in the Confederate Army until 1861 and in the Union Army after that. The most famous was Brigadier General Edward S. Salomon of the Union Army.

If we leap to the Second World War, estimates suggest that Jews served in the armed forces in higher proportions that their percentage of the population. Many made distinguished contributions. Ellis M. Zacharias, a Captain, won a Silver Star and served as Deputy Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Robert Rosenthal was a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF. Maurice Rose was the Major General who received the unconditional surrender of the Germans. Of course, because of his portrayal in Hollywood films, the most famous one of them all was David “Micky” Marcus, an army Lieutenant Colonel, a flier who received the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Cross and then went on to serve the IDF as a Brigadier General. There was also Reform Rabbi Max Eichhorn who took part in the liberation of Dachau.

Jews also held prominent positions in the Korean War – Tibor Rubin received the Medal of Honour. In the Vietnam War in which Jews were better known for their disproportionate role in opposing the war, Jeffrey Feinstein was a Colonel and flying ace. In the post-war history of the American armed forces, Admiral Hyman Rickover was the “Father of the Nuclear Navy,” General Robert Magnus was a Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Norton A. Schwartz served as Chief of Staff of the USAF.

What about American wars in the twenty-first century, specifically Iraq and Afghanistan? Just prior to those wars, Hal Glassman in Bush Senior’s Operation Desert Storm was a Seargent Major who earned the Legion of Merit and also served in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. In the twenty-first century, the estimable list continues: Eric Greitens, Rhodes Scholar and US Navy Seal; Brad Colbert in the US Marine Corps; Admiral Michael Boorda who served as Chief of Naval Operations; Rabbi Michael Cohen served in Afghanistan. The head of the USAF currently is General David Lee Goldfein.

However, the data may be misused by antisemites in their accusations that Jews are unpatriotic, use gentiles to fight their wars and are unwilling to sacrifice themselves for country and flag, in the last fifty years, Jews have not served in the American armed services in proportion to their population in the country. That shibboleth may have been proven wrong when applied to Jews serving in the German Army in World War I, but it is generally correct when applied to Jewish US military service in the twenty-first century in contrast to WWII where 4.23% of military personnel were Jewish though Jews constituted only 3.3% of the population.

The popular and even prevailing sentiment that Jews exempt themselves from military service in America, may be exaggerated, but it is not false. Even though military records are not kept regarding religion, using various other techniques, related to their proportion of the population, if Jews were to serve in proportion to other groups in the country on average, only about 25% of a number that might be expected serve do. This takes into consideration that perhaps 40-50% of Jews in the armed forces nowhere indicate that they are Jewish but instead check the box stating “unaffiliated,” either because they are secular, oppose public declarations of religion or even fear anti-Semitism.

This fact of under-representation may not be the result of their being Jewish but more likely the disproportionate numbers of Jews in the Middle Class which also sends relatively few of its sons and daughters into the military. Nevertheless, 44 American Jews in the military, such as Marine Lance Corporal Jeremy M. Kane in Helmand Province, died in Iraq and Afghanistan and only one-third of those 44 were registered as Jews. In the Jewish Daily Forward 2011 article, “Profiles of Our Fallen,” the number was 37. Even if all had been registered, Jews in this century would still make up smaller percentages that their proportion of the population might suggest.  Of 5,775 Americans killed in 21st century wars, the number of Jews constituted only .64%, not the 2-3% that their proportion of the American population. In the case of women casualties, Jews made up 50% not 2-3% of the total since Airman Elizabeth N. Jacobson was one of the two women who died in during her service in the military.

Nevertheless, Tzipi Hotovely was generally accurate when she said that, “Most [American] Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having [sic] quite comfortable lives.” She was also accurate when she said that most Jews in America live comfortable lives and are not subject to rocket attacks as are Israelis. Though her factual foundation was generally on target, was her analysis? It seems reasonable to conclude, based on facts, that American Jews do not bring the same experiential history to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further, that may have some bearing on explaining why most American Jews are relatively dovish compared to Israeli Jews.

Were her facts and analysis accurate when she implied that American Jews condition their support of Israel on whether they agree with government policies? Without going into detail my analysis suggests that American Jewry, certainly organized American Jewry, continues to support Israel despite most of its members disassociating themselves form Israeli government policy. If all American Jews are taken into consideration, including the 60-70% who have little or no connection with their Jewish identity except perhaps a nominal one, then one might be just in concluding that a clear majority of American Jews are unsympathetic to the policies of the current government of Israel.

There may be up to 200,000 Jews of American origin in Israel. But that is from a population that makes up the bulk of the Jewish Diaspora. Currently, less than 2,000 American Jews each year out of five million make aliyah to Israel. 60% have never visited Israel, though most take vacations around the world. So why was Tzipi slammed onto the canvas by her fellow Likud member and Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu? Was she at fault for being unpolitical, for saying that which most leave unsaid, that there is a major chasm between the attitudes of Israeli Jews and those of American Jewry? That does not mean, however, that American Jews do not “understand” Israel. Having a different experiential background does not disqualify one from understanding. It is even possible that detachment allows for a better insight.

That is why, in part, leftist Israeli Jews often call on American Jewry to save Israel from itself. The Left is also drawn nostalgically to a period when American and Israeli Jews were more united, when Israel had a more pronounced image of a nation risen from the ashes, an underdog and, at the same time, an idealistic nation. The Left has used the controversy to criticize both Tzipi and the Prime Minister for covering up the rift between Israel and American Jewry when the rift must be clearly examined and faced. If there is a disconnect, as Tzipi claims, the fault perhaps should be placed at the feet of the current government. That is why, I believe, Netanyahu was so angry at Tzipi for her remarks. It raises a specter that the PM would prefer to keep swept under the rug. As David Bedein of the Center for Near East Policy Research opined, “Tzipi Hotovely told it like it is, and broke the taboo of not saying that most young Jews abroad do not emulate their peers in Israel who look forward to the day on which they enlist to serve their country.”

Would any Jewish leader either in Israel or in the Diaspora suggest that young Jews in the Diaspora should adopt the same sense of obligation of Israeli Jews and serve in the IDF? Relatively few do now. There are less than 2,000 Jews from abroad volunteering for such service each year. The vast majority of Jewish youth in the Diaspora cannot grasp that the vast majority of Israeli Jews accept service in the IDF as a rite of passage, including most on the Left.

To be continued Part III Different Views of Palestinians

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Israel-Diaspora Relations: Part I Religion The Western Wall Controversy

Israel-Diaspora Relations: Part I Religion
The Western Wall Controversy

by

Howard Adelman

Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s right-wing Deputy Foreign Minister, was at the centre of a heated controversy over remarks she made on Israeli-diaspora relations in an interview on Tel Aviv-based i24News TV Channel on the topic of relations between Israel and US Jewry last Wednesday. (https://ca.video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=Hotovely+on+Israeli+Arabs#id=4&vid=8e2673cfc0e64a6cd1d52480e8136874&action=view). Lauded by some right-wing commentators, but harshly denounced by both the left and her own Prime Minister, three questions arise. What did she say that ignited such a fury? Was the fury deserved? What does the heated debate indicate about Israeli-Diaspora relations?

In the actual interview she insisted that she was using her position in the cabinet “to bring American Jews closer to Israel.” She expressed the hope “that more Jews from North America immigrate to the Jewish state.” She also observed that there was a “growing tension between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.” That tension, if I interpret her correctly from that interview, revolved around three issues; the Jewish question; the security question and the relationship of Israeli Jews to Palestinians.

Hotovely was not speaking out of ignorance of America. At 18, before her army service, she had spent a year in Atlanta as part of her National Service. For her whole political life, Israeli-Diaspora relations have been a centerpiece of her political career. Did what she say sound like an attack on American Jewry? Were the remarks offensive? Were they even a rebuke of American Jewry? Did she indicate anywhere that she rejected Diaspora Jews? Did she convey a message that she denigrated the support American Jews gave to Israel? Was her intention to increase the widely observed increasing chasm between American Jewry and Israel? She actually said, “I think it’s a very important goal to bring American Jews closer to Israel, this is one of my goals,” In her apology she said, “I see us as family.”

Did her remarks deserve the severe reprimand of Benjamin Netanyahu? Her generalizations must be seen against the background of three specific issues that exemplified Israeli Diaspora conflicts over religion, security and relations with Palestinians – the conflict over prayer at the Western Wall, her comments on American Jewish contribution to the military related to defence, not simply of Jewish but of Western values, and, third, the very recent cancelling of an invitation from Princeton’s Hillel for Hotelely to address the student body, a cancellation issued on the day she arrived to give her talk. Hotovely had denounced Palestinians for appropriating Jewish history. I will deal with each in turn in this and subsequent blogs.

As far as the increased tensions between Israel and US Jewry over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, when practicing their commitment to egalitarianism in prayer, Reform and Conservative Jews had been relegated to praying at a section of the Western Wall near Robinson’s Arch not visible to the general public. After some mediation by Natan Sharansky, a historic agreement was reached in January of 2016 to define three spaces at the Western Wall where different groups of Jews would be enabled to pray according to “established custom”: a men’s section – the main Western Wall plaza to be formally designated as a place for Orthodox worship – a women’s section at the upper Western Wall prayer site where the Women of the Wall organization protesters would no longer be able to pray using prayer shawls, tallit and Torah scrolls, and a third much upgraded section near Robinson’s Arch for egalitarian prayer.

The Ezrat Yisrael egalitarian section founded in 2000 had been previously significantly upgraded in 2013 under Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, but the changes had been considered totally inadequate. Further, critics claimed that the space still reified two classes of the Jewish people. In July, Anat Hoffman, director of both the Women of the Wall prayer rights group and the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, prepared a video depicting the Ezrat Yisrael facility as providing “a second-rate platform for second-rate Jews.” The rising influence of an intolerant religious establishment’ was declared “an existential threat to [Israel’s] future.”

In response to that and the billboard campaign in Israel titled, “Free the Western Wall – Enough of Charedi Control,” Rabbi Yaakov Menken of the Coalition for Jewish Values, a North American Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox group, called on the Reform and Conservative movements “to stop dividing the Jewish people.” Supporters of the status quo threatened to leave the government if the compromise solution was passed into law.

Netanyahu’s effort to cater to the Orthodox and the Haredim on the issue of the Western Wall may not have been necessary. If it was necessary, it might only be a stopgap measure. Just yesterday, Israeli Health Minister and United Torah Judaism party leader Yaakov Litzman resigned from the government following the government’s decision to allow Israel Railways to conduct maintenance work during the Sabbath. However, the debate over the Wall versus the debate over Shabat railway maintenance are not parallel. Litzman may have resigned, but the Torah Jewish Party did not even threaten to leave the coalition. Instead they adopted a waiting game to ensure in practice a balance between the public’s need for safe and continuous transportation and respect for the Jewish sabbath. Perhaps they might do the same over the Wall controversy if the Prime Minister had pressed ahead with the compromise. Netanyahu evidently was not willing to take a chance.

In the Sharansky compromise, the egalitarian section was to be governed by a committee headed by the chairman of the Jewish Agency with representatives from Women of the Wall, the Reform Movement, the Masorti (Conservative) Movement, the Jewish Federations of North America and the government o that committee. The administrator of that section would be appointed by the Prime Minister. The three sections were to have a common security entrance; all would be visible to visitors. In February of 2016, the Israeli Cabinet approved the compromise which was to be formally concluded by passing an amendment to the 1981 Law of the Holy Sites. The Prime Minister declared the Western Wall to be “a place that is supposed to unite the Jewish people.”

Led by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Reform Movement held its first official prayer at the Western Wall to celebrate the ordination of the 100th Reform rabbi in Israel. The assembled worshippers recited the shehecheyanu blessing to mark the special occasion. In the egalitarian service, both men and women joined together in reading the Thursday portion of the Torah. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, declared that, “The prayers of hundreds of people and reform rabbis at the Western Wall is the ultimate answer to the incitement of the ultra-Orthodox leadership.” The law would be reaffirmation that all Jews, whatever their beliefs, could regard Israel as home and could visit “this place and not feel like visitors, quietly and meekly taking our place, but in full voice, be who we are, saying ‘this too, is our place.’”

However, in a subsequent service at the site, Haredi men scuffled with the worshippers and tried to disrupt that service. Security guards threatened to spray Reform Rabbi Rick Jacobs with mace. A group of Orthodox Jewish organizations petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to prevent the establishment of the egalitarian section. Further, under threat of his Orthodox partners – Shas and United Torah Judaism – seceding from the government and forcing an election, the government did not upgrade the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. The historic agreement was never passed into law. In June 2016, Netanyahu postponed the implementation of the agreement, which, given its long gestation period and promise of quick action, was an effective reneging of that agreement.

As the contending parties waited for a Supreme Court ruling on the dispute, participants in the egalitarian movement avoided any physical conflict by largely staying away from the Wall, a decision leading to that section being virtually vacant on the 17th of Tammuz commemorating the day on which the IDF breached the walls of the Old City and captured it in 1967. Not only the Orthodox, but the government as well offered the emptiness as proof that the Reform movement was only interested in scoring political points and not worshipping at the Wall.

In December 2016, Haredi Orthodox Knesset members from the Jewish Home and the Likud parties submitted a bill to the Knesset to prevent non-Orthodox public prayer at the Western Wall. However, in January of 2017, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a ruling that greatly upped the ante. It did not endorse the compromise but went much further. The Court ruled in favour of women being allowed to read from the Torah in the women’s section at the Western Wall. The Court also declared that an egalitarian prayer area set aside at Robinson’s Arch did not constitute access to the holy site.

The Court issued an injunction that gave the Wall’s Orthodox administrators and state agencies 30 days to show cause why women cannot pray “in accordance with their custom” and allow them to pray as they choose. Women would no longer be body searched at the entrance to preclude them from entering the women’s section with Torah scrolls, prayer shawls, tefillin and menorahs. Women of the Wall greeted the ruling as follows: “Today, we have come much closer toward implementation of the Western Wall agreement on gender equality and religious freedom at the Wall.”

Both the government and the Western Wall administrators ignored the injunction. In July 2017 the government did not unfreeze the compromise but did promise to expand and upgrade the egalitarian section of the Wall at Robinson’s Arch. In August, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate claimed that the Israeli Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the intrareligious struggle concerning both egalitarian worship and the rights of women to worship as they chose in the women’s section. The Court, they claimed, had entered the political arena to advance government and feminist issues. Current practice did not interfere with freedom of worship.

Of course, the battle was really over rights at a national site and not over the rights to worship in different synagogues and in different places. In September, the Supreme Court reprimanded the state for its failure to implement the plan for the egalitarian section in accordance with the compromise agreement of January of 2016. Deputy High Court President Elyakim Rubinstein expressed the Court’s exasperation since the Cabinet had endorsed the compromise agreement. “Things have been dragged out forever and without any limit.” The most pressing issue was the state’s failure to implement the agreement, but the Religious Services Minister refused to sign onto the new regulations.

Rubinstein went on to insist that the issue concerned the unity of the Jewish people. “Whoever doesn’t want pluralism can go to the northern [Western Wall] plaza, and whoever does can go to the southern plaza; we are a Jewish people.” The Reform movement all along had insisted that ultra-Orthodox leaders “continue to incite and we continue to create a more pluralistic and tolerant reality in Israel.” Divisiveness was promoted by Haredi actions. The Haredi and parts of the Orthodox establishment, in contrast, viewed the progress and expansion of liberal ideas as sewing the seeds for the destruction of Judaism as a religion of unity.

However, the organized Jewish community leaders in America had a very different view of the situation than the Haredi. American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris decried the Israeli government reneging on the compromise agreement. He declared that the failure to implement Supreme Court decisions was a “setback for Jewish unity.” Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, insisted that the failure of the government to carry through on its promise was a “slap in the face” to Diaspora Jews. Eric Goldstein, CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, went further. The actions of the Israeli government had deepened “the already accelerating divide between Diaspora Jews and Israel.”

Against this background, Tzipi Hotovely’s comments that the Reform movement had made a religious issue into a political one must be understood. She had suggested that Reform Jews were not really interested in praying at the Wall since Robinson’s Arch was virtually empty when it could be expected to be full on the 17th of Tammuz. Though her words were not divisive, though she only insisted that American Jews and Israeli Jews were informed by different experiences of threat, experiences which explained their attitudes, though she could be criticized for faulty analysis and significant errors in phrasing and in fact, nothing she said had been an insult to American Jewry and nowhere rejected American Jewry. Her “error” had been far more serious: Hotevely had adopted the Haredi line in a religious dispute, something the Teflon PM had always sought to avoid.

The Haredi position can be summarized. American Jews were making a mountain out of molehill, politicizing a debate over the Western Wall when they showed no significant inclination to pray in any significant numbers at the egalitarian section already set aside for egalitarian prayer. They were fighting for equal recognition, not the right of egalitarian prayer.

In that assertion, the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox description was accurate, The Western Wall was the greatest symbol of identity and religious rights. Though Tzipi took the Haredi line in her support of government policy, earning thereby the criticisms of progressives, Netanyahu supported only the Haredi practice in place while taking the dominant American position on egalitarian prayer as a matter of policy. Tzipi Hotovely had failed to walk with one foot going forward and the other backwards. For her inability to walk in two directions at once, for her lack of skills as a contortion artist, she became a target for Netanyahu’s anger as well as the barbs of the Reform and Conservative movements.

To be continued

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Jazz and Deep Wells

Jazz and Deep Wells

by

Howard Adelman

Today is Black Sunday. I know there is no such thing, but I wanted to convey how I see the day by playing off this past Friday of widespread deep discounts and sales and yesterday’s experience. Today I have not simply a two-for-one offer but a two-for-two-for-two offer. What could be better? On the other hand, what could be worse – not only receiving two long missives on the same day, but the second about two entirely different topics and each topic about two different events. The blog will clarify.

Yesterday morning as I was leaving for Torah study, I saw a peregrine falcon eating its prey on the front lawn. I presume that it was an unwitting squirrel. I had never seen a peregrine let alone one up close. I had read that they had been sighted in Toronto, but it was startling to see such a huge bird in front of me. I thought it was the male that I saw, for the mate which appeared was somewhat smaller. But when I read up on falcons this morning, I learned that it must have been the female for females are significantly larger than their masculine mates.

From the rear – the angle from which I watched it – it seemed to have a huge back of thick blue-grey feathers and a black head. The male – the smaller of the pair – had more distinct white markings on its chest. Did you know that the peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on earth, in a dive reaching over 200 mph? Its highest measured speed is 242 mph. But if peregrines now nest in tall buildings in urban areas, its nest must have been blocks away.

I took the sighting of the peregrine to be a sign – a sign of a positive tale on the human propensity to destroy our planet and other species. For the peregrines were once endangered because of the widespread use of pesticides, especially DDT. However, with the banning of DDT, their numbers have rebounded enormously. I also took the sighting in a different sense, for in Torah yesterday morning, before we even started our textual examination, I opened the volume to initially read the tale of Jacob’s ladder that comes immediately before Jacob met Rachel at the well.

Needless to say, I had never read the short account through the eyes of a falcon. If you recall, Jacob was fleeing towards his uncle Laban because he believed Esau was in hot pursuit given that he, Jacob, had deceived Esau out of his father’s blessing to double the act of treachery in the story when he got his brother to give him Esau’s birthright in exchange for a mug of soup. In his dream, (Genesis 28:12-15), Jacob envisioned a ladder or a stairway reaching upwards into the sky. Angels of God were traipsing up and down the stairs – if they were coming from heaven why not down first and then up? God then promised Jacob that his descendants would spread everywhere over the earth, north and west, east and west. God also promised to protect him wherever he went and “bring you back to this land.” Further God said, “I will not leave you until what I have done what I have promised you.” (28:15)

If God had made that promise to falcons, He clearly kept his word. Falcons, once on the verge of extinction, are now everywhere. Further, falcons are like angels rising on the upward drafts of the wind and then diving down for prey. Falcons have superb vision. An excellent capacity for survival has been intertwined with a theme of destruction, preying on other species necessary for survival and repeatedly being faced themselves with species genocide.

The story that was the subject of yesterday’s Torah study was the one that followed, Jacob meeting Rachel at the well. Jacob continued on after his visionary dream. What did he see first. Verse 2 of chapter 29 reads: “There before his eyes was a well in the open.” The vision was not a dream sequence, but a real sighting. It was not of soaring and diving angels, but of a “well in the open,” also translated as in the “field.” Vision is now grounded. It is focused on earthly things, not long-range promises. And the focus is a well.

As Rabbi Splansky pointed out in comparing three “well” stories, the one where Jacob’s father, Isaac, or his emissary, encountered Rebecca, and the one where Moses came to a well were the daughter of Jethro, the Midianite, had been chased away from watering their sheep until Moses’ intervention, in each case a well is a symbol of overcoming scarcity, scarcity of water and scarcity of progeny. For the women are barren, either because they are virgins or because they seemingly cannot bear children. In the case of both Rebecca and Rachel, the continuity of the generations through time, a necessary correlation to spatially spreading over the land, seems at first to be denied them. Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel are all barren when first encountered. In each case, the opening of the wombs of the women is attributed to God.

Hence, the well Rabbi Splansky introduced to the group as a basis for a dialectic of correspondence yet difference in all three stories. (The tale of the competition between the first-born and a younger brother was not a topic of focus.) Verse 2 in English and Hebrew reads:

And he looked, and behold! a well in the field, and behold! three flocks of sheep lying beside it, because from that well they would water the flocks, and a huge rock was upon the mouth of the well. בוַיַּ֞רְא וְהִנֵּ֧ה בְאֵ֣ר בַּשָּׂדֶ֗ה וְהִנֵּה־שָׁ֞ם שְׁלשָׁ֤ה עֶדְרֵי־צֹאן֙ רֹֽבְצִ֣ים עָלֶ֔יהָ כִּ֚י מִן־הַבְּאֵ֣ר הַהִ֔וא יַשְׁק֖וּ הָֽעֲדָרִ֑ים וְהָאֶ֥בֶן גְּדֹלָ֖ה עַל־פִּ֥י הַבְּאֵֽר:

בְאֵ֣ר

Be-ayr or Beer, as in Beersheva, is a well or pit. A well is a source, not simply of physical water, but of God’s word, of His spirit, of His promise. A well is not a natural spring. It is built by humans. It is an artifice of human labour and ingenuity. When Abraham confronted Abimelech after the latter’s servants denied him access to a well Abraham had dug, Abraham insisted on buying it back with money to define in contractural terms what had been promised by God in a covenant. When Moses travelled to Beersheva, he was promised water. “And from there to Beer, which is the well where the Lord said to Moses: “assemble the people that I may give them water.” (Number 21:16) And all of Israel sang a song: “Spring up oh well; sing to it.”

The well and the water in it offer a voice from God. It is not just a wishing well, but a well of promise. In particular, it is a promise of bringing waters to the womb and breaking those waters to deliver progeny. A well is a source of fecundity. It is from the waters of that well that the flock of sheep, that God’s flock of Israelites, though certainly not exclusively, are offered drink. However, in Jacob’s vision of the staircase to heaven, Jacob worried that it portended destruction and death. For he believed Esau was following him, intent on killing him in revenge for what he had stolen. A well is also a pit, that into which Joseph was thrown, that into which we are all tossed when we die. God in that sense is not only the source of life, but the deliverer of death and from death. When a hole lacks water, it is a pit. Which will it be?

In the Gospel according to John in chapter 4, Jesus was travelling north rather than east like Jacob. Outside the town of Sychar, he sat beside Jacob’s well. The story inverts the original. Jesus asked a woman to give him water from the well. She did, but wondered why he would ask a Samaritan girl? Was he proposing? Jesus then offered the Samaritan from whom he asked for a drink “living water.” The suggestion is that the water on offer had been dead, as dead as the water in the Dead Sea. It had become saline. Jesus was offering, not just to Jews, but now to everyone, to all human kind, “fresh water,” sweet rather than bitter water. The point is not to endorse the message of the Christian narrative as recorded by John, but to indicate and understand a well as a symbol.

The well is covered by a large stone. It will be moved by Jacob. It will be moved by Moses. They as founding fathers move the heavy stone that blocks access to the spirit of creativity, the spirit of procreation which itself is a structure constructed by humans. When a well runs dry, we find only dry bones and not the vital source of life. In Genesis, wells with water recur 25 times.

Wells are built by humans. Wells are accessed by human labour. Humans, as in the Moses tale, can also deny access to the well. In the Jacob story, to save the well from evaporation, the shepherds wait until all the flocks arrive and then remove the rock that covered the well. In the Moses story of the well, access was denied the Midianite women. Moses intervened to provide access. In the Jacob story, Jacob acts without the involvement of the other shepherds to move the stone and provide water for Rachel’s flock.

Why did Jacob do that? Why, when he saw Rachel, did he kiss her and break into tears upon meeting a relative he had never seen? Water flowed out from him instead of into him. It was tears of joy, of happiness. The serenity and unexpressed emotion of Abraham was now left behind. The reticence and passivity of Isaac had been left behind. In place we now have an openly emotional, and, as we soon learn, mentally scheming forefather who dramatically pushes the plot forward just as he intervened to move the stone.

Yesterday evening I went to hear jazz at Koerner Hall. The program featured the much younger Alfredo Rodríguez Trio in the first half and, in the second half, the brilliant jazz pianist, Danilo Pérez with Ben Street on bass & Danilo’s sister, Terri Lynne Carrington, on drums. It was a great performance, but it was akin to hearing the story of Jacob’s vision of the stairway to heaven after one had read the story of Jacob meeting Rachel at the well as our initiation into one of the greatest love stories in literature.

In the second half, the music of Pérez truly soared up to the heavens and back down to earth, but after hearing the Alfredo Rodríguez Trio, it sounded like dinner music. For the Rodríguez trio was truly brilliant. It took us down into the well of creativity in cyclonic waves of poetic repetition. For Pérez is correct in his comments about jazz. It is global music. It is about freedom. It is about improvisation on repetitive themes.

The most powerful structural element in the biblical text is repetition. But also, the riffs on that repetition. The Torah in the literary world is the foundation of jazz in the world of music and it too plays on sounds, on words, on phrasing and on clauses, and translates the combination into stories. The ingenious variations in each are about identity and difference. The parallelisms challenge us to compare and reflect and to do so at various levels. Both literally and figuratively, Rodríguez took the audience down into the deep well of creativity in one of the greatest jazz performances I have ever heard. Sometimes it was just a fascinating variation on a very familiar tune, and, in the case of the last number the trio played, on a very simple melody from his childhood in Cuba.

I write only about the most haunting number. I believe, if I caught him correctly, it was called Yoruba. His CDs were all sold out when I went to buy one or two, so I had to look it up. I believe it is the one called, “Oye Afra Yoruba-Son,” but I will only know when I hear the song again. The number came from the deepest well of all. I would call it haunting jazz, in-depth ethnic jazz rather than global jazz. Hopefully, in a future blog when I hear the trio again, I myself will write with greater depth.

On a day that started with renewed life diving down to earth and feeding on prey on the ground, I was taken deeper into the ground, into wells of feeling and emotion rarely touched. With Yoruba I went back earlier before my ancestors in the Middle East to the Yoruba in West Africa whose music I happened to hear there. It had the same resonance captured in Rodríguez’ number and offered an older oral history deeper than the written word even if Rodríguez probably got his inspiration from Lucumí/Santeria in Cuba from descendants of African slaves brought to that island. Yoruba culture is based on divination and a search for wells, for the invisible beneath us as well as the invisible above us in the air. It developed as a culture of art and beauty rather than a culture which emphasized ethics and law, but one which both complements and haunts the latter.

In Rodríguez’ interpretation, it does do so by a kind of cyclonic activity that thrusts you down into a powerful inward circulation of notes and phrasing and repetitions that rotate, first downwards and finally upward so that one can once again breath freely. Hearing his music was like being thrust into a low-pressure chamber. He not only moved the stone from the top of the well, but dived down into it. And took the audience with him.

From peregrine falcons to cyclonic trips down wells – what could be better? Especially when you emerge unscathed and still breathing.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

On the Beauty of Women: Vayetze

On the Beauty of Women: Vayetze

by

Howard Adelman

This section of the Torah offers a plethora of topics to consider. I offer a dozen:

  1. Why Jacob left Eretz Israel for Harar as an introduction to Israel-Diaspora Relations
  2. God of Time and Place
  3. Jacob’s Dream of the Ladder as an impetus to discuss horizontality versus verticality and the stairway or gateway to heaven; the ups and downs of belief
  4. Jacob’s Conditional Contract with God rather than Categorical Covenant
  5. Rachel at the Well
  6. Beauty
  7. Laban’s Deceit and Tricking Jacob
  8. Jacob’s Relationship to his Two Wives
  9. Jacob and his Uncle Laban
  10. Proxy Wives
  11. Conceiving and Naming Children
  12. Jacob’s Revenge on Laban: Streaked, Speckled and Spotted Young

Though tempted to write on the first (Israel-Diaspora Relations), I have chosen to write on beauty and reserve the other topic for another time. The latter seems a pressing matter given Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipy Hotovely’s allegedly very recent reprimand of American Jews for failing to send their children to “fight for their country.” However, it is also a very deep and profound political issue on which I want to reflect at greater length. Beauty, on the other hand, appears to be a relatively superficial issue.

Verses 16 and 17 of Chapter 29 of Genesis reads as follows:

16. Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.   טזוּלְלָבָ֖ן שְׁתֵּ֣י בָנ֑וֹת שֵׁ֤ם הַגְּדֹלָה֙ לֵאָ֔ה וְשֵׁ֥ם הַקְּטַנָּ֖ה רָחֵֽל:
17. Leah’s eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.   יזוְעֵינֵ֥י לֵאָ֖ה רַכּ֑וֹת וְרָחֵל֨ הָֽיְתָ֔ה יְפַת־תֹּ֖אַר וִיפַ֥ת מַרְאֶֽה:

In the Plaut translation, Leah’s eyes are said to be רַכּ֑וֹת – translated as weak rather than tender. The adjective seems to have the same root as Rachel’s name, that is, רַך meaning tender, delicate or soft

Why is the term translated as “weak”? And what is the relationship between Rachel’s name and the depiction of Leah’s eyes? Do eyes reflect the soul? In a footnote, Plaut appears to undermine the translation in the body of the text: “It seems preferable to translate this as “tender eyes”, for the contrast is not between ugliness and beauty but between two types of attraction.” Plaut offers one escape from the apparent conclusion in the plain reading of the text that the ancient Israelites placed a great deal of importance on superficial beauty, that is, beauty that is on the surface, that appears, and not beauty simply as a manifestation of an “inner” beauty.

There are many cop-outs from this conclusion. There are different types of beauty. Beauty is only skin deep and what counts is inner beauty. Or beauty is a temptation offered by the devil.

The Greeks had a different escape route. Beauty was a transcendental value rather than phenomenological. Hence, what counted was eternal beauty, beauty that was timeless. In yesterday’s Toronto Daily Star, there was a story about Cindy Crawford at fifty and her “timeless beauty,” that is, as magnificent in her appearance at the age of fifty as she was when she was twenty. In this week’s Tablet.  An article on “Bombshell,” a documentary on Hedy Lamarr, a remote and haunting beauty of Jewish descent from an even earlier era than most readers can remember, told a tale of the most gorgeous woman in Hollywood at the time. But it is also a story of the brilliance behind the glamour, for Hedy Lamarr was also an amateur inventor who, with her colleague, the composer George Antheil, invented a frequency hopping radio device, the necessary precursor to wireless communication and WiFi. It was their contribution to the war effort and the desire to destroy Hitler.

Did Hedy Lamarr’s bewitching beauty and ascent into Hollywood’s stratosphere undermine her creative intellectual genius or even her development as an actress as she perfected her portrait of vixens and sultry and sensuous women climaxing with her role as Delilah in the biblical story of her relationship with Sampson? Can such beauty become so unearthly than it undermines productivity altogether and ends up sending its possessor into seclusion?

For the Greeks, beauty sat alongside two other transcendental values – Goodness and Truth. The main philosophic disciplines were, therefore Aesthetics, Ethics and Logic or the Science of Reason. The three are related to what we feel, what we desire and what we think. In Plato’s Phaedrus, these three primary drives as parts of the soul and corresponding transcendental values allow humans to soar towards the heavens.

There is also a hierarchy among the three, beauty being the least of them and reason the highest with goodness placed betwixt the two others. We progress from the body which is fair, to fairness and then to the highest rational forms which are both fair in appearance as well as in essence so that the shapely and the good together become the absolute beauty of truth. Aristotle connected each respectively with productivity, practicality and theory. Immanuel Kant would connect the three with judgement, practical reason and pure reason as a priori transcendental conditions of being-in-the-world rather than ways of rising above this world.

There is no indication in the Torah that beauty has a transcendental value in any of the above senses, though rabbis would later place the primary emphasis on “inner beauty”. But I am concerned with beauty as it appears, as it is expressed in the construction of the Mishkan later, in the depiction of Rachel (as well as Rebecca and Sarah), but also in the portrait of Absalom who is depicted as a man of beauty but NOT of morality.

One apparent message of the Torah is that beauty is indeed related to productivity as Aristotle claimed, but in a very opposite way since there is such a close relationship in the Torah stories between the beauty of these women and their incapacity, in the case of Rachel and Sarah, to have children. Did their beauty in some way connect with their being barren? In Aristotle, beauty is connected with the products of craftsmen. In the case of women, do the founding fathers objectify women and regard them as things, as objects to be admired rather than as agents? Did their beauty somehow relate to their lack of agency in producing progeny?

Why then does the Torah appear to ascribe high value to beauty? Is it related to or counterpoised against motherhood, even if women, particularly beautiful ones, seem intent on bringing beauty into all aspects of life. Does beauty serve to obscure other qualities she possesses? In the Torah, Sarah’s disdain of what appear to be false promises and her jealousy of Hagar are on full display. So is Rebecca’s initiative, goodness and generosity, but also her favouritism and conniving. And what of Rachel?

In the biblical text itself, another notion of beauty would appear to come to the fore, not beauty as either an adjunct of productivity or a subversive force undermining it, but beauty itself as a deception, as futile, as a distraction. Beauty is not just aligned with malignant propensities, but is itself a danger. What makes a woman good – that she be God-fearing; this is what counts, not beauty. Yet, as my daughter’s essay on the Mishkan illustrated, in the construction of the tabernacle, enormous emphasis was placed on texture and colour, on decoration and beauty. The Torah suggests that emphasizing the spiritual at the expense of the physical, the internal at the expense of the external and especially physical beauty, is misconceived. Beauty penetrates the greatest inner sanctum of the Jewish spiritual realm.

There is no contradiction between external beauty and inner spiritual beauty. But neither is there any necessary correlation. However, there are risks associated with beauty – that powerful men may be attracted by the beauty of one’s wife as in the case of Sarah in the stories of Abraham and Pharaoh and of Abraham and Abimelech. However, there are also advantages as well as risks as depicted in the Book of Esther when the latter’s beauty bewitched King Ahasuerus.

Though brought up in Talmud Torah to believe that beauty, quoting Proverbs, was indeed vain – which made beauty all the more attractive to me – beauty has come to have enormous value to me as it had for Abraham, for Isaac and for Jacob. That value is not accompanied by connecting beauty with moral excellence. Nor is the value based on considering women as having different kinds of beauty or only being beautiful if she has an internal beauty. Finally, that beauty and attention to it is not considered by me to be a moral failure. Rachel was shapely and beautiful to look at. That beauty was not confined to women as Joseph had his mother’s beauty. Was that why he was Jacob’s favourite? But Joseph flaunted his beauty; Rachel did not.

The Torah, unlike the Greeks, did not give a transcendental value to beauty. Neither was beauty a reflection of an internal character – Ruth was perhaps the most “beautiful” woman in the Bible in that sense though not described as physically beautiful. There seems to be no indication of external appearances reflecting or emanating inner goodness. There is no inherent connection between physical beauty and inner moral fibre. Beauty just is, there to be appreciated, but a characteristic tied to both risk and opportunity, a factor which may be crucial to a story since Jacob apparently preferred Rachel over Leah because of her beauty. But the Kingdom of David would descend from Leah, not Rachel. Of the children of Jacob’s wives and concubines, Levi and Judah are both children of Leah.

Beauty is just part of reality, to be admired and appreciated but not denigrated, to inspire both the good as well as the bad. The Greeks fought a ten-year war with the Persians because of the kidnapping of the beauty, Helen, but there is no inherent moral lesson, positive or negative, in the depictions of beauty in the Torah. On the other hand, if one only looks at outward appearances and fails to take into account the inner spirit of an individual, that is a failure. Rachel like Rebecca, though different, had a very vital inner spirit as well as external beauty. In the Torah, there is no moral lesson to be derived from the appearance of beauty.

On the Beauty of Women: Vayetze

On the Beauty of Women: Vayetze

by

Howard Adelman

This section of the Torah offers a plethora of topics to consider. I offer a dozen:

  1. Why Jacob left Eretz Israel for Harar as an introduction to Israel-Diaspora Relations
  2. God of Time and Place
  3. Jacob’s Dream of the Ladder as an impetus to discuss horizontality versus verticality and the stairway or gateway to heaven; the ups and downs of belief
  4. Jacob’s Conditional Contract with God rather than Categorical Covenant
  5. Rachel at the Well
  6. Beauty
  7. Laban’s Deceit and Tricking Jacob
  8. Jacob’s Relationship to his Two Wives
  9. Jacob and his Uncle Laban
  10. Proxy Wives
  11. Conceiving and Naming Children
  12. Jacob’s Revenge on Laban: Streaked, Speckled and Spotted Young

Though tempted to write on the first (Israel-Diaspora Relations), I have chosen to write on beauty and reserve the other topic for another time. The latter seems a pressing matter given Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipy Hotovely’s very recent reprimand of American Jews for failing to send their children to “fight for their country.” However, it is also a very deep and profound political issue on which I want to reflect at greater length. Beauty, on the other hand, appears to be a relatively superficial issue.

Verses 16 and 17 of Chapter 29 of Genesis reads as follows:

16. Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.   טזוּלְלָבָ֖ן שְׁתֵּ֣י בָנ֑וֹת שֵׁ֤ם הַגְּדֹלָה֙ לֵאָ֔ה וְשֵׁ֥ם הַקְּטַנָּ֖ה רָחֵֽל:
17. Leah’s eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.   יזוְעֵינֵ֥י לֵאָ֖ה רַכּ֑וֹת וְרָחֵל֨ הָֽיְתָ֔ה יְפַת־תֹּ֖אַר וִיפַ֥ת מַרְאֶֽה:

In the Plaut translation, Leah’s eyes are said to be רַכּ֑וֹת – translated as weak rather than tender. The adjective seems to have the same root as Rachel’s name, that is, רַך meaning tender, delicate or soft

Why is the term translated as “weak”? And what is the relationship between Rachel’s name and the depiction of Leah’s eyes? Do eyes reflect the soul? In a footnote, Plaut appears to undermine the translation in the body of the text: “It seems preferable to translate this as “tender eyes”, for the contrast is not between ugliness and beauty but between two types of attraction.” Plaut offers one escape from the apparent conclusion in the plain reading of the text that the ancient Israelites placed a great deal of importance on superficial beauty, that is, beauty that is on the surface, that appears, and not beauty simply as a manifestation of an “inner” beauty.

There are many cop-outs from this conclusion. There are different types of beauty. Beauty is only skin deep and what counts is inner beauty. Or beauty is a temptation offered by the devil.

The Greeks had a different escape route. Beauty was a transcendental value rather than phenomenological. Hence, what counted was eternal beauty, beauty that was timeless. In yesterday’s Toronto Daily Star, there was a story about Cindy Crawford at fifty and her “timeless beauty,” that is, as magnificent in her appearance at the age of fifty as she was when she was twenty. In this week’s Tablet.  An article on “Bombshell,” a documentary on Hedy Lamarr, a remote and haunting beauty of Jewish descent from an even earlier era than most readers can remember, told a tale of the most gorgeous woman in Hollywood at the time. But it is also a story of the brilliance behind the glamour, for Hedy Lamarr was also an amateur inventor who, with her colleague, the composer George Antheil, invented a frequency hopping radio device, the necessary precursor to wireless communication and WiFi. It was their contribution to the war effort and the desire to destroy Hitler.

Did Hedy Lamarr’s bewitching beauty and ascent into Hollywood’s stratosphere undermine her creative intellectual genius or even her development as an actress as she perfected her portrait of vixens and sultry and sensuous women climaxing with her role as Delilah in the biblical story of her relationship with Sampson? Can such beauty become so unearthly than it undermines productivity altogether and ends up sending its possessor into seclusion?

For the Greeks, beauty sat alongside two other transcendental values – Goodness and Truth. The main philosophic disciplines were, therefore Aesthetics, Ethics and Logic or the Science of Reason. The three are related to what we feel, what we desire and what we think. In Plato’s Phaedrus, these three primary drives as parts of the soul and corresponding transcendental values allow humans to soar towards the heavens.

There is also a hierarchy among the three, beauty being the least of them and reason the highest with goodness placed betwixt the two others. We progress from the body which is fair, to fairness and then to the highest rational forms which are both fair in appearance as well as in essence so that the shapely and the good together become the absolute beauty of truth. Aristotle connected each respectively with productivity, practicality and theory. Immanuel Kant would connect the three with judgement, practical reason and pure reason as a priori transcendental conditions of being-in-the-world rather than ways of rising above this world.

There is no sense in the Torah that beauty has a transcendental value in any of these senses, though rabbis would later place the primary emphasis on “inner beauty”. But I am concerned with beauty as it appears, as it is expressed in the construction of the Mishkan later, in the depiction of Rachel (as well as Rebecca and Sarah), but also in the portrait of Absalom who is portrayed as a man of beauty but NOT of morality.

One apparent message of the Torah is that beauty is indeed related to productivity as Aristotle claimed, but in a very opposite way since there is such a close relationship in the Torah stories between the beauty of these women and their incapacity, in the case of Rachel and Sarah, to have children. Did their beauty in some way connect with their being barren? In Aristotle, beauty is connected with the products of craftsmen. In the case of women, do the founding fathers objectify women and regard them as things, as objects to be admired rather than as agents? Did their beauty somehow relate to their lack of agency in producing progeny?

Why then does the Torah appear to ascribe high value to beauty? Is it related to or counterpoised against motherhood, even if women, particularly beautiful ones, seem intent on bringing beauty into all aspects of life. Does beauty serve to obscure other qualities she possesses? In the Torah, Sarah’s disdain of what appear to be false promises and her jealousy of Hagar are on full display. So is Rebecca’s initiative, goodness and generosity, but also her favouritism and conniving. And what of Rachel?

In the biblical text itself, another notion of beauty would appear to come to the fore, not beauty as either an adjunct of productivity or a subversive force undermining it, but beauty itself as a deception, as futile, as a distraction. Beauty is not just aligned with malignant propensities, but is itself a danger. What makes a woman good – that she be God-fearing; this is what counts, not beauty. Yet, as my daughter’s essay on the Mishkan illustrated, in the construction of the tabernacle, enormous emphasis was placed on texture and colour, on decoration and beauty. The Torah suggests that emphasizing the spiritual at the expense of the physical, the internal at the expense of the external and especially physical beauty, is misconceived. Beauty penetrates the greatest inner sanctum of the Jewish spiritual realm.

There is no contradiction between external beauty and inner spiritual beauty. But neither is there any necessary correlation. However, there are risks associated with beauty – that powerful men may be attracted by the beauty of one’s wife as in the case of Sarah in the stories of Abraham and Pharaoh and of Abraham and Abimelech. However, there are also advantages as well as risks as depicted in the Book of Esther when the latter’s beauty bewitched King Ahasuerus.

Though brought up in Talmud Torah to believe that beauty, quoting Proverbs, was indeed vain – which made beauty all the more attractive to me – beauty has come to have enormous value to me as it had for Abraham, for Isaac and for Jacob. That value is not accompanied by an ethical relief of connecting beauty with moral excellence, with considering women as having different kinds of beauty or, even more disruptive, of a woman only being beautiful if she has an internal beauty, and, finally, that beauty and attention to it is a moral failure. Rachel was shapely and beautiful to look at. That beauty was not confined to women as Joseph had his mother’s beauty. Was that why he was Jacob’s favourite? But Jacob flaunted his beauty; Rachel did not.

The Torah, unlike the Greeks, did not give a transcendental value to beauty. Neither was beauty a reflection of an internal character – Ruth was perhaps the most “beautiful” woman in the Bible in that sense though not described as physically beautiful. There seems to be no indication of external appearances reflecting or emanating inner goodness. There is no inherent connection between physical beauty and inner moral fibre. Beauty just is, there to be appreciated, but a characteristic tied to both risk and opportunity, a factor which may be crucial to a story since Jacob apparently preferred Rachel over Leah because of her beauty. But the Kingdom of David would descend from Leah, not Rachel. Of the children of Jacob’s wives and concubines, Levi and Judah are both children of Leah.

Beauty is just part of reality, to be admired and appreciated but not denigrated, to inspire both the good as well as the bad. The Greeks fought a ten-year war with the Persians because of the kidnapping of the beauty, Helen, but there is no inherent moral lesson, positive or negative, in the depictions of beauty in the Torah. On the other hand, if one only looks at outward appearances and fails to take into account the inner spirit of an individual, that is a failure. Rachel like Rebecca, though different, had a very vital inner spirit as well as external beauty. There is no moral lesson to be derived from the appearance of beauty.