Monday, December 20, 2010

Chanuka Enlightenment

One of the big differences of living in chul as opposed to Israel this time of year is of course which holiday is being emphasized. In Israel, one can't get around it being chanuka. Everywhere there are chanuka decorations, sufganiyot, chocolate money, chanuka music and of course the beautiful sight of chanuka candles in everyone's window sill.
Now, anyone who has been to chul this time of year knows that the streets are filled with tiny glittering, golden lights (one of the things I always missed in Israel, I have to admit), giant green trees decorated in perfectly aligned color schemes and a red and white bearded fellow carrying lots of presents.
Growing up in chul I have learned to put up with the big fuss that is made out of the birth of Jesus (let's not even get into how Santa Claus and his reindeer are even remotely related to this). I have also learned that my holiday is completely obliterated. I can except that my holiday isn't on full display and it is quite understandable given that we Jews really are a tiny minority where I live (unlike in NY, where you can buy anything chanuka related in almost any store).
However, the fact is that in most European countries things like Chanuka arent simply hidden because it isn't relevant to the majority of people. Rather, it is hidden because we Jews still feel the need to hide our identity. A few weeks ago a prominant Dutch politician Frits Bolkestein remarked that all Jews that are outwardly identifiable as such should move to Israel or America, since he sees no future for them in Holland. This statement caused a huge outrage amongst other Dutch public figures. Some question his sanity (he is getting old), while others like Geert Wilders simply replied that the anti-semitic Muslims should leave, not the Jews. I, and many with me, do not believe Bolkestein is trying to take the easy way out. He is simply identifying a major problem in a country that prides itself on being so progressive, open and tolerant of everyone (think gay rights). I am glad that Bolkestein has started this debate and that even the Jews there are starting to realize that the way they are forced to live their lives is not as it should be in a first world country.
The only thing I don't understand is why it has taken everyone, especially the Jewish community, so long to realize this. One of the reasons I left my European country was because I knew I was not safe there as a Jew, Granted, in Israel one isn't either, but there one is in the majority. There one can stand up and fight for oneself. There one knows the enemy. Whereas where I grew up, we lived a contradictory life. On the one hand we were told things were different now. People had learned from the Holocaust and this would never happen again. They are set on making it up to us. This country is tolerant. People here are open-minded and well educated. Jews no longer have to live in fear. There is a flourishing Jewish community, with synagogues and Jewish schools. Yes, this was all true, to an extent. My mother taught me never to tell strangers I was Jewish, for one can never know how they might react. I grew up in a neighborhood that called the cops, the Jews. Even in the capital, whith the biggest Jewish community of about 20000 people, men cant walk with kipot outside of the small suburban area where they mostly live (and this has been like this at least all my life). The schools, synagogues, youth movements and any other organized Jewish event was always guarded by several shomrim. The schools are fenced in, with cameras everywhere. We learn to live with them, but what is most problematic, we learn to accept them. We trick ourselves into thinking that we are the same as everyone else. Really, is there any other minority group that has to hide who they are in public? That has to cage themselves in? That has to surround themselves with armed men?
I saw this country for what it was and left.
However, it is only recently that I saw how different things can be. Chanuka has just passed us by, yet it wasn't ignored at my work. Though here also, only a small minority is Jewish, the children learned about Chanuka, the menora and the dreidel. I can be a Jew, without having to hide anything and without having to explain much. My daughter goes to daycare there and the staff has looked into kashrut (of their own accord). I get to leave work early on Fridays without any fuss. Same goes for any of the holidays.
Actually, what shocked me most was my own attitude. I started there presuming I would have to somewhat hide my identity. I bought a sheitel, so as not to stand out. I tried to hide the fact that I was doing netilat yadayim and bentching. I still do somewhat. I've had to learn to let go, to be open and to not be afraid of letting people know who I am and what I stand for. And all I can conclude is how ironic it is that this is the mentality I was taught by my progressive, modern and enlightened Western country.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Offensive Yodeling

An Austrian man was fined 800 Euros when a judge ruled that his yodeling was offensive to Muslims. The man was yodeling whilst mowing his lawn. Unfortunately for him, his yodel session took place at the exact same time his Muslim neighbor was praying. The Muslim man felt his neighbor was making fun of the call of the Muezzin and hence sued him.

We all know by now that caricatures are a no no, but yodeling?
I thought Europe is trying hard to integrate their immigrants. I guess in Austria it is now the other way around. The Austrian  people now have to give up their own longstanding culture and traditions in order to make the new comers happy.
I'm surprised about the chutzpa of the Muslim man, but what's even more shocking is the judge's ruling. Does he really feel there is no room left for his own culture?
I wonder if this judge has ever been to an anti-Israel demonstration in Europe. Maybe next time I should invite him to one and I'll be rich after suing all the people there for their offensive remarks.
It's a sad day when people can't sing a simple tune in their own garden.
I guess Dutch politician Geert Wilders is right:
As a side, Switzerland shouldn't be read, since they really took their stand by banning the building of new minarets. I guess their next political campaign will involve some serious yodeling.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Comfortable Conversation

I recently returned from a trip to my parents, who live abroad.
I hadn't been back home in a while. To be honest, I don't really miss much from there, beside my parents. Most of my close friends don't live there anymore and I've learned to live without my favorite products. Usually the trip isn't anything special and a little complicated, since my parents don't keep kosher and there isn't a lot of space for all of us, so I try not to go often.
This time, however, I had a very different experience. I actually found myself wishing I could live there again. Not because I like the country so much, or the people. It's cause I like the language. Well, actually, it's an ugly language, but what I actually love about it is that I speak it fluently. It's so nice going shopping, asking questions and getting answers when you understand everything perfectly. I haven't lived in a country where I speak the language fluently for over 7 years. I've gotten by, and where I live now it's really fine. I understand almost everything and speak it somewhat, at least for the basics. But being back home I noticed how comforting it is to be surrounded by your native tongue. I even had a very interesting literary conversation with the saleswoman in the bookstore. I would have never been able to do that where I live now, or in Israel.
The sad thing is, I probably wont ever live in a country of my mother tongue again, since the only place we plan on moving to in the next few years is Israel. I guess all I can do is strengthen my comprehension of these foreign languages and hope that some day I will be completely fluent in them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Har Habayit Beyadenu?

Rav Berel Wein wrote a nice article on Jerusalem, it's importance and why we cannot even contemplate breaking it up. (it was published in the Jerusalem Post and by Aish, one can read it here).

Rav Berel Wein has got me reminiscing. And yet, however much I do agree with what Rabbi Wein is saying, I feel there is something missing. For some reason, in the religious community, people seem to ignore the fact that we actually aren't in control of all of Jerusalem. In fact, we aren't in control of the most important, treasured and Holy site in our entire religion. We tend to forget that when it comes to Har Habayit we almost have no say at all. 

On the day of my wedding, in stead of going to the kotel, I went with one of my rabbis up to Har Habayit. It was inspirational. Here I was, on the verge of getting married, standing on the most Holy spot we have. My rav was saying the very Tehilim that would be sung later that day when I would walk to the chupa. I don't know if I would advise just everyone to go visit Har Habayit whenever they have a chance, but visiting the home of our religion on the same day that I was starting my own, was the best thing for me. It made me see the importance of my union, not only for me, but for my nation. By getting married, i wasn't just building up my own family, but I was contributing to all of Am Yisrael. And hopefully, some day, that contribution will help make Har Habayit look like what it is ment to look like.

And not what it looks like now. When I was there 5 years ago, it made me want to cry. Even though my visit was one of the highlights of my life, there was a low. The arabs had treated our most holy place as a garbage dump, literally. There was a gigantic pile of waste right when you walk onto the site. But maybe even more painful was the police patrolling the area, making sure we Jews stick to the rules. And that's not only the Wahkf, but also our own. They're not standing there to make sure we don't provoke a coup (though maybe they are doing that as well), but they are checking whether or not we have the audacity to say anything religious on our own land. And I mean ANYTHING religious. My rav told me to make a bracha on my water bottle before going up, since even that isn't allowed! Yes, this seems contradictory to what I told you before about the beautiful Tehilim that were said during my visit. These Tehilim were said while my rav was waving his hands, pointing out certain landmarks. One has to pretend  to be giving a tour in order to do this (and be carefully aware that the police are always out of earshot).
Let's face it Har habayit lo beyadenu and it's time we do something about it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Latke or Hamantash?

I saw this here and enjoyed it so much, I just had to share.

From wikipedia:

The Latke-Hamantash debate is an anual humorous academic debate concerning which of the two the respective debater prefers. The debated started at the University of Chicago and has since then been held at very prestigious universities like Harvard, Brandeis, Princeton and Stanford.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the different arguments that these serious academics used:
  • Hanna Gray discusses the silence of Machiavelli on the subject; noting that "The silence of a wise man is always meaningful",[12] she comes to the conclusion that Machiavelli was Jewish, and like all wise people, for the latke.
  • Isaac Abella, professor of physics, asserts that "Which is Better: the Latke or the Hamantash?" is an invalid question, since it does not exhibit the necessary property of universality, is culturally biased, implies gender specificity, exhibits geographical chauvinism and appeals to special interests.
  • Michael Silverstein, professor in anthropology, linguistics, and psychology, argues that it is not mere coincidence that the English translation of the letters on the dreidl spells out T-U-M-S. He cites this as evidence that "God may play dice with the universe, but not with Mrs. Schmalowitz’s lukshn kugl, nor especially with her latkes and homntashen."
  • Professor Wendy Doniger of the divinity school, in a carefully footnoted paper entitled "The Archetypal Hamentasch: A Feminist Mythology", asserts that hamentaschen are a womb equivalent, and were worshipped in early matriarchal societies.
  • In the debate at MIT, Robert J. Silbey, dean of its School of Science, has cited Google, which returns 380,000 hits on a search for "latke" and only 62,000 for "hamantaschen". Silbey has also claimed that latkes, not hamentashen, are the dark matter thought to make up over 21 percent of the mass of the universe.
  • Allan Bloom posited a conspiracy theory involving Sigmund Freud and the Manischewitz company.
  • Developmental psychologist Kenneth Kaye cited Freud's most important works, Constipation and its Discontents and The Goy and the Yid in proving that a latkedikh or a hamentashenlikh personality is determined by an infant's mother's breastfeeding behavior in the first two weeks of life.[13]
  • According to literature professor Diana Henderson, "The latke is appropriate for lyric, tragic, and epic forms", but "There is very little poetry in the prune," a common hamentashen filling.
  • The physicist Leon Lederman's contribution is entitled "Paired Matter, Edible and Inedible".
  • An entry by the economist Milton Friedman discusses "The Latke and the Hamantash at the Fifty-Yard Line".
  • Criminal lawyer Professor Alan Dershowitz, during a debate at Harvard University, accused the latke of increasing the United States' dependence on oil.[2]
  • In a memorable debate in the early 1970s at the Clanton Park Synagogue Purim Party in Toronto, Canada, attorneys Aaron Weinstock and Meyer Feldman - debating in their formal legal robes and wigs - debated with much hilarity. The result was a draw.
  • When he was President of Princeton University, Harold Tafler Shapiro argued the hamentaschen's superiority by pointing out the epicurean significance of the "edible triangle" in light of the literary "Oedipal triangle."
  • In the 2010 Stanford Law School debate, Constitutional Law Professor Pam Karlan quoted from the majority opinion of Blackmun in the case County of Allegheny v. ACLU, which said: "It is also a custom to serve potato pancakes or other fried foods on Chanukah because the oil in which they are fried is, by tradition, a reminder of the miracle of Chanukah."[14] She noted that the Supreme Court has given no such recognition to the hamantash.
  • The most recent University of Chicago debate featured Chemistry professor Aaron Dinner, who argued from a standpoint of energy efficiency, pointing out the oil of the Latke must have at least eight times the energy density of traditional fuels.
Hanna Gray has stated for the record that "both the latke and hamentasch are simply wonderful. We welcome them to our diverse, pluralistic and tolerant community of scholars." She has, however, taken a stand with her statement that "Renaissance humanism grew out of the revival of the latke."
Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to attend this debate.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

1 Child 3 Birthdays

Well, it's over.

Today was the last of the birthday parties of Darling Daughter nr 1.
There was the first celebration on shabbes (her non-Jewish birthday, which we celebrated only because it was later then the Jewish-we're procrastinators) with the family, a second with her friends from gan and a third in gan.
Of course, for her it was fantastic. She walked around for weeks, boasting to everyone that she has three birthdays.
But for me it was a different story.
First there was the shabbes meal, which was fine, since it wasnt a big effort compared to any other shabbes. Then came the kids party. It was my first time hosting a birthday party with a group of little kids; and well, it's exhausting.
For some reason, at least in our house, the woman is still automatically the one in charge (even though my husband said he would take care of the entertainment). And really, there's a lot to do, from preps weeks before (I saved the overload of simchat torah candy, though, so didnt have to buy any) to on the day itself, not to mention the hosting and the cleaning up afterwards. Then there was still the goody bag , which naturally had to be put together only minutes before the party. Plus, let's not forget the home-made elmo cake, which came out really well-if I do say so myself.

And then finally the last celebration in gan. It was so cute, with games, a present and some snacks. Actually, if it were up to me, this would have been her party and we could have scratched number 2. I guess it is up to me, but not entirely. Of course, nobody is forcing me to throw her a party at home. But then again, I don't want my daughter being the only one without a party. My parents didn't think much of birthdays, so I never had a party. When I was very young it was still ok, I didn't really realize what I was missing, but once as I got older, it got worse. Other kids wouldn't invite me, following the logic that since I didn't invite them, they wouldn't invite me. Then word got round that I didnt have a party and slowly I started getting invite again. But not having a party (or very often even a present) and having a birthday during the summer holidays when even my closest friends were gone, was never easy. Till this day it's a sore spot for me. I stopped expecting anything, and kind of like not doing anything. But secretly, I wish that once someone would make a big deal out of it, though I know I would't be able to deal with a big shabang, won't like being in the spot light and would be nervous the entire time about whether or not people are having a good time. So after every birthday, I feel a little disappointed and a little relieved.
I dont want my daughter to grow up with such conflicted feelings over her birthday, a day that should just be fun and a little special. I'm trying not to turn her into my project, giving her all I never had. Rather, I'll follow the minhag hamakom, and, even though I find 3 parties a little over the top and, not to mention exhausting for all, I do not want my daughter to become the odd one out.
I am glad it's over, though.
Now on to my friend's wedding and sheva brachot planning!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Unconventional Kiddush

I've been attending a shiur on hilchot shabbat. We learn from the materials put together by Tzurba, which is gemara, shulchan aruch, mishne brura and some achronim. I'm really enjoying it, especially since I love learning gemara, but here, we also learn the practical, halachic implications.

The latest shiur left me a little puzzled.
In our post-feminist society, modern, but halachically careful women have been braking boundaries. Women minyanim have been popping up everywhere, women are proving to be serious learners and they are taking up more religious practices that were previously only done by men.
In a lot of my newly married (especially Israeli) friends the wife is the one to make hamotsi on shabbes. I've gotten used to this, even though we personally don't do this.

But did you know that when it comes to Kiddush, women and men both have a chiyuv doraita? And hence, women can be yotzei men. In fact, since a man says veyechulu in shul, he has actually already fulfilled his chiyuv doraita (not derabbanan) and some suggest it's even better if the wife makes kiddush (if she hasnt been to shul) since she still has a chiyuv doraita and derabbanan.

In fact, everyone agrees (when does that happen???) that a women can be yotzei a man in her own house, and only some achronim say that for tsniut reasons she shouldn't do it in front of non-family members.

Now, this really makes me wonder. How come has making hamotsi been accepted as being something a woman can do, and yet kiddush is never done by a woman? If women truly want to be able to do all they can within halacha, why is this one (which is conveniently not controversial) so easily ignored? I'm really stumped on this one. Anyone have any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Women Want

I've been struggling with this for a while and have decided to put my thoughts "on paper" as to hopefully get some perspective.

In our world today, women seem to have all the possibilities they could ever want in life. Modern Orthodoxy has opened up a whole new reality of women's learning. Women are not mere followers of their fathers, brothers and husbands, but some are coming out and becoming halachic leaders, like the yoatzot halacha. But also academically, we have come very far. However, our Jewish ideals still stand. Women in the dati leumi community are still getting married early, having children, yet somehow they are managing to combine it with a university degree.
When I got married I told my husband that if I would become pregnant during my studies, I would surely never get my degree. I mean, the odds were against me as it was, with my poor Hebrew. Add kids into the equation and the lack of family in Israel to help us out; I was sure I would never manage. In the end, I had two children during my studies and I passed with flying colors.

I thought I had won the war, but it turned out, it was only one battle. Now I have a BA, little kids and am trying to start my career. I don't mind not having an actual career. I studied something in humanities and am not looking to be academically successful. But here comes the clash. I believe in the importance of being a mother and raising your kids. Add in the factor that I live in a place with a weak Jewish structure making it up to us to teach our kids the dati values we believe in. However, I also need to be intellectually challenged. Before I found a job, I was just going through the motions at home, feeling lonely and apathetic. Now, I come home and appreciate my family. Also, I work better under pressure. The more I've got on my plate, the better I perform.

The reality is though, we still have to compromise on something. Either I put my kids in full time day care (which in my case isn't even Jewish) or I only work part time. Starting off your career in a part time job isn't exactly the road to success. It means taking a job that I am overqualified for and it's only slightly related to what I really want to do. I've now, however, chosen the latter. It still feels good to get out, but I wish I could do something more challenging. It is my own choice to compromise my career for my family, but somewhere there's still this itch. I need something more. Now I feel like I go to my work to help out, not to actually work and use all my skills and abilities. And quite frankly, I don't want to feel that all the work I put into my degree has not led me anywhere.
So now, I've found my niche. I have decided to focus on writing, hence this blog. I'm trying to write a novel, which has been intellectually challenging and stimulating, while also using my degree and Jewish ideals. And as for my Jewish knowledge, I'm trying to learn an amud a day as to prepare for a learning program I would like to join when I get back to Israel.

I'm wondering how other women have been coping with this, so please share. Do you feel like you're forced to compromise? Which side of the coin have you chosen? And Why? What do you do to feel fulfilled if you don't have your career?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shopping, European Style

After reading this blog post I got inspired to write about my new shopping experiences.

1. I always feel like I should be ashamed of my shopping habits. About 95% of the people shopping here use a nice small basket. Apparently, it's much more convenient to go every day and buy only a few things, than buy a lot at once (which of course explains the tiny in built fridges that cannot handle 2 pots, let alone a 3-day yom tov).

2. After getting over the embarrassment of taking the big shopping cart, you realize it's actually not really a bit shopping cart, but about half the size of the one I'm used to in Israel. Which of course causes an even bigger feeling of embarrassment when your cart ends up overflowing.

3. The fruits and vegetables are insanely expensive, except for the few weeks they're in season.

4. I have to shop at at least 3 different stores (but often more than that), just to get what I need. The kosher list isn't that big and unfortunately the supermarkets don't sell the same products. So to get all I want, I have to go to at least 2 different ones, plus the meat, plus the kosher products store. And if I wanted to save a little money I'd have to go to yet another supermarket where their drinks and snack food are a little cheaper.

5. Just getting to the supermarket is a little overwhelming. There are about 10 parking spaces available right next to my local supermarket. Plus the parking meter only takes a 50 cent coin and nothing else, as do most other parking meters. Do they really expect everyone to have an endless supply of all these coins?

6. Do not go shopping before a Christean holiday. People here freak out if the supermarket is going to be closed for even just a day (see point 1.). The two days before this happens, the supermarket is packed, all day long, with people trying to buy enough food to make it through this catastrophe.

7. For some reason, the store I go to only writes the price on the product itself. Which means, if you want to see how much it costs, or want to compare, you have to pick up each and every product. Although, to give them some credit, by the end of 2010 they have realized this isn't the most practical and are starting to put up prices in the store.

8. A good point is that they deliver. You can order online, which is really nice and convenient. You do have to order at least a kilo of the fruits and veggies and of course pay nicely for shipping. Though, to be fair, it's kinda nice that they provide a coolbox for your fridge products, even if it does cost extra.

9. So now you made it to the cash register. You feel really pressured. There are lots of people in line with only a few products in their basket. If this had been Israel, I would have let them go in front of me. But here if I'd do that, I'd never get a turn. There isn't much space, so you have to pack really fast. There's always a lot going on (cranky baby, which is of course not an option in the overly polite country where such noises are an intruding on people's privacy) and I end up feeling totally overwhelmed.

10. Trash bags are a novelty here. You have to use special ones given out by the municipality. First off, they're very expensive (there's a whole technique to throwing out your trash, but this is definitely for another post). But besides this, you can only get them at the cash register. Now, after reading nr 9, you can imagine how often I haven't come home with them. I guess if you go on daily trips for only a few items then it's not hard to remember this one.

I'm sure there's more, but I can't think of any right now.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Surviving the Chaos

My home is a mess. Not dirty, but very messy.
I had to work 4 days in stead of 2 last week and ever since then I'm off course and fighting to do all the chores I have to do. It just doesnt seem to matter how much I do, there's always another mess waiting. Ah, the joys of little kids. The best is when you're cleaning up in one room only to find that in that time your kids weren't sitting nicely and playing, but actually they were preparing a whole new mess for you to clean up. So unless you install them in front of the paralyzing machine (aka the tv), it really doesnt help to clean up during the day. But then comes the evening. Your husband is finally home and you'd like some quality time. Also, you spent most of the day playing kids games, cooking, sometimes even working and keeping the mess to a minimum, so who wants to spend their evenings cleaning up?
Hopefully next year I will have some time alone at home during the day so I can get stuff done. The daycare system isnt like in Israel. Here, the  Jewish education only starts at the age of 2.5. Of course, there are non-Jewish options (which are crazy expensive), but even amongst the non-Jews here the mentality seems to be that mothers stay at home till their kid is at least 2. And lets not forget that everyone has a nanny. 

Oh well, I'm going to go back to fighting against the tide of unfolded laundry and dishes galore. Again, at least it's clean.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Friday Versus Sunday

Every Israeli misses Sundays. The chutznik reminisces back to the time when he had a day a week to have some good old family qualitity time. It's especially hard for datiim, who can only have day trips with their families a few times a year during the holidays. As a student, I missed Sundays immensely. While all my non-religious friends would have Friday and Saturday to catch up on all the homework we had, I spent Fridays cooking and Saturdays Shabbating. I really missed having a day like Sunday, where you could just sit down and do your homework, without it having to be in the middle of the night.

Now, of course we have Sundays. It's been a year, and we're still getting used to it. Very often we just spend a Sunday being lazy with the kids, though we're starting to get better at planning fun family things on Sunday (too bad the stores aren't open though). Yet, as I work a full day on Fridays and with shabbat coming in very early now in the winter, I found myself this Friday willing to give up that previously so desired Sunday for a free Friday to be able to prepare for shabbes like a mentsch and not some raving lunatic running around trying to defy time.

Today it's Sunday again, we survived shabbes, and I'm happy again to have a calm day with my family. Honestly, I don't know which is better, but I'm starting to see that a free Friday instead of Sunday wasn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Game Theory and the Peace Process

I just received this email and thought it worthy to share.
Professor Yisrael Aumann won a Nobel Prize for his knowledge of 'game
which includes the art of negotiation.  Although he lives in Israel
(his son was a soldier killed defending the country) the Israeli government has never asked
his opinion or his help in negotiating with the Palestinians. Below, Prof.
Aumann explains just what Israel is doing wrong. Hello, is someone out there
in the Israeli government listening? Give the Professor a call.

Israel's Conflict as Game TheoryBy Prof. Yisrael Aumann, Nobel Prize Laureate

Two men-let us call them Rick and Steve- are put in a small room containing
a suitcase filled with bills totaling $100,000. The owner of the suitcase
announces the following:"I will give you the money in the suitcase under one
condition:you have to negotiate an agreement on how to divide it. That is
the only way I will agree to give you the money."
Rick is a rational person and realizes the golden opportunity that has
fallen his way. He turns to Steve with the obvious suggestion: "You take
half and I'll take half, that way each of us will have $50,000."
To his surprise, Steve frowns at him and says, in a tone that leaves no room
for doubt: "Look here, I don't know what your plans are for the money, but I
don't intend to leave this room with less than $90,000. If you accept that,
fine. If not, we can both go home without any of the money."
Rick can hardly believe his ears. "What has happened to Steve" he asks
himself. "Why should he get 90% of the money and I just 10%?" He decides to
try to convince Steve to accept his view. "Let's be logical," he urges him,
"We are in the same situation, we both want the money. Let's divide the
money equally and both of us will profit."
Steve, however, doesn't seem perturbed by his friend's logic. He listens
attentively, but when Rick is finished he says, even more emphatically than
before: "90-10 or nothing. That is my last offer."
Rick's face turns red with anger. He is about to punch Steve in the nose,
but he steps back. He realizes that Steve is not going to relent, and that
the only way he can leave the room with any money is to give in to him. He
straightens his clothes, takes $10,000 from the suitcase, shakes Steve's
hand and leaves the room humiliated.

This case is called 'The Blackmailer's Paradox" in game theory. The paradox
is that Rick the rational is forced to behave irrationally by definition, in
order to achieve maximum results in the face of the situation that has
evolved. What brings about this bizarre outcome is the fact Steve is sure of
himself and doesn't flinch when making his exorbitant demand. This convinces
Rick that he must give in so as to make the best of the situation.

The Arab-Israeli ConflictThe relationship between Israel and the Arab countries is conducted along
the lines of this paradox. At each stage of negotiation, the Arabs present
impossible, unacceptable starting positions. They act sure of themselves and
as if they totally believe in what they are asking for, and make it clear to
Israel that there is no chance of their backing down.
Invariably, Israel agrees to their blackmailing demands because otherwise
she will leave the room empty handed. The most blatant example of this is
the negotiations with Syria that have been taking place with different
levels of negotiators for years. The Syrians made sure that it was clear
from the beginning that they would not compromise on one millimeter of the
Golan Heights.
The Israeli side, eager to have a peace agreement with Syria, internalized
the Syrian position so well, that the Israeli public is sure that the
starting point for future negotiations with Syria has to include complete
withdrawal from the Golan Heights, this despite its critical strategic
importance in ensuring secure borders for Israel.

The Losing SolutionAccording to game theory, Israel has to change certain basic perceptions in
order to improve her chances in the negotiations game with the Arabs and win
the long term political struggle:
a.         Willingness to forego agreements
Israel's political stand is based on the principle that agreements must be
reached with the Arabs at any price, that the lack of agreements is
untenable. In the Blackmailer's Paradox, Rick's behavior is the result of
his feeling that he must leave the room with some money, no matter how
little. Because Rick cannot imagine himself leaving the room with empty
hands, he is easy prey for Steve, and ends up leaving with a certain amount
of money, but in the role of the humiliated loser. This is similar to the
way Israel handles negotiations, her mental state making her unable to
reject suggestions that do not advance her interests.
b        Taking repetition into accountGame theory relates to onetime situations differently than to situations
that repeat themselves. A situation that repeats itself over any length of
time, creates, paradoxically, strategic parity that leads to cooperation
between the opposing sides. This cooperation occurs when both sides realize
that the game is going to repeat itself, and that since they must weigh the
influence present moves will have on future games, there is a balancing
factor at play.
Rick saw his problem as a onetime event, and behaved accordingly. Had he
told Steve instead that he would not forego the amount he deserves even if
he sustains a total loss, he would have changed the game results for an
indefinite period. It is probably true that he would still have left the
game empty handed, but at the next meeting with Steve, the latter would
remember Rick's original suggestion and would try to reach a compromise.
That is how Israel has to behave, looking at the long term in order to
improve her position in future negotiations, even if it means continuing a
state of war and fore going an agreement.
c.         Faith in your opinions
Another element that crates the "Blackmailer's Paradox" is the unwavering
belief of one side in its opinion. Steve exemplifies that. This faith gives
a contender inner confidence in his cause at the start and eventually
convinces his rival as well. The result is that the opposing side wants to
reach an agreement, even at the expense of irrational surrender that is
considerably distanced from his opening position.

Several years ago, I spoke to a senior officer who claimed that Israel must
withdraw from the Golan Heights in the framework of a peace treaty, because
the Golan is holy land to the Syrians and they will never give it up. I
explained to him that first the Syrians convinced themselves that the Golan
is holy land to them, and then proceeded to convince you as well. The
Syrians' unflinching belief that they are in the right convinces us to give
in to their dictates. The only solution to that is for us to believe
unwaveringly in the righteousness of our cause. Only complete faith in our
demands can succeed in convincing our Syrian opponent to take our opinion
into account.

As in all of science, game theory does not take sides in moral and value
judgments. It analyzes strategically the behavior of opposing sides in a
game they play against one another. The State of Israel is in the midst of
one such game opposite its enemies. As in every game, the Arab-Israeli game
involves interests that create the framework of the game and its rules.
Sadly, Israel ignores the basic principles of game theory. If Israel would
be wise enough to behave according to those principles, her political status
and de facto, her security status, would improve substantially.

Copyright Yisrael Aumann
I think this theory is even stronger in light of the Arab mentality. Whenever we give in even a little, the Arabs celebrate it as if they won completely. When operation cast lead came to an end, Hamas sold it as if they had defeated the Israeli army.
The examples of this type of behavior are endless.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Party of the Year

My daughter's birthday is coming up soon and I am feeling totally overwhelmed.
Birthdays are a much bigger deal here then they are in Israel (at least for us). In Israel we barely had any family to celebrate with, so we ended up having a small get together with a few friends and their kids. Here it's very different. With just the close family we're already an intimidating number. But that's not it. This year, we're going to have to invite all the kids from my daughter's ganon. She really wants to invite everyone, and that's simply how it's done here. I still think a party of 15 kids for a 4 year old is a bit much, but I'm not going to deprive my daughter from what all her friends get. So that's party number 2. Then there's number 3 in ganon. They have a little party, sing, some cake, a present, family members get to come and the birthday kid gives out a small bag of goodies to take home. For me this would be enough, but in stead, I have to make 2 different types of goody bags that will be going to the same kids.

But if I'm honest, this isn't all that bad. Actually, if I'm really honest, I'm the one who's making it stressful. I'm not the most creative person who wows everyone with her newest conception, but I don't like doing the same as everyone else either. So I put in lots of time and effort in order to put something together that's just a bit different then the standard. Like last year, in stead of just giving out some candy and juice in a little plastic see through bag like all the other kids', I mad these "hot air balloons":

So now I have to (again, it's just me pushing myself) come up with something similar for this year and I'm totally stuck. Not to mention trying to think of some fun activity (which of course has to be entertaining as well as educational) and treat for the party.

I know I have to learn to do things the easy way when I just don't have time and it's putting to much pressure on me (and my family), but some how I just can't.

Oh, did I mention I'm having the very same problem with one of my best friend's wedding and sheva brachot?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What a Rav

After reading this blog I feel the need to stand up for a rav who has been receiving some negative press concerning his stand on inter-faith dialogue. I in no means am a halachic expert, either in general or in this particular sitution. I am not taking a stand on whether or not Rabbi Riskin's Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation  goes against halacha. Jewish Israel quotes a psak of rav Soloveitchik taken from the book Community, Covenant and Commitment.

In a letter to the Rabbinical Council of America in November 1964 Rav Soloveitchik wrote,
…We are, therefore, opposed to any public debate, dialogue or symposium concerning the doctrinal, dogmatic or ritual aspects of our faith vis a vis “similar” aspects of another faith community. We believe in and are committed to our Maker in a specific manner and we will not question, defend, offer apologies, analyze or rationalize our faith in dialogues centered about these “private” topics which express our personal relationship to the God of Israel. We assume that members of other faith communities will feel similarly about their individual religious commitment.

We would deem it improper to enter into dialogues on such topics as:
1) Judaic monotheism and the Christian idea of Trinity.
2) The Messianic idea in Judaism and Christianity.
3) Jewish attitude on Jesus.
4) The concept of the Covenant in Judaism and Christianity.
5) The Eucharist mass and Jewish prayer service.
6) The Holy Ghost and prophetic inspiration.
7) Isaiah and Christianity.
8) The Priest and The Rabbi.
9) Sacrifice and the Eucharist.
10) The Church and the Synagogue – their sanctity and metaphysical nature, etc.
There cannot be mutual understanding concerning these topics, for Jews and Christians will employ different categories and move within incommensurate frames of reference and evaluation.
Again, I am not trying to make any halachic argument. I have had the honor of meeting Rabbi Riskin in person (and in a more personal setting) several times. I know that he still is a great follower of his mentor Rabbi Soloveitchik as well as another mentor of his The Lubavitcher Rebbe, whom he was extremely close with and had a great influence on him as well. I havent heard or read any statements of his on this most recent project of his, but I feel it is important to recap some segments of his life as to show all the greatness this one man has done for Modern Orthodox society. He changed an entire conservative community, helped it become orthodox and made aliya with lots of this congregation. Together they formed Efrat and he is still the chief Rabbi there today. He was the leader of the movement to free the Soviet Jews, he has set up a very well respected program to train rabbis specifically for chul and was the founder of Midreshet Lindenbaum. He developed the first program for people with severe learning disabilities, so they could still come to Israel for a year. Created (and first fought for) a program to train women to advocate for women in the beit din and fight for agunot. Right now he is fighting in the Israeli beit din to change the way they pasken when it comes to agunot (since they now use a minority opinion, backed by non to deal with the agunot, while the majority opinions are a lot more lenient). You can read about all of this here (I normally wouldn't use Wikipedia as a source, but I have heard him personally speak on each and every one of these subjects, so I know this to be true). So, given what this rav has accomplished in his life, I for one am not going to judge him unfavorably as others seem to be in a great hurry to do.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Read You Loud and Clear

I know I should stop reading reader's comments on news sites, especially when it's an article on Israel. But here I was, reading an article from a Western European country on the fact that the municipality is going to start subsidizing the security costs the Jewish community and especially the school has. I started reading all the "smart" comments from civilized, free thinking Westerners. Some where just upset, that in a time where governments are cutting costs, their tax money is going to this. Fine, I can somehow understand not wanting to pay taxes to a small minority of people and feel that if people need protection, they should pay for it themselves. But a lot of these people where writing clear and blatant antisemitism. Saying that they (the Jews) should take care of themselves or have Israel cover their costs, since it's clearly Israel's fault for not making peace with the Palestinians. Telling the Jews it's their fault for not integrating more (which clearly helped in Germany in the 1930's). Some blame it on religion in general. They suggest the governments should solve this problem by only allowing public schools, which will of course lead to all the different religions to hold hands and sing peace songs together. Really, this person has solved all the world's problems. If only we would all be in one big public school, we would all get along. I'm sure Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu would have been great friends, if only their parents had sent them to school together. Of course, let's not forget the Jewish lobby, which is always their to protect the rich Jews from invented dangers. But most importantly, those Jews should just leave, back to their own country.

Does any of this ring a bell???

Of course, one has to keep in mind that the probability is that some of these people must be stupid. But even so, We're talking about a country that saw 80% of their Jews murdered only 65 years ago. I really cannot understand how people from a so called enlightened country can spew such blatant antisemitism. Something has clearly gone wrong in the education of these people over the last 65 years. But most of all, I do not understand how my friends and family keep living there without seeing how unwanted and unwelcome they really are. Most are natives, as were their parents as were their grandparents. To lots, being Jewish comes in second place. But sadly, this is not how their fellow citizens view them. And if their beliefs haven't changed after the Holocaust, one would be very naive to believe they will in the future.
I know, I also live in Europe, so who am I to talk. The difference is, I know I don't belong. I am not comfortable being here and I know that I'm the odd man out. I know I should pack up and move. And I will. I do not disillusion myself into thinking that I belong here, even if I have their passport and my husband's family has been living here for over 400 years. This is not my home and it never will be. I just wish others would learn from history and get the message.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New Shabbes Experiences part 1

I recently started a new job and now work 2 full days at the end of the week. Which means I've had to say bye bye to the weekly Friday cook-out. Luckily, I have a big freezer and have started to cook a lot in advance. There's really a lot you can make in advance and freeze, like challes, soup, kugels, cakes etc, which I did. This Friday was to be the first time no one would be home during the day. My freezer was fully stocked though, and I felt fairly confident that it would all go fine. Yet somehow there was that knowing, nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. And Thursday night it hit me, the cold cuts. We usually order these from our local kosher butcher on Friday morning, so it's nice and fresh and they deliver it somewhere during the morning or early afternoon. We figured it wouldn't be so bad to do the same this week, even though neither of us would be home till after 4. The weather has been quite cool and the delivery has been coming later and later (ah, the perks of having a kosher monopoly), so it should be fine.
Well, luck would have it that it was an unusually hot day. I have no idea when they delivered the meat, but when I took it out of my mailbox it still seemed cool. I only threw out the liver pate, since that would have been risky. Now, you should know that I have a very sensitive stomach and generally try to avoid the situations where others would say that it's probably ok. However, in this case I couldn't avoid it and took the risk.  Of course, it ended up poorly, and I am writing this from my bed feeling sick. And of course, as always I am the only one to be affected.
So, I guess we learnt our first lesson when it comes to preparing shabbes in advance. I've titles this to be part one since I'm sure this isn't going to be the last time something like this happens, let's just hope that next time it won't cause physical pain.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I DON'T Like it...

I'm a little disturbed by this newest facebook trend.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for breast cancer awareness, but is this really the way to go about it? To insinuate to all your friends where you like to have sex, while seemingly actually to be referring to your purse?
First off, why not use some fact about breast cancer, the percentage of women it affects, or remind women to do an exam. With what they're doing now, no one is learning anything real and the majority of people probably don't even realize it's somehow connected to breast cancer awareness month (in fact, it doesn't seem connected at all and if google hadn't told me that it is, I'd still be clueless). It's all about playing this sexually tinted game and the fact that it's for breast cancer awareness seems to just be an unmentioned side point.
But mainly, it bothers me to see how many of my frum, even married friends are doing this. Do they really think it's appropriate to do such a thing?

Anyway, in stead of going on a big rant I decided to do some research and find out how one can really raise some awareness. I found this where you can make your own early detection plan. This is what will be mentioned in my next facebook status. Maybe you can join me in that and try to raise some real awareness.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Red Alert

Our split shul personality was in overload over chag. We decided not to go to the chareidi shul for the yamim noraim since it's quite far (it takes me about an hour, with pushing 2 kids up and down hill) eventhough the rest of the family davens there. My husband is connected to their community though, since he has a chavruta with their chief rabbi. When the rav heard we wouldn't be davening there, he was quite disappointed. So, as a compromise, we decided to daven there for one of the Sukot yom tovim.
I knew I wouldn't make it to the davening since it's so far and actually didn't really mind. The davening there is a little different than I'm used to, I like to sing along, which is definitely a no go there for women (even though they're up high on a balcony and are not heard by the men). I got dressed in the morning, avoiding one of my favorite dresses that I think shrunk a bit and now just hits my knee, taking in stead a nice length skirt and very tsnius top.
After the long masa I finally get to shul. The renewed it and now there is no longer a play room for the kids, but in stead a third beit midrash. I felt extremely uncomfortable and wasn't sure where to go. All the women were staring at the new comer and I decided not to go into shul since it was up lots of stairs and tfila was sure to be over soon. I joined a small group of women who went into the kitchen (the only place for the women to wait now) and sat down. As I took of my coat and looked around at the others, I suddenly realised my huge mistake. I was wearing... shock of all shock... COLOR! And not only was I wearing a color, it was borderline red. I felt terrible and suddenly realized that all the staring was maybe not solely because I was new. I contemplating putting on my safe black coat, but it was too warm inside. Then I started to feel silly. Why should I be embarrassed of wearing something I had previously never thought of as being untsnius, just cause these other women decided they want to live there lives as zebra's. I ended up sitting there, jacket less, a little uncomfortable but still somewhat defiant. And also a little resentful, for being made to feel untsnius when I really wasn't.
Any thoughts on this? How would you have felt and reacted?

Monday, October 4, 2010

To Affront or Collide

I have been procrastinating all day. We were away for almost 2 weeks, so you can imagine how empty our fridge is. I really need to do some serious food shopping, but I've been making up excuses all day so as not to go. Now, you might conclude that I'm being lazy or just not in the mood, but actually, I'M SCARED! Yes, scared to go food shopping. I know you've now probably concluded that I must be a little strange, have some kind of fear of large crowds or the like, but nothing could be more true. This is actually the first time I've felt like this. I'm home alone, with both kids, who I'd have to shlep with me. This is my official claim for not going now. But in reality, I'm scared because this would be my first time driving there. I only just got my license. And even though I have driven quite a few times since then, I'm still a little nervous when it comes to parking. Yes, I know, like all women. But honestly, it's not because I'm a woman. I live in a very European place, where we all have to conform to perfect codes of behavior and beware to those who don't (for example, we collect paper and put it out on the street. It must be a neat pile, wrapped up tightly with a piece of string. And they all are! And I'm sure, if yours isn't you'll get some kind of reprimand, most likely from your own neighbors, telling you how you're ruining the neighborhood standard and they of course understand that you're a foreigner, but really, you ought to know better).
So I'm scared there won't be a parking spot (which is very likely, since there barely are any in this city, even in my suburb) and I'll have to wait somewhere on the side, where everyone is bound to get annoyed and tell me off. Honestly, I think some of the elderly here go out specifically to find people to chastise in order to keep this country pure. Or, I'll find a parking spot, but won't be able to park smoothly or quick enough and will end up crashing into another car or person. I'm not sure which is worse...
Did I mention that my fridge is really empty, like, no food for dinner?!
Anyone feel like coming with me and parking for me? Please? Pretty please?

Lost but not Alone

Sadly, but after having lived in chul for almost a year, I still feel lost.
If I'm honest, I want to feel lost. I'm afraid to let go and start feeling at home. What if I feel too at home? What if I consequently don't want to go back to Israel? So this is my coping mechanism for making sure I'll go back, though ironically, it is leaving me with the feeling that I cannot cope with chul.
I feel isolated.
We don't really seem to fit in anywhere. We are too frum for the community we live near, though we share the same ideals. We are orthodox, come from a strong Dati Leumi background, in which we believe in incorporating halacha in our modern life, without compromising on it. However, where we live now, this kind of orthodoxy doesn't exist. The more modern community compromises a lot, sometimes knowingly, more often though out of ignorance. Here we are often outsiders due to a different lifestyle (non of our friends have kids yet) and our strict halacha observance. Then there's the chareidi community, by which we are seen as being less frum (it doesn't matter that my husband has a strong yeshive background and now has a chevruta with their chief rabbi) and even though some of our ideals match, their views on Israel are definitely a tie breaker and so we don't fit in their either.
Being as we can't start a new community, consisting of us, the Bne Akiva shlichim and a few other people, we have to try and fit in somewhere. Of course this is hard and we are constantly confronted with dilemmas, some small, some more major. I guess I started this blog as a means to deal with all these predicaments and by sharing them, maybe feel less alone.