Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Ein Gedi Botanic Garden
Seek the serenity of a Judean Desert sky in Autumn at the Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Friday, February 20, 2015

US-Israel Bilateral Deep-Freeze 'Gets Physical'

Perhaps the Creator has decided to embody the diplomatic "deep freeze" that has been taking place between the White House and Jerusalem -- showing what that can actually look and feel like when words become physical reality. 

Jews who learn Torah know, of course, that words do translate into reality at some level in any case. It is why we are warned to be careful with our words.

So this week has been an interesting one for weather around the world but especially in the United States and Israel.

Meteorologists reported record-breaking low temperatures in the United States and saw the second 'super storm' of the winter in Israel.

The Holy Land was covered with snow on Friday morning -- with some areas buried under as much as 10 inches of the white stuff -- and the central region continued to benefit from a gullywasher's worth of rain. But by midday the southern region of the Holy Land shone with brilliant sunshine and temperatures were back in the mid-50s.

Early Friday morning, Feb. 20 2015 this Negev yard was covered in snow. Four hours later, it was beautiful -- but bare.

Just one day earlier Israelis were shivering in the cold with freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions. 

The second "super storm" of this winter blanketed even southern Israel's Negev towns with snow on Feb. 19, 2015.

Even communities in the northern Negev saw a few inches of snow and lost power for short periods of time.

Meanwhile, at the same time 5,000 miles away on the other side of 'The Pond'...

The Hudson River was freezing over, on the West Side of New York City. The East River did the same on the other side of the city, with New York commuters who use the ferry service standing at the riverside, staring at the ice with wonder mixed with horror.

Broadcast news anchors repeated the symptoms for frostbite on local channels and correspondents issued warnings for locals the “make sure to keep every body part covered.”

At two degrees Farenheit the temperature dropped to a record low for the third time this week.

Pipes burst: not only water pipes but also those carrying sewage through the Big Apple.

Further north, the fast-flowing river beneath Niagra Falls was sluggish and in fact had begun to freeze over by Friday as well.

Weekend weather forecasts predict more snow for New York – and rain for Israel. Go figure. 

Has Barack Obama made up with Binyamin Netanyahu yet? 

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Light Unto the Nations? Not in the Skies.

An ugly conflict between "right" and "smart" in Israel's national airline this week has come to symbolize a national struggle so unpleasant it nearly defies description. But this is an issue that must be addressed because it is essential to resolve the underlying issues that also lead to eruptions of violence as well.

For months, El Al Airlines has been struggling to deal with difficult Chassidic male passengers who refuse to sit next to females on the planes. They block women from taking their ticketed seats -- as was witnessed by this writer this week -- leaving the female passengers with nowhere to sit. Some also take up the entire overhead bin with carry-on luggage, hatbox and carefully-folded rekel (long coat), leaving no place for any other passenger's items.

A few can be quite nasty and intractable in their manner; others chuckle at the women and snicker with each other (as happened this week) over efforts made by female passengers and/or flight attendants to cope with their resistance.

Flight attendants are caught between a rock and a hard place by all this. Generally they try to find alternate seating arrangements for the displaced passenger -- but I don't understand why the airline does not try to establish an alternate airline altogether for this sector of the population. Either that, or simple eject the aggressive passenger from the flight. In any other country, that is what would be done. 

In Israel, however, it is a complicated problem. The hareidi population has a strong advocate in the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) political party which wields a great deal of influence over funding and legislation in the government -- and has a great deal of power over the airline as a result. Moreover, numbers talk. The population itself flies a great deal between major cities in the world, including Tel Aviv, New York, London, Brussels, Antwerp and Paris among others; those tickets comprise a significant percentage of the El Al market. Offending one's customer base is not good business. 

But in the eyes of the wondering non-religious Jews and those people who are not Jewish at all (some of whom have never even met an observant Jew before) the image is indelibly burned into their memories. It's not a nice one. That message goes home to the tourists and the other American Jews who fly on "Israel's national airline" to visit the Jewish State too. And they reconsider those plans, because when they factor in the cost and the potential for unpleasantness, the two points outweigh the advantage of El Al's peerless security record. Very few foreign flights are attacked on their way to Israel.

Slowly, the extremist ultra-Orthodox Jews -- whose Chassidic observance could probably be questioned, given the emphasis placed on physicality over spirituality -- the extremists succeed in scaring away other passengers.

Worse, this becomes to the public eye what “hareidi” Jews are all about – this horrific hilul Hashem, this desecration of G-d's Torah while claiming to be mehader the mitzvah of tznius and negiah.

The halachos of derech shalom, derech eretz, ahavas Yisroel and yes, also the mitzvah of not being mevayesh b'pumbit one's fellow Jew, which is machshiv k'retzach – all those halachos somehow are not even considered when measured against the sexual terror of these men.

For that is what this is really all about. Fear, plain and simple, cold fear because they are simply unable to manage their sexual issues properly. One who is at peace with one's physical body is not at war with that of another.

This was not about sitting next to girls who were dressed in revealing garb. It is winter, after all. Everyone was bundled quite warmly. It is about men who have issues about being near women, any women, at any time at all. They cannot manage their sexuality at any time because they are not taught how to do it. In fact, they are trained to allow their behavior to run unchecked with no self-regulation other than insisting there be no female presence in their immediate environment other than family -- and that minimally at best.

Men in this world rely on their rabbis citing extreme examples in Torah to regulate their behavior. They rely on their women to restrict their sexuality. They reject the presence of anything and anyone else, fearful of contamination by all, that it might taint the purity of their holy Torah learning. They can and do use violence when they perceive a threat to that insularity, real or imagined.

How pure and holy can such learning be, governed by hatred, violence and fear? What kind of merit is earned by a mitzvah performed with a poisoned mind and evil intent – or deed – towards a fellow Jew? 

Does the mitzvah supposedly earned outweigh the massive hilul Hashem committed on the world's only Jewish airline? 

I doubt it.