Our AFU/WOFI group was lucky enough to hear a lecture by Sheldon Shulman. Shulman used to be Director of a department under Yitzhak Rabin, and worked at the foreign ministry. The two main topics that he talked to us about were the Palestinian Israeli Conflict, and Israel’s struggles with Iran.
The first thing that Shulman taught us was to “Put aside everything we know about the world when talking about the Middle East.” This will help us see it through their eyes. In America you can make choices, but in Islam the Koran tells you how to live your life. That is just an example of how different the situation is there. Another example of this punitive mentality is seen in the treatment of Baha’i leaders in Iraq . Bahai is a rather pacifistic religion with a strong focus on helping others in this world. These leaders were hung for not trying to convert the Baha’i people into Muslims.
All of the countries in the Middle East, who have all at one time hated Israel, have found ways to be at peace with Israel except for Iran. Iran used to have peace with Israel about 30 years ago. Right now Iran’s goal is to develop nuclear weapons and to kill many Jews. The Muslim religious/political leaders seem to hate Jews and the United States in almost equal measure. The U.S. is trying to make sure that Iran never gets those nuclear weapons as Israel weighs heavily and positively in the United State’s foreign policy.
Shulman also believes Israel is also trying very hard to make peace with the Palestinians. Israel keeps offering the Palestinians 95% of the land that they want, but they keep refusing. This shows how hard Israel is trying for peace. The Palestinians have consistently refused any proposal that doesn’t turn 100% of the land back to the Palestinians.
Finally, Shulman was asked about Iran’s nuclear capacity. He believes that Iran could have a bomb in 6 to 9 months. He also believes , however, that Iran might be willing to march right up to the brink of producing a nuclear weapon and then retreat. This would allow them to gain prestige in the international world for having peaceful intentions.
Yad V’Shem is designed to make you struggle. For example, at the beginning of the museum you see a happy, smiling family depicted on the wall. As you move deeper in to the museum you can still see the image, but it gets harder and harder to make out. Ultimately, as you reach the end of the museum you can still see the wall, but it is extremely difficult, even impossible, to see the image. Happiness has given way to struggl as one might expect with an event as horrific as the Holocaust.
The grounds surrounding the museum are filled with memorials. The first
building constructed at Yad V’Shem was not a memorial for a person, group or event. It is a simple room with a single memorial grave. On the floor are names of places that were affected ( and often decimated) by the Holocaust. These were
places most talked about by
survivors. The memorial represents a spiritual struggle rather than a
physical struggle. After World War Two ended, survivors did not have an
outlet to tell what happened to them. They were only able to talk about their experiences when Nazi trials began at Nuremberg in 1948 and after.
Perhaps the two most distinctive memorials at Yad V’Shem are the cattle car and the children’s memorial. The
cattle car represents extreme physical struggle. On the wall of the
memorial site is a quote from a survivor’s testimony. It is
presented in such a way that the visitor must shift back and forth in order to read it in its entirety. The testimony portrays the Jews in the cattle car fighting
over water and air space, in order to survive.
The designer who created the cattle car memorial also designed the
children’s memorial. The latter is divided into two parts. The exterior has stone pillars of different heights. These symbolize the children who were not able to grow into adults because of the Holocaust. This is
immediately juxtaposed with the trees nearby which were planted as
seedlings and allowed to grow to their maximum height.
Entering the cave-like second section of the memorial, there is a room
with pictures of some of the children represented in the memorial. The
second chamber contains candles and mirrors. These represent the one and a half million children who died in the Holocaust. You cannot tell which are real candles and
which are reflections. Perhaps this reflects our inability to clearly see the children who died in the Holocaust as in a hall of mirrors
always distorting our perception.
Before the Israel trip even began, the leaders invited the parents and the teens to create a tzedaka fund.. Through the parents and kids generous hearts, we managed to raise over $350 dollars.The hope was that we could leave “tzedakah tracks” in our trip and give to Israel as well as draw from it rich experiences that strengthened our Jewish identity. Our leaders Amnon Ophir and Jeffrey Schein had also shared wih us the tradition of being a shaliach b’dvar mitzvah: if you went on a trip to Israel doing the noble work of Tzedaka your chances of a safe return are heightened.
With the money all collected, the teenss took a vote to see where the money would go. There were six choices reflecting six experiences of the AFUWOFI group during the trip., The clear “winner” was the “unrecognized Bedouin-Village” that we visited from earlier in the trip which will receive $240 or approximately two-thirds of the money However, there are three other organizations that are receiving $36 (double Chai) donations from us.: the Arab Community Center in Jasar Azarka, the refugees of Southern Tel-Aviv, and the Eisha Project that helps breast cancer awareness in orthodox women. These donations would not be possible if it had not been for all of the families generosity
One of the purposes of the trip was to expose us to the other the Israel, t, often unseen challenges to Israeli society. If our Tzedaka choices were any measure the trip met its goals. Perhaps not coincidentally either, , three of these four projects are supported either directly or indirectly by our Cleveland Jewish Federation.
We experienced another side of Israel through the street artist Rami Meiri, whose art can be seen throughout the world. Before he showed us examples of his work, the Tel Aviv-based artist gave us a brief explanation of how his career started. He knew he was entering a field where it is difficult to earn a living. As an aspiring artist myself, I was intrigued and inspired by his talk.
Meiri paints what his audiences enjoy, he says. One example is his mural in a strip mall. The owner wanted him to create an effect that makes the mall continue instead of stopping at a boring white wall. Meiri’s mural looks like the mall actually continues. The most engaging part is the use of a half bench that is attached to the wall and the other half painted in the mural.
He would also create murals to fit in, extend, or even subtly distort a scene. For example, his mural on a boat makes it look like it is a structure on stilts in the water and not a floating boat. He also creates 3D scenes that make viewers convinced the scenes are real and not just painted. He is also very environmentally aware and concerned. I also try to figure out ways to help the environment with my art. I want to make viewers see what I see and feel what I feel. I think now that this can also be a powerful tool in advocating and engaging others in our mission to promote Israel. We can take away the lesson that we have to be creative and find a new way to gain attention.
Q: What media do you use?
Q: how do you choose where you paint?
A: I find a spot and ask for permission. Occasionally I accept an offer.
Q: Do you feel that your work might not be a classic, like Picasso’s?
A: The walls I paint will be there for a long time; therefore, my paintings will. I might not get as much global recognition but my work will always be there. Also, my street art is viewed by many more viewers than might visit a classical museum.
Q: what is the difference between street art and graffiti?
A: Street art involves getting permission from a proper authority to do the painting.
Today we explored the role that religion plays in Israel society. In the morning Rabbi Unterberg met us in Tel Aviv to talk to us about what it means that Israel is both a Jewish and democratic state. We discussed where Israel fits on the spectrum of possible relationships between religion and government. The United States with almost total separation of church and state and Iran on the extreme opposite of the spectrum with the religious leaders controlling the government seem to be the end points of the spectrum. Israel might be considered as a mid-point by some.Examples of the “state” power exercised by religious parties include: banning ELAL flights from flying on Shabbat, marriage, divorce, death and kashrut (religious dietary standards). One of the hottest topics is regarding marriage. People want civil marriages and also want th ability not be married by their non-orthodox rabbi.
Then later in the day, we went to Bina, which is a secular yeshiva(place of Jewish learning). When Israel was first created, the founding leaders wanted to create a strong secular Jewish society. This initial idea from the founding of the State only came to fruition for some in a negative rather than a positive way after the assination of Yitzchak Rabin. When Igal Amir, a u Jew, assinated Yitzchak in 1994, he did so claiming he did this in the name of religion. This turned many secular Jews away from any connection they had to Judaism. For some it meant they would have to find their own non-Orthodox path to Judaism In reaction to this, many secular Jews, primarily from kibbutzim, founded Bina in 1996 with a focus On learning and social action and only later did it become a yeshiva.
Currently Bina has 200 students in their Tel Aviv location, 30 in the Jerusalem location, 40 young Israelis who take a gap year before the army and 10 international students who take a gap year before college. In addition, there are many secular Israelis who go to Bina while serving in the army to strengthen their Jewish Identity. There are also post college programs and many programs for the greater community. Many people are attracted to this program not only because of the intense and well rounded education, but also because they are attracted to living in South Tel Aviv.
When by others why the mechiniks (young adults before their army service) are engaged in this year they respond that the are living in South Tel Aviv , Everyone is either shocked or surprised as Southern tel aviv is populated primarily by migrant workers and refugees from south Sudan, Eritrea and parts of Asia. This neighborhood is poverty stricken and has high crimes rates as a result of the influx of immigrants. It is a very “undesireable neighborhood. Yet, serving such a poor neighborhood is considered a fulfillment of the Jewish passion for tikkun olam, world transformation. With the emphasis on social justice, the students learn about Judaism through the lens of social justice and implement those teachings into their surrounding neighborhood. With the creation of Bina and the spread of learning thoughout the secular community, there is more grey now. Now there are secular Jews who are connencted to Judaism but not through the conventional sense.
The extreme powers the that chief rabbinate has, upsets many people. The members of Bina have acknowledged that the reason for the homogenous group in charge is partially because many secular Jews have rejected Judaism. Instead of distancing themselves from the seemingly flawed religion, they are beginning to lead a revolution of embracing Judaism throughout the seculular community in Israel.
We visited the Bet Reuven Art Museum in Tel Aviv. The museum used to be the home of painter Reuven Ruben who was born in Romania and moved to Israel to attend the Bezalel art school in 1912. He completed his first painting in Israel in 1922.
Ruben’s general style could be considered “naïve” painting. As time went on, his style changed. His first painting was a self- portrait with Israel in the background. He held paintbrushes in the picture, as if he were in Israel for the sole purpose of working and painting. In a later painting, he is in a room with his wife. The picture seemed to signify a more settled time in his life. In one of his last paintings he depicted himself painting a dove and olive branch.
Ruben’s evolving painting styles seem to symbolize his attitudes toward his work and life. His art has had a huge influence on Israeli culture.
Women in Israel is a topic n discussed multiple times during AFUWOFI lectures. On the second last day of our trip, we had a stimulating discussion about women with Hannah Soltz Aharony, specifically about women’s health and education. Hannah, a representative of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, explained both the struggles of all women in Israel, as well as the role of Federation/Cleveland Jewish community in improving this situation.
Q: Why do Israeli women seem less independent/free than men?
A: One reason Israeli women tend to hold fewer leadership roles than men relates to the traditions of that woman’s culture. In many religions, including Judaism and Islam, the woman tends to stay in the home taking care of every person before herself and ensuring that everything runs smoothly. Meanwhile the husband is the ambassador to the larger work world. Though traditions are important, it is also important to empower these women. Society needs to change their perspective of the role of women.
Q: How many women live in Israel?
A: They number 2,900,000. Over age 30, there are more women than men.
Q: What is the life expectancy of women in Israel?
A: The average length is 83.4 years. Though the man’s is lower at 79.7, the man’s is the 2nd highest rate in the world, whereas the woman’s is 9th. This is because the women take care of everyone in the family before themselves. For example, women go for medical check-ups less often than men. Among Israeli minorities (Arabs, Ethiopian and ultra-Orthodox Jews) there is more sickness due to a lack of education about many different aspects of health.
Q: What needs to change with respect to women and health?
A: Three things. First, policy. Medical services need to be more accessible to women throughout Israel, especially in the Bedouin communities. Second, the education of service givers needs to be upgraded. Right now, the medical field approaches diagnosis in a unisex way, leaning toward symptoms men usually have when contracting a disease. Nurses need to be educated about the symptoms of women versus men in areas such as heart disease. Third, the women themselves need to change and become more responsible for themselves. Many women lack higher education and are uninformed about health issues, especially nutrition. These women need to gain knowledge about these concepts in order to improve their own and their family’s health.
Q: What is the Jewish Federation of Cleveland doing to help?
A: The Federation has a huge role (i giving time, money and supplies) to many women-oriented organizations in Israel. These are just a few:
1. One in Nine: This organization helps breast cancer patients. It increases the number of women going for regular mammograms in the ultra-Orthodox community.
2. Community Center Association: This organization uses women leaders to promote women’s health in within Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community.
3. Hadasah Tipat Halar: This program teaches nurses about women’s health (including nutrition and physical activity). The nurses can then pass on this information to their female patients.
4. Yasmin in the Negev: This organization promotes the health of Bedouin women.
5. Many groups help disabled Jewish and Arab women deal with issues such as low self-esteem and abuse.
Q: Why has every person who talked to us mentioned the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities?
A: These two communities are the fastest growing groups in the nation. Lots of taxes go to provide these groups with national health insurance. It is cheaper to educate them and prevent disease than pay their medical bills when they get sick..
Women’s health issue is a complex issue, with no simple solutions. However, organizations such as the ones funded by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland bring us closer to achieving overall health improvement in women. When you, as members of the Cleveland Jewish community, donate money to the Federation, you help better the lives of a countless number of Israeli women, and that is priceless.