Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Life has been busy, dear readers, please excuse me for my long absence from you.

I go to ulpan in Mussrara (close to Shaar Shchem, and to where fellow blogger Ezra lives), and usually walk up to Jaffa Street, and then all the way down to the Central Bus Station to get home, which is about a mile of walking down one of Israel's best-known streets. A couple of days ago, I began my walk as usual, window shopping (okay, and ACTUALLY shopping) and enjoying the feeling of traipsing through a thriving part of Israel where people bustle about their business, filling their store windows and selling interesting wares, when I noticed for maybe the 10th time, but somehow the first time, that... things aren't doing well on Jaffa. Every store is having a sale (okay, for some of us, that's not ALL bad), and merchants follow you around the store, eager to "help" you buy an item. When you leave without doing so, they get a look which it feels like they get a lot - familiar disappointment. So I walked down Jaffa, wishing that I had the money to make some of these people's day better, realizing that even I am in this national monetary situation, and getting a little teary looking at these weary people with their full shops and their empty cash registers. These good, sweet people with stupid hardships brought on by hateful neighbors, ignorant europeans, and a monopolistic government union....

But then I realized where I was. Sixty years ago, we were poor in Poland (or in my case, Hungary). Now we're poor in Eretz Yisrael.

And I smiled. And I realized how hungry I am for a culture of smiling (Israel is not such a culture yet). Lately, I've been sort of saddened by Beit El's lack of interest in me and Yishai - no one's come by, no one's stopped me to ask me who I am,where I'm from, if I'm new to the neighborhood. Why doesn't anyone approach me. So I've decided to be the one who's nice. I decided I'm going to be the one who smiles, and let everyone else deal with that oddity in the street. So I did. Walking along Jaffa, I smiled to myself, and to everyone around me. Some people looked at me as I expected them to - that I'm some suspicious nutbag. Others did the totally unexpected -they smiled back. Don't get me wrong, there was distinctive effort on the part of some of them, seeing as those muscles hadn't been used in a while, but it happened. And they meant it. I also noticed that my smiling made me view everyone else in a much kinder light - everyone was sort of beautiful or quaint or noble in my eyes - by physically smiling, I'd made myself believe it.

Getting on the bus to Beit El, I pulled out my walkman for the hour long trip. A male soldier sat down next to me, which is pretty unusual, as men usually sit next to men, women to women. But I was sitting with this young man and I got this overwhelming urge, with all of my new experiences, to be kind to him. He seemed sort of alone and weary himself, and as I sat, I wondered what I could do for this person. So I mustered my courage and my weak hebrew and asked: "Ata rotzeh leeshmoah?" (do you want to listen?) He turned to me, sort of suprised, looked at my walkman, and nodded. I continued, enboldened "Ata yodeah... Led Zepplin?" (Do you know... Led Zepplin?). He looked at my like "Duh, of course," and I handed over my favorite bustime leisure activity to my stranger/brother, after keying up my favorite Zepplin song for the road: Stairway to Heaven.

And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls, my new friend is tapping his fingers and his feet, and I feel that I've given happiness to this person. He reaches his stop, hands back my machine and smiles at me, saying "Todah." I get home feeling that Israel is the warmest place on earth.
- posted by Malkah @ 6:43 PM Permalink Home
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
The Power of Ideas
I just started reading Yoram Hazony's "The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul". In this book, Hazony, head of the Shalem Center, looks at the influence of Israel's intellectual elite on the development of post-Zionism. This formerly marginalized ideology eventually took hold with politicians, leading to the Oslo accords, and everything that followed. He then goes through an intellectual history of Zionism, showing how an equally marginalized and far-fetched ideolgy at the time, that of the Jewish State, took hold and bore fruit.

It is very enlightening to look at the current crisis in Israel not as a debate over policies (where to build the fence, which communities to uproot, etc) but a much more fundemental debate over ideaologies. I am still reading, so I will post more on this important book when I finish. But so far, I see two important lessons: 1) We must recognize the ideological underpinnings of the debate in Israel, if we can hope to effectively grappple with the issues. 2) The power of ideas. Herzl wasn't nearly as much of an activist or a fighter as he was a philosopher, spreading an alternative philosophy that would lead to the creation of the Jewish State. We mustn't underestimate the power of spreading ideas.

In our modern, connected age, blogs are becoming a powerful tool for just that - the spreading of ideas. I think that Kumah speaks to an ideaology - not just that of making aliyah, but as seeing ourselves as combining a historic return to our roots with the best of the opportunities that the modern world provides, in order to fulfill our Godly destiny. This thinking is rooting deeply in Jewish law, tradition, and texts, and is certainly not unique to Kumah. But it needs to be spread much more effectively both in the exile and in Israel. I hope that this blog will be able to be used as a tool for development and discussions of these ideas, to energize a new generation of chovevei tzion, lovers of Zion.
- posted by Ben @ 7:02 PM Permalink Home

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